How quickly the tide turns

Libya is now the third North African country to follow the path of people’s revolution after being shown the way by Tunisia and then Egypt. Poland left it slightly later than some to jump on the evacuation bandwagon but finally got round to “level delta” on Thursday last week.

The government has ordered remaining staff at the Polish Embassy in Tripoli to leave the country as the violent conflict in Libya continues.

“In connection with my decision to raise the alert at the embassy in Tripoli to level ‘delta’, which means the burning of documents and a total evacuation of the facility: the evacuation took place this morning and our diplomats are on their way back to the country,” Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski told journalists, Thursday in Washington.

Minister Sikorski said the decision had been taken on security grounds.

Level Delta sounds all very James Bond but it comes after significant criticism against Poland’s reaction to the unfolding crisis although later reports suggest the Polish Ambassador eventually performed far better than the British.

Friends of ours, British/Polish family, had been working and living in Tripoli for some time now so this uprising was of more than usual interest to us. It all happened very quickly. On February 17th he replied to a mail saying everything was fine and on March 3rd replied to another saying they were all in the UK having got the last seats on the last chartered flight out. I think they are back in Poland now so hopefully we’ll catch up with them soon and hear what story they have to tell. In their case you have to blame this damnable recession because were it not for the fact that work dried up in Poland I don’t think they’d have been in Libya in the first place. Quite a bit of turmoil but at least they are safe.

Aside from the personal interest, I’ve been amazed at the speed of the turnaround in fortunes of the “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Revolution of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” (AKA Muammar al-Gaddafi) and his friends and family.

If he can hold on for another few days he’ll overtake Omar Bongo and become the 4th longest lasting non-royal ruler EVER. Has to be said it appears unlikely that he’ll manage the further 4+ years needed to get past the top three – Fidel Castro (Cuba), Kim Il-sung (N. Korea) & Chiang Kai-shek (China).

He wrote a “Green Book” you know, Gaddafi. Modeled it on China’s Red Book and it is full of surprisingly insightful passages such as these:

“Women, like men, are human beings. This is an incontestable truth… Women are different from men in form because they are females, just as all females in the kingdom of plants and animals differ from the male of their species… According to gynecologists women, unlike men, menstruate each month… Since men cannot be impregnated they do not experience the ailments that women do. She breastfeeds for nearly two years.”

“If a community of people wears white on a mournful occasion and another dresses in black, then one community would like white and dislike black and the other would like black and dislike white. Moreover, this attitude leaves a physical effect on the cells as well as on the genes in the body.”

“While it is democratically not permissible for an individual to own any information or publishing medium, all individuals have a natural right to self-expression by any means, even if such means were insane and meant to prove a person’s insanity.”

“Women are human beings?”, chyba żartujesz!

For a man who took power as a result of a military coup ousting the first and only King of Libya, Idris, he seems to be taking similar medicine rather badly. Perhaps after 41 years of absolute power and enormous wealth he has grown to enjoy it and neither he nor his son interviewed on Sky TV recently are showing any signs of rolling over, quite the opposite. This is his son Saif trying to explain that everything is a figment of our imagination while subconsciously displaying his annoyance that his credit card doesn’t work anymore. Still, better to have him in front of the reporters than Hannibal the (alleged) wife-beating playboy.

For many years, Libya appeared to uneducated folk like myself to be a nutty but largely harmless dictatorship, with the exception of the odd terrorist, best known for breeding the Lockerbie bomber and for having lots of yummy oil. It was run by a lunatic with a plastic face who was, judging by speeches and interviews, permanently high and therefore quite amusing. It might or might not have been a breeding ground for more serious terrorist activities and for that reason (and the yummy oil) the rest of the world sort of left it alone. They weren’t going to be friends but it wasn’t as bad as Iraq or a few other places.

It all started getting quite weird from around 2004 onwards with a gradual escalation of niceness towards the Brotherly Leader and Libya generally. Their murderous bomber was given back to them as a sort of peace offering, almost every western world leader was swanning around hugging the guy and you fully expected Gaddafi to turn up as one of the judges on X Factor. Actually, would have been a pretty good judge too based on all the world stars that have given private concerts for him and his family in recent years, usually in exchange for a million USD!

