The Daily Star (Editorial)
April 9, 2008 - 8:48am

In the aftermath of the Arab League's 20th summit in Damascus late last month, a number of Arab commentators and editorialists have criticized the regional body's chronic failure to break away from its two-decade-long pattern of impotence and inaction. Much like the 19 aimless meetings that preceded this year's gathering, the Damascus summit was marked by poor attendance, even poorer progress on substantive issues, and an abundance of made-for-government-owned-media rhetoric. And as was the case with several previous summits, the highlight of last month's show - at least in terms of entertainment value - came in the form of Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi's annual diatribe. Many of the criticisms that Gadhafi heaped on his fellow Arab leaders - that they lack unity, that they practice hypocrisy, that they never accomplish anything noteworthy and that they bow to the whims of Washington - resonated on the Arab street, where the idea that the league might one day achieve something worthwhile was long ago abandoned.

Many of Ghadafi's most scathing appraisals, however, can easily be directed right back at Gadhafi himself and the Libyan regime. Unless one counts comic relief as a contribution to the advancement of Arab causes, Gadhafi has done nothing to improve the lot of the more than 300 million Arabs who reside in this region. Sadly, he has done even less to better the lives of more than 6 million Libyans in his own country. After nearly 40 years with Gadhafi as its leader, Libya has become a firmly entrenched authoritarian state, where nepotism and economic stagnation are the laws of the land, where the most innocent forms of political expression are punishable by death and where even the most peaceful dissidents are routinely jailed or murdered.

One must ask, then, whether Gadhafi fancies himself immune to all of his own criticisms, or whether he intends to actually begin to practice what he preaches. Any number of the Arab world's problems could benefit from the active and energetic engagement of one of its leaders - including the territorial dispute between Iran and the United Arab Emirates, an issue that Gadhafi himself raised at the Arab summit in Damascus. Dealing with complicated issues such as these, however, would require that Gadhafi contribute something more substantive than entertaining quips. Regrettably, Ghadafi's failure to offer the Arab world anything other than an annual comedy routine has made him the epitome of the ineffectiveness that he so often criticizes.

It is precisely because large parts of the Arab world are such a mess and so many of its leaders are terminally inept that Gadhafi's cutting remarks tend to hit home with so many ordinary people around the region. Still, this part of the world has been plagued with the same problems for so long that Gadhafi's jokes are getting less and less funny each year.


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