The Lonely Apotheosis Of Muammar Qaddafi

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 7, 2009

The Libyan leader is taking the time to celebrate 40 years in power, a celebration that is made all the more joyous from Qaddafi’s perspective thanks to the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi into Libyan custody. One would think that when leaders want to mark anniversaries of their ascensions to power–whether or not those ascensions were of the bloody kind–they would also want to have the people they claim to represent around to assist in the celebrations.

Qaddafi, however, has other ideas:

Libya is the only Arab country known as al jamahiriya al uzma – the great state of the masses.

The name is a brainchild of Muammer Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, who often boasts that he has created the only political system in the world where power is in the hands of the people, not in those of representatives or elected parties.

But, as Col Gaddafi celebrated last week the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought him to power, the masses were nowhere to be seen. Instead, officials from foreign countries flocked to the oil-rich North African state in spite of the uproar in Britain and the US over the welcome given to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber.

The centre of Tripoli was closed to the public as the self-styled leader of the revolution and his overseas guests were treated to a late afternoon military parade. African troops goose-stepped, military bands from Australia and France played, while overhead an Italian air force aerobatics team trailed coloured smoke.

After the parade it was time for a lavish theatrical show mounted by a French company on a specially constructed theatre on the Mediterranean waterfront. The organisers said hundreds of thousands of Libyans would attend the spectacle – a dazzling presentation of dance, fireworks and elaborate special effects.

But again the public was kept out. Security was cited as the reason. The spectacle was performed in a half-empty auditorium in the presence of Col Gaddafi and a small, mostly foreign audience, which provided only lukewarm applause. As with much else in Libya, the event was staged for one man only – the leader.

The two-and-a-half-hour show was billed as a celebration of Libya from the dawn of time to the present. But millennia of Libyan history were disposed of hastily and half the show was devoted to glorification of Col Gaddafi.

A display of Potemkin patriotism if ever there was one.

The incongruity of the celebrations in Libya are worth mocking, I suppose. But there is a larger foreign policy point to be made here. I know that the United States is considering re-establishing relations with Libya, and that this consideration stretches back to the latter days of the Bush Administration. But we may want to proceed with caution; I have trouble believing that Libya will forever put aside the activities and policies that led to international opprobrium being directed against it in the first place. And any regime that feels it needs to exclude the people it claims to serve from what are styled as a “celebration” of their country is a regime that is not all that popular with the people, and thus, one that we may not want to get close to in the first place.

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