(Incidentally, spelled ‘Lybia’ on the front page of the first edition of The Mirror (Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - see my picture below), not a conventional spelling but, who knows,
one which might catch on. There’s also the – most certainly apocryphal story of the sub-editor in the early Nineties who in a loud voice asked the rest of the desk: ‘What’s our style – Iraq or Iran?’ In fact, less apocryphal is the version in which he asks: ‘What’s our style – Oman or Amman?’ But, as the advice is, why ruin a good story by getting it right?)
So we have calls to Gaddafi from the White House, Downing St., Paris, Berlin and I don’t know where else ‘not to kill too many people’. The broadcasting media wheel out the experts (I prefer styling them ‘experts’) who intone that ‘the situation is serious’ and that ‘it could get worse’. Politicians of every stripe grasp with both hands the opportunity to insist that ‘democracy must be established’, and environmentalist bemoan the amount of carbon dioxide being released every time a gun is fired by Gaddafi loyalists.
OK, so it’s easy to sneer – though not quite as satisfying as it should be – but I can’t help remembering how the West cast Gaddafi into the outer wilderness for many years, but then embraced him with both arms and persuaded themselves that he was a reformed character when they needed to do deals. Our security services, who not being quite as useless and efficient as they are often portrayed, will have known full well that Gaddaffi was still the same ruthless dictator he has always been and will have told their respective governments, but a deal is a deal. My pictures below should demonstrate just how difficult various Western leaders found it to deal with Gaddafi.
Someone observed on the radio the other day that if the West stopped talking to dictators throughout the world, it would be talking to rather few people and that dialogue is the best way to encourage reform. That makes sense. But actively sucking the dicks of various cutthroats such as Gaddaffi is surely another matter. Or perhaps is was all to the best that I decided not to try for a career in the Foreign Office. Making a good G&T is not all diplomats are required to do.
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In Libya and Egypt the demand for democratic elections to return a democratically elected government which will rule democratically and ensure the country is a democracy is deafening. Democracy rules, it seems – except, of course, if the peoples of those countries choose to be ruled by a government of a more islamist bent. That is something the West doesn’t want, and you can bet your bottom dollar that as I write the security services of the ‘leading Western nations’ are racking their brains as to how they can ensure that whatever democratic government is elected it is a democratic government to its liking. On that issue the U.S and Britain have form. One reason why to this day even Iranians opposed to the mullahs’ rule are extremely wary of the U.S. and Britain is because those two brought down the government of Mohammad Mosaddegh the people had elected democratically and installed the Shah instead. It made perfect commercial sense, of course, in that the Shah was far more amenable to selling the West Iran’s oil than Mosaddegh was likely to be, but it made us no friends in Iran. So there you have it: Egypt, Libya and whoever are perfectly free to elect a democratic government and we are actively encouraging them to do so, but what we can’t have is a islamist democratically elected government.
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Your heart has to go out to the millions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain who believe themselves to be on the brink of a better life. And perhaps they are, but it is questionable whether they are aware of the difficulties which lie ahead of them as the strive to establish a democratic state. I shan’t insult any of them by claiming that ‘they have no democratic history and so they have no democratic instincts’. The concept of suffrage is not hard to grasp and these people are not stupid. There are a great deal of highly educated men and women in their ranks – ironically, a universal education for the Libyan people became on of Gaddafi’s priorities when he seized power in 1996. But a democracy is not established overnight and, as has been pointed out more than once, the newly freed people have very high expectations. They want jobs, but the situation in any country after a revolution is inherently unstable and not exactly ideal for investing by foreign companies.
In Tunisia there is anger because some of those who served in the previous regime are now serving in the interim government. Yet how else can it be if the mechanisms of state are to continue functioning?
Then there is the rule of law: just how easy will it be to establish a judiciary independent of the state which is the sine qua non of all democracies?
And will the West, which after all will do its damndest to ensure all developments serve what it feels are its best interests, be caught interfering? If it is, it will alienate from the outset people who should be its friends and ensure nothing except that what it was trying to avoid being established at all costs will be most certainly established. And will Iran get up to mischief? The Mahgreb is pretty much beyond its sphere of influence, but it will certainly be worrying that if healthy democracies are established there, its on suppressed people will want the same for themselves.
All we can do is, lamely though sincerely, wish them all the very best of luck
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