He has many titles to his name, the most prominent of which being “The Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”.
Imagine this title being prefixed to his name each time it is read on radio and TV. He came to power in February 1969 through a military coup, hence the title.
History is replete with examples of people who boasted that they were invincible but a closer look at their behaviour shows that they had human frailties that betrayed their monolithic stature.
Although Julius Ceasar bestrode the “narrow world” like a Colossus, he was hard of hearing in one ear. This “little ailment” was symbolic; he didn’t “hear” many things that were loud and clear around him, including warnings of imminent danger such as the Soothsayer advising him to “Beware the ides of March”.
On assuming the presidency of the United States, Ronald Reagan was asked by a journalist what he thought of Valery Giscard d’Estaing. His answer was that he had no idea who the bugger was. D’Estaing was the French president at the time. Americans should have known there and then that Alzheimer’s had set it. It is argued by some of his biographers that episodes of forgetfulness haunted his eight-year presidency signalling the extent of his illness. He too was human.
In spite of all the pomp and circumstance that accompanies Gad-dafi wherever he goes, he is pathologically afraid of flying. He also fears using elevators. He is not by any means the only one in the world with such phobias; so he is human too. But why had we come to think that Gaddafi was invincible?
Jamahiriya means “state of the masses” so Libyan Jamahiriya would mean the People’s Republic of Libya.
Gaddafi rejected democracy and came up with his own political philosophy which he expounded in the Green Book which much like Chinese leader Mao’s Red Book were considered to be bibles of the people’s revolutions.
According to the Green Book Libya is a “direct democracy” without any political parties, governed by its populace through local popular councils and communes called Basic People’s Congresses. Official rhetoric disdains the idea of a nation state; tribal bonds remain primary even within the ranks of the military.
Libya literally floats on oil; according to one diplomat I spoke to many years ago some wells have oil so pure one could pour it into a diesel engine and the engine would run perfectly.
To the outside world Libya’s direct democracy seemed to work. The world assumed that the wealth from the oil was evenly distributed among all Libyans.
One of Gaddafi’s follies was the Great Man-Made River, the water pipeline project designed to bring millions of litres of water from beneath the Sahara Desert, northward to the Benghazi region on the Mediterranean coast.
Under the giant scheme, according to internet sources, water is pumped from aquifers under the Sahara in the southern part of the country, where underground water resources extend into Egypt and Sudan. Then the water is transported by reinforced concrete pipeline to northern destinations. Construction on the first phase started in 1984, and cost about US$5 billion. The completed project was billed to total US$25 billion.
South Korean construction experts built the huge pipes in Libya by some of the most modern techniques. The engineering feat involves collecting water from 270 wells in east central Libya, and transporting it through about
2 000 km of pipeline to Benghazi and Sirte. The new “river’’ brings two million cubic meters of water a day. The system involves 4 000 km of pipelines, and two aqueducts of some 1 000 km.
Asked on Chinese TV a week ago: “Sir, in retrospect, for the past 40 years of your rule, what achievements have you accomplished during the process?” Gaddafi replied: “It is not I who am ruling. It is the people who are ruling. I think the most important achievement is having built a people’s regime and founded a republic.”
Asked about succession he said: “First, I don’t have imperial power. I am not a king or a president. The question of considering a successor doesn’t exist. In Libya, the regime belongs to the people. People rule themselves. Why do we need a successor? I don’t have the authority to intervene either. Since the regime is in the hands of the people, people can choose whatever method they please.”
This was the picture of Libya portrayed to the world but those studying the workings of the regime saw through the façade. They discovered that the so-called “basic people’s congresses” were systematically being used as tools of political repression.
The Libyan people’s anger simmered under the surface stoked by a situation “in which foreign companies won the prime government contracts and thousands of foreign workers from China, Egypt and Vietnam secured many jobs” and “years of frustration at Gaddafi’s foreign adventures and white elephant infrastructure projects while most Libyans lived on in poverty.”
Because people’s anger simmered underneath, Gaddafi was just a giant with legs of clay; one day they would give way under the pressure of the people’s outrage. But like anyone else who has, over decades, turned a country into a personal fiefdom, he would like to go down with the country. He doesn’t mind killing his own people to achieve this. But the people will not be defeated as they have become masters of their fate.
In Julius Caesar one of the conspirators had this to say about him:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Caesar was felled, so eventually will Gaddafi and all dictators.