Qaddafi was Linchpin of Corrupt Dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt

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.

4 Responses

  1. “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,”

    Professor Cole, The two questions you pose in the above-cited paragraph may need to be, as you put it, further investigated in order to be completely understood, if by “completely understood” you mean 100 percent, with no remaining questions. In my opinion, however, we have a sufficient understanding of both to reach concrete conclusions.

    A. Regarding the importance of Qaddafi to Hosni Mubarak’s police state, other than the possible provision of funding to Egypt, I doubt that Qaddafi had much to do with it. After all, the police state did not begin with Mubarak. The police state was established under Nasser with heavy Soviet involvement. And while it may have softend under Sadat, the apparatus remained in place to be brought into play when Mubarak deemed it in his interest to do so.

    B. Your question regarding how Left-leaning, post-colonial regimes deteriorated into seedy police states, begs the further question: Given the history of Left-leaning regimes in the 20th century (Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua, not to mention The Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and others), why do you think the Left-leaning regimes in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt would not follow suit? While I do not subscribe to a determinist view of history, I see nothing in the historical record to suggest that those regimes would turn out to be other than police states, particularly since they relied on the Soviet Union and East Germany to assist in setting up their Interior Ministries, police, and intelligence operations.

    • I wonder what Mr. Barkell means by “Left-leaning.” Just that convenient Wrong-Wing (they are in no sense of the word “Right”) label that so many “conservatives” (sic) toss around so freely to cement their solidarity of the “against?” B. above is one small illustration of how bankrupt the notions of “Left” and “Right” are.

      Should be pretty clear that those who grab for the Ring of Power are all pretty much Kleptocrats, and that the impulse to “state security” is inherent in every “government” on the planet. Simply because certain kinds of people are attracted to concentrations of power and wealth, and human nature is what it is: Tribal, violent or submissive, greed-driven or just productive.

      Yes, a narrow picture, 7.5 billion of us have many variations on the basic themes. But show me a place that has escaped for long the idiocy of Ozymandias and Stalin and Gaddafi and the rest.

      It’s actually kind of humorous, watching my own country ratcheting down into pure kleptocracy, as the SOBs operating the ratchet beat their chests and shout Patriotism and “freedom” and all the rest. Humorous, and miserable, for those of us suckered by the “Shining City on the Hill” notions in our youth… And the capper is watching all the sincere and brave “revolutions of revulsion and hope” get captured time and again by the Dantons and Robespierres and Castros, or crushed by State Security.

      Hierarchy and autocracy (now in its fully refined and largely perfected kleptocratic form) seem to be pretty clearly the fate of every human population. It’s the best we can do, though some of us still resist…

      • “I wonder what Mr. Barkell means by “Left-leaning.” Just that convenient Wrong-Wing (they are in no sense of the word “Right”) label that so many “conservatives” (sic) toss around so freely to cement their solidarity of the “against?” B. above is one small illustration of how bankrupt the notions of “Left” and “Right” are.”

        If you had read my post carefully, JTMcPhee, you would have noted that I took the term “Left-leaning” from Professor Cole’s post (as in “Left-leaning, post-colonial regimes”), to which my post was in reply. I suggest that you not only process what you read a little more carefully, but you also might benefit from a refresher course in 20th century history and politics. I think you would find that the notions of “Left” and “Right” are not as bankrupt as your post suggests.

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