A forum devoted to current political, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Qaddafi's Speech at the UN: Some Preliminary Thoughts

In recent weeks, it seems Qaddafi has been making the news quite regularly. His latest show was delivered yesterday in a one of the most visible of all world platforms. While many have been quick to dismiss it as lunacy, I propose we look at it in a different light. Qaddafi’s speech at the United Nations' General Assembly makes some useful points that all outside the Permanent Five in the Security council could agree on. Granted the style, antics and the delivery leave much to be desired, the Colonel had a point when he argued the largely ineffective international body is in need of reform. The United Nations has long been relegated to a forum for great powers to legitimize and impose a new world order, which is in essence, shaped in their image.

Qaddafi’s speech emanates from 60 years worth of the developing world’s frustrations with the world body. The Colonel unleashed on the world community demands to investigate everything from the death of Patrice Lumumba to the execution of Saddam Hussein. While such claims are outlandish, they highlight the ever-increasing rift between the developed world powers and the majority-developing world that has been disempowered and disenfranchised from any meaningful decisions at the world stage. Those that claim the United Nations’ General Assembly has lost moral legitimacy for allowing Qaddafi and Ahmadinejad a platform to spew their objectionable rhetoric seem to forget that the Assembly is exactly the forum for all forms of discourse.

Qaddafi’s unorthodox 90-minute diatribe, while lacking all forms of decorum, is his right as the leader of a sovereign state, member of the United Nations and president of the current session of the General Assembly. Internally, his regime has been a reprehensible panacea of political repression for the last 40 years. That, however, does not exclude him from the company of other equally rogue world leaders represented or present at the United Nations. His speech has only reminded the world of Qaddafi’s theatrics, and it is a missed opportunity for the Colonel (“King of Kings of Africa, as he was introduced yesterday) to persuade the world that he has somehow corrected his erratic behavior and is ready to join the circle of respectable world leaders.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Moment of Contentment: The 40th Anniversary of the Qadhafi Regime

One of my fellow Maghrebists was kind enough to contribute this piece to our blog. Professor Yehudit Ronen, Political Studies Department, Bar-Ilan University and Senior Research Fellow, Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University, is the author of Qaddafi's Libya in World Politics published by Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008

A Moment of Contentment: The 40th Anniversary of the Qadhafi Regime

September 1, 2009 marked the 40th anniversary of Muammar al-Qadhafi's overthrow of the Libyan monarchy and establishment of the Great Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya. Four days of lavish commemoration, complete with a military parade, marked the event. For Qadhafi, the achievement has been singular. No head of state in the world today (apart from the Sultan of Brunei) matches his longevity in power.

Looking back on Qadhafi's military coup detat in 1969, almost nobody in Libya, let alone outside of the country, had heard of the young army officer, who had burst forth - literally and metaphorically - from the depths of the Libyan desert. With unprecedented nationalist, Arab and Islamic zeal, he seized the reins of power from King Idris al-Sanusi, who had led the country since independence in 1951. At that moment, the Libyan state and society embarked on an entirely new journey in all facets of life, which would be marked by wide vicissitudes encompassing both significant successes and profound, even catastrophic failures.

In contrast to 1969, Qadhafi's Libya is today most definitely on the map. Neither Africa, nor the Arab world, nor major international powers have been untouched by Qadhafi and his policies.

Qadhafi's successful accumulation of power over his countrys domestic and foreign policies, and his resulting impact internationally, stemmed from a variety of factors, including: his nationalization, early on, of Libya's immense oil resources, which enabled him to accumulate unprecedented power (for Libya) in the military-security realm; his charismatic and unconventional personality, along with a militantly revolutionary and anti-imperialist agenda; and the important backing provided by the Soviet Union in its global competition with the United States during Qadhafi's first twenty years in power.

Libyan political life during the 1970s and 1980s was highlighted by a number of developments: the implementation of Qadhafi's Peoples Power political system, in line with his self-styled revolutionary ideology, which included the propagation of the Third Universal Theory as formulated in Qadhafi's three-part Green Book, which he touted as the only genuine democratic rule in modern times; the substantial upgrading of the socio-economic fabric of life and overall welfare of the Libyan population; the construction of the Great Man-Made River to transfer water from aquifers under the Sahara in southern Libya to its populated coastal areas in the north; an iron-fisted crackdown against Libyan opposition figures and groups, whether at home or abroad; and initial steps to suppress the first manifestations of a radical Islamic insurgency, which would seek to eradicate Qadhafi's infidel regime, notwithstanding its sworn Islamic character.

