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NOTHING TO CELEBRATE IN LIBYA TODAY

The Daily Star - September 2, 2009 by Rami G. Khouri If there is a moment, a place, a person, and a legacy that come together to bring sadness to all Arabs, they are upon us this week in the 40th anniversary of the September 1, 1969 revolution that brought Moammar Gadhafi to power. There is nothing to celebrate today in Libya, other than a colossal waste of that country’s human and natural resources over four decades. This is also a day of calamity for the modern Arab world, not only because of what Libya has suffered and squandered, but also because Libya is only a severe example of the self-inflicted distortions, waste and misfortunes that have defined much of the Arab region since independence. This is also a moment that should spur some quiet reflection by all those in the West who deal with the Arab world with shameless self-interest. Gadhafi’s Libya is everything we always dreaded we would become, as independent states, societies, governing systems and leaderships. It is hard to know where to start in listing the reasons that the 40th anniversary of Gadhafi’s rule is a hollow celebration. He and his small circle of ruling partners have managed, remarkably, to accomplish virtually every failure that can possibly be envisaged in the world of statehood and governance. The biggest failure is probably to strangle the country from within, laying siege to his own people by driving away the best and brightest Libyans, and subjecting those who remain to a life of material mediocrity and political indignity. The core of the calamity in Libya – common to the entire Arab world – is the lack of freedom for the ordinary citizen. Libya is a special case, because it combines authoritarianism with eccentricity, waste of massive wealth, and Arab and international derision. If much of Libya’s human wealth has been forced to flee abroad, most of its material wealth has been wasted in one of the most shocking cases of national self-squandering in the modern world. If we were to conservatively say that Libya has averaged $10 billion of oil exports per year in the past 40 years – with some single year income figures reaching over $45 billion, like last year, for example – we could reasonably ask: what has the Libyan government to show for the $400 billion or so of income that accrued since 1979? In the eyes of the world in recent decades, Libya has been most widely associated with terrorism. The Lockerbie Pan Am bombing, the Berlin disco bombing and the downing of a UTA French civilian airliner in Africa are only three of the most glaring examples of accusations or convictions against Libya, while many Lebanese assume that Shiite leader Mousa Sadr was killed during a visit to Libya in 1978. Libya paid compensation to the Lockerbie and UTA bombings victims’ families, thus compounding the shame of being found guilty of terror against innocent civilians by engaging in yet more squandering of national wealth. The country has been subjected to sanctions, and militarily attacked by the United States (resulting in the death of Gadhafi’s young daughter). Libya has attacked its neighbor Chad several times, and routinely has had its borders with its neighbors closed. It tried to develop weapons of mass destruction, and also dropped the idea, throwing away more of its wealth on another wasted whim. The country has tried repeatedly but fruitlessly to unite with immediate neighbors or would-be partners further afield, while providing funds and arms to militant movements across Africa, Europe and Asia. Libya’s presence at Arab summits has made even more of a mockery of those events than they already are, and the leader’s travels abroad generate international media coverage that is more spectacle than serious. The litany of four decades of failure in Libya is long and thick, and hard to believe were it not true. Now we are asked to believe that Gadhafi’s sons and presumed heirs embrace democracy and liberalism; yet somehow that proposition is hard to take seriously, as power continues to be exercised without any real accountability. This is a sad anniversary for a rich land that has mostly experienced derision, indictment, isolation and underachievement in recent decades. The Arab world watches silently, knowing that the Libyan tale is not so alien to our region – it is merely the most severe example of a management style that has made underachievement the hallmark of the modern Arab world. The West, meanwhile, looks to Libya for more opportunities to sign lucrative new contracts, oblivious to both the moral legacy of its own history in the Middle East or the desperate quest for simple dignity by the ordinary Arab citizen. There is nothing to celebrate today – 40 years and $400 billion later – there is nothing to commemorate other than monumental sadness.





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