I should write this before it’s too late

February 27, 2011

A few weeks back, Kui asked me what I thought of the events in Egypt. I guess she expected an intelligent answer from someone who studied the Middle East up to doctoral level. I simply said I wasn’t too bothered. You see, I lose interest when something becomes big news. I like to say I heard this first, I spotted it would be big, but when it becomes big, I just let others talk and think about it. What’s the point? Everyone is talking, so why should I?

Except that her question challenged me to think, so I came up with some vaguely intelligent answer about how it was shaping up to be an interesting development. And now, I’m really interested, because it’s happening in Libya. Libya!

I’ve read so much about Ghadafi that I almost feel I know him. I had a friend in secondary school who thought his revolutionary brand of leadership was the best. He could quote from his Green book, (or was it Red book? I can’t remember), describe a system which apparently worked to deliver grassroots democracy. In secondary school, we didn’t question what we read by influential leaders. And of course, in the 80s, there was that American raid on Libya. Anyone remember that now?

I remember the first time I actually heard his voice. It was on Channel 4 (or was it BBC? I forget again) on the day the liberation of Kuwait began. The reporter had asked him a question and he began to respond in Arabic. This reporter simply said “Colonel Ghadafi, I know you speak English and you did promise to co-operate” or something to that effect. I was just about to ask aloud how they could know that Ghadafi was comfortable speaking English when he began to speak in english. I just thought “he’s playing games with journalists, what a cool guy”.

The Lockerbie bokb had of course happened, but I don’t think Libya had been clearly fingered as the culprit. And in any case I didn’t have a clear idea of what might have been going on in the country. The world was concerned with the collapse of communism and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and Ghadafi needed some limelight and an opportunity to show that he could still play with journalists.

And now, throughout the Arab world, people are taking to the streets and protesting. I believe the basic problem is that people are unhappy with political systems that do not deliver what the ordinary person wants in these tough economic times. The fact that some of these regimes are also authoritarian simply adds an extra factor to the causes of unrest. And perhaps that affects the results too. The regimes in both Tunisia and Egypt were well known to be repressive and they’ve gone. On the other hand, the monarchies in Morocco, Jordan and even Bahrain are still surviving, despite the heavyhanded measures of the Bahrainis.

Here’s something I’d observed earlier when speaking to a friend. Before Ghadafi blamed Bin Laden (and a reporter pointed out that he always argued that Bin Ladin was a figment of American imagination) I’d remarked on how revolution was sweeping across the Middle East. In the 80s, when communism fell, there were mass movements n several Eastern European countries; but we all knew that the states in question were united in ideology and subservience to the Soviet Union. Here, we’re seeing these movements in very diverse countries and seemingly without co-ordination.

It is probably in the context of this diversity that we see the unusually brutal reaction of the Libyan leader. In all other countries, the sheer numbers of people coming to demonstrate convinced the leaders that it was time to offer concessions; and when the concessions were deemend by the populace as unwanted, the leaders had to step down. Interestingly, although these leaders were considered authoritarian in their own countries, they were allies of Western democracies. Maybe their standing in the West helped to smooth the transition in those countries. I already observed that monarchies have remained in position, in Morocco, Jordan and Bahrain, though concessions are now being granted to meet popular demands for change. Libya is however not a friend of the West, whatever anyone may say about how the jailed Libyan agent secured his freedom. In fact, Ghadafi made political capital from his antiWestern stance. He was authoritarian at home and forceful abroad, and some who hailed him did not realise thee effect of both parts working together. Now we can see it clearly; the first question I asked when I heard of Libya’s insurrection was how long it had been going on before the newsmen got to know?

And now, in the light of the recent reports of chaos in Tripoli airport, I ask another question, dear to my heart. If Europeans are bringing out their citizens, what about Nigerians? Is anyone trying to get them out? Because I know there must be Nigerians in Libya, they’re everywhere.

Who knows, by tomorrow, the question may be unnecessary and Ghadafi may be hanging from a pole in the streets of Tripoli. For he knows very well that having decided to stay and fight, he must either win or die in the struggle. If he’s caught, the people he has so recently treated so brutally will not be forgiving.