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In 2008 or 2009, the BBC made a documentary on life inside Libya: I remember it because I watched it at the time of its broadcast. Up until the beginning of 2011, that video was available on You Tube.
Once the international community had made up its mind – after years of back and forth – that Gaddafi was ‘evil’ and a war had to be waged on Libya, all versions of the documentary were removed from the web. The documentary, as I recall it, was a fairly positive evaluation of Gaddafi’s government, life inside Libya and the state of the nation. It reflected the new light Libya was being viewed in after years of being regarded as a ‘pariah state’ by the West.
I was looking for it once the horrific 2011 crisis had begun and it was gone. In its place, the BBC has instead shown a toryville documentary called ‘Mad Dog: Gaddafi’s Secret World’; which is quite clearly an attempt to firmly rewrite history and cement the image of Gaddafi as a mad dictator and his Libya as an oppressive, ‘terror’ state. Christopher Olgiati’s documentary (also shown on Showtime in the US), though it does draw upon some factual information in parts, is mostly mind-numbingly false propagandising aimed at justifying the destruction of Libya in 2011 for the sake of both our governments and our major media – organisations that have every reason to take this route after the frankly appalling falsehoods it helped propagate about the Libya crisis of 2011 (for one thing, the BBC had aired protest footage from India and presented it as footage of anti-government protests in Libya).
The documentary was full of unverifiable claims about Gaddafi’s behaviour, unsubstantiated rumours about some of his crimes, and a generally one-sided, pre-fabricated depiction of life inside the former Libya, as well as Gaddafi’s influence on Africa, which the programme depicts as entirely negative (others of course called Gaddafi Africa’s ‘last hope’). It used entirely subjective,
emotive and unsubstantiated narratives, cited mostly unverifiable sources, and played menacing, ‘villain’ music in the background accompanied by ominous close-ups of Gaddafi’s face just to hammer home the point that ‘this is the Bad Guy’.
Lacking all journalistic merit or integrity, it is a fitting demonstration of just how bad, how manipulative, propagandist filmmakers get when making supposedly ‘sober’ films.
It’s not a crime that the BBC broadcast it; but let’s remember this is the same BBC, of course, that kept serial sex-offender, paedophile, necrophiliac and ‘child procurer’ for the rich and famous, Jimmy Saville, gainfully employed for so many years: and we haven’t had a documentary about *that* yet. But the fact that an obviously strategic documentary like that was being
put out by the BBC only served to remind me of why it’s important and necessary to continue to counter that narrative and try to re-establish some reality and perspective concerning Gaddafi and what his Libya was really like; before it was wiped from the face of the earth in 2011.
They told us it was a terrible place, ruled over by a horrible tyrant. A place where people were oppressed and mistreated. While there were some elements of truth to that view (to a certain extent), much of it seems to have been largely a fiction maintained by the corporate-owned media and by the corporate-owned politicians of our governments; all of which, as you will see, served a long-term purpose.
This article then is a study of Gaddafi’s Libya, dealing with the successes of the country, its failures and the reasons for those failures, as well as assessing the reality (or otherwise) of some of the popular perception, demonisation and portrayal of this now-extinct Libyan society...
In 1951 Libya was the poorest country in Africa and one of the poorest in the world.
By 2011, after four decades under Gaddafi’s stewardship, it was the most successful nation in Africa and was acknowledged by the UN to have ahigher rate of development than even countries like Russia, Brazil and India. Among many other academics who were willing to voice a more considered view of the North-African nation, a Professor Garikai Chengu, a scholar of Middle Eastern affairs at Harvard University, wrote; “In 1967, Colonel Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa; however, by
the time he was assassinated, Gaddafi had turned Libya into Africa’s wealthiest nation. Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the African continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.”
The UN’s Human Development Index report from 2010 – less than a year before the 2011 collapse of Libya – cited Libya as No.1 on its index for rate and scale of development.
