Curtains on the Qaddafi Pantomime
Nothing became him less than the manner of his own departure. Or, impeding departure, for precision. How deceptive was the theatrical self assurance with which Qaddafi carried himself. He can be caricatured brilliantly on a Broadway musical. “Don’t cry for me O’ Libya!”
I can never forget my first meeting with him in a palatial bunker where I was navigated from my Tripoli hotel two days after the US had bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986.
Even in the midst of tragedy, Qaddafi’s theatre had been choreographed to perfection. His two women bodyguards, one a beautifully chiseled ebony masterpiece and the other a perfect white opposite number, flanked him. He positioned himself on an ornate chair placed on an elevated platform. In those days Qaddafi was the noisiest “anti Zionist” Arab. The state he ran was a dictatorship but without a hint of Islamic extremism.
There were no Mullahs. The most educated in the community could lead the Friday prayers. Not only was there complete gender equality but his was the only state with a military academy for women.
Later, when I met him in his Beduin tent, two years ago, he had abandoned all Arab causes – “because Arab leaders were Western cronies” – and concentrated on Africa where his influence reached as far as Sierra Leone and the notorious President Charles Taylor of Liberia. His footprints were in Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, even the Polisario in Tinduouf in Western Sahara.
From Tripoli, it is an attractive, 1000 km, drive along the coastline to Benghazi, exactly the distance between Khartoum and Darfur in Sudan, bordering Chad.
At Darfur’s Al Fasher airport, I had, during another journey, met Abdul Lehman al Tijani Ali Dinar, great grandson of the last Sultan of Darfur. He was surprised that I did not know Arabic. This is the crux of the problem of all North African states that stretch south into the Sahara and deeper into “dark” Africa. There is an assumption that to be a Muslim you must know Arabic. This is contested by non Arab, African Muslims.
In these areas it is possible to be Muslim without being an Arab. Then there are the tribal divisions. For example Darfur is a combination of two words – Dar, which means home or gate and Fur, the name of a tribe. But Darfur has two other tribes – Zaghawa and Maseelat.
The Zaghawas are dominant in neighbouring Chad, where President, Idris Debey is a Zaghawa.
Both, Chad and Sudan, have borders with Libya. And thereby hangs a part of the tale. The Benghazi based, Arabian gulf Oil company operates the Nafoora, Messala and Sarir oil fields. After the Libyan uprising, these oil fields are under the control of a tribe similar to the one which dominates Chad, except that in Libya it is called the Zawiya. Another tribe, Tuareg in the south, are part of a growing coalition opposed to Qaddafi.
When Qaddafi, a beduin from Sirt, first ousted King Indris in 1969 in imitation of Nasser’s coup in Egypt, it turned out that the deposed King had sympathizers in the Benghazi area. Benghazi was never quite in Tripoli’s grip. And now witness the rebellion in the army. Two air force planes, in defiance of orders, turn up in Malta!
An East-West division of Libya is already beginning to loom as a possibility. The sanctity of post colonial borders may no longer remain inviolable. There is a readymade example in a country contiguous with Libya – Sudan. A Muslim north and a Christian south with a brand new capital in Juba.
Should Libya be halved, the European scramble for the oil bearing regions cannot be checked, particularly now when some of EU members are stone broke.
It is the mass arrival of refugees that could well cause the international community to contemplate a model where European troops take care of different sectors to keep the peace. The Italians will be the first to suggest such a model – Kosovo.
Since European intervention in the Mediterranean will smack of re colonization, the ball will be tossed upto the UN Secretary General to devise a muscular UN Force.
Meanwhile Qaddafi’s pantomime begins to resemble the last scene in Brecht’s Arturo Ui, the ultimate spoof on doomed dictatorships.
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