This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 27/02/2011
There has been a barrage of derisive and humorous comments regarding Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's recent speeches. This follows on from the comic trend which was evident amongst the youth of Tahrir Square in Egypt. This light-hearted attitude continues to dominate people's minds, but it is remarkable that the mocking comments about Gaddafi's speeches have not only been found on the internet, but have even been used by some political commentators! What is the intention of this?
It is simple - there is an element of comedy, call it black comedy, in Gaddafi's speeches. However, some of his attitudes are not unique, but rather they can be seen in past and present examples in our Arab world! When Gaddafi says that the Libyans have a right to demonstrate peacefully, as long as the demonstrations are related to Gaza or Iraq, and not Libyan internal affairs, he is not the only one who does so. If we are talking about authoritarianism in the Middle East, then it is sufficient to look at 'democratic' Iraq, and how many citizens were killed last Friday because they came out to demonstrate! There is also Syria, which had allowed demonstrations sometimes against the Egyptians, and sometimes in support of them, and a few days ago permitted protests outside the Libyan embassy. However, Syria does not allow demonstrations to take place if they are for internal reasons. Either it should prevent demonstrations entirely, or not try and exploit them for its own purposes.
There are more examples than these, of course. Colonel Gaddafi didn't even blink when he said: "If the Libyan people do not love me, then I do not deserve to live. If the Arab people, the African people, and all people, do not love Muammar Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi does not deserve life for one day". He is convinced that his role is to protect the nation, and has forgotten that genuine power comes from the unity of the citizens behind him. Gaddafi is not the only one who thinks by this logic, we see Hassan Nasrallah every now and then speaking from somewhere in the suburbs of Beirut, delivering a speech to the nation. Sometimes he is inciting the Egyptian army [to rebel] against its government, other times he is addressing the Egyptians about their revolution, not to mention his speeches to the Tunisians. Why look further than this? Isn't Hassan Nasrallah the man who spoke in 2006, on Al-Jazeera, telling Arab rulers: "I am even certain that some sons, daughters, and wives of some Arab rulers are with us. But I tell the Arab rulers, I do not want your swords and I do not even want your hearts." What is the difference between Gaddafi and Hassan Nasrallah?
When Gaddafi says that he will ignite the whole of Libya, and turn it into smoldering embers, again this is nothing new. This is no different to some of what is happening around us. Gaddafi views Libya, as I said earlier, according to the perspective of "I am the state, and the state is I". This is exactly what Saddam Hussein did, ending up hiding in a hole, and leading Iraq towards unparalleled destruction.
Some of what Colonel Gaddafi comes out with may be funny, but we do not know whether to laugh or cry, and this merits lengthy contemplation. What Gaddafi says in his speeches is merely an attempt for survival, and others in the region are also guilty of this. However, they speak more calmly, repeating their rhetoric day and night, with intellectual language sometimes, and stimulating the Arab masses at other times.