20 February 2011

Libya is different

Following on from Egypt, the protests in multiple other Middle Eastern countries demonstrate one simple point - politicians with absolute power corrupt absolutely.  Algeria and Yemen have long been wracked by insurgency and civil conflict, with dictatorial regimes challenged primarily by Islamists in both cases.  Algeria had a brutal bloody civil war following the election of Islamists in the early 1990s, but today, especially for a country with ample oil and gas reserves, life is fairly bleak there.   Yemen has not got the same resources, but it has become a base for a branch of Al Qaeda and has gotten progressively more dangerous in recent years.

In both cases there is a real risk that organised Islamists will take over.  Algeria is too close to Europe for comfort, whereas Yemen's location adjacent to the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden could hamper shipping in a strategic location.   However, both have been somewhat failed states since independence, run by either militarist or Marxist strongmen again and again, swinging back and forth between Western and non-Western supporters.

Bahrain is different, as an oil rich absolute monarchy with sectarian issues, it is a surprise that would send shocks through its autocratic neighbours.  Simply being a benevolent dictator dishing out the proceeds of being part of an oil cartel may not be enough anymore. 

Yet Libya is another story altogether.  Gaddafi has been a totalitarian dictator for over 41 years.  He runs a personality cult that has parallels with those in North Korea.  There is no semblance of freedom of speech, open political discourse or democracy in Libya.  He had published his own special political thoughts in the "Green Book" equivalent to Mao's "Little Red Book", in which he rejects liberal democracy and embraces socialism and "people's committees".

Gaddafi is an accomplished murderer and oppressor, he expelled the small Italian community shortly after gaining power.  He imposed an Islamic legal framework, banning alcohol and putting himself up as an authentic Muslim.  His police state includes thousands of informers, his family share in the abundant wealth he has taken for them, and live essentially outside the law.  Not quite Saddam Hussein's sons, but not that far removed.

Some of his achievements:
- Sending hit-squads to assassinate political opponents residing in other countries, nine were killed;
- Sent troops to protect Idi Amin's dictatorship from Tanzanian troops that were fighting Amin's attempt to annex part of Tanzania.  Gaddafi gave Idi Amin safe haven after he fled Uganda;
- In 1984, a gunman at the Libyan Embassy in London shot and killed policewoman Yvonne Fletcher as he shot at protestors outside the Embassy.  Ten other people were hit;
- The Chad-Libyan conflict as Gaddafi sought to annex the Aozou Strip.  He failed, but around 8,500 were killed in the war;
- Bombing of UTA Flight 772 in 1989, killing 170 people;
- Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 (Lockerbie), killing 270 people;
- Bombing of a West Berlin discotheque in 1986, killing 3 and injuring 230;
- Supplies of weapons, ammunition and bombs to the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s;
- Weapons and arms training to ETA in the 1970s;
- Weapons and funding for the Moro National Liberation Front (Islamist rebels) in the Philippines in the 1970s;
- Financing for the Black September Movement that murdered 12 at the Munich Olympics in 1972;
- Weapons to Iran after the 1979 revolution saw ties severed with the US and USSR;
- Support for the PLO during its terrorist phase, and subsequent expulsion of 50,000 Palestinians when the PLO started negotiating with Israel;
- 1200 prisoners killed in Abu Salim prison in 1996.

He thinks a lot of himself saying "I am an international leader, the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam (leader) of Muslims, and my international status does not allow me to descend to a lower level." at an Arab League summit in 2009

So he is quite a piece of work.  Whilst Libya has liberalised moderately in recent years, largely due to access to the internet being allowed, it is still one of the most oppressive states in the Arab world.   No organisations are permitted that are not state authorised.  Political parties are banned.  The media is severely restricted, with journalists prosecuted for criticising the regime.   

If Libyans can overthrow this murdering thug then good luck to them, it can only be a good thing, but it will be especially hard.  It is perhaps only more difficult to overthrow the Saudi autocracy or Syria's one party police state.

Though I have noticed a distinct lack of leftwing commentary cheering on those seeking to overthrow Gaddafi, who makes Mubarak look like an angel.  Maybe because too many of them miss the days when this mad anti-American thug would fund and arm them?   Bearing in mind that a handful of Maori nationalist thugs once visited Tripoli to learn about revolution - not that the New Zealand media at all holds people to account for having sympathies with murdering leftwing dictatorships.

Gaddafi is now using snipers to take down protestors and has thugs storming homes of suspected dissidents according to the Daily Telegraph.  One report goes:

"The soldiers are vicious killers. People are so terrified of them that they've been doing everything possible to get away.  Women and children were seen jumping off Giuliana Bridge in Benghazi to escape. Many of them were killed by the impact of hitting the water, while others were drowned.
Fatih, 26, another Benghazi resident, said: "A lot of the thugs he's employing are not Arabic speakers. They're armed to the teeth and only use live ammunition. They don't ask questions – they just shoot. Buildings and cars have been set on fire here, and the situation is getting worse. The dead and injured are everywhere."

Nice.  However, am I wrong in thinking how remarkably quiet the left in the West is about Libya, simply because Gaddafi can't by any sane stretch of the imagination be seen as the result of Western interference?

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