No Comment — March 2, 2011, 4:27 pm

Qaddafi’s Dilemma

The Arab Revolution of 2011, still in progress, started in Tunisia, continued to Egypt, and is now being played out in Libya, the nation that separates them. Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak were both dislodged after mass popular uprisings when the military made clear it could no longer support them. But Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi had developed an eccentric governance style: a vicious, dictatorial inner regime was cloaked in the illusion of a people’s democracy with political power diffused into local committees. Libya’s military was also relatively weak, probably because Colonel Qaddafi, who used a military coup to come to power, was determined not to see that example repeated. He built a private security apparatus to offset it, controlled tightly by himself and his sons, and he made heavy use of foreign mercenaries, loyal to him and his payroll. All of this has set the stage for a bloody endgame. Qaddafi’s son Saif has pledged that the family will “live and die in Libya.” It appears that Qaddafi directed or approved the use of anti-aircraft guns and mortars against peaceful demonstrators. Defecting pilots and the captains of Libyan naval vessels have reportedly claimed that he directed them to bomb or shell cities in the hands of the rebels. His own justice minister has deserted him and revealed that Qaddafi personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing.

Now Qaddafi is making history in more ways. He is the first sitting head of state to be subject to asset freeze orders throughout the world in peacetime. And he is the first sitting head of state to be referred to the International Criminal Court for investigation and prosecution for likely crimes against humanity by unanimous vote in the Security Council. He seems likely to spend his final hours deserted by nearly everyone, alone in a bunker.

Past antics leave Qaddafi little hope for refuge. Saudi Arabia, a destination of choice for deposed dictators in the Arab world, was fairly generous when it came to security arrangements, and the Saudis slammed a tight door in the face of the International Criminal Court. But Qaddafi would never be welcome in Saudi Arabia, because he has been convincingly tied to a plot to assassinate then-Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah. Lebanon may also be inhospitable. A prominent Lebanese imam, Musa Sadr, went to visit Qaddafi in 1978 in his palace in Tripoli, together with two colleagues. The three were never seen or heard from again, and now a Libyan colonel who has gone over to the opposition states that they were shot on Qaddafi’s orders. Other regimes in the Arab world probably now view Qaddafi as radioactive—his violence in suppressing the Libyan uprising might spark similar demonstrations in any state that shelters him.

Qaddafi has friends in Latin America. Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega stood up for him when the troubles in Libya began, and British foreign minister William Hague was quick to accept rumors that Qaddafi was fleeing to shelter with his equally eccentric friend in Caracas. But both Chávez and Ortega drew a storm of ridicule from domestic opposition over their embrace of a man with so much blood on his hands. A Venezuelan voice once raised aggressively in Qaddafi’s defense was, by Monday, calling on Qaddafi to begin negotiating with his domestic rivals. It is increasingly difficult to see how either of these governments could give Qaddafi refuge.

That leaves a handful of outliers as candidates for asylum. Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus, which now shelters deposed Kyrgyz dictator Kurmanbek Bakiyev, appears to have slipped a vital shipment of arms to Qaddafi just as the meltdown began. Lukashenko has shown little hesitancy about incurring the wrath of the international community in the past, but then “Luka,” as his people call him, is just as mercurial and violent as Qaddafi himself—a fact which should give the Libyan some pause. And then there are Qaddafi’s African client states, such as Burkina Faso, Chad, and Zimbabwe. They have taken Libyan money in the past and have broadly supported Qaddafi’s initiatives in the Organization of African Unity. They might well be willing to play host to Qaddafi (or more precisely, his money), but then none of these states is either stable or particularly hospitable–and Qaddafi’s billions are quickly being quarantined by international asset freeze orders.

Much as Qaddafi’s posture may be driven by his own failure to appreciate the depth and determination of his domestic opposition, it is also the product of forty years of wanton and at times irrational violence that made him a pariah among world leaders. Qaddafi is cornered. He has no place to run. And his end may well serve as a cautionary tale for future despots and human-rights violators.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2016

With Child

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Standing Rock Speaks

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Prose by Any Other Name

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The New Red Scare

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Separated at Birth

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Priest in the Trees

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
With Child·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Photograph (detail) by Lara Shipley
Article
Swat Team·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"As we shall see, for the sort of people who write and edit the opinion pages of the Post, there was something deeply threatening about Sanders and his political views."
Illustration (detail) by John Ritter
Article
Escape from The Caliphate·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"When Matti invited me on a tour of the neighborhood, I asked about security. 'The message has already been passed to ISIS that you’re here,' he said. 'But don’t worry. I guarantee I could bring even you in and out of the Islamic State.'"
Photograph (detail) by Alice Martins
Article
In This One·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Illustration (detail) by Shonagh Rae
Article
“Don’t Touch My Medicare!”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Medicare’s popularity, however, comes with almost no understanding of what the program is and how it works."
Illustration (detail) by Nate Kitch

Rank of Richard Nixon masks among the top U.S. costumer’s best-selling political masks over the last five years:

1

A small meteorite injured an adolescent German.

It was reported that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Trump to discuss issues relating to women and families, and Trump handed the phone to his daughter.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today