Biggest moments of 2011 #3 Gaddafi falls, democracy rises
An Arab Spring first sprung late last year, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire to protest the humiliation heaped upon him by government officials.
Protests flared across Tunisia afterwards, toppling the local tinpot dictator and inspiring people in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and many other countries to take to the streets against their governments.
While there were several Big Moments from the Arab Spring this year - think the Egyptians occupying Tahrir Square and Hosni Mubarak finally giving in to protesters - the moment The Punch believes said the most about the promise, pitfalls and pragmatism of the Arab Spring was the ousting and killing of the “Mad Dog of the Middle East”, Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
Libyans first revolted against Gaddafi in February and much of the country soon fell out of his control. Gaddafi retaliated ruthlessly, massacring his own citizens from army helicopters and threatening to go “door to door” killing rebels who had liberated the city of Benghazi. In response, NATO launched an air strike campaign to protect the rebels and destroy Gaddafi’s regime - the only Western military intervention in the Arab Spring.
After months of civil war, Gaddafi’s regime finally collapsed. Gaddafi was eventually captured by rebels and soon shot dead.
What happened next
The scene after Gaddafi’s capture was not pretty.
He was promptly beaten by his captors. One video from the scene showed Gaddafi being sodomised with a knife prior to the shooting. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has said his treatment may well constitute a war crime.
Gaddafi was held on display in a refrigerated room designed for groceries.
However, like Egypt and Tunisia, Libya is no longer under authoritarian rule and is governed by a transitional administration. Whether or not these countries will all make the jump to a full-fledged democracy is yet to be seen.
What we learned
Ultimately, human dignity can only take so much degradation from authoritarian regimes before people feel compelled to rise up and protest. The boot stomping on the face of humanity that George Orwell wrote about can only stomp for so long before some dictator’s foot gets bitten off.
However, just as we saw that festive crowds sweep through Egypt’s Tahrir Square chanting for human rights and democracy, we also learned that revolution has a dark side. Gaddafi’s killing and abuse was a testament to that. As was the gang-sexual harassment of CBS reporter Lara Logan in Tahrir Square.
Another thing we learned is that after the catastrophic cost of Iraq and Afghanistan, the West will now only intervene militarily in the Middle East in a hands-off way if it aligns with their values. Libya was the only country gripped by the Arab Spring the West intervened in, despite calls for similar action in Syria.
NATO flexed its aircraft muscle to protect Libyan civilians from Gaddafi’s statement he was going to massacre them, but there have been suggestions that the West also had interest in the country’s oil reserves. The country is the world’s 17th largest producer of oil, although there could be more as oil exploration in Libya has been limited.
How The Punch covered it
When it comes to Gaddafi, we were quite clucky about this ripper eggsclusive from Punch correspondent Mary Chickenland on the frightening similarities between Colonel Gaddafi and Colonel Sanders:
Gaddafi’s dead. Good. We got Osama and now we got this creep. As The Sun in Britain said: “That’s for Lockerbie”. And as I myself often say: “begeeeeerrrrk”.
On a more serious note, Max Mason explained the fight for Arab freedom from the beginning. Calum Logan exposed the hypocrisy of the West getting worried about Arabian democracy. And ABC broadcaster Mark Colvin wrote at the height of the Tahrir Egyptian protests that it was too soon to revel in the revolution:
The elation of toppling a corrupt dictator is enormously satisfying, but it does not last.
A revolution is not a matter of a week or a fortnight, but of months and often years.
Pragmatic leadership after a revolution is not necessarily enough, and revolutionary turmoil frequently favours, not the best, but the most ruthless.
Put those party poppers away, because it’s still too soon. Where do you see the Arab Spring headed? Let us know in the comments below.
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