Unlike in most other oil-rich Arab countries favoured by the Western governments, there wasn’t a big disparity between rich and poor, wasn’t a big class division, there were no ghettoes and there was no homelessness. In Gaddafi’s system, housing, healthcare, education and living allowances were not commodities or privileges, but human rights. Unlike the Gulf States or
Saudi Arabia, for example, there was a heavy emphasis on the oil wealth being distributed among the people, so that the population could be direct beneficiaries from Libya’s oil exports. There was also an emphasis on that oil wealth being spent only for productive purposes, building infrastructure, building cities, houses and apartment buildings.
Under the Gaddafi-led revolution, Libya had essentially created its own interest-free money, the Libyan Dinar, which was used productively and purely for economic growth, infrastructure-building and the welfare of the people, and not for speculation, profits or bonuses for bankers.
Gaddafi had in essence created a self-reliant, moral economy; ‘bankers’, in the sense that we in the West understand the term, didn’t exist in this Libya. The expansion of this Gaddafi/Libyan model into more of Africa could potentially have revolutionised economic and social development across African nations and could have made Africa far more self-sufficient, freeing it of what Malcolm X had called the global Apartheid against African development.
In 1969, Gaddafi had vowed to house every Libyan before even his own parents; he kept this promise and his father died before he was able to be housed. But every Libyan was housed. 40% of the population had lived in shanties, tents or caves prior to Gaddafi and the 1969 revolution. The country he and the revolutionaries took over in 1969 was barely a generation beyond the brutal Italian colonial occupation of Libya in World War II, in which over a million Libyans had died in concentration camps.
And a broadly secular society had been imposed in Libya following the entirely bloodless and non-violent 1969 ousting of the old Colonial-backed monarchy; one which championed the rights and status of women, one in which massive social reforms and welfare programs drastically raised the quality of life, life-expectancy, education, even literacy. It’s also important to understand that although Islam certainly remained a significant part of this Libyan culture and day-to-day life, this was to a far lesser extent that in other Arab countries. Gaddafi and his supporters were thoroughly opposed to political Islamists, religious fundamentalism or Wahhabi-influenced Salafism. In fact, if there were two primary things Gaddafi and the Libyan ‘Jamahariya’
wanted to ensure the country and the society against, it was (1) a return to Colonial/Imperialist domination via Western style Capitalist interests and (2) the influence of religious fundamentalists; both of which were of course serviced by the NATO-led 2011 criminal conspiracy – that was the point, of course.
A January 2011 report of the UN Human Rights Council (read PDF here), released just a month before the horrific 2011 crisis began, praised aspects of the country’s human rights record, particularly the status of women in the country, while also citing improvements in other areas. It said Gaddafi’s government protected “not only political rights, but also economic, educational, social and cultural rights.” It also lauded his treatment of religious minorities and the “human rights training” of its security forces. Let’s reiterate: this was *less than a month* before the crisis began and less than a month before Western government officials were calling Gaddafi ‘a brutal tyrant killing his own people’.
Also in 2011, again literally just weeks before the crisis began, Gaddafi was frontrunner for Amnesty International USA‘s online poll for ‘Human Rights Hero, 2011’; you might think I’m making that up, but I’m not. Not only was he nominated, but he was winning the poll by some distance (look it up, if you don’t believe me).
It simply demonstrates how big a gulf there is between popular, mass-media perception and actual reality; because, again, within weeks of Gaddafi being considered a ‘Human Rights Hero’, he was being labelled a ‘brutal tyrant’, who had “lost all legitimacy” and “had to go”.
Someone was simply rewriting the script on short notice, changing the narrative overnight.
So how ‘terrible’ was this Libya that had existed for the four decades since the original revolution?
According to David Blundy and Andrew Lycett’s book titled, “Qaddafi and the Libyan Revolution”, published long before the 2011 crisis; “The young people are well dressed, well fed and well educated. Every Libyan gets free and often excellent education, medical and health services. New colleges and hospitals are impressive by any international standard.”
They further state, “All Libyans have a house or a flat, a car, and most have televisions and other conveniences. Compared with most citizens of Third World countries, and with many (others), Libyans have it very good indeed.” These essentially were the same conclusions drawn by that earlier BBC documentary I talked about, which was erased without trace once the 2011 crisis was underway.
