Cairo: He often looked like a comical
buffoon, standing before audiences, regaled in colourful robes,
spouting words that most of the world considered nonsense.
Yet the death of Muammar Gaddafi was a milestone in
modern Arab history, in some ways more significant than the
overthrow of lesser autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt.
Gaddafi was the last of the old-style Arab strongmen -
the charismatic, nationalist revolutionaries who rose to power
in the 1950s and 1960s, promising to liberate the masses from
the shackles of European colonialism and the stultifying rule
of the Arab elite that the foreigners left behind after World
He was swept aside by a new brand of revolutionary -- the
leaderless crowds organized by social media, fed up with the
oppressive past, keenly aware that the rest of the world has
left them behind and convinced that they can build a better
society even if at the moment, they aren`t sure how.
Gaddafi was the last of a generation of Arab leaders such
as Gamal Abdel-Nasser of Egypt, Hafez Assad of Syria and
Saddam Hussein of Iraq who emerged from poverty, rising to the
pinnacle of power either through the ranks of the military or
the disciplined, conspiratorial world of underground political
None of the latter crop of Arab autocrats, including
Assad`s son Bashar, Yemen`s Ali Abdullah Saleh and even
Egypt`s colorless, ousted president Hosni Mubarak, could rival
them in their heyday in terms of charisma, flair, stature and
Their model was Nasser, the towering champion of Arab
unity who ousted Western-backed King Farouk in 1952 and
inspired Arab peoples with fiery speeches broadcast by
Egyptian radio from Iraq to Mauritania.
But Nasser`s dreams of Arab unity and social revival
crumbled in defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel
seized East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights of
Syria. Nasser died three years later, and the fellow strongmen
left behind led their countries instead into a political swamp
of corruption, cronyism and dictatorship now challenged by the
The hallmark of the Arab strongman was unquestioned
power, the use of state media to promote a larger than life
image and a ruthless security network that stifled even a
whiff of dissent.
That worked in an age before the Internet and global
satellite television which opened the eyes of the strongman`s
followers to a world without secret police and economic
systems run by the leader`s family and cronies.
It all came crashing down in the final battle in his
hometown of Sirte. A man who came to power as an Arab
revolutionary and self-styled leader of the oppressed and
downtrodden died a brutal and inglorious death at the hands of
the people he purported to lead.