Most dictators meet an end that is all too fitting given the brutality with which they rule their countries. They end up in an early grave, face an ignominious trial or have to while their days away in humiliating exile. Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi was no exception, although he managed to last longer than most tyrants. There is a forgivable tendency to romantacise those who have just died but this should be avoided in Qaddafi’s case. In his 42 years in power, Qaddafi ruthlessly suppressed any opposition and made his oil-rich country an international laughing stock with his eccentricities. His revolutionary committees made sure no one would challenge his absolute power at home while his involvement in terrorist activities abroad, including the bombing of a discotheque in West Germany in 1986 and the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 brought nothing but misery to his beleaguered people.
Qaddafi talked a good game about pan-Islamic and pan-African unity but used these movements simply to glorify himself, ready to abandon anyone if it was in his short-term interest. Pakistan, who even named its cricket stadium in Lahore after him, has particular reason to be aggrieved. Having long sought nuclear weapons, Qaddafi was spooked by the US invasion of Iraq and willingly sold out Pakistan and AQ Khan as his allies in this quest. During his lifetime, Qaddafi was mocked for his extravagant dress sense, retinue of all-female guards and the fancy titles he bestowed on himself (he liked calling himself Brother Leader and King of the Kings of Africa). In death he should be remembered only as an autocrat of the worst kind who ruled only for himself.
Qaddafi’s death alone will not be enough for Libya to shake off his malign influence. One of the lessons recent Arab and African history has taught us is that liberators often turn into tyrants themselves. From the Ayatollahs in Iran to Saddam Hussain in Iraq, we now know that shaking off one dictator is not enough if it simply leads to more one-person rule. Even now, Egypt is struggling to move from Hosni Mubarak’s rule to a functioning democracy. That is the challenge awaiting the Libyan rebels who defeated and ultimately killed Qaddafi.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2011.