Again, it was a broadly secular society that had been established after Gaddafi and his revolutionary allies had ousted King Idris in their entirely bloodless coup in 1969. Child marriage was banned and women enjoyed equality of equal pay for equal work (an astonishing reform for an Arab nation at that time), equal rights in divorce and access to higher education. For that matter,
enjoyment of higher education rose from 8% in 1966 to 43% in 1996, with literacy rates rising from 25% before Gaddafi to an estimated 88% during his era, and average life-expectancy rose from 51/54 in 1969 to 74/77.
How did this happen?
From 1973 to 1977, Gaddafi had embarked upon the “remaking of Libyan society”, as laid out in his ideological visions. This was put into practice formally beginning in 1973 with a so-called ‘Cultural’ or ‘Popular Revolution’. This revolution was designed to combat bureaucratic inefficiency, lack of public interest and participation in the sub-national governmental system, and the problems of national political coordination. In an attempt to politicise and mobilise the population, Gaddafi urged them to
challenge traditional authority and to take over and run government organs themselves. The instrument for doing this was the People’s Committee. Within a few months, such committees were found all across Libya. Functionally and geographically based, they eventually became responsible for local and regional administration.
This was the real-world application of Gaddafi’s “Direct Democracy” model that he had put forward as the alternative to Parliamentary or Representative Democracies, which he viewed as both inefficient and corrupt.
While mainstream Western critics tended to either avoid all discussion of the political system Gaddafi instituted in Libya or to regard it as some quaint novelty, numerous academics and progressives were happy to acknowledge that this system of ‘Direct Democracy’ offered a serious alternative model and solution for Africa and other parts of the ‘Third World’, where multi-
party ‘democracy’ has been broadly been a failure, resulting in ethnic and tribal conflicts, vast corruption and general political chaos. In Libya, Gaddafi’s unique, highly customised form of Socialism not only worked, but it was utterly and radically transformative.
Hugh Roberts, former director of the International Crisis Group’s North Africa Project, points out in his analysis of Libya, ‘Gaddafi’s ideas of Direct Democracy over representative or parliamentary democracy in fact resonate somewhat with some of the ‘utopian’ ideas of radical ‘Leftist’ thinkers of the 1960s in the West.’
So again, how ‘terrible’ was this Libya that Gaddafi had inspired and led? Let’s take stock of a few basic facts about this ‘pariah state’ that was so demonised by the West for so long;
There was no interest on loans. Banks in Libya were state-owned and loans given to all citizens were at zero-percent interest by law. Unlike every country in the West, Libya was built and maintained on interest-free money.
Libya had no external debt to any foreign nation, entity or institution, as it had done everything independently and on its own merit. Consequently,no Libyan had any personal debt either.
There was no electricity bill in Libya; electricity was free for all citizens.
Having a home was considered a basic human right in Libya. Everyone was housed.
All education and all medical treatments were free in Libya.
The welfare system – a novelty in itself in Africa and most of the Arab world – was incredibly generous. Libyan Unemployment benefit was equivalent to $750.
Libyans who could not find the education or the medical help they needed in Libya, were fully funded by the government to go abroad to seek what they needed, with everything – travel, accommodation, living allowances – paid for by the state. There were therefore many Libyans in foreign countries for their education or for medical help, all paid for.
If a young Libyan was unable to find employment after graduation, the state would pay them the average salary of the profession until they could acquire a paying job in that field. Speaking of education, a country that only had a 25% literacy rate before Gaddafi’s revolution had 25% of its citizens attaining a university degree by the time of the uprising.
Any mother who gave birth to a child received the equivalent of $5,000.
All newlyweds received 60,000 dinars (equivalent to $50,000) from the government to buy their first apartment and to help start a family.
Any Libyans who wanted to take up farming careers would receive farming land, a house, farming equipment, seeds and livestock to get started. All of it free.
Anyone looking to buy a car could ask the government to subsidize 50% of the cost.
The price of petrol in Libya was $0.14 per litre.
Due to one Gaddafi’s relatively late reforms, a portion of every Libyan oil sale was being credited directly to the bank accounts of all Libyan citizens; this was envisioned as a true ‘sharing of the wealth’ among the population.
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czwartek, 20 sierpnia 2015