By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
As his regime crumbled, the maverick colonel kept on living in his imagined world. He was a prisoner of his power, the worst prisons a human being can construct. Most Middle Eastern dictators are like him. They emerged as national heroes, spoke anti-Western language, promised end of colonialism and soon capitulated to their erstwhile colonizers. Libya and his maverick colonel are now part of history, but a history that is still unable to find a way out of the labyrinths they have left behind. It is a classic case of time wrapped into its own miserable track. For 42 years, the near-mad colonel served Western greed through a mutually beneficial arrangement which allowed him unchecked power at home. With billions of dollars at his disposal, he and his family lived like kings and the Western powers, mostly UK, France, and Italy had a rich harvest of Libya’s sweet light crude. In addition, they sold billions of dollars of arms, low-level technology, and other products to the rich African country with a small population. The United States remained a silent partner in this business.
When things turned sour, Tony Blair’s successor in Britain made the best of the opportunity offered to him through the Arab Spring. The victory at hand in Libya is as much the result of David Cameron’s gamble as it is the result of dedicated Libyans who had enough of a dictator. Yet, one cannot deny that the defeat of Qadaffi forces is largely a result of the support provided by the Royal Air Force (RAF), which for all practical purposes served as Rebels Air Force. David Cameron has played it cool: he has kept the exact extent of British intervention a closely guarded secret. He stretched the UN regulation to its ultimate limits, clearly going beyond all legal boundaries, but he was able to keep any “noise” against it at bay. It is military diplomacy at best, a classic case of an illegal and immoral intervention in the affairs of another country, both justified on the basis of huge British interests in the oil-rich country, and carried over with the popular support enjoyed by the Arab Spring.
Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Libya’s delivery from the iron hand of a dictator has been an outright military campaign against the man who had outlived his utility for his masters and who was ready to dig his own grave through miscalculations, mindboggling blunders, and sheer foolishness. He and his sons kept on living in a bygone era without realizing that their time was up. Their rhetoric gained them no ground. Everything they said was empty air: at one point, they were going to unleash thousands of warriors on Europe, then they announced that they were going to kill the “few” rebels like one kills rats. Finally, they had to turn into rats themselves, running for life. This is not unique to them; after a certain time, every dictator starts to feel invincible and ends up in a cul-de-sac.
The fall of Libyan dictator is important in the emergence of a new Middle East. One can now say with a degree of confidence that the Western strategy of a new Middle East has become a fully operational plan. What started over a year ago as a lack luster performance, has now been strategized. Tunisia and Egypt may have been surprises for the Western leadership, but it is to their credit that they have arisen to the need of the hour: they have now fully grasped the ground reality that a status quo is impossible in the Middle East and they are hard at work to change their colors, repackage their entire tool kit and re-establish a new order in the Middle East, one country at a time.
They know that the existing dictators must go. Their challenge now is to work with a different breed of men who would be elected through popular vote. Democracy, as it will emerge in the Middle East over the next decade, would pose a different set of challenges to them, but they have already developed techniques to have their men “democratically” elected. Their goals for the region are deeply linked to oil and what it generates—the so-called petro dollars. But they are also interested in a cultural change that would remodel the Middle East for easy access. Money comes through mega deals, cultural change is required to establish control over market economy, and political influence is a must for any deal they can make with the rulers. Until now, a maverick colonel or a Hosni Mubarak on the payroll could do the job; now they must go through the whole regime of elections, political activism, media control, and factors which influence social change.
None of this is new for them: they have already tested it in Turkey which has become a huge experiment in developing new techniques for a democratic colonialism. During the last few years, Turkey has opened up its markets in a way that was not imaginable before the so-called Islamists became their partners. Turkey’s markets at European disposal include the entire communication and transport network, educational sector, a very large number of industries, and an unstated domain of religion: The Catholic Church has opened hundreds of “apartment churches” where young Turks are being indoctrinated. This is a remarkable development in international diplomacy: the Western powers and Islamists have joined hands for a total transformation which was unimaginable until now.
The new Middle East may look like Turkey in the next decade. There are plenty of Arab Islamists similar to their Turkish counterparts: men with short beards in designer suits. They are able to sit at the table with the Western politicians and speak the same language, both figuratively and literally. They are ready to cut the pie in as many ways as needed.
Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, and Syria are fresh fields of operation for Europe and America. The quickness with which revolutions have emerged in these lands may be surprising for some, but these so-called revolutions are perfectly understandable in the larger context of history: keeping dictators in these lands had simply become untenable and hence historical necessity dictated a new dress for the old imperialistic domination.