Advancing a Free Society

Gadhafi and the Swindle of Dictatorship

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ahmad, a man from Aleppo, on hearing of Moammar Gadhafi's end, posted a note on Al Jazeera's blog: Congratulations, he said, to the Libyan people, may the same thing happen in Syria.

The end of despots is always odd—exhilarating to those who suffered their tyrannies, and to those who hold despotism in contempt, and anti-climatic at the same time, the discovery that these tyrants were petty, frightened men after all. We are told that Gadhafi cried, "Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" when his pursuers caught up with him.

This was from the script of Saddam Hussein, who had strutted on the world stage, visited death and destruction on his people and others beyond, but had come out of a spider hole telling his captors that he was the president of Iraq and that he wanted to negotiate. Dictatorship is a swindle to the bitter end, the bravado of the tyrants mere pretense and bluff.

He had risen out of poverty, Moammar Gadhafi, a semi-literate desert boy who had made his way to the military academy. He had come into power, in 1969, against the background of the time—an era when the Arab world still believed that rough men from the military would dispense justice, upend the old order of kings and notables, and bring about a "revolutionary" society. Libya had had a benevolent monarch, King Idris, an ascetic, a reluctant ruler. But the crowd wanted a different order of things. "Better the devil than Idris" was the slogan of the time. The crowd could not have known how the heavens would oblige.

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(photo credit: the_calife)