One of the most prominent features of Libyan foreign policy during these initial decades was Qadhafi's continuous efforts to shape the Arab world and African politics according to his own pan-Arab, anti-Western and anti-Israeli predilections. These included military interventions in Africa (highlighted by disastrous wars in Chad and Uganda ); chronic hostility with Egypt, which even escalated into a brief military confrontation in 1977; active subversion of pro-Western regimes in Africa and actions to undermine Israel's interests on the continent; strategic and political collaboration with the Soviets; and involvement in international terrorism, particularly directed against the US, with whom relations had run a troubled course from the very moment of Qadhafi's ascent to power.

Indeed, the Libyan-American conflict reached two peaks during this period, challenging Qadhafi's hold on power in an unprecedented fashion. The first was the American air raid on Tripoli and Benghazi on 15 April 1986. The second was the Lockerbie dispute, which came to the fore in the wake of American and British accusations of Libyan responsibility for the explosion of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland while on route from London to the US in December 1988.

The last twenty years has witnessed a dramatic alteration of Libyas domestic and foreign affairs. In the wake of the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Libya was left alone and defenseless in international politics. In view of the Lockerbie-induced UN sanctions against Libya, imposed in 1992, and America's two military campaigns (1991, 2003) against Iraqs Saddam Hussein, Qadhafi internalized the fact that the US was capable and willing to flex its muscles in the Middle East against states deemed hostile to its interests. The tangible political inputs of his son and possible heir, Saif al-Islam, were also influential in the evolution of Libyan policies.

It took seven years of UN sanctions to compel Qadhafi to extradite to Scotland two of Libyas citizens suspected of responsibility for the Lockerbie explosion, in return for the sanctions suspension. Even so, the Lockerbie dispute would remain a central issue on Libyas foreign affairs agenda, as well as have an enormous impact on the countrys domestic affairs, including Qadhafi's continued political survival.

In early 2001, the Lockerbie trial concluded with a guilty verdict and lengthy prison sentence for Abd al-Basit al-Maqrahi. (He has just been released from prison in Scotland on the grounds that he suffers from terminal prostate cancer, and was greeted with open arms upon his return to Libya.) The verdict, accompanied by mounting threats and pressures, compelled Qadhafi to alter his conduct in favor of diplomatic engagement with the West. These pressures included the growing menace posed by Libyas violent Islamist opposition, the fears of becoming the next Iraq, i.e. being militarily invaded by the US, and economic difficulties stemming from the devastating combination of UN sanctions and the cumulative decline of the countrys oil revenue as a result of chronically sluggish global oil prices.

Dramatic results were not long in coming. In late 2003, Libya announced its decision to dismantle its clandestine nuclear and other WMDs program, halt its drive to develop long-range missiles and open all weapons stockpiles to international inspection. As a quid pro quo, Libya was removed from the US State Departments list of state sponsors of terrorism. This, in turn, enabled Qadhafi to proceed apace towards his economic goals and attain greater political stability at home, while reaping a series of diplomatic gains in foreign affairs.

Hence, Libya can no longer be considered a pariah state. After 40 years of tumultuous times, Qadhafi is the Great Survivor of contemporary international politics, and is now contentedly celebrating his ascent to power.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Press questioned yet again in Morocco!

In the Aftermath of the unprecedented palace communique about King Mohammed VI's health and contraction of Rotavirus, the state court in Rabat will launch an investigation into the Arabic-daily al-Jarida al-Oula, as it has summoned both its editor Ali Anouzla and journalist Bouchra Dhou, who published a story challenging official press releases on the health of King Mohammed VI. The paper claimed the King’s illness would disrupt his public schedule and his Ramadan religious seminars. This intervention in the media continues a recent alarming state trend to stifle freedom of the press in the kingdom, after the controversial decision last month to ban editions of two weeklies, TelQuel and Nichane, which contained a public opinion poll about the King. It is interesting to note that this ban has backlashed into an online movement called the “9 Percent Movement” after the 9 percent of survey respondents who expressed their dissatisfaction with Mohammed VI's performance in his first 10 years on the throne.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Qaddafi's 40th Anniversary in Power

Qaddafi's 40th anniversary in charge of Libya has been foreshadowed by the release of Lockerbie Bomber al-Megrahi, and international condemnation of Libyan jubilant welcome of the convicted bomber. Amidst the lavish celebrations, the discussion should center on Qaddafi's record in office, especially in the last two decades where he has taken the oil-rich country down the path of economic and political stagnation. Agence France Presse (AFP) reports that promises of a written constitution and privatization of the state press are yet to be achieved. The aging colonel is seemingly bent on further cementing his authoritarian regime and laying the grounds for his son, and heir apparent, Seif al-Islam to take over the reigns of power in the Jamahirriya. In his defense, Seif al-Islam has advocated political reforms in the past, but it is premature to ascertain whether there is any real commitment behind that support.