THE COLONEL WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD ; Thirty Years Ago, Muammar Gaddafi's Green Book Branded Democracy a 'Problem'. Now, Not Even Pan-Africanism Can Save Libya's Leader from the Forces of Change. Peter Popham Reports ++ Libya Opens Its Doors to the West
Popham, Peter, The Independent (London, England)
The Great Leader did not disappoint. We might have asked for more, of course. He might have received us in his legendary tent, the one he brought to Brussels and Belgrade, his flock of camels cropping the grass outside.
He would have done us all a favour if he had ridden into the conference hall on a white stallion, his troop of cruelly beautiful, Uzi-toting female commandos sprinting alongside. But presiding over the 30th anniversary of his little Green Book, he was the man we had come to see, imperious behind his big sunglasses, this modern Ozymandias in a gleaming white dinner jacket with a cape around his shoulders, his jet-black hair teased into the familiar modified Afro, like a member of Mott the Hoople.
He published the Green Book on 2 March 1977, seven years after he seized power, aged 29, in a coup against King Idris, the West's stooge. Since then, millions of copies have been distributed. It is Gaddafi's answer to the Little Red Book of Mao, encapsulating what the colonel modestly calls the "Third Universal Theory" - following (and hopefully supplanting) those of capitalism and Marxism. Its subtitle is "The solution to the problem of Democracy", and the crux of Gaddafi's insight into that problem is summed up in posters in the desert town of Sebha during the celebration: "No representation without participation."
Parliamentary representative democracy, according to Gaddafi, is a fraud; what he proposed instead was (as he put it in his speech on Friday) "direct democracy as it was once practised in Athens" through "committees everywhere". Whether the Green Book revolution has lived up to its billing is a good question. But in one sense it has been a blistering success: it has made it impossible, ideologically and practically, for Gaddafi's opponents inside Libya to organise themselves into political parties. "Political parties introduce evil in society and society goes corrupt," Gaddafi declared on Friday. "Any attempt at this needs to be got rid of."
And so it came to pass. Given the clarity of the word from on high, and saturation levels of plainclothes cops at street level, dissidents of the Islamist or any other variety do not appear to have obtained a toehold in the country. When they have tried to in the past they have been vigorously dealt with.
But that does not mean Gaddafi is unopposed. As Libya shyly opens itself to outside inspection - normally it is impossible for foreign journalists to obtain a visa, but dozens of us were let in to attend the anniversary celebrations - it has become clear that a struggle is under way for the heart and the soul of the country. The colonel is on one side of the argument, and his brightest and most ambitious son, Saif al-Islam, on the other.
"There is a big fight going on between the old guard and the new," says a foreign resident of Tripoli whose position gives him a ringside seat on the action. A Western diplomatic source prefers to talk about "tension, more or less creative, between those who want to hold on to the status quo - which has kept the regime in place, with a quiescent population - and those who want to open Libya up, now that sanctions have gone, to the wide world".
The chasm separating these two views of the world, and of Libya's future, was apparent in the conference hall in Sebha. Inside, a succession of speakers hollered their undying admiration for the boss to an audience carefully segmented into soldiers, women, farmers and so on. "We are overwhelmed by joy," one screeched. "This is the dawning of a new age of glory."
"Glory be to him, father of the glory," cried another. "The dream that inspired the downtrodden has come true... The sun rose on 2 March 1977 and now it is high in the sky... we see the enemies of the masses falling down one by one."
Gaddafi acknowledged all this verbal prostration with a thin smile, then launched into his own speech without bothering to stand. …