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Gaddafi and the West… The Colonel’s Need for a Foe that Legitimizes His Presence

Gaddafi and the West… The Colonel’s Need for a Foe that Legitimizes His Presence

Asharq Al-Awsat publishes excerpts from a book by Mojahed Bosify about the Libyan colonel and his thorny relations with the West
Monday, 19 April, 2021 - 10:15
Gaddafi at his headquarters in Bab Al-Azizia, Tripoli, after the US raids in 1986. (Getty Images)

Asharq Al-Awsat will begin, starting on Monday, releasing excerpts from a book by Libyan author Mojahed Bosify about Libya under the rule of late leader Colonel Moammar al-Gaddafi. Today’s excerpt tackles his thorny relations with the West and how he believed that its true “religion” was money, which is how he based his approach towards it. As the years went by, Gaddafi came to view the presence of the West as an “important enemy” that offered his rule longevity at the least cost.

“Dawlat al-Khayma” (The Tent State) is published by Beirut’s Difaf Publications and will be released at the Cairo Book Fair. Bosify wrote about how Gaddafi disliked the West, a position that did not change throughout his rule. The late leader recalled an encounter in the United Kingdom in 1966 when he was undergoing further military training. He recalled how he was seated next to a Briton on a train. When drinks were served, the man only paid for his order. Gaddafi objected to his behavior, which he perceived as lacking dignity. The event would shape Gaddafi’s view of the British, whom he believed do not host you or allow you to host them, which contradicts the Bedouin values on which he was raised.

After he came to power, he would recount to the BBC how his fellow Libyans were insulted by English officers during their training in the UK. “I am certain that they hated us,” he told his interviewer.

Gaddafi would never really understand the West – as friend or foe alike. He constantly viewed the West from his own Libyan lens, not from the perspective of its own history and values. Indeed, he would come to hate the West. He was keen on relaying this hatred to everyone, developing a state of enmity that in turn would bring him fame. With time, the mutual hostility between them would constantly provide the enemy with the excuse to revolt against Gaddafi, and provide him with the justifications to remain in power.

The colonel based part of his propaganda on religion and history. He believed that the hostility was part of the tenth Crusade that was targeting Libya and the entire Muslim east. He was eager to meet this hostility and at one point during a televised address challenged US President Jimmy Carter to an armed duel to resolve wars. At another instance, he alleged that westerners were part of Darwin’s missing link between man and monkey and even tasked researchers to back his claim.

Gaddafi’s failure to learn foreign languages and deep sense of pride prevented him from understanding complex political, social and industrial issues that are integral to life in the West. For nearly two decades, he kept visiting these lands, leaving behind fear wherever he went. He carried out or supported terrorist operations in most European cities, and then sent his squads of professional murderers to the United States, to assassinate opponents in the heart of the greatest enemy.

In April 1986, US President Ronald Reagan decided to set a new rule in dealing with him, so he sent a squadron of planes that bombed his private home and a few other targets. The US army missed at least two targets and caused a massacre of which the colonel cleverly benefited. But the message had arrived and served its purpose for several years. This time, the colonel understood that he had to stay calm.

After the Kuwait war, a simultaneous announcement by Britain and the United States formally accused the Libyan regime of blowing up an American civilian plane. Two Libyan men were wanted for trial. Libya, along with Iraq, was subject to a siege that lasted for seven years, before a Saudi-South African mediation succeeded in persuading Gaddafi to hand over the accused to a neutral court, before finally acknowledging responsibility of the attack.

The Lockerbie case cost Gaddafi great efforts and losses on all fronts. But he emerged from that turmoil with a new theory, which he expressed in few words: The West’s only religion is money.

The colonel started to award contracts to Western companies and his new approach did not disappoint him at all, but opened for him the paths he desired.

With his abundant money and traveling with his tent and camel, he visited most of the capitals of the West, with the exception of London, for which he maintained a lasting hatred.

During a visit to Paris, he sat on the chair of Louis XIV, after he was officially received by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace. No one had imagined at that time that he had funded Sarkozy’s election campaign.

The real problems with the West had not yet begun. They will start with the emergence of Osama bin Laden, who will strike the heart of America without mercy, in a Hollywood-like scene, from which the White House itself barely escaped.

Less than two years later, Saddam Hussein will fall in another operation. Around that day, special security units came to the heart of Tripoli at night, removing the large posters of the leader hanging on the walls, fearing that they would be too provocative. A cautious fear overwhelmed the colonel. He expected at any time the appearance of US warplanes in Libyan skies.

A week after Saddam was captured, Gaddafi finally realized that the game was over. He announced that he would abandon any programs to produce “chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.”

America waved the stick whenever necessary. In March 2004, a delegation headed by Joseph Biden, then chief Democrat in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited the Jamahiriya. After his meeting with Gaddafi near Sirte, he delivered a speech the next day, in which he said that the Libyan people had capabilities and opportunities, but suffered from a big problem, which is a “misleading ideology”.

The live television broadcast was immediately cut off at this point, and dozens of diplomats and politicians sought to reduce the intensity of those words. Biden, however, remained adamant about his opinion of the colonel, whom he described after his return to Washington as “not having a single bone that believes in democracy.”

While many Western delegations looked for investment opportunities in Libya, others wanted different type of information.

Two years after Joseph Biden’s visit, a delegation from the National Institute for Democracy in Washington, which was at that time headed by Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State, visited the African country.

The delegation, which included four experts in the region and observers of the progress of change, spent nine days wandering around the country, and came out with a report describing bleak conditions 37 years after the leader came to power.

“It is very clear that the executive authority is in the hands of Colonel Gaddafi... who created a system that carries a decision-making mechanism that is extremely dark and unclear,” the experts said.

The report goes on to explain the rest of the reality in Libya, where legal penalties are imposed on freedom of expression and assembly, to such an extent that the movements and communications of the delegation itself “were under close supervision throughout the mission.”

Many delegations flocked to Libya, while the colonel tried to carefully chart the new approach, without a valid infrastructure and no qualified cadres, except in rare cases, for use in the outside world. Gaddafi remained in a frenzied quest for “international legitimacy”, with which he hoped to crown his life as a global example.

Two years after resolving the Lockerbie crisis, the colonel was able to come out with the signing of the Initial Declaration of the African Union, for which he chose a date chose as he liked: 09/09/1999.

The African leaders could barely keep him away from the presidency of that union for ten years, before he finally won it at the exact time he wanted. As soon as he assumed the post in 2010, he also took on the Arab chairmanship at the Sirte summit a few weeks later.

Between these two presidencies, he finally arrived in New York for the first and last time in his life. This performance culminated in a speech on the world’s podium. But his address was a poorly formulated monologue. The tragic moment, which lasted for more than two hours and was broadcast live around the globe, saw the Libyan leader violate all protocols and laws, mixing topics and presenting his worst performance ever throughout his long history.

The New York trip marked the end of his fame. When that Bedouin boy finally reached the world’s apple and financial hub, he spoiled the precious opportunity.

The Western world meanwhile remained idle, waiting for the opportunity. It first publicly denied any connection with the colonel, then lifted its cover to later intervene directly to uproot him.

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