I was turning on my TV the other day only to find an old dictator in there (some call them "autocrats", thus justifying the deals they make with them) whose expiry date was long behind him. What to do with him? To the garbage dump? Toxic waste? Recycle and re-use? Or even swallow him? The old dictator was Ben Ali from Tunisia - 20 years; was Mubarak from Egypt - 30 years; and was Gaddafi from Libya - 40 years in there and a long time overdue. And just like me the people of their respective countries had opened up their fridges in a desire to unfreeze what had paralyzed them for years: their lives, their minds and their rights.
In his prime time Gaddafi used to be what the French call "un beau gosse". Milk, sugar and fruits seemed to be flowing through his veins. Overthrowing King Idriss in 1969, throwing off for ever the yoke of colonialism, he made Libya the center stage of the world's political events for the four decades to follow. He put Libya on the map, he gave it a face. Just as Yasser Arafat did in and with Palestine, just like Fidel Castro did in Cuba (whose 50 years overdue still mean world record. Ok, I know: now it's Raoul, his brother.).
beyond expiry date: time to say goodbyeThe dictators had become caricatures of themselves. And this is not only showing in the face of Gaddafi who had, according to Robert Fisk, just recently seriously inquired about a good plastic surgeon to lift his face. (I am sure Berlusconi knows a good address or two.) No, it also shows in the way they go about their political agenda. Setting out for a reason - the fighter of the wars against Israel; the pathfinder out of colonial and monarchistic rule and into secular PanArabism - they had become more and more isolated from their ideals and their people, left only with a few loyal servants kissing their feet, holding their hands, just like the kings in numerous Shakespeare dramas. Or just like Adolf Hitler, without comparing his atrocities with the ones the likes of Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi have committed, who at his end blamed his own people, too weak and not worthy to have him as their leader, for his downfall. In a way, Gaddafi's idiosyncratic and defiant speech on February 22 in Tripoli reminded me of Bruno Ganz's outburst playing Hitler in "Der Untergang" for which he should have gotten an Oscar (but you can never win an award in Hollywood for playing Hitler...). Instead he was criticized for playing Hitler "too human", one thing that nobody ever attributed to Muammar Gaddafi!
The house of the Pharaoh in Egypt was built on sand, like the pyramids in this wonderful country, a brittle facade for a regime that was completely hollow on the inside. Just like a butterfly's flapping of its wings could bring a dinosaur to its knees, some tweets of a virtual bird brought down a "securitocracy" in Cairo (I am borrowing from Graeme P. Herd here, Head of the International Security Programme at the GCSP in Geneva), a system of security and intelligence services, and the military and business elites, all closely connected to the ruling families.
Coming back to Shakespeare, I was astonished to learn this week that Gaddafi is a writer himself. His book, "Escape to hell and Other Stories" - a very appropriate title for the circumstances he is in right now - published 1993 in Libya and in 1998 in Europe and the USA, is a collection of stories and (semi) philosophical essays that ofter border on the lunatic and surrealistic (although his demand for a one state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict put forward in the book could be called "visionary" and "realistic" as well).
Not missing in the book are Gaddafi's trademark rants and it is no surprise then that the book review published in Entertainment Weekly in May of 1998 reads like the discussion on Al Jazeera right after Gaddafi had delivered his speech two days ago: Though Qaddafi may be a competent tyrant, this strange collection of the Libyan leader's short stories proves he's got a ways to go before he's the Middle Eastern John Updike. May we suggest a stint at Tripoli's Writers' Workshop to brush up on, say, plot, character, dialogue, tone, and coherence? Qaddafi often ignores these in favor of the rant, reminding one of Dennis Miller, albeit slightly funnier. In Escape To Hell and Other Stories, you'll learn that he loathes cities, Zionists, Margaret Thatcher, and humidity. He loves the countryside and artichokes. Once in a while, you will get a hint of a plot, such as in a story called ''The Suicide of the Astronaut,'' which is about...the suicide of an astronaut. Or as Qaddafi writes in an admirably minimalist final sentence, ''The astronaut then committed suicide...''
The astronaut then committed suicide. Beyond expiry date.