Then it all changed. The touchpaper lit in Tunisia and Egypt reached Benghazi and now Tripoli and suddenly everyone is falling over themselves to distance themselves from Gaddafi. As the last link showed, all the artists who were very happy to trouser a million or so are now suddenly desperate to offload it to a charity as if that will make things better. The UK have frozen the assets of the Gaddafi family, of which there are plenty and leaders everywhere are making space in their media schedule to get a dig in at their one-time buddy Muammar and cosying up to anyone who looks like they might end up in charge.

I love the frozen asset ploy, so often used at times like this. We’re happy to allow you to accumulate great wealth is slightly dodgy ways and then come over here and spend billions buying up our property and handbags in Selfridges but if any of your people cotton on to what you’re doing we’ll just steal all your money and cut you adrift.

What a fickle, shallow, two-faced bunch of morons. With the exception of a popular uprising nothing has changed. Gaddafi & his family, friends and associates have been pretty much always the same bunch of shysters, but as long as everyone thought nothing was ever going to change and the guy was going to continue shafting his people and country for as long as he liked, well why not pile in there and make the most of it, eh? The guys bonkers anyway so for sure he’ll slip me a fast million for a gig or sign some oil contracts or employ our SAS training corps, or whatever. Then the unimaginable happens, the people revolt and as soon as it looks like it might be serious, Gaddafi suddenly finds all his “friends” deserting him like rats on a sinking ship. Including, most recently, Poland.

Funny old world we live in.


5 thoughts on “How quickly the tide turns

  1. When places like Libya run out of oil or run out of easily accessible oil, I suspect that everyone will suddenly get all ethical and moral-ridden and decide that being buddies with those particular regimes is wrong. Unless, of course, some other valuable stuff is found there and then, “while we deplore [the human right abuses happening at the current time] we must continue to work with the government of [country we want stuff from] to ensure [that the status remains quo].”

    This assumes that Libya doesn’t REALLY go insane and stop sending oil – then that abuse of our right to drive SUV’s will require dropping laser-guided smart bombs until they decide to stop being monsters.

  2. Damned good piece, Scatts. Nuanced, subtle and spot on.

  3. VLF says:

    “For many years, (…) appeared to uneducated folk like myself to be a nutty but largely harmless dictatorship, (…) and for having lots of yummy oil. It was run by a lunatic with a plastic face who was, judging by speeches and interviews, permanently high and therefore quite amusing”

    Ha! It’s early in the morning here in China and for a moment I thought you were writing about California :-)

    To be honest I am very surprised by the Dear Colonel’s reaction to the uprising. For about 10 years now he’s been letting human rights people into the country, letting them roam free and never censored or restricted their movements and publications. A part of the hug fest with the west I guess. He could have just left and moved to any country in the world and lived his remaining days in peace and wealth. Instead he chose lunacy… Now he’s screwed. One can hope it will be all over soon.

  4. Can you imagine if Ricky Gervais, Palikot, Nader or Palin, Berlusconi (oops, sorry, he’s there already), Joschka Fischer, Ms Le Pen, Dalai Lama, Kasparov, Mordechai Vananu, Chavez/Morales (oops, again), Wyclef Jean, Suu Kyi, or any such-like rabble-rousers took power? how great it would feel? There would be dancing in the streets ( naked of course) and “Interesting New Times” promised. Well, to all you young people, unaware of how it felt to be young and hysterical in the middle of the XXth Century, Qaddafi felt fresh and young back in them old days. Pencil thin, handsome Beduin, huite cuiture desert garb, obviously stoned out of his mind, Colonel, not more, how modest can you be? no Green Book yet, alternative values, anti-imperialist; what’s there not to love?

    I knew Libyans back then, went to school with them, and lost track of them all since those days. I remember them as fine people, they were my friends (back at a school in Dorset, oddly). I think with horror that, if any of them are still alive, what they must be going through, after all these years of stupid, pointless oppression, in a glimmer of hope now being crushed with no help from the outside, how awful their lives have been and now are.
    I think of them all the time these days, and wish them well.

  5. Wiktor says:

    Actually, I can begin to fathom the kind of feeling it would bring – I’ve already had that with Mr. Donald T. and I am, admittedly, young. The disillusionment came much earlier, too.

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