Democracy, it could be said, is a damned odd thing. The killing – whether an execution, incompetent man-handling or – as I suspect – an out of control mob, of former Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi today, is being hailed as the end of a dictator and the true birth of a democracy. The son of a goat-herder advocated an alternative to liberal democracy in his Green Book. I’m not sure how many of the people who keep making reference to it have actually read it, but I did earlier this year when the rising first began. It starts out fairly engaging and then becomes dull, repetitive and contradictory. For Gaddafi, democracy inevitably results in power lying in the hands of one or the few and they will – by human nature – abuse it. He therefore advocated a complex and fluid series of ‘committees’ which would run a society (although really it’s about engineering a conversation). Of course, in reality, these ideas seemed to be forgotten as Gaddafi accumulated power and wealth for himself, his family, tribe and supporters.
Now he’s gone. Another Arab nation, Egypt – where the Arab Spring really caught the world’s attention – swept away another old leader earlier this year. Egypt today is run by the military – a committee of the unelected and whilst elections are promised, it seems hard to believe that the military will cease to have a role in the governing of Egypt. In Britain, an 85 year-old unelected woman who descends from a series of tyrants continues to reign, with little power but kept in a luxurious lifestyle though taxation of her ‘subjects’. Democracy is, as I say, a damned odd thing.
It’s the word ‘democracy’ that features on every news bulletin as Libyan crowds declare that they want ‘democracy’, and celebrate now Gaddafi has been bumped off, that they’ll have ‘democracy’. There are strange expectations from some that this will mean some sort of social revolution. Democracies have equal rights for women, employment protection, a welfare state, effective gay rights…well don’t they?
Err, not quite. The world’s largest democracy is led by a man regarded as so left wing that many in his country – including leading elected politicians – regard his as a ‘socialist’ and yet he is opposed to same-sex marriage. Obama’s attempt to ensure his citizens had access the health-care triggered a collapse in support – something that would puzzle many Brit’s who cherish their flawed but previous National Health Service. Just fifteen years ago, this country had a very different legal landscape when it came to ‘gay rights’, and yet I don’t recall John Major – who was called many things – being dubbed a dictator (although it’s possible Edwina Curry may have done that in a moment of kinky sex). We were, I think, a democracy (even with that pesky old dear ruling over us).
So, to all those who seem to have become swept up in the belief that the Arab Spring – and the recent events in Libya – signal a transformation in the rights of those who identify as homosexual, trans or who hope for new rights for women, I sound a word of caution. Gaddafi held back the power if Islamic clerics during his years of bloody rule, and now Islamic thinkers are on the move in Libya and in Egypt. These ideological forces are not ordinarily associated with a blooming in gay rights and the rights of women. The mob that has been driving and shooting across Libya must be put back in the box that it came. The rule of the mob must be replaced by the rule of law – and the ability of the provisional Libyan government to do that remains untested. Today saw the death of a dictator, but the future for Libya remains uncertain, and potentially ripe with fear for many.