Lament for Libya


The pic­tures coming out of Libya in re­cent weeks have been spell­bind­ing, shock­ing and ex­tra­or­di­nary. A na­tion with a rich his­tory that once boasted the fourth high­est gross do­mes­tic prod­uct of any coun­try in North Africa is be­ing shat­tered and di­vided by a bit­ter civil war.

Civil­ians are dy­ing in large num­bers, the coun­try’s on­celu­cra­tive oil in­dus­try is at a stand­still, and its pub­lic ser­vices have been shut down for many weeks. There have even been re­ports of gov­ern­ment forces mas­sacring in­no­cent civil­ians in an ef­fort to stamp out the re­bel­lion.

As of late last week, the coun­try’s au­thor­i­tar­ian chief of state, Col. Moam­mar Gad­hafi, was in hid­ing and forces loyal to him were con­tin­u­ing to put up stiff re­sis­tance against a wide­spread pub­lic re­volt — with the help of NATO bomb­ing from the air — in­tent on free­ing the coun­try from Gad­hafi’s 40-year rule.

A new gov­ern­ment promis­ing greater free­doms and hu­man rights was slowly tak­ing con­trol of the coun­try, and there were calls for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to re­lease bil­lions of dol­lars that had been frozen in re­cent months to al­low for the re­build­ing process and the heal­ing to be­gin.

We have been cap­ti­vated by im­ages of rebel fighters swarm­ing into Gad­hafi’s com­pound — a fortress once ac­ces­si­ble to only a se­lect few — and coming away with heavy weapons and other trea­sures that once be­longed to their ec­cen­tric and flam­boy­ant leader. Gad­hafi was reduced to airing de­fi­ant ra­dio mes­sages, call­ing for those loyal to him to con­tinue their re­sis­tance.

It’s quite a fall from grace for a man that ruled Libya’s 6.4 mil­lion peo­ple for so long, and along the way ac­cu­mu­lated a mas­sive for­tune, mostly at the ex­pense of his peo­ple. Gad­hafi has proven him­self to be a sur­vivor, and man­aged to stay in power even after ad­mit­ting nearly a decade ago that of­fi­cials in his gov­ern­ment played a role in the 1988 bomb­ing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lock­erie, Scot­land, re­sult­ing in the deaths of some 270 peo­ple.

He was en­gaged in a long-run­ning and some­times vi­o­lent dis­pute with the United States, yet man­aged to es­cape air at­tacks and wide­spread con­dem­na­tion from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

The unrest that has been sweep­ing Libya in re­cent months is eerily fa­mil­iar. Much of the Arab world has been in a restive mood this year, with long­stand­ing lead­ers such as Egyp­tian pres­i­dent Hosni Mubarak hav­ing been ousted from power.

Based on his past, how­ever, it’s not sur­pris­ing that Gad­hafi re­mains so de­fi­ant in the face of such a re­volt.

But it’s ob­vi­ous the Libyan peo­ple have had enough. What we’ve seen is “peo­ple power” at its finest.

Gad­hafi and his cronies de­serve to face up to their wrong­do­ings, but this is also a test for those who seek to re­place him.

They should seek jus­tice, but in a mer­ci­ful and hon­ourable man­ner. Re­venge and re­tal­i­a­tion is not the way to re­store Libya to its right­ful place in the world.

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