Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator. Read more about Mona here.
If Tunisia kicked down the door of the Arab imagination by showing it was possible to topple a dictator, Egypt drew a blueprint of non-violence for the house of revolution that detailed how to demolish a stubbornly entrenched dictator and now in Libya a mad man is trying to burn down the entire house rather than face eviction.
For 42 years, Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s antics have blinded too many to a brutality they finally see on full display as he desperately tries to quash the most serious uprising against his rule. If too many chose to not see, Libyans have known all too well.
Half the struggle for Libyans has surely been getting the world to move beyond “Gadhafi the Clown,” a role he seems to have uninhibitedly embraced. Who hasn’t been distracted by the eclectic wardrobe, the Kalashnikov-armed female bodyguards, and the tents he would pitch at home and abroad for talks with officials.
A source of embarrassment for Libyans, Gadhafi has never been a joke: disappearances, a police state, zero freedom of expression and poverty for at least a third of the population of country tremendously wealthy thanks to oil.
For years, Gadhafi squandered that wealth on causes and radical violence abroad that he chose because they epitomized the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” school of diplomacy. In 2003, just as the U.S. became mired in Iraq and its non-existent weapons of destruction, Gadhafi realized no one was scared of him anymore and voluntarily gave up his weapons of mass destruction programs.
When the world has paid attention to his crimes it has invariably been to those against non-Libyans such as the mid-air bombings of a French airliner over Niger and of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. Once he compensated families who lost relatives in those attacks, Gadhafi became persona grata and money and business deals came and went along with high-level dignitaries.
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