Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Many Arab commentators said Qaddafi appeared seriously disturbed during his televised speech, while others said mockingly that he should be on a comedy show.
The speech by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on February 22 – which was derided by many Arab analysts as delusional - sparked an interesting reaction across both the Arab mainstream and social media.
Many commentators stressed the fact that Gaddafi appeared seriously disturbed, while others said mockingly that he should be on a comedy show.
Gaddafi has long been a laughing stock in the Arab world because of his eccentricity, but this last very long speech - coupled with a very brief appearance on TV two days ago carrying an umbrella - provided new and unprecedented material for humorous comments about him.
Some Facebook groups with thousands of members adapted the famous slogan of the Egyptian uprising “the people want the president to step down” into “the people want the president to be treated”.
Al-Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper which has been strongly supportive of uprisings in the Arab world, ran an article about Gaddafi on February 23 entitled, “The hallucinations of the Colonel” in which the writer stressed that “psychological analysts are needed” in order to interpret the speech.
And Gaddafi’s address, which lasted for more than an hour and a half, did seem very close to delirium. He kept on jumbling issues, accusing people of treason and insulting then threatening them. He insisted in his speech that the youth who were demonstrating against him were on "hallucinogenic pills" – also an argument used by official state-run TV to explain the anger of people.
But on another level there was nothing humorous about this apparent madness of Gaddafi. It seems to be leading to the unprecedented use of violence by a leader against his people - one which has been relayed as fully as possible by the Arab media.
Gaddafi said that he would remain “steady as a rock”, threatening to carry out massive violence against his opponents.
Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, the main satellite channels in the Arab world, have been focusing on the brutality of his regime, despite the dearth of images available.
Al-Jazeera managed to get some very disturbing footage of people who had been burnt to death and others who had been mutilated.
This has particular resonance in the Arab media, where images of people killed are usually associated with Israeli raids and attacks on Palestinians in Gaza or on Lebanon.
There is a high level of indignation everywhere in the Arab world, and I have not heard or read anything but condemnation of Gaddafi.
A few days ago, Al-Jazeera hosted Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the prominent Egyptian Islamic scholar. For several minutes, he recited a prayer live on TV, asking God to support the people of Libya against their dictator.
It was a unique moment for the emphatically secular Al-Jazeera, but one symbolic of the emergence of the Islamist groups (excluding al-Qaeda) that have for so long been crushed by autocratic regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
This does not necessarily mean, however, that the Islamists will dominate the region, a claim that dictators like Mubarak and Gaddafi have always used to convince the West of the importance of them staying in power.
The media reaction also places the blame for the current crisis in Libya squarely on the shoulders of the West, blaming it for not intervening to stop the massacre of the Libyans.
Arab television analysts repeatedly explain how the fact that Libya is rich in oil and natural gas has been preventing the United States and others from acting overtly against Gaddafi. He is portrayed as having been a friend of the West, at least in recent years.
Arab analysts say the slow reaction of the US to the Egyptian uprising and now the hesitant response to what is happening in Libya presents further confirmation of the West’s cynical opportunism when it comes to the Arab world.
Arabs feel humiliated today on so many levels and the growing movement of revolt is partly about gaining their legitimate place in the world. Many people feel that the important natural and human resources in the region entitles it to have a prominent role in the world and not merely be submissive to western rule.
The idea of the legitimacy of autocratic rulers is now emerging as a very important issue. The revolts in the Arab region have been against the idea of "the eternal leader" who is larger than his nation.
Many Arab rulers came to power following bold coups against kings or traditional politicians in the 60s and later, trumpeting a message of restoring the dignity of Arabs after decades of humiliation by the colonial powers of the West.
But this has become a hollow concept as rulers like Gaddafi have resorted to brutal means to crush the aspirations of their people and stifle independent voices.
In this respect Gaddafi's speech was totally anachronistic. He kept on talking about his past achievements and the “ongoing” revolution that he was leading. It sounded devoid of any meaning.
The mood today revolves around the rejection of this paradigm; people clearly want representation, not guidance, from a leader.
The revolution today is one from within and not one imposed by a leader or a party.
Raed El Rafei is an IWPR editor in Beirut.
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