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In addition to serving as chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas, San Antonio, the author comes from one of Libya's most illustrious political families. (His father was the country's first prime minister and a much older brother served as minister of foreign affairs in the 1960s, while a cousin with almost his name was minister of foreign affairs early in Qadhdhafi's regime then became a leader of the opposition and was abducted from Cairo in 1993.) The combination of Libyan roots, American training, and fine intelligence makes for a powerful study of the Qadhdhafi regime, one reminiscent of Kanan Makiya's brilliant analysis of Iraq in Republic of Fear.[1]

By the "politics of contradiction," Kikhia means Qadhdhafi's practice of keeping Libya in a state of "controlled chaos." The author argues that the prediliction for social experimentation (cultural revolution, Green Book, revolutionary committees, direct democracy, jamahariya) to be no mere eccentricity, much less insanity, but "a pattern of deliberate destabilization" that keeps the attention of Libyans focused on personal survival rather than the regime's actions. With devastating understatement, Kikhia shows how Qadhdhafi's rule made everything far worse than it had been under the monarchy -- from the availability of water to industrial output, from personal freedoms to foreign policy. Interestingly, the one area impervious to Qadhdhafi's manipulation is "the traditional domain of the Libyan female: the home." Kikhia reveals the bitter contrast of young men coming to power in 1969 intoxicated by their wealth and a Libya today that he calls "the poorest country in the world" because "it does not have the means of regenerating the capital" that they so wastefully used up. In brief, this is by far the best book ever written on the Qadhdhafi era.

1 Samir al-Khalil [pseud. of Kanan Makiya], Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).