…Gadhafi has all along been presiding over a house of cards, which is now collapsing on him…
Until the country he ruled with an iron fist began crumbling under him, Libya’s Muammar al-Gadhafi had portrayed himself as someone whose reign had brought prosperity, peace, and happiness to the doorsteps of Libyans. I saw once on TV how some Libyans were relishing the “river” that he had caused to flow through the desert to change their circumstances for good. He brought in investments to Libya and made the country a huge exporter of crude oil. On the flip side, he indulged in acts that turned Libya into a pariah state as the United States regarded the country as a supporter of terrorism and punished it with the 1986 bombing of Tripoli and Sirte. International anger at the Lockerbie bombing is still fresh, although Gadhafi has survived and turned round to court the US and the European Union back into business transactions.
From the anger being displayed by the protesters, we now know that Gadhafi did not use Libya’s economic gains to serve the needs of the Libyan people. He used them to build his fiefdom. Here is someone who has made a huge capital of personal security and employed female body-guards whose presence around him whenever he visits Sub-Saharan Africa attracts attention. Indeed, on all occasions that Gadhafi has visited other countries, the ample display of “security” alone was enough to fill his opponents with paralyzing fear.
Over the years, he has portrayed himself as a “strongman” and survived on this specter. I remember very well his rounds through Sub-Saharan Africa at the time he was gearing up to present himself for the Chairmanship of the African Union. Among others, he donated Mercedes Benz cars to some African leaders whose support he needed. He had his way and saw it as an opportunity to impose his “Green Book” ideology on the continent. That was an exercise in morbid stupidity, as some of us saw it; but his public posture as a “strong man” persisted.
From what we’ve seen so far, however, we are convinced that Gadhafi has all along been presiding over a house of cards, which is now collapsing on him and threatening to drag Libya into a foreseeably long period of turmoil, anguish, and paralysis. In effect, Gadhafi’s high expectations of ruling Libya till death do them part (or passing the baton on to one of his sons) have been brought crashing down to earth—and his end is irreversible.
Gadhafi’s long reign (42 years) has been characterized by all manner of happenings with very serious national and international consequences. Internally, he has succeeded in creating innumerable pockets of tension and division at several levels—in the diverse ethnic groups constituting the Libyan demographics, in the military, civil population, etc. He has created and presided over a political climate in which policies and actions came to be judged according to their perceived potential for strengthening his arms and weakening the apparatus of state while at the same time sharpening ethnic cleavages.
The seed he sowed many years ago has matured to be his own undoing. Such is the fate of short-sighted leaders who count on their own chariots and horses instead of the trust and goodwill of the people. Gadhafi turned Libya into a personal fiefdom and is now on a cat-walk to his doom. He is surrounded by too much quicksand to avoid being swallowed up.
The ethnic and military hotbeds that he created to prop himself in power have now turned out to be his bane. Take, for instance, the rapid defection of personnel of the security services to join the ranks of the protesters. These elements couldn’t be expected to remain loyal to a man who discriminated against the traditional military set-up to the advantage of the private security units that he and his sons had created and well-resourced to serve their personal interests. We are being told that some of them were highly trained commando units that enjoyed preferential treatment while personnel of the traditional military setup languished in abject privations. These haphazard commando units are the very bastions of security for Gadhafi; but for how long will they remain loyal to him, knowing very well that the tide against which they are fighting is formidable?
Then again, Gadhafi’s impolitic acts of playing the tribal card are working against him, especially as we can see from the events in Benghazi and other major towns in the East that faced up to the Gadhafi threat and succeeded in routing the pro-Gadhafi forces to energize others elsewhere in their protests. The quick liberation of Benghazi and those towns is an indication that Gadhafi’s Libya has already disintegrated. And being the cause of this disintegration, he will not be forgiven. The interplay of the political and demographic forces has ushered in a conflict that has turned Gadhafi into a victim of his own miscalculation.
Now that the residents of Benghazi and those “liberated” areas in the East have moved to form a Council (a government?), it is obvious that Gadhafi’s hold on the Eastern half of Libya is over. As the other major towns too threaten to slip from his control, he stands at a dead-end, but will not give up because of his morbid determination to fight to the end. Fighting to the end means more devastation for Libya.
