Wednesday, March 23, 2011

RIP Muammar Gaddafi

While I write this Muammar Gaddafi is alive is kicking (hopefully himself after hearing his Air Force exists no more!) Yet I think his end is near and it's time to pen down his obituary. And its only fair to start with the positives.

Gaddafi was born in a Bedouin tent in a Libyan desert during World War II. He grew up listening to Egyptian President Gamal Nasser's speeches on the radio and became one of the most prominent supporters and propagators of Nasserism. (In pic: Gaddafi & Nasser)

Gaddafi began his political journey with strong ideals; he wanted to change Libya from a conservative and repressed state to something more modern and progressive. His Green Book was the blueprint to change attitudes and behaviour in the political and societal system of Libya. He did transform Libya in his early days. He campaigned to get rid of corruption and western imperialism. He helped Libya create its identity by forcing the Americans, British and the Italians to leave.

He nationalized oil companies and used the revenue from the oil sales to invest in infrastructure; built schools, hospitals and roads. He brought electricity into far flung deserts and built irrigation mechanism in the driest deserts. He could have been called an architect of Libya then.

Yet, somewhere down the line he became the destroyer of Libya. His four decade long rule saw him take Libya back into the primitive period. Perhaps it was the change in the country he could not keep pace with. After all he was getting old.

His ideology which was revolutionary in its time; today is outdated and damaging to the country's growth. Libya's oil revenues have now financed his many palatial houses across the world and filled his unnumbered account in offshore locations; not to mention the lavish and exorbitant lifestyle of his family. I visited one of his homes in London's Hampstead area, a city pad for his son Saif while he pursued his PhD from London School of Economics. The eight bedroom mansion worth £10 million is symbolic of Libyan money in Gaddafi empire.

Although in 1979 Gaddafi renounced all official titles and position; he is till today the undisputed leader of the Libyan government. His security apparatus is built up of many layers often overlapping and in shadows which is confusing to his enemies. He is the shrewdest dictator of his time who believes in fighting off his opponents (and likely successors) among themselves to weaken their power. No wonder he has survived many assassination attempts and is still the 'King'.

Its an open secret that Gaddafi has supported innumerable terrorist organisation, sponsored covert operations in many countries, has used chemical weapons and jailed, prosecuted and killed thousands of innocent people who raised a voice against him. His most brazen acts until the revolution were the Pan AM and the UTA bombings for which he never showed any remorse. The massacre on the streets of Libya by Gaddafi's men have only added to his resolve to crush protests.

Yet, I'm confident he will find it very difficult if not impossible to wriggle out of the pickle he is in today, because it's not just the NATO airstrikes but the millions of people of Libya and around the world who want to see an end to Gaddafi's regime.

If reports are to be believed, Gaddafi has lost yet another child (Khamis Gaddafi) in NATO airstrikes and which many would feel this would weaken his resolve; but the aggravated clashes in East Libya tell another story.

But it's hard to only imagine Gaddafi as the monster he is. To me he will always be the mad man who rambles incoherently and lives in a world he has created in his head. For years now, Gaddafi's decision making process has been a fancy, devoid of reality and often hilarious.

Take for example the calendar in Libya that Gaddafi changed to begin with the death of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) instead of his migration (like the Islamic lunar calendar). The Gregorian one has also been changed to begin with the Prophet's migration with names of the months invented by Gaddafi himself. So Libyan Calendar is unique and confusing as it neither follows the Islamic calendar not the Gregorian one. Why would someone do that unless he was obsessed with himself.

The more hilarious one is when in 1977, Gaddafi asked everyone in Libya to become self-sufficient by raising chickens in their homes. He also forced Libyans to pay $150 to buy the birds and cages from the government. For those who lived in apartments in the city; the chicken soon found its way on the dinner table.
All his talks about Al-Qaeda giving pills to youngsters in Libya to raise a voice against him makes you wonder which Libya he is living in. If he loves Libya so much (as he claims) why doesn't his heart bleed when he rips the country apart with tanks and snipers.

But Gaddafi is like a chameleon who changes his philosophies to suit his environment. None of his ideologies have been cast in stone as he reserves the right to change his mind whenever he wants. One minute he wants to crush the revolution, next minute he wants to call ceasefire; then when the white flag is waving, he orders his men on an offensive somewhere.

Gaddafi is not the one to fight to his death for his beliefs; he would rather change his philosophies to suit the situation. But this time he went too far, killed too many and has been tolerated for far too long. The people have spoken and he will not be forgiven. Its time Muammar Gaddafi bid adieu forever.

