David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Forty Years of Dictatorship


These are splendid times for Muammar Gaddhafi, the Libyan dictator. Exactly 40 years ago he seized power in a coup that ousted the then ruler, King Idris, a harmless old-fashioned ruler. True, this was more like comic opera than real-life politics. Libya had been forgotten by history. Tribalism was the country’s distinguishing feature. There were not half a dozen Libyans with doctorates, and nobody with international experience. Gaddhafi belonged to a small insignificant tribe. The Egyptian President Nasser, and Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, were then uniformed thugs upon whom Gaddhafi successfully modelled himself. He has a long record of sponsoring terror. Agents of his have assassinated a good number of people in Libya and other Arab countries, in Germany and Britain, with his one-time foreign minister Mansur Kikhiya among them. Dissidents regularly disappear or die in jail, and among them is Fathi al-Jahmi. President Reagan rightly attached the label “Mad Dog” to the man, and bombed Tripoli to avenge an outrageous murder of American servicemen. For years Gaddhafi was a self-enrolled client of the Soviet Union, but even Vladimir Putin hesitates today to build on that, and stays away from the celebrations of 40 years of dictatorship.

At the moment, Tripoli, the Libyan capital, is bedecked with hoardings showing Gaddhafi’s face forbiddingly blown up in pure totalitarian style. In the main square, illuminated by coloured lights, ballet dancers are performing, and circles of men in some sort of semi-tribal garb are prancing round and about in odd formations. Odder still, most of these men are fat, too fat for any gracefulness — perhaps they are members of Gaddhafi’s tribe, showing how they have benefited from his appropriation of the state’s entire oil wealth, as unexpected as it is undeserved.

The highlight of this awful jamboree is the release by Britain of Abdulbaset Ali Al-Megrahi, who had been condemned to life-imprisonment for his role in the Lockerbie bombing. It is now unmistakably clear that for some two years the British government has been devising a way to free him and it set about it with determination and no sign at all of scruple. Whatever the British government might say, nobody can possibly conclude that its actions had anything to do with justice for the Lockerbie victims or had moral motivation. Quite the contrary. Self-interest and trade were governing their every move.

By pure coincidence, this is also the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. The British government has evidently failed to learn that to be the accomplice of dictators is a betrayal of moral principles and brings nothing but shame.


Subscribe to National Review