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GADDAFI AND THE NORTH AFRICAN SEARCH FOR FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY

When Gaddafi renamed Libya as Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, he had coined the term Jamahiriya which means 'state of the masses'. The Libyan revolution had indeed revealed Libya as a 'state of masses' under the autocratic leadership of Muammar Gaddafi. The execution of the bold, flamboyant and disgraced leader of Libya in a ruthless manner at the hands of the rebel forces showed the Libyans desperation for justice and freedom. Fuelled by increasing desire to remain in power, muammar Gaddafi seemed to have neglected the very words of the preamble of the constitution which believes that peace cannot be achieved without justice.

The fall of Gaddafi's regime can be attributed to many reasons. The concept of direct democracy proposed by Gaddafi gave rise to revolutionary committees also known as people's congresses. However these committees were used as tools to suppress any opposition to Gaddafi's dictatorial rule. Gaddafi supported many terrorist factions in the world that upheld anti-western sentiments. He openly funded these organizations which in turn created rifts in his relationship with different countries. He provided large donations to countries in order to increase his influence in Africa and is responsible for the Chadian-Libyan conflict. Various economic measures like retail and wholesale markets being replaced by state owned markets, restrictions on access to individual bank accounts, a property law which allowed ownership of only one private property created bitterness and dissatisfaction among the people. As a result, a substantial number of skilled and educated Libyans migrated abroad. Throughout his regime, Gaddafi has supported unfair distribution of funds and resources to favor the development of tribes in and around Tripoli. However he has neglected development of eastern Libya and Benghazi where the living conditions are deplorable. Gaddafi's rule of ultimate authority left no trace of morality and eroded democracy through Censorship of press, suspension of civil liberties, indiscriminate imprisonment and oppression of innocent people.

It came as no surprise when Gaddafi supported presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak in their suppression of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as despotic rule, rampant corruption, high rate of unemployment and all together miserable living conditions were becoming the common reasons for the increasing unrest among the masses in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and Libya. The self- immolation of a young fruit and vegetable vendor in Tunisia was the beginning of a chain reaction of demonstrations and rebellion across the Arab world. These events have asserted the supremacy of THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE and reiterated the fact that the government is a representative body bound by a duty to righteously govern its people and not choke their existence.

Although severe economic inequality was the reason behind the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the root cause actually lies in the western imperialistic policies. In Tunisia, the decisions taken and the laws enacted by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali like the relaxed taxation policies were mostly conducive to the growth of western multinational companies. These companies have exploited cheap labor and have drained the country of its natural resources. The leaders by pocketing their share of spoils showed complete disregard for the development of their country. Eventually Ben Ali had eliminated all anti-imperialistic supporters from the government. He was more of an agent of the US government than a leader of the people.

Mubarak has been the interlocutor in the Israel- Palestine peace process. The instable situation in Egypt poses a serious threat to the foreign policy of the US. With him being ousted there is a threat to regional security in the Middle East. The US took a hypocritical stand by backing a government that tortured its people, buggered elections to obtain a near perfect majority and restricted freedom of expression. The US has interfered with the political and economic affairs of these countries by quenching their leaders' thirst for power and wealth. This establishment of political and economic hegemony combined with corrupt leaders is directly responsible for the fall of Tunisia and Egypt.

The revolutions in Tunisia have brought about various political reforms. The first election to the constituent assembly in the aftermath of the revolt was held in October. The National Transitional Council, which is the current government in Libya, has adopted a constitutional declaration which encompasses the principles of democracy, secularism (in spite of Islam being the state religion), and upholds the basic rights of liberty and empowers women. This stride towards reformation and improvement is the beginning of the transition from the 'dark ages' to a more liberal era.

Gaddafi's regime as a whole was not an unsuccessful one. His economic reforms paved the way for free compulsory primary education and improved the overall healthcare. His ambition, drive and determination to serve and lead the people of Libya were probably the reasons behind the military coup carried under his leadership. However his thirst for power and ultimate authority, his unpopular and unreasonable ideologies and his continuous doubt of loyalty of the army and his people, undermined the very principles of 'freedom, socialism and unity' that was adopted by him.

Martin Luther king once said, 'the ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.' This is shown clearly when Gaddafi, along with Zine El Abidine Ben ali and Hosni Mubarak, put himself in a precarious position the moment he compromised on political and civil liberties. Public discontent and anger had reached its climax and overthrew the seemingly invincible governments of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. Through these revolutions People are sending a clear message that they cannot be taken for granted. Although the North African search for freedom and democracy will be a long and ongoing process, it won't be an impossible one.

- Catherine Pushpam Joseph