WorldVoices: the Death of a Despot

by Pauline Moullot and Valentine Pasquesoone 

Discovered hiding in a sewer in his hometown of Sirte, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was killed Thursday at the age of 69. Who exactly pulled the trigger remains uncertain, but within 24 hours, commentators and politicians hotly debated the significance of his death. Grisly photos and videos of his last moments circulated across the globe.

Other than Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, few lamented Gaddafi’s death, but many commentators expressed skepticism over its import. Democracy and peace do not happen with a brutal and cold-blooded killing, they say, even if that person is the “Mad Dog of the Middle East.”

A small number, most notably out of Italy, immediately—and quite cynically—thought about how to best take advantage of Gaddafi’s death for their own country.

Now, power lies completely in the hands of Libya’s National Transitional Council. It’s too early to predict how things will turn out, but after more than four decades, Libyans finally have chance to rebuild their country.

Not everyone was pleased to see Gaddafi's death. One world leader scorned the “imperialist aggression” of NATO and praised Gaddafi as a martyr. According to Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, here’s how Hugo Chavez eulogized his Libyan friend:

Unfortunately, Gaddafi's death has been confirmed. He was murdered. It is another onslaught on life," Chávez commented and added that the north-African leader was also a "great fighter." “We will remember Gaddafi forever as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr," the Head of State told reporters in the Venezuelan Andean city of La Grita… The Venezuelan president regarded Gaddafi as a friend and encouraged him to resist the "imperialist aggression" from NATO, which supported Libyan rebels from the outset last February. According to Chávez, all that world super powers want is to grab the Libyan oil. 

At least, Chavez could be right about the value of Libya’s oil. In the French newspaper Le Figaro, Thomas Vampouille argues that even if the military action cost France €300 million, Great Britain €343 million, and some €500 million for the U.S., these countries stand to benefit from the reconstruction of the country. Not only are there valuable oil reserves, but there’s new infrastructure that these countries can help build. Vampouille interviewed the French ministry of defense Gerard Longuet, who said:

We don’t send a bill to people who call for help, freedom, independence and safety, Gerard Longuet says. Yet the French cooperation with Libya is extremely promising. The country needs new infrastructures, we are capable of doing it, and the French are already well known and appreciated in Libya.” In addition to the reconstruction, France is already in the starting blocks for promising economic deals with this oil rich country. The minister added: “I think the French economy has everything to win.”

In Italy, the leader of the nationalist party Northern League Umberto Bossi controversially said that Gaddafi’s death was good news. Not because he was a dictator, according to Italy Global Nations, but because they could now deport more Libyans.

Now that Muammar Gaddafi is dead Italy can repatriate Libyan migrants who illegally entered Italy after the start of Libya's civil war in February, according to the political leader whose party is crucial to keeping prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in power. "Now we can send the illegal Libyans home," Umberto Bossi told reporters in Rome on Thursday. Without the support of Bossi's anti-immigrate Northern League party, Berlusconi's conservative coalition would fall.

In the Libyan newspaper Asharq Alwasat, Tariq Alhomayed argues that killing Muammar Gaddafi was only one step, not even the most significant one, in building a free Libya.

We must make sure that the people of Libya today understand that Gaddafi is finished, and that perhaps this was one of the easier difficult tasks facing them. More important than all of this, is for the people of Libya to rebuild the country that Gaddafi destroyed over 4 decades in power. He was a man who stood in the face of the progress of the [Libyan] people and state; a man who turned his entire country into a personal fiefdom for himself and his children. Today, it is up to the people of Libya to rebuild their country and its institutions, and protect the Libyan civilians and their dignity. By doing so, Libya will have truly washed its hands of Gaddafi.

Gaddafi’s death reminded a few commentators of Saddam Hussein’s demise. Taraq Barkawi warns on Al-Jazeera that, as in the case of Saddam Hussein, the death of a despot can plunge a country into violent division, even civil war.  

