not what the skunk had done." Njabulo S. Ndebele, " Death of a Son"
Qaddafi's carnival for his never-ending 40-years in power, this week, has brought back another aspect of what oil-money could do. The world is a stge, the acting goes on! Images gave way to caricature. The extravagant show has added some credibility to the stereotype of Arab thriftspending. The flow of easy money into the hands of Western expertise could do magic. And magic it was. 1000 camels garnished the lavish circus with its surfeited Beduins in full regalia, African dum-dums, European aerobatics, and even some of the dawdling folks. This (unnecessary) outlandish -and one must add outrageous- waste only provokes people to give second look into all those pretensions and false claims which Qaddafi have been repeating, ad nauseam, all these years and that would justify h these merry festivities. The question is, in country which still in dire need for even decent toilets in its public buildings, not to mention private, wouldn't such $$ millions find better use? Say build a Public Library for a town or village somewhere in the country; or provide to one of the universities some Research Facilities; or to any of the myriad needed -and still unavailable- cultural and recreational services in the land?
Who has allocated the money to mount such uncalled for hubbala? To show off what? The junk which has been bought expensively on the blackmarket? If so, was the commemoration worth the buck? Was the rag-tag Army take-over (the coup d'etat) an act to be proud for? In other words, was Qaddafi's organized robbery, of power, on that night of September 1, 1969 a noble deed, a full-blown Revolution meriting what such events usually deserved? Even if it were what is it purported to be, then, Croesus had never donated his wealth to Libya, what is wrong with these folks?
The whole fuss comes down to simple question: Was it a Revolution or a coup d'etat? To begin with, coups d'etat historically were always limited in their scope: they were for power grab. Or simply to overthrow the existing regime and replacing it with some other political arrangement, no more, no less. On the other hand, Revolutions were rare historical events. They come at their own pace and take their time to gestate and even longer to realize. They always were about more than political power. A historical response to long felt social-cultural malaises and pent-up grievances. If coups d'etat sought to grab society's body, Revolutions were about its soul. Grabbing the body only never was enough to untangle all the knots which had kept it shackled in its muddle. Revolutions came to break with those bondages. Thus, if there's one fundamental mark which distinguished a mere change of guard (the regime), from one which aimed to shake society from its foundations (revolution), was not only by how widespread the causes that drove it were felt -and how much mass participation the movement had gathered- but above all by how widely shared its contents were, its ideological, philosophical, and political underpinnings. Since revolutions have some quasi ultra-historical appeal many coup d'etaters, who craved for a placed under the sun as much as legitimacy, had done their utmost to ride their exuberant -and mysterious, waves, cost what it may.
Where it was not clear enough to distinguish between an act of thievery from a genuine patriotic stand; to separate the roth from the sane, sift the grain from the shaft, and cull facts from false claims, only deeds must be left to cast the ultimate verdict. It's also good to bear in mind, no matter how much power or greasy lips the spinners dispose of, all that run-of-the-mill chatter wouldn't and couldn't decide for what history itself was unwilling or still unable to decide upon. Judgments at this time maybe tentative but nonetheless important to jet down for future history. Was, then, Qaddafi's event a total failure or only a shortcoming?
Any action or a revolt caught in the dichotomy between balancing the demands of stability -and thus conserving its past roots- or forging ahead with modernization and progress requirements -and thus antagonizing some segments of the old guard- and bulked was doomed to failure. This could be seen from the simple fact of Qaddafi's still gloating more on what he's been able to destroy than by what he purportedly yearned to build. Reminder once again an act which was aimed to change the political order, the power's set-up, could never have been counted for more than what it was: a coup d'etat! no matter t what the claims behind it were. Thus 1969-coup, had never gathered that mass revolt, against the existing political-cultural, etc, orders to qualify it for a Revolution. Any simple application of revolutionary parameters to the 1969 take-over would have to put it smack in the middle of the usual run-of-the-mill coups d'etat. All post facto boastings and gloatings refrains, notwithstanding, remain paeans to a would have been rather than to actually took place.1969, and its subsequent decades, was not a historical shattering event but rather a raw and brutal assault on Libya's collective will and power.
If what Qaddafi and his cohorts did was not a revolution; was then Moammer an impostor, or rather Fate had denied to bestow on his actions, and words, meanings and intentions they did not carry when they were done or uttered? Perhaps, Qaddafi was merely a victim to history's sense of humor, or to his own sleight of hand? He, apparently, had planned for a coup but ended up clothed in a revolution's garb. Was then the 1969-Event a case of unintended consequences, a modest action caught in the juggernaut of social expectations? Since Qaddafi apparently never knew how vulnerable promises, and the words, could be, he never hesitated to make them. Since, in order for promises and words to be taken seriously, they demand proof of actions. These have come short. Qaddafi never met the call of his own promises and words.
