A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, August 29, 2011

Qadhafi: The Last of the 1960s Rulers

Since I was away last week, my posts today naturally have a heavy Libyan slant, since I was unable to comment at length at the time.

One of the ironies of the Libyan revolt is that this Thursday, September 1, would mark the 42nd Anniversary of the "Great Fatih September Revolution," the coup that brought Qadhafi to power in 1969. If there are any 42nd anniversary celebrations, they'll presumably be limited to Sirte or other holdout enclaves. Perhaps it will  all be over by his famous Revolution Day.

Since I missed much of the commentary I'm not sure if there's been much emphasis on the fact that Qadhafi, before his fall, had served in office longer than any other Arab leader. (Sultan Qaboos in Oman is next, in power since 1970 but he's a hereditary monarch. The Asad family as a whole have also ruled Syria since 1970.) Having come to power in 1969, Qadhafi was not only the longest-serving Arab leader, but the last to survive from the late 1960s.

In 1969, when Qadhafi and his Free Officers overthrew King Idris, Gamal Abdel Nassr ran Egypt to his east, and Habib Bourguiba ran Tunisia to his west. King Hussein of Jordan was a major player; King Faisal was on the Saudi throne; and that same year Golda Meir became Prime Minister of Israel. It was also the year of Woodstock, for those old enough to have heard of it.

Many of the figures who seem to have been there forever were not yet known in 1969. Saddam Hussein was the number two man in the Baathist government of his kinsmen Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, but Husni Mubarak was a little-known Egyptian Air Force officer.

And 1969 was the year I got my undergraduate degree.

In short, 42 years is a long time in office, even if "Brother Leader" is not exactly a formal position. I've previously noted the Picture of Dorian Gray aspect of Qadhafi; while I don't look like my college graduation picture, I hope I've held up better than he has:

One would like to think that the days when Arab leaders, other than hereditary monarchs at least, serve 42 years is behind us. That may be too much to wish for, but this is proving to be a year when even the longest-serving.cannot count on job security. After Sultan Qaboos, and the Asad family considered as a family business (in which case all the monarchies would count), I believe the next in seniority is ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih of Yemen, in power since 1978. And he's not even currently in his own country.

I guess the sixties really are over.

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