Volcano of Rage

Max Rodenbeck writes for the New York Review of Books

In a totalitarian regime, you never know the mistakes that are made. But in a democracy, if anybody does something wrong, against the will of the people, it will float to the surface. The whole people are looking.
—Hosni Mubarak in an interview from Sandcastles: The Arabs in Search of the Modern World by Milton Viorst (Knopf, 1994)

Late last March Muammar Qaddafi, whose official title is Brother Leader of the Great Libyan Arab People’s Jamahiriya, hosted a summit meeting of Arab heads of state. Leaders of the twenty-two Arab League member countries had gathered dozens of times since the first such meeting in 1964, but never before in Libya. Given Qaddafi’s penchant for rambling incoherence and his regime’s reputation for shambolic management, delegates rather dreaded the event, particularly since it was to be held not in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, but in Qaddafi’s bleak little hometown of Sirte, three hundred kilometers away.

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