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FOUAD AJAMI: A Thrilling Spectacle in Tripoli –

August 23, 2011

Libyans celebrate news of the capture of Moammar Gadhafi’s son Seif.

A Thrilling Spectacle in Tripoli

Four decades of a nation’s life were squandered by this regime. Surely the successor can do better.



Who, today, does not thrill to the spectacle of freedom in Tripoli? A brave people, civilians in the main, exiles who returned to their devastated country, students with no military skills—all headed to the front in their pickup trucks to reclaim their homeland from a tyrant who had turned it into a laboratory for his mix of megalomania and derangement. These are the people who have made this rebellion.

It was not perfect, that campaign that upended the kleptocracy in Tripoli. NATO did not always perform brilliantly. The Obama administration didn’t have its heart in that fight. We second-guessed the rebels in Benghazi and their intentions at every turn. We would not release to them sequestered Libyan funds that could have leveled the killing field and brought the fighting to a close a good deal sooner. A new doctrine was spun to justify American passivity: “Leading from behind,” it was called.

But all this can be taken up at another time. Suffice it to see the brigades of freedom make their entry into Tripoli. How can those of us in lands of freedom resist a giddy sense of satisfaction that the tyrant’s favorite son, Seif al-Islam, is now in captivity? It makes for poor governance in our world to label your own people “rats” and “traitors.” After years of fear and submission, the people had gone out in an assertion of their dignity.

When it truly mattered, the foreign mercenaries, guns and killers for hire could not sustain the despot’s power. To no great surprise they were not willing to die for the man in his fortified bunker. Nor would the Libyans come to his rescue. He had once described himself as a leader without a country. He had declared an open war on Libya’s very own identity and past. He ruled six million people with a hallucinatory work, his “Green Book,” a document, he said, which contained all the answers to the problems of human governance.

Libya was a wealthy country, blessed with abundant oil, but the despot turned it into one of Africa’s poorest populations. He robbed them of freedom and of economic initiative. The country was turned into a cruel tyranny, and what wealth existed was the prerogative of the man at the helm and his children. Retail trade was decimated. Meaningful work was denied the Libyans.

Four decades of a nation’s life were squandered by this regime, the narcissism of the ruler all the more galling against the background of a sullen and humiliated population. Fear governed and paralyzed the land, the “revolutionary committees” of the despot had the run of the place. Always with Gadhafi, the buffoonery and the personal depravity—the outrageous costumes, the tent he carried with him to distant capitals, the rantings in international forums, the phalanx of female bodyguards in a conservative Muslim society, and the four “voluptuous” Ukrainian nurses who travelled with him everywhere—went hand in hand with official terror against dissidents who dared question his despotism.

via Fouad Ajami: A Thrilling Spectacle in Tripoli –


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