If it were a Revolution, to be true to itself, must have addressed, whether in the back- or front-waters of the globe, what ailed the country. Libya in 1969 was in the full grip of two powerful forces: Tribalism and Religion. After 40-years of the Revolution-manque it's still caught in their prise.
When Qaddafi took-over that archaic, antiquated, and phoney political set-up, monarchy, Libya was mired in, beside the eclectic political system, the most insidious grip history had ever produced: an archaic social fabric and a decadent and frayed culture. Tribalism and Religion are still the mainstay of Libya, dominating its set-up and directing its behaviors. Though these two forces have been around longer than anybody can remember, and constituted for a time an anchor and a shelter, slowly they've become a weight crushing down on its chest to suffocation. One of the main reasons is perhaps that of being both forces of conservation. They resist change! Their ingredients were made of the substances resistant to time. Libya, therefore, today is no closer to modernization than to was in 1969. Despite Qaddafi's blustering haberdashery against this and against that, his regime has done very little to challenge the corrosive hegemonic actions of Tribalism and Religion on Libya's body and soul. His hit-in-the-dark' without plan or program with which to face and combat what had held Libya from participating in the modern world. In actual fact Qaddafi exploited and made use of both Tribalism and Religion -just as colonialism had done before him and imperialism is still doing today- to tighten his grip on power. Thus, what Qaddafi's 4-decades of dictatorship have accomplished, was no more than what had been done in the first few hours of his take-over: the folding over of the crumpling cartoonish regime. Whatever diseases, causes and forces, that gnawed at society pith back then are still there intact doing their work today. Like a wall, more stubborn than any Chinese Wall, keeping Libya from peeking into the future.
40-years may not be long enough but a quick look to what some nations have been able to accomplish during this period of time would make any claims to a real revolution even less credible. Modern revolutions, since the American and French ones, beyond the contingent exigencies that prompted them, were aimed primarily to shake society's foundations and to awaken it to the new sense of history, the modern world. By this standard no Arab movement from the 19th century to date came even close. Most what these movements strived for was a change only to remain the same.
What about Libya (and the Arabs in general) that others have but it doesn't? A cursory look to other nations' and countries' recent histories would show many examples of successful transformations: from drowsy and backward societies into vibrant and modern societies. These countries have affected such accomplishments during more or less the magic number of forty! In approximately this span of time the Soviet Union was transformed from an agrarian backwater country into the rank of a superpower with a satellite (Sputnik) orbiting the earth. Taiwan and South Korea went from poor and forgotten lands into modern industrial countries. During this stretch of time Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore from 1965 to 1990 was able to turn a backward colonial outpost, with no natural resources, into one of the most successful of Asia's Tigers. The same can be said about Mahatir bin Mohammed's tenure as Prime Minister (1981- 2003) that ushered his country into the industrial age. China went from a poor and broken country into one of the most vibrant societies in human history. Even India went from a heart-wrenching and poverty-ridden country into a stable democracy and aspiring industrial giant.
What has Moammer achieved in his 40-years to celebrate for? He was not certainly sleeping all this time! He has done plenty of things, most of them nasty, Libyans (and the rest of the world) would hate to remember. Beside the hooplas he's routinely mounted to draw attention to his so-called misnomored revolution, nothing else of what he did would be seen by any reasonable human as exceptional or even worth mentioning. After all the huffs and puffs, what remains are the facts on the ground, Libya when he took it over was a sleepy backwater, by name only a country; and the sad fact Libya today is no better than it was back then. In forty years of straying in the wilderness of the Sahara Desert Qaddafi was able to run the gamut of human experiences and some more without any success in one. Jumping from one experience to another ideology, changing allies and alliances, making acrobatic volte facce, etc. have resulted in disastrous and costly consequences for the country. Scavenging has never made, out bits and pieces, a coherent revolution. All the ideologies, economic systems, and political set-ups, etc., in the world would solve a mess Qaddafi has made worse.
As to the legends of Qaddafi's flip-flops? They were equaled only by his unabashed caving-in to forces beyond his control. But the big whops were in sloughing his pet causes: Arab nationalism, socialism, etc. What about his African slant? It's another smokescreen to self aggrandizement. Since by even 3-World petty accomplishments, housing units built, schools added, healthcare screw-ups, etc., he came short. He touted so many numbers until no one believes in them anymore. As to the regime's honesty and hardwork? Well, perhaps in lining their pockets. The little which has trickled down was not enough to embellish his regime's images thus the carnivalesque shows go on. Ghoma