Sins of the father, sins of the son

While Gaddafi has relied on empty revolutionary slogans to maintain power, his son looks to oil money for his.

libya: sins of the father, sins of the son
Gaddafi presented himself as the defender of the Palestinians but was on bad terms with Mahmoud Abbas [GALLO/GETTY]

The sheer brutality of the Libyan suppression of anti-government protests has exposed the fallacy of the post-colonial Arab dictatorships, which have relied on revolutionary slogans as their source of legitimacy.

Ever since his ascension to power, through a military coup, in 1969, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has used every piece of revolutionary rhetoric in the book to justify his actions, which include consolidating power in the hands of his relatives and close associates and creating a network of security forces and militias to coerce Libyans into conforming to the whims of his cruel regime.

Through his support for revolutionary movements in different parts of the world – ones, of course, which did not endanger his own rule – he has sought to portray himself as the ‘defender of the oppressed’, earning the wrath of the West in the process. But the people now courageously defying his regime’s savage suppression are sending the message that anti-Western slogans, even if occasionally backed up by support for just causes, can no longer sustain oppressive regimes in the region.

A new era is underway in which leaders will be judged on their ability to represent the aspirations of the people and in which they will be held accountable for their actions. Issuing rallying cries against a foreign enemy, even when that enemy is very real, while inflicting injustice on one’s own people will no longer be permitted.

Post-colonial Arab regimes, including those that rode the waves of or even at one point genuinely represented anti-colonial resistance, have had to resort to a reliance on secret police and draconian laws to subordinate their subjects. The lesson is clear: Without a representative democracy, Arab republics have metamorphosed into ugly hereditary dynasties that treat their countries like their own private companies.

While trampling over the interests of his own people, Gaddafi has modeled himself as the champion of the Palestinian cause, reverting to the most fiery verbal attacks on Israel. But this is a recurring theme in a region where leaders must pay lip service to the plight of the Palestinians in order to give their regime the stamp of ‘legitimacy’. Gaddafi’s ‘support’, however, did not prevent him from deporting Palestinians living in Libya, leaving them stranded in the desert, when he sought to “punish the Palestinian leadership” for negotiating with Israel.

But even more cynical than his “pro-Palestinian” stand is his exploitation of the plight of the African people by anointing himself the leader of the continent. It is tragic, if reports prove to be true, that he used migrant sub-Saharan African labourers against the Libyan protesters. But it is, sadly, very believable that a ruthless dictator, driven hysterical by the prospect of losing his wealth and power, might pit the poor and marginalised against the poor and oppressed.

The darling of the West

Seif al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son who appeared on Libyan state television to warn that the demonstrators threatened to sink Libya into civil war, unlike his father, does not need to pretend to endorse the world’s underprivileged. For his power derives from something altogether different.

When Seif warned that “rivers of blood” would flow if the protests did not stop, he was giving himself the right, merely by virtue of being his father’s son, to dismiss the grievances of millions of people and to issue outrageous threats.

Seif may look and sound more sophisticated than his erratic father, but his performance was one of a feudal lord unable to fathom why his serfs would defy his authority.

He has no need to employ his father’s tactic of invoking vacuous revolutionary rhetoric, for Gaddafi has successfully used the country’s Revolutionary Command Council and Revolutionary Committees – which are supposed to represent the interests of the people – to cement the power of his family and as tools with which to subjugate the masses.

But Seif’s role has been secured not only by his power within the country. According to Vivienne Walt, a writer for Time Magazine, since the lifting of Western sanctions against Libya in 2005, Seif has acted “as an assurance” to the oil companies that have poured millions of dollars into the country.

“In interviews with oil executives, all say that Seif is the person whom they would most like to see running Libya. He has made occasional appearances at the World Economic Forum. And during two visits to Libya, I’ve seen countless corporate executives from the US and Europe line up for appointments with Seif,” she recently wrote.

It is little wonder Seif feels confident enough to make threats against the Libyan people without possessing so much as an official title. His position as the darling of the West, he clearly believes, entitles him to trample on the lives of others. And it may also explain the West’s hesitation over unequivocally condemning the sheer brutality of the Libyan regime.

Thus, while the father ensured his grip on power by building a dictatorship with a claim to “revolutionary legitimacy,” Seif has been expected to secure the Western stamp of legitimacy by keeping the door to the country’s main source of wealth open for the oil companies to exploit.

The father’s repression in the name of the revolution and the son’s status as an agent for the oil companies has created an oil-rich country where one-third of the population live below the poverty line and 30 per cent are unemployed. This is Gaddafi’s Libya.

But the Libyan people are now shouting a loud goodbye to the Libya of Gaddafi and his family and, with great sacrifices, are building a new, freer country.

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


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