Cairo: Muammar Gaddafi`s dictatorship likely wouldn`t have survived for more than four decades without the sea of dictators all around, protecting one another and working together to silence dissident voices.
Gaddafi himself saw collapse was inevitable as Arab unity frayed, and he pointed to the fall of Iraq`s Saddam Hussein as a sign of things to come. "Your turn is next," he warned fellow leaders in a scathing speech at the 2008 Arab League summit in Damascus.
Back in 2008, Gaddafi`s listeners laughed. Now, besides Gaddafi, longtime autocrats have been swept from power by popular uprisings in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, and Egypt. Syria`s Bashar Assad and Yemen`s Ali Abdullah Saleh are also under fierce pressure.
Ties with autocrats stretch back to the early days of Gaddafi’s regime, historians have written. The night Gaddafi — then a junior officer who would later promote himself to colonel — ousted King Idriss, the first planeload of official visitors to land in Tripoli was from Egypt. Gamal Abdel Nasser sent veteran journalist and top adviser Mohammed Hassanin Haikal to take the measure of his neighbor`s new ruler.
Gaddafi told Haikal he would seek Nasser`s guidance. Haikal promised Egypt`s support.
Only four months after Gaddafi`s coup, two members of his Revolutionary Command Council turned against him. Egyptian intelligence officers tipped off Gaddafi that he faced a coup, according to historians.
Shortly after that, King Idriss` nephew Abdullah al-Abid al-Senoussi, also known as the Black Prince, led a force of 5,000 mercenaries from Chad and planned to arm tribes loyal to the king to fight against Gaddafi. This time, it was Tunisians who are believed to have tipped off Gaddafi.
In a recent interview, Gaddafi’s former foreign minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam, who defected during this year`s rebellion, told the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat that Gaddafi used to pay former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali a monthly salary, and that Tunisian-Libyan cooperation was "at the highest level".
The exchange of security and intelligence information was the only successful sphere of cooperation among Arab governments, asserted Fathi al-Baja, a Libyan political scientist and top political leader for the Libyan rebels.
"This is the only thing they could do," he said.
Gaddafi even paid the editors of state-owned newspapers in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere to run "propaganda glorifying him or at the very least to block any channels between the opposition and public opinion," said Fayez Jibril, a Cairo-based founder of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, Libya`s oldest opposition group.
Gaddafi’s pursuit of his opponents included televised executions of students, professors, clerics and others in public squares and on university campuses. In the worst instance of repression, more than 1,200 prisoners, including many political detainees, were gunned down at the notorious Abu Salim prison in 1996.
Little of that made it into the Arab press at the time.
Magdy el-Daqaq, former chief-editor of Egypt`s state-run magazine October, acknowledged Gaddafi might have paid journalists in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world to avoid writing about such abuses. But he said he did not believe the leaders of Egypt or other Arab countries were involved in hunting down Gaddafi opponents.
"The Libyan intelligence acted unilaterally in assassinating and liquidating its opposition in different Arab and European capitals," el-Daqaq said. "Egypt didn`t play this game under (Hosni) Mubarak or any of the former governments."
He accused Shalqam of "trying to clear his record by accusing others."
In 1980, Morocco handed over a well-known former member of the Gaddafi-led Revolution Council, Omar al-Mehishi. Al-Mehishi had fled first to Egypt and then to Morocco after his failed attempt to oust Gaddafi.
In his interview with Al-Hayat, Shalqam said Gaddafi gave the Moroccan government USD 200 million for surrendering al-Mehishi and then ordered his rival to be "slaughtered like a sheep".
Shalqam also told Al-Hayat that Gaddafi once bought a plane for the now-deposed Mubarak, and that the Libyan leader`s top agent in Egypt was former intelligence chief and Mubarak strongman Omar Suleiman.
Egyptian security authorities have long been suspected of kidnapping prominent Libyan opposition figure Mansour Kikhia when he came to attend a human rights conference in Egypt in 1993. Kikhia was said to have later been killed and his body melted down in a steel plant.
Fathi al-Baja, the Libyan political scientist, said if Kikhia "was alive, he would have become the leader of new Libya."
"We lost a prominent political leader who meant a lot to us," he said.
Jaballah Matar, father of acclaimed Libyan author Hisham Matar, disappeared in Cairo in 1990. Matar was a Libyan diplomat who resigned from his post in New York in the 1970s to protest the Gaddafi’s regime practices. He eventually ended up in Egypt as a member of the opposition`s National Front for the Salvation of Libya.
Matar`s family has set up a website on which it said it received two letters from Matar saying that he was kidnapped by Egypt`s secret police and handed over to Libyan authorities.
Hisham Matar, whose semi-autobiographical novel about childhood in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, "In the Country of Men," was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, believes his father was held in Tripoli`s Abu Salim prison and is alive. But Jaballah Matar has not been heard from in the chaos as rebels took Libyan capital and freed Abu Salim`s prisoners.