InCity Times book review


By Alison Pargeter

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

The death of the U.S. ambassador in Libya has been in the news a great deal lately. In the last issue of the InCity Times, David W. Lesch’s “Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad” was reviewed. A good companion piece to Lesch’s book about the Assad dictatorship is this text entitled “Libya: The Rise and Fall of Qaddafi” by Alison Pargeter.

Muammar Qaddafi took power through a coup d’etat in 1969 and misruled Libya for forty-two years. In 2011 the megalomaniac dictator was found cowering in a sewer pipe and executed by insurgents.

Libya is a country with a small amount of people and a large amount of oil. Such a combination has usually meant affluent lives for the citizenry. This was not the case for Libya. Qaddafi squandered Libya’s wealth on his delusional development schemes, foreign misadventures, and military hardware. “Indeed, Libyans often remarked bitterly that their country should have resembled Dubai,” writes Pargeter.

It has been fascinating watching the “Arab spring” unfold. Dictatorships that have been in power most American’s lives are gone or tottering. Qaddafi has held a special place in the American psyche, since he was often portrayed as the quintessential Middle Eastern tyrant; a man termed “the mad dog of the middle east” by Ronald Reagan.

Qaddafi was mad

Reagan was right about this: Qaddafi was mad. He suffered from some form of mental illness. Pargeter reviews Libyan history up to Qaddafi’s 1969 takeover. Like many Arab nationalists of his day, Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser inspired Qaddafi. After taking power, Qaddafi contacted Nasser’s right hand man and told him, “We have carried out this revolution. Now it is for Nasser to tell us what to do.” During his first meeting with Nasser, Qaddafi refused to eat shrimp, saying they looked like locusts. Qaddafi’s faux pas with Nasser were evidence of his humble origins.
Qaddafi was never able to grow beyond his desert upbringing. He lacked any real formal education or real military training. As his power became absolute, Qaddafi came to see himself as a God. He spoke out of turn at diplomatic functions and began to assume that he could do no wrong. He created the concept of “Jamahiriyah” (State of the Masses), gave Libya a new flag, and even a new name: “Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah.”

Little observed at the time, was that Qaddafi’s depiction of himself as a deity made him an apostate to Islamacists in Libya. Much of the internal resistance to Qaddafi came from Muslims who considered Qaddafi’s assertion of Godhood heretical blasphemy.

Squandered oil wealth

Qaddafi squandered Libya’s oil wealth on a series of domestic and foreign adventures. He began by reducing the Libyan people to squalor. The law was changed to restrict land ownership to subsistence farmers, and a currency re-evaluation became an opportunity to strip most Libyans of their assets. The only thing left were government jobs. Libya transformed itself into a dependency state where there was no incentive to produce anything except oil.

In foreign policy Qaddafi put his oil wealth behind some of the world’s worst terrorist organizations and dictators, like Idi Amin of Uganda. In the mid 1980s Qaddafi made his worst mistake, invading neighboring Chad. It was a mistake equivalent to Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union. The Chadians, helped by the United States and France, joined together to drive Qaddafi out of their country, killing 10,000 Libyans and destroying $3 billion of Libyan military hardware. “As a result of the international sanctions that were imposed on Libya in the 1990s, the country was never able to recover and rebuild its armed forces, wrote Pargeter.”

If we fast-forward ahead to 2011, the uprising against Qaddafi began in Benghazi, a squalid place that was at the heart of the Islamic opposition to he “Jamahiriyah” state. Qaddafi ignored the city, one of Libya’s three major population centers, and public life disintegrated. Long before the “Arab spring” took place Benghazi looked like a war zone, with houses destroyed in prior uprisings never rebuilt, and raw sewerage running into the streets and drinking water. The despair bought on by Qaddafi’s 42 years of misgovernment sparked an uprising in Benghazi, the place now so familiar to Americans. After NATO intervened on behalf of the rebels, Qaddafi was driven out of power, and hunted down after NATO aircraft strafed a convoy he was riding in.

Qaddafi left Libya in chaos. His one-man rule had not left behind a bureaucracy or civil service capable of running the country. His people, impoverished by the “Jamahiriyah”, lacked the entrepreneurial skills to manage either themselves or their country. Americans wanting a better understanding of the Benghazi controversy would do well to read this book.

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