For several years our region has been considered a source of entertainment for the rest of world. Unfortunately, these dark comedies were not seen in the theatre, or in cinemas, but in the bulk of failures emanating from our Arab republics. The most recent comedy, and not the last of course, relates to the failure of Muammar Qaddafi’s rule.
In the last 24 hours the world has been watching dramatic events that can only be described as a dark comedy, culminating with the emergence of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi on western media channels mocking the Libyan rebels and NATO, promising to break the backbone of the revolutionaries, and claiming that Tripoli was under the full control of his father. He was filmed with a TV camera in his car, travelling through what he described as the “hottest areas in Tripoli.” Yet in fact Saif al-Islam was driving within the compound of Bab al-Aziziyah, the headquarters of his father’s regime!
What Saif al-Islam did was a scene very similar to the actions of Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, Saddam Hussein’s Minister of Information, on the day that Baghdad fell. He told reporters who had seen the U.S. military convoys [entering the city] that they were surrounded by Iraqi forces, but only a few hours later Saddam’s regime fell. The same thing happened in Tripoli. Hours after Saif al-Islam’s recording, the world awoke to the sight of the rebel forces entering Qaddafi’s residence in Bab al-Aziziyah, in spite of everything that Saif al-Islam said. He had repeated exactly what al-Sahaf had done in Baghdad!
What could be more ridiculous than this? What many in our region have not realized is that in the span of just a few years, we now find the average citizen[celebrating] inside the rooms of their leaders! This happened in Iraq, where we witnessed the Iraqis, alongside the American soldiers, taking pictures of Saddam’s bedrooms, and then we saw the leader himself in a hole! Likewise, we have seen the bedrooms of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, and we have witnessed the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak lying on a bed. Today we see the private buildings of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, and soon we will see his bedroom. Of course, there are matters more ridiculous than this. We saw Saddam Hussein issuing audio tapes, and likewise Hosni Mubarak did the same. Indeed Colonel Qaddafi overdid it somewhat when he issued three recordings in a single day. Yet when heads of state move to approach the leaders of militias or terrorist groups, this is an even greater source of ridicule.
The problem is that few of our Arab republics heed the warnings of what is happening around them, and neither do the majority of our media figures, our intellectuals or politicians. This is not pessimism on my behalf; rather it is a realistic interpretation of what is rapidly happening around us, because we have become a rich source of entertainment for the world. This is not to mention the magnitude of tragedies committed against our nations and citizens, where Arab countries are being destroyed, and every day ends with the same fact, namely that the military regimes in our region only use their weapons against their own citizens.
When we say that no one learns their lesson, it is sufficient to consider the case of Syria, and the suffering of its citizens at the hands of a repressive regime that is losing its mind more and more. It seems that the al-Assad regime has entered a state of madness after the fall of Qaddafi, especially with the Syrians chanting the slogan: “Qaddafi has fled, and now it is your turn Bashar.” Thus, it seems that our region will not have to wait long for another al-Sahaf, along the lines of Saif al-Islam al-Sahaf!
(The article was published in the London-based Asharq Alawsat on August 24, 2011. Tariq Alhomayed is the Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.)