Although 40 years in power, Muammar Gaddafi first addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2009. Reminiscent of Fidel Castro’s speech to the body in 1960, he went over the allotted time of 15 minutes and talked for over an hour and a half. He advocated for radical change in the inner workings of the UN and said that the General Assembly should adopt a binding resolution that would put it above the authority of the Security Council. The latter, according to Gaddafi, had failed to prevent 65 wars since its inception and is unjust and undemocratic because the five permanent members have all the actual power. If the General Assembly were to be the most powerful body, however, all nations would be on equal footing, he proclaimed, which would prevent future conflict. He ascribed similar bias to the International Criminal Court and the International Atomic Energy Agency, as they, just like the Security Council, are used to demonise enemies of the global powers while their own crimes and those of their allies go largely unnoticed. He went on to dismiss Washington’s war against Iraq, advocated for a one state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and urged the General Assembly to launch investigations into the murder of Patrice Lumumba, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and the massacres of the Israeli army and their allies committed against the Palestinians in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982 and in Gaza in 2008.[1]

The picture of Colonel Gaddafi that emerges seems to be somewhat in conflict with that put forward by the mass media. Rather than just another brutal power-hungry dictator who seems to be interested only in killing his own people, it looks like he had some interesting ideas, to say the least. Perhaps it might be useful to step away from the simplified and rhetoric-laden label of dictator for a moment and take a deeper look into Gaddafi’s ideas and why they posed such a great danger to the global power elite.

In his Green Book, published in 1975, Gaddafi laid out his idea of a stateless society, which he called Jamahiriyya – a country directly governed by its citizens without intervention from representative bodies. According to the Green Book, states that rely on representation are inherently repressive because individuals must surrender their personal sovereignty to the advantage of others. With emphasis on consultation and equality, Gaddafi therefore called into life a different political model for Libya based on “direct democracy.” Through the establishment of Popular Congresses and Popular Committees, representing the legislative and executive branches respectively, Gaddafi’s political system was constructed from the bottom up rather than from the top down. Prof. Dirk Vandewalle scrutinised Gaddafi’s notion of popular rule in his book A history of Modern Libya, however.[2] The fact that political parties outside the system designed by Gaddafi were practically forbidden and Libyan opposition movements were often persecuted (p. 103, 134 and 143-50); the Popular Committees had zero power in several areas, including foreign policy, intelligence, the army, the police, the country’s budget and the petroleum sector (p. 104); as well as the fact that the government abolished or took over numerous private businesses (p. 104-8) and gradually implemented a virtually unsupervised revolutionary court system (p. 120-1) all point to the actual authoritarian nature of the central government. Vandewalle concludes that

“The bifurcation between the Jamahiriyya’s formal and informal mechanisms of control and political power accentuate […] the limited institutional control Libyan citizens have had over their country’s ruler and his actions. In effect, unless the country’s leadership clearly approves, there is no public control or accountability provided. […] Within the non-formal institutions of the country’s security organizations, the Revolutionary Leadership makes all decisions and has no accountability to anyone.”[3] (emphasis added)

Although Vandewalle is very critical of Gaddafi’s rule throughout his book, he acknowledged that NATO’s Operation Unified Protector “became a sine qua non for the rebels just to be able to maintain their positions” and that it was clear that “greater and more decisive NATO intervention would be needed to defeat the loyalist side.”[4] This means that rather than a civil war between Libyans, this was a war between Gaddafi on the one hand, who exercised all the actual power on the international domain, and NATO on the other, which was a necessary component in Gaddafi’s toppling. The question is: what was it about?

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Notes

[1] Al-Gaddafi, Muammar, address at UN General Assembly, New York, 23.09.2009.

[2] Dirk Vandewalle, A history of modern Libya, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[3] Vandewalle, A history of Modern Libya, 150.

[4] Vandewalle, A history of Modern Libya, 205.