x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Nation watches as Qadafi declares: 'We are here'

Muammer Qadafi's tough approach during his speech to the UN General Assembly was for Libya, says an analyst.

RABAT // On Tuesday evening, Libyans switched on the state-run television channel, Jamahiriya, to a long-unimaginable sight: the country's leader, Muammer Qadafi, settling into Libya's chair at the UN security council during a private visit that day. "He took pen and paper and wrote in English, 'We are here' and 'I was here', then signed it," said Mustafa Fetouri, a political analyst in the capital, Tripoli, who watched the footage.

Mr Qadafi's triumphant note expressed the core subtext of his first ever address on Wednesday to the UN General Assembly, a hour-and-a-half discourse calling for a dramatic overhaul of the world body and featuring a grab-bag of provocative remarks, analysts said. The visit comes in a year of victories for the Libyan leader, who in January was elected to chair the African Union and this month celebrated 40 years in power since overthrowing Libya's pro-western king in a military coup, banning political parties and reorganising the country as a Jamahiriya, or "state of the masses", with himself as Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution.

Shunned for decades by western countries for its support of militant groups, Libya has since repaired relations with the US, UK and other countries, seen international sanctions lifted and currently holds a seat on the UN Security Council. Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly is presided over by a Libyan diplomat, Ali Treki, who introduced Mr Qadafi on Wednesday as "king of kings" before the Libyan leader launched a fiery critique of what he called the inequality in the UN between the mighty and the poor.

"How can we be happy about the world security if the world is controlled by four or five powers?" Mr Qadafi said, suggesting that the veto power of the Security Council's five permanent members be annulled. "It should not be called the Security Council, it should be called the terror council." "When he speaks about international law, he's talking to western countries," said Mr Fetouri, a professor of business management at Tripoli's Academy of Graduate Studies. "But his harshness was for Libyan consumption - he's stated such views many times before, in Libya."

"Through a blend of tough control, but also understanding his people, he's been remarkably enduring," said Jon Marks, a Libya expert and chairman of Cross-Border Information, a British risk-assessment firm. "He feels invulnerable." However, Mr Qadafi's criticisms of the UN, while well-founded, also raise questions about Libya, said Mr Fetouri. Among the 65 wars the Libyan leader said the UN had failed to prevent were Libya's incursions in the 1970s and 1980s into neighbouring Chad.

"When you call for certain events to be investigated by [the] UN, you have to remember that you may be in line for investigation as well," said Mr Fetouri. Mr Qadafi's performance seemed to fatigue his listeners, some of whom left the room while he fumbled with handwritten notes, defended the Taliban's right to establish an Islamic emirate, speculated that swine flu had been prepared in a laboratory and demanded that the West pay US$7.77 trillion (Dh28.5trillion) to African countries in reparations for European colonialism.

Many Libyans have come to accept Mr Qadafi's eccentricities, said Mr Marks. Some say his growing stature gives him the right to speak his mind. "He doesn't need to moderate what he says in front of America or Europe," said Mohammed, a Tripoli bookshop owner who did not want his surname given, by telephone. "He's not just representing Libya now, but the whole African Union." For Ali Bouredi, a hotel owner in Tripoli, Mr Qadafi's call for reform of the UN chimed with the preceding speech by the US president, Barack Obama, urging countries to work together on global problems.

"I thought Mr Qadafi's speech was inclusive of Mr Obama's and came with a new vision," said Mr Bouredi by telephone. Libya has placed top priority on improving relations with the US, for years its chief adversary, a process that began in 1999 when Libya offered up suspects for trial in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. In 2003, Libya renounced the quest for a nuclear weapon. In his speech on Wednesday, Mr Qadafi called Mr Obama "our son" and wished eternal presidency upon him. Washington has also sought keenly to mend ties with Libya, a goal unlikely to change despite anger over the perceived hero's welcome given in Tripoli last month to Abdel Bassat al Megrahi, the released Lockerbie bombing convict.

Mr Qadafi emphatically declined to heed US warnings to keep his remarks to the UN concise and restrained. "The only predictable thing about his visit to the US was that the brother leader was in no way going to spend 15 minutes thanking the global community," said Mr Marks. "He was going to stand up and tell people what he thinks." jthorne@thenational.ae