Symbolic of the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya this week was the iconic photo showing the colonel’s head, cut off from the rest of the statue, with shoes placed on it as a sign of maximum disrespect. When the Arab revolutions began with long-time despots ousted in Tunisia and Egypt, and with continuing disturbances in Yemen and Syria, Colonel Gaddafi appeared to be one of the most entrenched. But as well as his surprising political demise more shocking revelations have come to the fore. That mass graves have been discovered may not come as much of a shock for such is the nature of brutal despots. Perhaps most jaw-dropping was the lavish palatial surroundings in which Gaddafi lived, exploding the myth that he had the frugal lifestyle of a desert nomad and resided in a tent. Instead the luxury in which he wallowed far outweighed anything enjoyed by Idris, the monarch whom he overthrew in 1969. This was of course done in the name of “the people” as all coups and revolutions tend to be to validate their unlawful enterprise. But as will all such high minded propaganda and emotive rhetoric this degenerated into a brutal dictatorship with intolerance of divergent opinion, meaningful policies and demographic diversity all glued together by virulent anti-Semitism, much as it had in neighbouring Egypt ruled by Gaddafi’s youthful hero Nasser. Unlike his mentor however Gaddafi had the benefit of vast oil revenues on which to mask over his totalitarian regime and engage in maverick contradictory policies. Hailed by the Left as a spokesman for the Third World, Libya funded the ANC fight against apartheid in South Africa, and was one of the leading lights in African unity. Yet Gaddafi also backed rebels in Chad and African migrants to Libya sometimes found themselves at the brunt of horrific racism including violence. He managed to simultaneously fund the IRA in Britain and also the neo-Nazi style National Front.
Will the new revolution in Libya meet the same fate that infected Gaddafi’s promises back in 1969? While it is unclear for now the signs are not hopeful. Civil society has been effectively destroyed. The infrastructure is crumbling. Tribal frictions as much as years of pent up frustration are bursting forth like trapped magma. Democratic institutions and pluralism take generations to build up. The present vacuum does not auger well for Libya, especially if the signs of hope are also being extinguished as the Arab Spring turns into the Long March into yet another cold dark Arab Ice Age. Into this creep the well organised and determined Salafists something which unfortunately we must now be prepared for.