After 40 Years is Libya a Democracy Or a Police State?

Reviewing “Seeking Gaddafi,” a book by Daniel Kawczynski MP

When I received the invitation by e-mail from the Conservative Arab Network to attend the book launch, I thought to myself “I hope this is not another sycophantic book about Libya’s dictator.” After some hesitation I went along and bought a copy and asked Daniel to autograph it for me. He graciously obliged.

Having gone through the book pretty thoroughly over the last few weeks, I can say that this is a well-written and exhaustively researched book.

To my surprise this book is not complimentary to Gaddafi. Daniel Kawczynski does not mince his words. “Libya is a country where journalists vanish, political prisoners are secretly murdered and freedom of the press is vigorously restricted.”


I will not make much of the fact that the Daniel Kawczynski had not met Gaddafi in person, as some reviewers have done. Even if a meeting took place, I doubt we would have learnt more about Gaddafi than what is already in the book.

The book gives a fascinating insight into the complex personality of Gaddafi who came across as a cunning ruthless dictator who thrives on chaos and absurdity. Look at the absurd long name he chose for Libya: Al-Jamahiriya Al-Arabiyya Al-Libiyya Al-Sha’abyya Al-Ishtirakiyya Al-Uzma (The Great Socialist People’s Libya Arab Jamahiriya Republic). To the average Arab person in the street this is the ultimate in silliness.

Despite the long comprehensive and laughable name, Libya has no civil society and no institutions but it has revolutionary committees, informers and a bloated “soggy” public sector which is barely functioning. Hospitals, schools and universities and public utilities suffer from incompetent management and very low standards. No one dares to complain.

Despite the discovery of oil in 1959 Libya has failed to achieve the levels of prosperity achieved in the Arabian Gulf States. Gaddafi has not done well for his people. The same cannot be said about his cronies of sycophants and henchmen who got too fat at the expense of the people.

In his Green Book Gaddafi puts forward some crazy ideas that don’t work. His bizarre political experiments have impoverished the Libyans. The revolutionary committees wreaked havoc in Libya. Nothing functioned. The regime squandered large sums of money into the pursuit of unachievable goals.

Two aspects of Gaddafi’s behaviour called into question his suitability for ruling Libya. First his support for terrorist organizations such as the IRA and Black September and secondly his support for odious dictators Such as Idi Amin former dictator of Uganda, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar Al-Basheer of Sudan and we learn from the book that he was a keen fan of Nicolae Ceausescu the Romanian dictator who was executed in 1989.

Gaddafi is always seeking respectability in the Arab World. This has eluded him so he turned to Africa. He wanted to be the King of Kings.

In the 1960s he was an admirer of Egypt’s President Nasser, but in the 1970s he was contemptuous of President Sadat. He sought unity with Egypt, Syria, Sudan and Tunisia and each time he was rebuffed. Most Arabs still think of Gaddafi as an unstable character whose disastrous policies have ruined a potentially wealthy country.

The book highlighted with sufficient details the disasters that befell Libya due to the grave mistakes of its unwise and erratic leadership.

For example in August 1978 the respected Lebanese Shia leader Imam Musa al-Sadr disappeared during a visit to the country,

The murder of Yvonne Fletcher on 17April 1984 outside the Libyan embassy in St. James Square, London. A Libyan embassy official fired the fatal shot. The issue remains unresolved and Daniel Kawczynski is still urging the Foreign Office to focus on the case.

The US launched punitive air raids on Libya on 15 April 1986 (operation El Dorado Canyon).

Then in 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland killing 270 people.

Libya accepted responsibility and on 11 March 2003 Libya agreed to pay up to 10 million US Dollars per victim (2.7bn US dollars in total) in compensation. Libya accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials.

In the 1980s Libyan dissidents in Europe were targeted and murdered under the “Stray Dogs” campaign.

At home and under the supervision of Abdullah Senussi (head of military intelligence) 1200 prisoners were massacred in Abu Salem Prison on 28 June 1996.

By the end of 1990s and the 2000s Gaddafi became more conciliatory in his rhetoric and in his support for terrorists.

In 2004 Tony Blair the UK Prime Minister held historic talks with Gaddafi.

However the most significant development occurred after the fall of Saddam in 2003 and his subsequent capture in a miserable hole. These events concentrated the mind of Muammar Gaddafi. Libya renounced its WMD program. Most Arab observers believe that Gaddafi was afraid that he would face a similar fate if he persisted with his WMD program.

Gaddafi has just declared a holy war against Switzerland because his playboy thuggish son Hannibal was questioned by the Swiss police for abusing a maid in his luxury hotel in Geneva.

As for the future of Libya the picture will continue to be grim. If you think Libya will become a free democratic country after the demise of Gaddafi, forget it. Libya’s best hope is Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam who promised reforms and more freedoms.

I strongly recommend this book which has a wealth of information about Libya and can be used as an authoritative reference.

Published by Biteback Publishing Ltd. London Daniel Kawczynski is the Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, England and is the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libya.

Nehad Ismail is a writer and broadcaster, who writes about issues related to the Middle East from his home in London.