The Death of the Last Arab Dictator

Muammar Gaddafi must have thought about his obituary countless times, narcissistically pondering over what poetry would be composed, prose written, and monuments erected to his self-attributed glory. Indeed, there probably lies in his office desk drawer a now forgotten, dusty draft of such an obituary. However, even in his worst nightmares Gaddafi could not have envisaged his true end: being dragged dirty, disheveled, and bleeding from a sewer inlet by a baying crowd in an obscure part of the country he once ruled. He could not have imagined having his final moments, as he vainly pleaded for his life, recorded by dozens of mobile phones with onlookers crowding in to witness the end of a tyrant.

His death marks a pause in time for reflection on the man, as well as his legacy. But, in many ways, no one truly knows the real Gaddafi, for he was smoke and mirrors right until the every end. His often cited, frequently incoherent, public speeches on conspiracy theories, religion, Israel, and the U.S. or Libya’s place in the world further muddied the water. He cut an enigmatic, eccentric figure with his pompous but intellectually dull "Green Book" garbing him, in his mind at least, in the robes of a modern day philosopher-king. But he was neither eccentric nor enlightened, nothing more than a cunning, despotic leader of an oil-rich nation, a position he ruthlessly guarded and flagrantly abused.

To many both in Libya and abroad, his death is a fitting end for a man whose 42-year long rule was marked by unwavering state brutality, endemic corruption, and squandered national wealth. To those in Libya who suffered through decades of torture chambers, secret executions, and "disappearances" of kith and kin, Gaddafi’s death will be the revenge they have long sought. It also brings comfort to those abroad who, through Gaddafi’s sponsoring of terrorist groups, lost loved ones in attacks such as Lockerbie.

However, his death will be remembered for posterity as the event which marks the definite passing of the age of Arab dictators. With the death of Gaddafi, Middle-Eastern rulers now face a clear message. In this post-Gaddafi era, they cannot simply keep good relations with foreign powers and still continue to oppress their people without consequences. Indeed, whilst NATO may have provided the air support, it was the Libyan people, not a coup d’état or a foreign military, who brought down and eventually killed Gaddafi. It is fitting that his death was at the hands of the ordinary Libyans he once so brazenly oppressed. His passing sends a clear message to leaders in Middle Eastern countries that they cannot ignore the demands of their people nor continue to hurt them and deny them basic human rights. Gaddafi’s death demonstrates that oppression does not entail permanent security for a leader, rather it will lead to his ultimate downfall.

Gaddafi's death also signals to the Syrian and Yemeni regimes that even if they fight the Arab spring, murder thousands of their own countrymen, and raze towns, the movement will prevail. It will, in the course of time, bring them crashing down, for no leader is immune to the tide of change that is sweeping the region, not even the once mighty, well-connected and dogged Gaddafi.

Today, Gaddafi’s lifeless body lies in a refrigerated meat-packing factory on the outskirts of Misrata, there for all and sundry to view and photograph. A once terrifying and feared figure now lies on cold metal in a town largely reduced to rubble during the eight-month conflict, whose population has born the brunt of fighting in this bloody conflict.

His death now allows the foundations of participatory government in Libya to form, for the bitter and divisive conflict to end, and for a people savagely divided by war to be reunited by peace. Yet, what is certain is that his death marks the end of Arab dictators, for his death will become the very brutal, real world definition for those occupying the presidential palaces and residences of the Middle East of the age old expression: Sic Semper Tyrannis ("down with the tyrant").

Photo Credit: B.R.Q

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Will Birch

Specialising in Maghreb affairs, William has lived and traveled throughout the MENA region.

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