Saturday, April 16, 2011

Libya after the NATO invasion

The first two decades of Gaddafi's rule brought some benefits to Libyan society, but those soon became overshadowed by demagogic worship of the leader and tribalism [GALLO/GETTY]

There can be no quick fix for a Libya caught between a loose-cannon despot and an opportunistic Western intervention.

Mahmood Mamdani Last Modified: 09 Apr 2011 16:33

The 2010 UN Human Development Index – which is a composite measure of health, education and income – ranked Libya 53rd in the world, and first in Africa.
What was a predominantly rural and backward country when the king was deposed 42 years ago is today a country with a modern economy and high literacy. This single fact embodies the gist of Gaddafi's claim to the historical legitimacy of his rule.
The popular debate on Libya is today divided: one side stresses solidarity with an oppressed people, the other is opposed to another Western war.
Soon after the Western coalition imposed a no-fly zone on Libya, the New York Times published an opinion piece by a Libyan professor of political science at a US east coast college. Ali Ahmida divided Gaddafi's rule into two periods, each representing one side of the argument today.

Impressions of a young Gaddafi

In its first two decades, he wrote, the revolution brought many benefits to ordinary Libyans: widespread literacy, free medical care, education, and improvements in living conditions. Women in particular benefited, becoming ministers, ambassadors, pilots, judges and doctors. The government got wide support from the lower and middle classes.
The down side was a demagogic regime that revelled in rituals of hero worship and cynically embraced violence. Faced with successive coup attempts, it staffed security forces with reliable relatives and allies from central and southern Libya, a move that gradually transformed a national government into a tribal administration.
My first impression of Gaddafi was formed by a revealing incident I read several decades ago in a memoir by Muhammad Haykal, Nasser's famed press secretary.
Haykal recounts a conversation between visiting Chinese premier Chou en Lai and Nasser during a state reception. Pointing to a young man in uniform, Chou en Lai asked: Who is he? Why, replied Nasser, that is Col Gaddafi who just overthrew the monarchy in Libya, and added, why do you ask?
It is difficult to forget Chou en Lai's response: Well, he just came over and asked me how much it would cost to purchase an atom bomb! The anecdote sums up Gaddafi's well-known erratic nature. Thoughtful article posted here

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