Abd al-Rahman Shalqam, former foreign minister of Libya, has revealed in an interview with al-Hayat in Arabic that Muammar Qaddafi was central to propping up the corrupt and dictatorial regimes of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. Many analysts of authoritarianism in the Arab world have pointed to French, British and American support for dictatorial regimes, but the way in which Qaddafi deployed his oil billions in the Middle East and Africa to undermine democracy and reinforce dictatorship and corruption is a key part of the puzzle.
Shalqam said that the security cooperation (i.e. help with domestic surveillance of the STASI sort) was so complete between Libya and Tunisia that Qaddafi had actually given Ben Ali a monthly stipend.
Likewise, he said that Umar Suleiman, the former head of Egyptian military intelligence, was “Libya’s man in Egypt.” Under Suleiman, the secret police in Egypt developed extensive surveillance and used unsavory techniques of interrogation redolent of those deployed by Qaddafi himself.
Shalqam confirmed that in 1993 Egyptian secret police abducted Libyan dissident and former foreign minister Mansour al-Kikhia, then sent him to Libya where he was executed by Qaddafi.
Qaddafi, finding himself blocked in attempts to dominate the Arab world (in part by the wealthier and more prestigious Saudis), at one point declared that he was “an unparalleled man” and would become “the king of kings of Africa.” His son Saif al-Islam is said to have teared up in joy at the announcement. (For Qaddafi’s disastrous impact on Africa see this posting).
Qaddafi’s strong support for the Ben Ali police state in Tunisia is well known. When Ben Ali fell, Qaddafi regretted it and said “there is none better to govern Tunisia than Ben Ali.” This sentiment derived from Ben Ali’s being on his payroll and doing his bidding, not from the milk of human kindness. Ben Ali’s use of torture against dissidents, like that of Qaddafi, is well documented. All the Tunisians I talked to in my recent trip to that country, whether from the left or the right, supported the attempt to get rid of Qaddafi, though they were insistent that there should be no Western troops or bases in that country. They confirmed to me that were Qaddafi to manage to remain in power, they feared he would use his oil billions to undermine the embryonic Tunisian experiment in democracy. The revelation that Ben Ali was actually on a retainer from Qaddafi will only reinforce these attitudes.
How important Qaddafi was to Hosni Mubarak’s police state needs to be further investigated. But there is growing evidence of his baleful influence. How the left-leaning post-colonial regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt deteriorated into seedy police states with vast domestic spying apparatuses, secret prisons, torture, press censorship and ultimately crony capitalist cartels is yet to be completely understood, but the evolution of Muammar Qaddafi into king of kings of Africa is an important part of this story.