The final Global Affairs Table of the semester took place on Wednesday, April 13. The discussion centered around the history and current events of Libya with about twenty students, faculty, and staff members in attendance. We were fortunate enough to have guest speaker Diederick Vandewalle, a professor at Dartmouth College and renowned expert on the country’s history and politics, to lead the session.
Vandewalle began with an introduction of the political climate of Libya in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Due to the twenty-year sanction against the country, he was one of the few researchers allowed to visit for a long period of time. Vandewalle, who teaches courses on Middle Eastern politics and government, explained how no one took Gaddafi seriously in the 1970s. He turned the regime inward, and wrote an “alternative to capitalism and socialism” known as the Green Book. This book contained ideology about everything: “there was even probably a Green Book opinion on electricity”, Vandewalle quipped. Gaddafi argued that people should be governed like a tribe, for that would be the only way to create “a perfect democracy”. He professed a “third universal theory” and created centers to promote his views through the 1980s.
In the 1990s, Libya saw the need to re-emerge onto the international scene because it had become so isolated due to the sanctions. In the late 1990s, “not even Gaddafi could control the system,” Vandewalle said. In 1999, the leader worked with the British to create talking points regarding potential cooperation.
In 2003, the United States and Libya recognized a shared goal of eradicating terrorism and began discussing strategies. “[American government officials] thought that Gaddafi had rehabilitated,” Vandewalle explained. However, they were incorrect, and we all know what happened next.
The rebellion, which began in March of this year, was a surprise to Vandewalle. “I thought such an uprising would be impossible. The regime had systematically done away with all opposition that existed.” Additionally, it has not been as quick of an overthrow as many experts expected. “The international community now has to decide if they want to go forward and remove Gaddafi,” Vandewalle said.
After Vandewalle’s introduction, the rest of the session was devoted to answering questions from the group. Participants posed queries about the (mis)perceptions regarding Gaddafi’s son Saif, comparing the Libyan struggles to that of Egypt and Tunisia, the international response, western perceptions of the opposition, relations with Turkey, and the possibility of a permanent split of the country between the east (the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council) and the west (the Tripoli-based government of Gaddafi), to name a few. All of the questions were very insightful and reflected the in-depth global knowledge of the Brandeis community.