Now holed up in Tripoli, it seems that he will have no option but to kick the hardest like a dying donkey. Tripoli and Sirte (his home town) are the only areas where his hold seems to be tight for now. But for how long can he cling on through this catch-as-catch-can scare tactics? What else is there for Gadhafi to do in attempting to sustain himself in power if not an intensification of the atrocity against his opponents? Having survived on the principle of violence, he will have nothing else to do but to heighten violence.
As of now, he is like a fish-out-of-water and doesn’t have long to live. Caught up in a pond which is fast drying up, his only line of survival will be desperate acts and more desperate acts that will eventually drain him of his lifeline. Any action he takes now will have serious boomerang effects on him.
At this point, it is undeniable that the options left for Gadhafi are nothing but deadly. I see only three options for him: First, as the noose tightens around his neck, he will unleash more venom on the protesters, hoping that he can crush them. This option will have very damaging repercussions and galvanize local and international action to eliminate him. Already, the United States has declared its readiness to give the anti-Gadhafi elements all the support they need to get rid of him. This step will definitely include military action, which may not be on the scale of the April 1986 bombing of Tripoli and Sirte by the US but will be pinpointed at Gadhafi, his sons, and close aides. Assassination cannot be ruled out. If that action is taken, it will have its own ugly implications.
The second option for Gadhafi is to dig in and fight to death. If that becomes his last-ditch effort, it will bring him quickly to his end and leave Libya and the world much to ponder, especially if the protests take on more serious ethnic overtones and erupt into a civil war. After all, his sons have already given indications that his departure from the scene will spark off a civil war. Gadhafi himself has also told the world that he will not leave Libya and is prepared to die a “martyr.” This death-wish is premised on his recollection that his own grandfather had died in the cause of fighting the Italian colonialists. Inspiration from this sense of martyrdom will impel Gadhafi to resist all pressure to step down. The more he hangs on, the more the violence intensifies. He will steel himself for the end.
Furthermore, the series of punitive sanctions and measures being taken against Gadhafi and his family as well as close associates by the United States, the United Nations, Britain, France, and the European Union, generally, will push Gadhafi more rapidly toward the precipice. He must by now have realized that apart from the freezing of his assets (and those of his family and close associates), the decision by the United Nations to refer him to the International Criminal Court as a war criminal will seal his doom even if he ends the bloodshed now. He will become a global pariah (if he isn’t already) who can’t leave Libya (because of the travel ban imposed on him) or reside in the country (his opponents will definitely exact their pound of flesh from him).
The third option is for him to pack hurriedly and dash out of Libya to any country that he thinks can harbour him. That rash action may have serious implications for him and the country that agrees to harbour him. Gadhafi seems to have no friend anywhere now. The quick reaction from Hugo Chavez when the British Foreign Secretary initially suggested that Gadhafi was fleeing to Venezuela gives a clear hint that he may not be accepted there. Chavez already has his own internal problems to contend with.
Not only has Gadhafi come face-to-face with a frightening cul-de-sac but he is also caught up in heart-rending circumstances from all angles. Such a trapped person will not want to give in easily or die alone. At this point, it is not yet clear whether he has chemical weapons to unleash. That’s where much of the widespread fear should lie. An extremely unstable Gadhafi who feels vulnerable in all senses will do anything at this time. If he chooses to commit suicide (which is a possibility) or press on till he is either captured or killed in action, he would have made good his vow to die a martyr. But if he resorts to anything more devastating, he will worsen the situation, not only for Libya but for the whole world.
As he has already said—which has been reinforced by his sons—he still considers himself the legitimate ruler of Libya being hounded to death by those he calls “dogs” and Libya’s enemies. Dying a martyr is Gadhafi’s manner of closing the chapter on his life. But whose martyr will he be when those whose responsibility it will be to recognize him as such are the very people toppling him and destroying everything associated with his 42 years’ rule?
Gadhafi may be conditioning himself for martyrdom but a martyr he will be only unto himself. For all that he has done over the past 42 years, he will have no place in the hearts and minds of peace-loving people. He has caused too much anguish and will be remembered only as the madman of the desert who abused his own people for personal gains. When he dies, he will go down in history as a good riddance.