Sunday, February 20, 2011

ArtTravler reflects on 3 years in Libya: Why Gadaffi will fight to bloody end

This is a one-off as the Brits say.

I have these uncontrollable episodes of manic political endeavor, as though I am vicariously there in Tripoli, on the ground, in the great Green Square where armies from Italy, Great Britain, Nazi Germany, and the United States paraded as victor, as occupiers, the Tripoli, where only a couple hundred metres from my villa, Gen. Rommel had his underground bunker, his Afrika Korps HQ.

Our "house boy," Mohammad, a very young old man with resiliance and love and loyalty, told me about General Rommel.

Mohammad, you see, was the famous Nazi general's personal vallet. He was with Rommel throughout the entire North African campaign.

Mohammed was also my friend.

He told me about Rommel's underground bunker, his headquarters, and how Rommel would take mess not with himself or officers but enlisted men, taking his turn in line like the rest.

Mohammed, I could see, loved this man as many did.

A word of caution: Yes, Mohammed cleaned, cooked, did things about the house and lived on premises during the week, but we, as employee and family of an American international oil company--Occidental Petroleum Corp., Bakersfield, CA--were told it was expected we would support a "house boy" like Mohammed and his family.

Perhaps a form of capitalist, paternalist, trickle-down economics, a kind of depraved socialism? We accepted this as we had no choice (it came as a surprise), but our relationship with Mohammed was rich and rewarding.

As colonial as it seems and in fact was, Mohammed and I developed a very close relationship.

He was a fine man, a loyal gentleman, devoted to his family, who largely lived in poverty in Tripoli's jebble on the edge of the great Sahara, which consumes most of Libya.

Gadaffi launches Stalinist purges and executions

I lived with my family in Tripoli, Libya from 1977 - 1980 when Gadaffi actively sponsored international terrorism, funded Libyan-based terrorist training camps, ordered old men to don army uniforms, take up arms and flew them to Uganda to die as mercenaries for other dictators.

He purged and executed hundreds after Stalinist public trials, the only thing going on Libyan TV at the time.

What I am about to tell you is true.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the arts spine of my blog but I know of no other way of sharing this information in a timely manner as Libya boils over.

There are at least two reasons why Gadaffi's military dictatorship will prevail as he continues to machine gun his own citizens, nothing new, incidentally.

He's paranoid, a speed freak (amphetamines) and delusional.

He has taken precauations as any parnoid would.

A very close friend of mine in Libya worked for a German tel-com company and exclusively for the Libyan military.

He designed secure communications broadcast studios in an underground bunker for Gadaffi should radio and TV stations above ground fall to the masses or some imaginery foe.

Another very good friend of mine, half Libyan, half Palestinian, Ibrahim, with whom I worked, also was a close friend with Gadaffi's No. 2 in the Revolutionary Command Council, Maj.Abdul Salam Jalud.

Here's the story: At a party in Tripoli attended by Australian women and others working to install irrigation systems, Ibrahim and the major became intoxicated.

According to Ibrahim, No. 2 loved his booze and Australian women and thus he was heavily into irrigation projects.

So, Jalud says to Ibrahim: "Hey, I'm really worried about Muamar (No. 1)." Ibrahim, of course, says what we all do: "Why?"

This is the zinger.

Jalud, obviously drunk, says Gadaffi has been taking amphetaimines for many months, is up when most people sleep, down when most people are up, and like a nomad, sleeps only one night in a certain location, palace or tent, always paranoid and in constant fear for his life.

From bloodless 1968 coup to bloody Benghazi

Then I begin to connect the dots. Things change quickly in Tripoli.

When I first arrived alone to sort out a new life in a third world country for my wife and two children, we used to joke about Gadaffi in the office.

No big deal.

Some expats recalled with a certain glow of cultural fusion how Gadaffi, shortly after his bloodless 1968 military coup, on Christmas eve, would randomly drive through Tripoli and stop at expat homes in his VW bug, knock at the door, introduce himself and spend a few minutes with Christians, very welcoming, very friendly.

This I can only say is legend, not fact, but fun to consider, nonetheless, given Gadaffi's current temperament.

With paranoia, came a beefed up secret police.

I had seen the KGB up close and almost personal in Moscow in 1976.

When I saw buses of navy blue uniformed KGB in Tripoli, saw from my office window Soviet ships off-loading the bits and bobs to build a nuclear plant 25 kms down the road and experienced Russian widely spoken in the suk, I began to again connect the dots.

KGB and East German secret police overhauled Gadaffi's internal security apparatus and it worked.

You could feel the political clampdown.

Muslim clerics clashed with Gadaffi and lost, big time.

For nearly a decade, Gadaffi's pan-Arab socialist state financed restoration of Tripoli's oldest mosque, positioned prominently at one end of the city's vast square bordering the old castle and suk (think round-about in front of Buckingham palace-size times two).

It had been completed a week and rumour was (word of mouth was the only pipeline or phones for those few who had them, mostly expats) that Muamar and the head cleric engaged in some power wrestling.

As I drove to work the next morning (it had stood proud and fully restored when I left  work the evening before), it was a medium-size pile of rubble.

And on the corner of every street I saw Gadaffi's red-capped special, uniformed secret police, armed but strangely enough, not dangerous....then.