In the weeks before Gaddafi's death, there were justified fears that Libya was becoming a kind of post-invasion Iraq, "Mission Accomplished: The Sequel". A rapier-like Western campaign has helped topple an autocrat, but in the absence of an effective plan or means to replace him. The NTC has been unable to secure the country. Armed militias have clashed. Many have suffered from the capricious rule of undisciplined men with guns… Now the pendulum is swinging the other way. The hated dictator is dead… The combatants in the air and on the ground will feel justly proud they got their man. But they will be wrong to think it's over… Like Iraq, Libya was assembled through histories of empire and its aftermath. It has been torn apart by war. Now it has lost the one thing that united much of the country: hatred of Colonel Gaddafi and his regime. Libyans are left to face the legacy of his mastery of the art of divide and rule.

The Jakarta Globe shares the story of an Indonesian pilot who worked for Gaddafi for six years. Ganahadi Ratnuatmadja has nothing but positive things to say about his former employer, but despite receiving a state award, he says the new government has offered to retain him.  

An Indonesian pilot named Ganahadi Ratnuatmadja was among those personally affected by the death of toppled Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi… For six years, Ganahadi served as a pilot to Qaddafi. He was even given the Al Nawaad Al Wajib state award for his service to the country’s ruler. Ganahadi told Elshinta that he remembered Qaddafi as a “good employer… “When my daughter got married in Bandung a few years ago, Pak Qaddafi sent his oldest son [Muhammad] to attend the wedding… Ganahadi said he was informed of Qaddafi’s death on Thursday, shortly after it occurred, through a phone call from an official with the anti-Qaddafi National Transitional Council over the phone last night. The call included a surprising offer, Ganahadi said. “NTC called me and broke the news to me,” he said. “They also offered for me to return to Libya and continue my work as a presidential pilot for the new leadership.

Akram Belkaid in Slate Afrique, writing from Tunisia, says that unlike in his country, Libya won’t see its dictator judged properly. Without a trial, the world won’t have the chance to know the kind of tieseconomic, political, or personalthat existed between Western powers and Gaddafi’s regime. For that reason alone, he argues, we should be disappointed that the tyrant was executed.

“It’s a fact. The “Sirt sheperd” won’t face the same fate as Ben Ali did, in-exile in a country that doesn’t suit him, and where he barely has freedom of movement. He also won’t be judged—and humiliated—like Mubarak was. That’s a shame. Gaddafi would have had lots of stories to tell, particularly on his ties with Western rulers, from Tony Blair the wheeler-dealer to Sarkozy the chief general of the world, bearing in mind the ineffable Berlusconi. Yes, it would have been a benefit for northern Western democracies to have details about their governments and elites’ deals with a despicable regime, but which distributed tones of dollars. Gaddafi won’t be judged. Caught alive, a bullet in the head prevented him from talking, forever. Like in a film noir, where the bothering mafia character never shows up for evidence at the tribunal, Gaddafi’s demise is a death that suits many, starting with his former servants, now turned revolutionaries, democrats and “secular.”

While the Libyans who killed Gaddafi freed their country from a brutal dictator, the way they did it, writes John Lyons in The Australian, means that Gaddafi will never see true justice and brings up some serious concerns about the insurgent fighters.

 The killings yesterday of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his son Mutassim raise serious questions about the rebels and how they operate. Both father and son seem to have been killed in cold blood by bullets in the head. It seems clear that after capturing Muammar Gaddafi yesterday in his hometown, Sirte, one of the rebels put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. This is the way Gaddafi and his henchmen operated. No questions, no explanations, no justice… Only a few months ago some of the rebel fighters assassinated one of their commanders. A short time before, the commander had been a hero. They executed him because they were supporters of a different faction. So they assassinated a man they once admired. Yesterday they assassinated a man they have long hated. This cannot become a pattern. The bloodlust must stop now.


[French translation by Pauline Moullot and Valentine Pasquesoone]

[Photo courtesy of Flickr user home_of_chaos]

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