To Col. Muammar Gaddafi, the man who created war and destruction all his life, all we can say is... Rest In Peace!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Women in parliament: are quotas the only solution?

They all stood together men and women in Tahrir Square and brought down a powerful dictator and put Egypt on the pedestal of people’s liberation. They prayed together at Tahrir square and gave Egypt a hope for a new beginning. Yet, what happened yesterday in the very same place was nothing but shameful.

A few hundred women and their even fewer male supporters gathered at Tahrir Square on International Women’s Day to ask for an extended if not equal rights for women in post revolutionary Egypt. A demand only fair, in a new Egypt that promised to break through old traditions and emerge as a truly ‘liberalized’ identity.

Yet, what did they get in return? Men, at least three times their number, broke through the human chain protecting these women and verbally abused and sexually assaulted them. Chants like ‘a man is a man and the woman is a woman, you are the children of Suzan Mubarak, a woman can never be a President, Go home women!’ were ringing through Tahrir Square. There was a fierce objection to women’s demands of having a role in the new constitution.
Many women were groped; some were beaten and sexually assaulted. Apparently, this is a commonplace in Egypt with men often intimidating and harassing women on the streets in a similar fashion.
I was shocked to find that even today the conservative Egyptian are so hostile to women wanting more rights. Women in Egypt have always held prominent positions in media, literature and even civil society. However the constitution is still based on patriarchal laws and the economic migration to Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, where women cannot even drive cars, has definitely played into the mindset of some.

Tahany Al Gebaly, Egypt’s first female judge

Egypt elected the first Arab woman to parliament in 1957. But even half a century later, in the 2005 elections, only four women were elected to the Parliament, rest were appointed by the President. So women secured just nine of 454 seats.  

If Hosni Mubarak did anything right; it was the appointment of Egypt's first female judge, a female university president, and some female cabinet ministers in an effort to kickstart women’s political participation.  

But the dismal number of women in parliament is not just an Egyptian issue but something that faces most countries in the world. It is important to have an increased representation of women in parliament to give them a greater say in the constitution and policies of the country.
While democracy is new to Egypt and other countries in the Middle East who are still struggling to achieve, understand and implement it; this is the right time for women to be welcomed into decision making processes and given due recognition. One way to introduce women into parliament is through the quota system. Egypt had introduced a 30-seat quota for female MPs in 1979, following which it had the maximum number of women in parliament, but repealed it in1988 after its constitutionality was challenged.
Yesterday, on twitter, Shadi Hamid, a prominent Middle East researcher, wrote: ‘Quota systems don't solve the gender problem. Quotas are a top-down imposition - and don't change attitudes on the ground’. My argument to him was: ‘I agree to an extent. But attitude rarely change unless they are force fed. Quotas are just the catalyst to introduce the numbers.’ Hamid replied ‘if quotas are the solution then how come they haven't worked in, say, Jordan?’
But they have worked very successfully in Rwanda, a country embroiled in conflict and deprivation, yet 56.3% women made it into Parliament making it the only country in the world with more women than men in Parliament!
Hamid has a far better understanding of the Middle East than I do and I understand when he says that ‘legally, there are equal rights for women in many Arab countries. But public attitudes are whole different problem.’ 

Public attitude is definitely a problem everywhere. But I think to change that is to introduce quotas and get more women in parliament. When you see women in parliament making important decisions, fighting for your rights and safeguarding your interests, it helps inculcate trust and respect. I don’t think public attitude will change overnight; it would take decades perhaps even a generation, but I think it’s important to put women in powerful positions to bring that change. 

Feminists argue that women don’t need patronizing and can stand up on their own merit. I’m sure they can but in today’s circumstances they just need that that bit of influx into politics and then their future is defined on their merit.

Even for countries like the UK, that prides itself on ‘equal’ rights for men and women; in reality the gap still exists! The income disparity is obvious and the number of women in parliament is still a measly 21%. Before last year’s elections I had written that women’s representation bill was important to get more women representatives in parliament (WRP).
The May 2010 elections, which boasted of Herculean efforts to increase the number of WRP (but without any quotas), did achieve a record number of women in parliament (144 compared to 128 in 2005) but failed to narrow the gap much; its just 144 women out of a total 650 members of parliament.

The Centre for Women and Democracy predicts it will take at least another 15 years for UK to achieve 30% WRP and maybe it will get a 50% by 2065. 

This just reinforces my point that perhaps quotas are the only solution.