Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Turning against Mu’ammar Gaddafi of Libya

20 February 2011

Nureddin Sabir recounts a painful journey of hope, disappointment, betrayal, blood and murder that has seen him turn from loyal supporter to vehement opponent of Colonel Mu’ammar Gaddafi and his regime in Libya.

From Zintan in the west of Libya to Benghazi, Al-Bayda, Derna and Tobruk in the east, Libyans have been rising up against the rule of Colonel Mu’ammar Gaddafi since a “Day of Rage” was declared by pro-freedom activists on 17 February.

We Libyans have come a long way since that fateful day on 1 September 1969, when Gaddafi and a group of 12 young officers, dubbed the Free Unionist Officers, seized power from King Idris Sanusi in a bloodless coup.

For me, this has been a 42-year journey of elation, hope, disappointment, betrayal and now blood and murder.


As a young boy aged 10, I was the first ever Libyan publicly to congratulate the Free Unionist Officers on their coup – what for many years I proudly called “the revolution”.

As with many of the adults I knew at the time, including all members of my family, I could not contain my excitement at the toppling of the monarchy, whose corruption, cronyism, intolerance, brutality and complete subservience to the USA and Britain could not but mark a deep imprint on my conscience, even as a child of 10.

So, in my euphoria, on the day of the revolution I asked my sister to help me write a letter of congratulations to the revolutionaries and then, during a gap in the curfew, I took it to an army officer manning a checkpoint near our house. To my surprise, he read it, jumped into his jeep and drove off. Two hours later, it was broadcast on state radio – the first and for many hours the only message of support to go on air.

I was ecstatic at the revolution and so was everyone I knew. The night of 31 August/1 September 1969 had been a sultry one and I had woken up at dawn on 1 September. The radio was on and I heard the revolutionaries’ “Communique Number One” as it was broadcast for the first time. Even now, 42 years later, listening to or reading the communique serves as a vivid reminder of that ecstasy. 

Muammar Gaddafi reading Communique No. 1" announcing the ouster of the Libyan monarchy, 1 September 1969

Those who understand Arabic can listen to the communique by clicking the audio player on the right, and an English translation is available 
here, but below is one passage:

    People of Libya! In response to your own will, fulfilling your most heartfelt wishes, answering your incessant demands for change and regeneration and your longing to strive towards these ends … your armed forces have undertaken the overthrow of the reactionary and corrupt regime, the stench of which has sickened and horrified us all.

    From this day forward, Libya is a free, self-governing republic. She will ... advance on the road to freedom, the path of unity and social justice, guaranteeing equality to all her citizens and throwing wide in front of them the gates of honest employment, where injustice and exploitation will be banished, where no one will count himself master or servant, and where all will be free, brothers within a society in which, with God's help, prosperity and equality will be seen to rule us all… [emphasis added]

Cognitive dissonance

I remained loyal to Gaddafi and to the ideals of the revolution for many years after those exhilarating moments, even when his commitment to those ideals visibly began to wane. I grew up hoping that somehow the revolution will rediscover its tracks, that the numerous detraction's, excesses and abuses were just blips, growing pangs of the revolutionaries. The seizure and pointless destruction of my father’s modest and perfectly legal business did not turn me against the revolution, nor did the shocking public hanging of Egyptian dock workers in 1974 – murdered simply to annoy Gaddafi’s erstwhile friend, Anwar Sadat – which I witnessed in person as a young teenager. Not even the murder of student protesters in Benghazi in 1975 or the inexplicable abuses against me personally whenever I encountered Libyan officials, such as when I visit the Libyan People’s Bureau in London, were enough to turn me against Gaddafi and his colleagues.

Such was the power of the hangover of the 1 September 1969 revolution, the power of the hope unleashed by that fateful event – a power whose potency had been magnified against the background of the 1967 defeat – that it seemed inconceivable to let go, to overcome the cognitive dissonance and see what was actually happening on the ground.

The awakening

However, one cannot live in denial forever. To be sure, the absence of a decent, credible Libyan opposition did little to speed up my awakening. For many years, the choice was Gaddafi, the Islamists or the ultra-reactionary, super-rich monarchists. There were no – and as far as I am aware, there still are not – any significant, progressive, democratic Libyan opposition. For many years, therefore, my choice had to be Gaddafi, warts and all.

But the warts grew bigger and bigger. The repression, the corruption, the nepotism, the cronyism, the arbitrariness, the complete absence of the rule of law and the utter disregard for the most basic human rights every year reached proportions that I could barely imagine the year before. And Gaddafi evolved from clown, to an embarrassment, to a national disgrace, a weirdo and an insult to the honour and dignity of Libyans and all Arabs. The progressive, pan-Arab revolutionary had become a debauched, decadent, corrupt king, grooming one son then the other to be crown prince. We had gotten rid of a senile vassal only to end up with a degenerate lunatic.

For most of my life I have been mistaken about Gaddafi and his regime. The fact that hindsight does wonders to one's wisdom is no excuse. I owe it to our martyrs, to the dead and dying all over Libya – in Benghazi, Al-Bayda, Derna, Tobruk, Zintan, Ajdabya and many other places – to say I am sorry, to say that I have been wrong, that I have been a fool ever to give Gaddafi and his regime the benefit of doubt for so long.

The choice now is very stark. It is no longer Gaddafi or the Islamists and monarchists. The choice now is either to live in perpetual ignominy or to die with dignity.

As I write, up to 250 fellow citizens have chosen to die with honour rather than live in humiliation. With so much blood spilt and spilling, and with the unprecedented degree of brutality that we have been witnessing over the past few days, even living in humiliation to fight another day has ceased to be a choice.

The choice now is quite simple. It is either indignity or death in the hope that future generations may live with honour and dignity. 

By Nureddin Sabir
Editor, Redress Information & Analysis

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