During the 1980’s, Libyan President Muammar Gadhafi was a rock star. Changing his sleeping locations nightly to thwart any attempts of assassination, Gadhafi’s charismatic personality as well as his flair for fashion made him the most popular renegade since Che’ Guevara. Reminiscent of Mao Tse Tung’s “Red Book,” Gadhafi’s “Green Book” was the quintessential tome on socialism. Gadhafi’s bloodless coup in 1969 set the course for a drive towards Arab unity. But, how did a man who’s bigger than life personality and early calls for unity become so fractionalized?
It would be logical to point to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that sparked the unrest in a number of Middle Eastern and African countries. It would also be rational to suggest that global economic depressions, high unemployment rates and a desire for western style freedom became a more compelling idea than socialism or “managed” democracy. Like many charismatic leaders, Muammar Gadhafi would have been better served by adopting the power moves of Russia’s Vladimir Putin rather than that of the late Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. After Putin became ineligible to run for a third term, Dmitry Medvedev was elected Russia’s president, while Putin became prime minister. It is believed that Medvedev is nothing more than a proxy for the machinations of Putin to maintain power. However, that is the point. To create the symbolic illusion that a democracy exists, Putin did not exercise an overt grab for power, which would have been reminiscent of the old Stalin days. Instead, he took another political position, decentralizing power and spreading his influence through other leaders. These maneuvers led to the expansion of his political base by increasing the number of powerful supporters.
By Gadhafi positioning his sons and daughter to succeed him, he sowed the seeds of discontentment among Libyans in a time where egalitarianism has been ushered in by the Internet. By not being prescient about current events and its impact on governmental operations, Gadhafi was weakened by his unwillingness to alter his modus operandi. With the onslaught of the Internet and multimedia, no one wants to feel that his country is precluding him from self-actualizing. It would be altogether different if the world was not digitally connected. But, as the Internet has become the ultimate democratizer of education, blind allegiance has become impractical.
In addition, if Gadhafi had supported non-familial ties for his political ambitions, he could have been a kingmaker without losing any direct power. An analogy would be a parent company that owns the leading brands under its banner, which allows these brands to compete against each other in the market place. The parent company does not care which brand wins, because all revenue go to the same source. Gadhafi should have promoted other leaders in a succession plan and operated in the background while influencing decision makers. American style politics has shown the power of political machines that last for decades without any backlash from the citizenry. As long as the voting public perceives it has a voice in the outcome of an election, it will support the process.
Like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Gadhafi underestimated the impact of the changing times. To simplify the current tumultuousness within Libya would underestimate the power of progress. If power is at the base of geopolitics, the changes being demanded by Libyans and surrounding countries are not about totally reforming the political game as much as changing the players to compete more effectively. This is no different than trading a less productive player in professional sports for a more productive one. Gadhafi is paying the price of not possessing greater foresight. In a competitive world of power, such blindness is the beginning of the end of a dynasty.
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