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الخميس 1 يناير 2009

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It is the constitution thing..

With a mixture of gloom and mild amusement that is not humorous we witness another phase of the modern Libyan history unfolding. The Colonel and boys decided on granting the great nation a constitution, one for the Libyans to fully enjoy and marvel for the rest of time. For the rest of time, because the Gaddaffi clan is now here to rule for a good spell, if friends and allies have it their way. Of late clear signs have appeared plenty and in all shapes and styles including smoke bellowing from everywhere to leave no doubt as to how the United States and European governments feel about Gaddaffi’s regime. The emerging ever closer ties of the Libyan regime with the United States and the exchange of high level visits with Europe leave no doubt as to where the future of the regime is heading as far as folks in the US are concerned, and that is far enough. It is perfectly far for G & Sons. By inference the prospects of the Libyan opposition have also been charted.

The current activities regarding the talk about drafting a constitution for Libya with the help of the American scholar Dr Benjamin Barber, goes an important step further along the path of affirming the regime’s lasting and at the same time, by stealth, dismantling all that is of value to the Libyan nation and reminders of a democratic constitutional country ours once was. The initiative to draw a constitution (at this time) is not without that suspect odor often associated with such initiatives that appear to serve the unfortunate people. A little more than a whiff of hypocrisy or worse appears to surround this project. It smells like a devious plan to outmaneuver and confuse.

From the point of view of a Libyan who firmly believes in the non-accidental coming and subsequent perfect protection of Gaddaffi’s reign and the alarming interest of United States and their allies in Libya, the constitution initiative and the reported involvement of an eminent American scholar are immeasurably wearisome.

There is no obvious motive for this to be another great thing coming out of Gaddaffi’s era. His rule has not suffered from lack of constitutional structures or any other structure, if anything it has been quite the opposite. He experiments randomly with political ideas without the inconvenience of a constitution limiting (God forbid) his powers. The last thing a proper dictator needs is a constitution that could hinder the decisions of the great leader. The whole point of being a dictator is to do whatever you want without reference to other authorities. So why now take a risk with a constitution? And why involve a prominent American to help draft it? We are used to a leader who teaches the world. Surely he can write a little constitution. The great leader wrote the Green Book! Well, that is the point.

Or has this latest charade have something to do with The Constitution of 1951?

It does not (or should not) take much to see in retrospect the effect of the Constitutional Movement began by the Libyan Constitutional Union in 1981 on the modulation of politics and views of the Libyan opposition. More subtly, but clearly we can the effect of the Constitutional Movement on how the “dangers” to the Libyan regime have been appraised by its real defenders from abroad and by the regime itself. The fresh life given to the 1951 Constitution by the hard unwavering work of the Libyan Constitutional Union made this institution an essentially unbeatable challenge to Gaddaffi’s rule on fundamental basis. The challenge has never weakened or compromised. In short the Constitutional principle became the only true long term threat to Gaddaffi’s rule on straightforward legality basis that hits at the heart of the regime. And it was not going to go away. In fact the more exposure of the banality of the other opposition groups, and the more Gaddaffi’s regime aspires to be part of the international scene, the stronger the Constitutional principle has become as a threatening element. It is a threat not only to the regime itself but (probably more importantly) to the plan for Libya. To Gaddaffi and his supporters and protectors from overseas, the challenge by the 1951 Constitutional principle has become the frustrating old “ghost” that will not disappear. The possible damage from it lurks not too far. The help by Gaddaffi’s good friends has effectively taken care of the rest of the opposition and continue to replace the void with new style actors. It is working, up to a point. But the Constitution thing will not let go!

It is not beyond the probable that the scheme to go for a constitution in a deliberately high profile manner and with the help of one of the best (from America) is aimed at fighting the “ghost” of the 1951 Constitution on new grounds. Could not beat that old thing so let us have one that sounds the same and have it endorsed by a famous American Scholar who knows about this sort of thing. The involvement of this type of authority will give it a sort of authenticity which will turn into legitimacy? To comprehend this point one must look at the ridicule the Green Book attracted. The thought must be that in time, the memory of the outdated thing and its institutional powers will finally disappear. Or will it! You might think; this will never work!

One can imagine Gaddaffi’s friends (advisers) replying (in a virtual meeting); it is all very well saying that, but we couldn’t think of anything else. Someone in the corner shouts: We have to try this new constitution idea, nothing else worked. A quite one in the other corner wisely notes: it might fire back! (Everyone in the room thought this is what you get if you hire college boys). How is that wise guy? (This was the boss man or someone concerned about past screw ups and promises). He added: and don’t tell me about the opposition (he is obviously peeved off now). The heated discussion goes on. What about getting some guys in the army to go for a revolution? Said someone who just came into the small windowless room (it is his standard response to all those little problems in the East, or is it the Middle East, or is it Africa now? well the man is not good in map-reading. But he was sure it is the area where no one gives a sh… what they do. Uhhh, I give up, the boss man sighed in disbelief. Big G is our friend you dumbo. Our job is to look after him.

And the doubts mount everywhere especially now (after a lot of years, a lot of years) everybody (a long list anyway) is talking about the need to return to the Constitutional Legitimacy! It is infuriating. Big G now thinks a little (unusual for this busy leader) and says, with a note of dejection, what is it about this thing everyone in the opposition wants some of it now? (Big G finds it difficult to say the word opposition properly, so he murmurs it in small font). Didn’t they say they will make a new constitution? Gooder, they said, bigger, more complicated, modern, they promised. That could have helped us very well. We could have given them a hand with it. We pay a big professor to write it for them. What happened? Why the change now? Am I missing something? They are talking about the same old thing right? Or is this different, there is only one of these? Big G yells? But no one answers in case they say the wrong thing. The chap in the corner thinks: the leader has brain-washed himself big time, he is pretending to forget stuff (United Nations, Independence, the Constitution, the King, parliament, …. a long list). The chap goes on thinking: the brother got the opposition mixed up, deliberately to dismiss the problem, he is suffering from calculated forgetfulness, is this a new epidemic? We all know about the fashionable ones and the others. He couldn’t have forgotten this bit; the chap thought. The chap could not stop the trail of thought moving on: there is only one Constitution so how come? He was interrupted by his cell phone or something.

The Constitution thing got everyone in a spin. It is showing a new effect: designer poor memory. It is spreading. Be careful of you read.

So now it is tempting to change the title of this piece to: “it is the constitution thing stupid”.

Ahmed S Mesbah
December 28th, 2008

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