Gaddafi: All guns blazing or a
private jet? By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - The world is busily debating
the fate of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who on
Thursday marked the 22nd day of his stand-off with
Gaddafi has survived longer than
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak - whose rule
collapsed after 18 days - but still has to match
ex-Tunisian president Zein al-Abidin Ben Ali, who
lasted for 29 days.
The 69-year old Libyan
leader - who has already killed a number of his
own people - refuses to step down, claiming that
his resignation would lead to civil war, adding
that he is not president
of Libya, but rather leader
of the Libyan masses.
What is clear is
that Gaddafi will not flee like Ben Ali or resign
like Mubarak. Most observers expect him to fight
until curtain fall - until either somebody kills
or arrests him. Some argue, however, that he might
commit suicide rather than let others kill him,
following in the footsteps of German leader Adolf
That seems highly doubtful,
however, given that suicide needs plenty of
courage and most Gaddafi watchers argue that deep
inside, beneath all the layers of bravado, the
Libyan leader is a very weak and insecure person.
The eccentric behavior, the loud words and
colorful costumes are all reflections of inner
weakness he tries to cover up with controversial
Earlier this week, "leaks"
coming out of Libya confirmed that Gaddafi had
expressed willingness to step down, sending an
envoy to negotiate on his behalf with the Interim
National Transitional Council in Benghazi. Gaddafi
had a long list of conditions, however, that
included a guarantee of his personal safety, and
that of his entire family, along with their
wealth, and a safe exodus from Libya.
asked that all international warrants for his
arrest or trial be waivered, and that he be
informed what countries would be willing to grant
him political asylum. Most analysts expect him to
head either to Cuba or Venezuela where he enjoys
excellent relations with President Hugo Chavez and
the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul.
Additionally, Gaddafi wants to step down
in style - insisting that he would present his
resignation to the General Assembly of the
People's Council rather than to the Libyan rebels.
There is no indicator to date, however, proving
that this story is true although it was published
by the mass circulation and usually credible Saudi
daily, Al-Sharq al-Awsat.
Let us take a
look at world leaders who have been in Gaddafi's
shoes, or those who were forced to step down, to
see what internal and external factors affect the
psychology and behavior of kings and presidents at
curtain fall. Certainly a "one-size-fits-all"
scenario does not apply.
those who reach office either by revolution or
coup are the most difficult to topple. They
consider office a hard-earned right that they need
to defend, at any cost. Iraq's Saddam Hussein is a
clear example, and so are China's Mao Zedong,
Fidel Castro and Gaddafi.
And even when
they fall, leaders of such caliber usually become
obsessed with one thing: returning to power to
take revenge. Saddam's guards once said that he
would often tell them, "When I leave this prison,
you are all invited to visit me at the
Presidential Palace, when I return to power."
Leaders who come to power "by accident"
are usually easier targets, often because they
don't have the fighting spirit in them, and know
(deep inside) that the foundations of their
regimes are shaky, because they are based neither
on street backing, religious legitimacy, Western
support, or military might.
came to power in 1981 purely "by accident", is one
notable exception, because although neither
elected nor brought to power by coup, the aging
Egyptian president insisted on staying in power
until curtain fall - subjecting himself and his
family to a disgraceful ending.
Faisal of Syria faced an invading French army in
1920, he saw through one battle, then quickly
packed up his belongings and fled the country.
Democratically elected leaders usually
relinquish power easily - with one recent
exception - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,
who remains at his job although his term expired
three years ago.
When Lebanese president
Bshara al-Khury faced an angry street in September
1952, for example, he quickly resigned from
The same applies to president
Shukri al-Quwatli, when faced with an enthusiastic
Syrian street that wanted Gamal Abdul Nasser as
president in 1958 he too stepped down from office
in order to enable creation of the United Arab
Republic (UAR). Quwatli, it must be noted, was the
only leader in modern times to relinquish his post
willingly for another president.
usually a decisive factor - young leaders usually
step down easier than aging ones. They feel that
they have an entire future ahead of them and with
that with good planning, they might return to
power one day stronger than ever before. In July
1952, King Farouk of Egypt faced a military
revolution that was backed by an angry Egyptian
street, calling on him to step down.
Farouk, aged 36, quickly abdicated in
favor of his infant child, almost certain that he
would soon get a chance to return to his throne in
Egypt. When Syrian president Adib al-Shishakli,
aged 44, faced a military uprising in 1954 he
quickly resigned from office and fled to Lebanon,
then spent the remainder of his life struggling
for a comeback to power in Damascus. The same
cannot be said for aging leaders like King Idriss
of Libya, who left office at the age of 80, or
Tunisia's Habib Bourgeiba, who was forced to step
down at the age of 84 in 1987.
usually makes it difficult for a leader to take
sound decisions is the dramatic amount of
distortion fed to him by his aides, who tend to
beautify the most difficult of situations.
Additionally, leaders who stay in power for too
long, like Gaddafi and Mubarak, usually lose touch
with reality and no longer differentiate between
masses cheering on the streets because of love,
and those doing it out of submissiveness and fear.
One needs only to listen to any of
Gaddafi's recent speeches to understand how
detached from reality the Libyan leader is. He
sincerely cannot understand why the people are
overthrowing him, having transformed into a grand
legend in his own mind. Had Italy's Benito
Mussolini or Saddam ever imagined that they would
one day suffer such miserable fates (executed by
gun shot and hung, respectively) , they would have
likely pursued different policies during their
long years in power.
Just like Gaddafi,
they simply did not see it coming. Famously, while
the Third Reich was falling apart, Hitler gave his
final orders for the entire German population to
mobilize, march east, and fight the Russians. That
was Hitler in 1945 and it hauntingly sounds like
Gaddafi in 2011.
is a university professor, political analyst, and
editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.
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