Qadhaffi’s Disastrous and Embarrassing Performance
All Libyan affairs analysts I spoke with had the same reaction: “Oh this is Muammar Qadhaffi for you!” As if his intervention in the UN was a trivial affair. We all know Qadhaffi is an eccentric man, but for a moment, just a brief moment, I thought he would rise above the usual stereotyping to show that he is able to operate in a diplomatic setting as a true leader.
I hoped he would rise above controversy to chart a new path of normalcy for his country and development for his people. Instead, the Colonel made a buffoon of himself, squandering a major opportunity to propel his nation into the 21st century. Sadly, he further strengthened and magnified the awful image of him portrayed by the likes of Fox News, CNN and most American media, and yet again, they turned out to be right. What a difficult 90 minutes to watch. Even the biggest defenders and friends of Libya I spoke with after the speech felt it was too embarrassing to witness. The man addressed a floor of high level diplomats and world leaders as if he were speaking to misbehaving teenagers or tribal Bedouins in the Southern desert of Libya. Patronizing everyone even in ways that bordered insult to human intelligence, only to be a demeaning performance for the Libyan leader himself.
Let me set the record straight. There is nothing particularly wrong in siding against the West. Having different views on issues ranging from Darfur to Palestine and from Colonization to capitalism are legitimate sovereign choices an independent country and its leaders are entitled to make. Disagreeing with US policies in the Middle East, Africa and the rest of the world is not a novelty. In fact, many, if not most world leaders generally endorse views that do not line up with US policies. And yes, Qadhaffi is entitled to challenge the West and America. But to spend 90 minutes lecturing the world about non-sense and in such inarticulate way shows that the road to normalization will be a long one to achieve for the Libyans, as long as their leader remains detached from reality.
I spent some time thinking about the reasons why Qadhaffi would display such a pathetic behavior. And I think I have a few answers. Most analysts I discussed the topic will generally argue that Qadhaffi is not necessarily mentally challenged. They believe that he had a specific audience in mind that he wanted to please when addressing the UN. But I don’t buy that theory. Who is this audience to begin with? Domestic political establishment? No chance. Such establishment is no doubt on its knees, it just does not exist. Let’s face it, Muammar Qadhaffi rules without any meaningful resistance to speak of. The Islamist resistance such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) is long gone. The older revolutionary comrades like major Abd as-Salam Jalloud are also simply irrelevant. Domestic threats have been neutralized and as Libya continues to spend billions of dollars on military equipment, who would dare to challenge the Qadhaffi reign?
So if it is not a domestic audience, who else? Africa? I doubt it. Qadhaffi is already spending tons of money in countries in Africa where he knows he can buy favors. So he already has many African nations in his pockets, so to speak, and such a speech in New York plays no significant role in influencing those that are already influenced in the continent. Those that are not in his pocket, are not likely to fold and will probably remain unimpressed.
So what else? Who else? I conclude no one and nothing. Muammar Qadhaffi is a man of the 1970s and may be the 1980s. He has not evolved an inch, despite Libya’s recent diplomatic gains, which I am tempted to attribute to his son Seif Al Islam. The man still thinks of the defunct non-aligned movement and the era of post-colonialism as if the Soviet-US feud continues to dominate global geopolitical affairs. He speaks a language that today’s generations do no connect with. Speaking of generation gap, the President of the United States is young enough to be his son.
Furthermore and perhaps more importantly, Qadhaffi’s performance tells an interesting story about a nation that needs substantial overhaul of its political system. While the normalization of Libya is generally understood in economic terms, political normalization has not even started yet and troubles on the horizon are likely. Normal leaders would refrain from speaking non sense because of a variety of safeguards. There is something called diplomatic protocol, requiring political leaders to stick to the script and avoid dangerous statements. Such protocol does not exist in Libya! There is something called the opposition, which in normal circumstances would leverage a leader’s weakness to score points in the normal politic process. No such thing in Libya! These is something called a government structure that defines rules which political appointees have to abide by. Also no such thing in Libya! And the list goes on. In a nutshell, who in Libya would dare share their displeasure about the speech without running the risk of being sidelined, if not worst.
In such circumstances, which lasted so far 40 years for the Colonel, why am I so surprised, and even angry about his disastrous and embarrassing performance? Well, may be it is the sudden realization that North Africa is still home of sub-standard leaders. I admit it is hard to believe that an entire people’s fate, the great people of Libya, is linked to one megalomaniac. The Libyan people deserve better and sadly all they’ve had for 40 years is a man who has no respect for them and for their dignity.