The ‘Brother Leader’ is dead. Let us not say ‘Long live the Brother Leader.’
At The Economist (the greatest magazine there is):
He ruled unsparingly. In his Libya, dissent was punishable by death. A private press was forbidden, and political parties banned. Several dozen deaths a year of political opponents were attributed to his secret police, acting on tip-offs from the surveillance committees to which around 10% of Libyans belonged. In Abu Salim prison, on one night in 1996, 1,200 political prisoners died. If his enemies fled abroad, his hired assassins found these “scum” and killed them. The colonel’s writ, as recorded in his “Green Book” of rambling political philosophy, replaced the rule of law.
[. . .]
Around this figure the West, for four decades, prevaricated. The young colonel’s “Third Mystery of Socialism”, a middle way between capitalism and communism which, in his words, solved all the contradictions of either system, seemed unthreatening enough. His people’s communes were blatantly powerless, his own “brotherly” power absolute, but then absolutism was common enough in oil-producing states. He was not a Marxist, at least: Egypt’s nationalist hero, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was his model, rather than Lenin. And he had oil.
Eventually tolerance snapped. In the 1980s, as Colonel Qaddafi shopped round the Far East for nuclear bombs, sponsored terror groups, invaded Chad in the cause of a “Greater Libya” and sent agents to blow up a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie in Scotland, he became a pariah: Ronald Reagan’s “mad dog”, to be bombed until he whimpered. But by the new century he was ingratiating himself. He said the right things about al-Qaeda; offered his nuclear programme for inspection, and in 2003 abandoned it; paid compensation for Lockerbie; and, apparently chastened by his own military incompetence, seemed to have forgotten his windy pan-Arab and pan-Islamist dreams. In a world suddenly teeming with dangerous Islamists, he was now far from the worst. At the G8 in 2009 he shook hands with Barack Obama. The same year he was allowed to speak for more than an hour at the UN, repaying its tolerance by tearing from the UN Charter the pages that talked about democracy.
[. . .]
Almost to the last, too, he tried to pose as one of his people. When protesters first erupted on the streets of Tripoli this year, he offered to protest along with them. Surely, after years of venomous pabulum from his “Green Book”, they would have learned to think as he did. But they were beginning to dare to think differently—about Libya, and about him.