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Face up to dictators

Feb 15 2011 12:34 Kader Asmal

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HITLER built Germany's autobahns and produced the people's car. Mussolini, I was told, made Italy's trains run on time.

At home we had sharp debates about those matters, but I was unrelenting in my opposition to my family's views.

The battle for Spanish democracy played an enormous role in my personal education. I vowed when I was a young boy I wouldn't visit the land which gave us Guernica as long as the dismal and violent rule of Franco lasted.

It was only after Franco's demise that I accepted an invitation to a boring conference in 2005: my real reason was to see the magnificent black and white Guernica of Picasso's genius, a small copy of which I have had in my study for more than 40 years.

The Spanish Civil War taught us a lesson. Such is the bitterness that ensues during the bloodletting called a civil war it's impossible to determine the extent of the loss of life, damage to property, etc.

What we do know is that in the period covered by the decade after the war the revenge can be calculated in cold blood.

In Spain it's been estimated Franco's forces killed more than 300 000 from the end of the war to 1960.

In Cambodia, Pol Pot and his successors murdered almost 1 million out of a population of 5 million as part of the "re-education" drive to create a so-called new Kampuchea.

In a more dastardly fashion, the new rulers of Rwanda succeeded in killing nearly 1 million (some with arms supplied by SA's apartheid regime), all in support of land and lebensraum.

But there were brave Hutus who were also killed after they stood up to support their Tutsi neighbours.

So what's to be done? Obviously, the main issue for the international community in many such pogroms is to stop the killing and to encourage a degree of normality to operate.

But that would result in impunity, where the perpetrators are able to get away with it.

"Getting away with it" has been the usual desire of the criminals who feel that the game is now up.

The former president of Tunisia, when he fled from that corruption-ridden country a few weeks ago, tried to obtain sanctuary.

His aircraft was refused permission to land as the Algerians, being a party to the International Criminal Court Convention, would have been bound to extradite him if the International Criminal Court had made such a request.

The world is getting smaller as a bolthole for war criminals.

Recent events in Egypt have thrown sharp focus on the way in which people express their decision for freedom and self-determination.

The unparalleled scenes in the heart of Cairo – prayer, music, dancing, anti-establishment street theatre – all have to do with the demands of ordinary people for the resignation of the president.

It seems nothing else will do. The United States – not-so-proud money-changer for the Egyptian regime – has had to change its policy at least twice in two weeks.

It now also supports the effective dismissal of Mubarak.

The wheel is turning in favour of freedom, not only in Egypt but in the entire Arab world – with the exception of Saudi Arabia, where closed doors reflect a Wahabi tradition of total submission to the Saudi semi-feudal family.

As for Libya, it's a pity people with such verve and vitality are captives to a joker whose predilection for the bizarre and the unusual knows no bounds.

South Africa should have been in the vanguard of the international campaign to isolate the Mubarak regime. Instead it's chosen to follow the lead of the major powers.

The Egyptian people deserve better. However, whatever happens over the next few months in Egypt nothing can take away the great courage people have shown throughout that country and their determination to build a non-sectarian body politic.

For those who want the dictators to be punished, let them support the plain people of Egypt who have shown there's no substitute for unity and determination.

If they have their way those people will also show there's no hiding place for dictators. We should be stronger in our support for the International Criminal Court.

* This column was first published in Finweek.
* To read more Finweek articles, click here.

kader asmal  |  tunisia  |  egypt
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