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Libya: Gaddafi's Age-Old Question Finds A New Answer In Benghazi

Paresh Dave |
February 23, 2011 | 3:35 a.m. PST

Executive Producer

“What form should the exercise of authority assume? How ought societies to organize themselves politically in the modern world?”

Col. Muammar Gaddafi's 34-year-old manifesto on political philosophy, the Green Book, begins with these questions. He sought to bring direct democracy to Libya shortly after assuming power through a military coup.

Western nations had found such a form of government, whereby the people should have a say in every political decision, to be inefficient and impossible to put in place. Representative forms of government took hold, but Gaddafi called these “dictatorships established under the cover of false democracy.”

In Gaddafi's 41 years of power, something went wrong. He learned that no form of government is superior. While he blasted people such as members of parliament or Congress for having a “sacredness and immunity which are denied to the rest of the people,” he himself could not avoid such excesses. The problems of oil wealth streaming to only the elite plagued his predecessor and still dogs Gaddafi today. His sons took advantage of the millions of in wealth accumulated through the sale of oil to fund their own parties across Europe, especially in Italy, which colonized Libya during the first half of the 20th century.

It was Gaddafi like many corrupt politicians across the world who came to “plunder” and “usurp” the authority of the people. As he wrote would happen, “through popular revolution,” the people have sought “to destroy such instruments...which stifle the will of the people. The masses have the right to proclaim reverberantly the new principle: no representation in lieu of the people.”

Exactly 10 months shy of its 60th birthday, Libya appears on track to celebrate the occasion with a new democratically-elected government. The odd and eccentric regime of a military colonel who has overseen a country of six million is poised to fall if momentum remains in the favor of protestors. Not without heavy bloodshed, the Eastern sector of the country has been swept out of Gaddafi's hands. The message from the center of the action in Benghazi is quickly spreading elsewhere.

On Libya's west side, 600 miles across a Mediterranean bay sits Libya's capitol of Tripoli. Long considered to be a rival to Benghazi, protestors in both cities seem to have shown solidarity for each other in recent days. Ninety percent of the country occupies 10 percent of the land, mostly near the Mediterranean shores and away from the toughest desert climates. Protestors in Tripoli named an area they overtook on Tuesday “Benghazi Square,” according to this YouTube video.

Gaddafi rose to power in a situation very similar to the one that is expected to bring his downfall. In the 1960s, Libya's weak King Idris “was unable to suppress the growing political agitation, and young students were stimulated by new ideas and foreign examples of political initiative and nationalist success,” according to author Geoffrey Leslie Simons. Whereas Gaddafi was stimulated by the writings of Nasser and expelled from secondary school for protesting against Libya's regime, today's Libyans seems more provoked by photos on Facebook and Twitter.

Gaddafi is an abstainer from alcohol and has been a supporter of woman's rights. His sons didn't seem to follow his father's preaching. A clash for power between brothers may have been part of Gaddafi's recent unwinding.

As Gaddafi planed an overthrow of King Idris in the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy quietly had his advisers map out how to handle a new government in Libya. Undoubtedly, President Obama, a student of J.F.K.'s administration, is ordering similar plans of actions five decades later.

America has not gone beyond strong condemnations of state-sponsored violence. Some international leaders such as France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel have called for sanctions to be placed on Libya, but the Obama administration has not commented on such measures.

Libyan-U.S. relations expert Omar Turbi, Jr. said Tuesday that Obama doesn't need to meddle in Libya.

Turbi said increasingly strong statements against violence and the demanding of a U.N.-imposed no-fly zone over Libya would be enough to “incapacitate Gaddafi's ability to assault people from the air.”

A young government has begun to form in Benghazi even as Gaddafi loyalists cling onto power elsewhere. Citing reports from friends and family in Benghazi, Turbi said a make-shift police force had been assembled. A border security force had sprouted up, greeting incoming traffic with chants of "Welcome to a free Libya."

Tribal leaders had formed a semblance of a leadership committee—Turbi called them “social administrators.” On Wednesday, banks were scheduled to re-open. How this small group arrives at a city charter, a provincial constitution or a bill of rights remains to be seen. They have “yet to get their feet wet,” Turbi said.

That's one thing that has many analysts worried. What happens if tribes begin to fight each other in a struggle for power? Leaders of the tribes and the protestors insist relations are not that acrimonious between clans.

Turbi said sanctions will ultimately hurt the people and not Qaddafi. He offered the example of Iran's rising obstinacy in the face of renewed U.N. threats. Foreign Policy writes Western nations could freeze Qaddafi's account, pull out from Libyan oil fields and prosecute those who carry out violence.

“Gaddafi was so eager for Western investment to develop his oil fields that he abandoned his nuclear program in 2003, ended his support for terrorist groups, agreed to a settlement on the Pan Am bombing, and in 2007 freed a group of Bulgarian nurses spuriously charged with spreading HIV among Libyan hospital patients,” noted Foreign Policy. “In each case, the West used the stick of sanctions and isolation and the carrot of closer economic and diplomatic ties to influence Libyan behavior. “

The international community may be reprieved from having to act. Key allies in Central and South America have remained quiet. His pal Hosni Mubarak is no longer in power. And his good friend (or slave) in Italy is no longer extending a warm welcome as he deals with his own problems.

In the coming days, Gaddafi's loyalists may turn on him or protestors could penetrate his fortress. He captured power while King Idris was out of the country. Gaddafi has refused to abdicate authority.

In a address on the night the military took control in 1969, Gaddafi said “the stench [of the toppled regime] has sickened and horrified us all.”

One question that remains outstanding many years later is how many more people will Gaddafi allow to be killed in a river of blood before he too is deposed.

Reach executive producer Paresh Dave here. Follow him on Twitter: @peard33.



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