Gadaffi never trusted his troops for good reason and did not issue them bullets.

The great paranoid leader had the mosque bombed, imploded in the early morning hours and within 24 hours, all evidence of of it had vanished.

No more Gadaffi jokes

No more Gadaffi jokes.

I knew the Libyan paralegal in my office worked for military intelligence and one of my fellow lawyers, also Libyan, another member of the secret police, monitored everything.

He later climbed the ladder of loyalty, becoming Lilbya's political attache in Moscow.

(He spoke fluent Russian when I first met him and firmly declined speaking to me in Russian, although at the time, I was nearly fluent.)

By now Gadaffi was on a roll.

He started to purge his own ranks, especially after his inner circle (army officers) five times tried to kill him by various means, bombs or bullets, while I lived there.

Gadaffi's personal jet's chief mechanic/engineer was a good 'ol boy from Tennesee. I sold him my fridge when leaving the country.

He flew with Gadaffi when the great leader was airborne and recalled a recent flight to Germany where Gadaffi received medical care for a bullet wound to the shoulder.

(The Coen brothers couldn't have cast a more ludicrous character in such a role. I asked why he just doesn't, you know, make sure the plane has a technical fault, a major one in flight. "He requires me to fly with him everywhere.")

Obviously, an amphetamine abuser would succumb at this juncture to a healthy degree of paranoia.

Everything I learned about Stalin's purges flushed to the surface.

The Soviets taught Gadaffi well.

Public trials and executions followed.

One of my better professional friends, a Libyan Vice President at OxyLibya, Inc. (wholly owned subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum) where I worked as senior attorney, was arrested, tortured and executed, a fine man. I played hearts with him and others most every extended lunch hour (we were on Libyan time).

For what?

He was an influencial member of one of seven very rich families in Tripolitania. If Gadaffi wanted you out of the way, you either escaped or you vanished or were murdered.

And if you escaped, Gadaffi, while I was there, hired hit squads to kill his Libyan foes who fled to Rome and eleswhere. No political exile was safe.

Gadaffi's underground communications bunker

I earlier mentioned Gadaffi's underground tel-com bunker.

As you may know, he's already terminated the Internet in his country.

And deep inside this Tripoli bunker there is a fully equiped TV and radio studio.

With a mere flick of a switch, thanks to my good mate, the great paranoid leader can become the only vision and voice in Libya, regardless of whoever controls above-ground communications centers. 

Regardless of outcome, Gadaffi gets the last word?

There's another reason Gadaffi may remain in power, regardless of the death toll.

Libyans currently enjoy a per-capita income of about 8,800 Euros a year, second only to Saudi's 12,700 Euros.

The more you have to lose, the less you are willing to sacrifice.

The pro-Gadaffi demonstrators you see are all paid help.

My parents worried allot during the 444-day Iran hostage crisis, since Gadaffi, in a fit and fury and show of support for Iran, decided to burn down the US consulate and three very fine, black Plymouth Furys.

I stood about 100 metres away with the rest of the crowd watching black smoke billow into the sky. (Our staff fled for their lives to the British Embassy, whch welcomed them with single malt Scotch.)

Gadaffi's infamous for his "rent a demonstrations" or "rent a crowds," as we ex-pats called them.

It would be a national holiday like "Italian Evacuation Day," the day Gadaffi kicked Italians out of the country, and a rent a crowd or two would appear strategically before news cameras.

All paid help, more trickle-down, bought loyalty.

These Libyans made allot of spare change since there were public evacuation holidays for Americans (Wheelus Air Force Base circa 1971), Palestinians (depending on whether the great leader liked them at the time) and perhaps others.

Egyptian Evacuation Day was proclaimed while I lived in Tripoli, since Libya and Egypt engaged in a brief and bloody border war. 

Today, TV news tells us more than 200 Libyans died in Benghazi.

Spilling Libyan blood never proved difficult for Gadaffi.

My tel-com specialist mate just happened to drive into an army base outside of Tripoli (he had top clearance) to fix tank communications, when he saw three men with automatic weapons spraying death as they mowed down 12 Libyan Army officers lined up against a wall, allegedly disloyal.

Besides, consider this: Benghazi is another region, another tribe. There's no love lost between Benghazi and Tripoli. Is there a tribal element in the equation of where most of the blood will flow?

Gadaffi pays his people off and well; each of his body guards (all women) has a luxurious villa and all the perks; his key military officers get booze, drugs, women.

He is not an Islamic fundamentalist.

He is a secular, power-hungry pan-Arab socialist and a demented military dictator whose mind has been blown by drugs.

(This drug abuse was confirmed to me by a Minnesota U.S. Senator, then chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to whom I spoke personally about this shortly after I was safely out of Libya in 1980; he checked it out and said I got it right. You can assume we have agents on the ground there.)

I saw Gadaffi's heir apparent, one of his seven sons, appear briefly on Spansh TV tonite. He looked very worried.

This may be the end of Daddy dearest's dynasty.

But allot more people must first die.

Might makes right for Gadaffi, who earned his university degree in the UK.

He understands Machiavelli quite well and remains a shrewd, paranoid and unpredictable dictator.

Only those closest to him will kill him and his sons, and this could happen. It's been attempted many times before.

Rock on and practice peace and love.  

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." Jimmy Hendrix

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM)


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