[Viewpoint] The scent of jasmine is in the air

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[Viewpoint] The scent of jasmine is in the air

Monarchs and autocrats, when their egos are fed by sycophants, often fall prey to self-delusion. Cnut the Great, a king of ancient England, had also been on the brink of becoming a victim. He stood at the edge of the sea and ordered the tide to stop to test and manifest the power invested in him. The tide didn’t stop but soaked his feet and then his robe. Embattled Libyan strongman

Muammar el-Qaddafi, who is threatening to massacre his own people if they defy him, is also ludicrously delusional. But he’s unlike the ancient king, who learned “how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name but he whom heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws.”

The mad self-proclaimed all-mighty in Libya remains megalomanic about his power. Declaring war against his own people, he has threatened to turn the popular democracy movement into tribal war. Yet what he displayed on the televised address was a man of desperation in fear of losing his power of four decades. Meanwhile, senior officials, militia and envoys, as well as tribes, one by one, are turning against the longtime ruler.

Qaddafi has two choices. He can join the recently ousted autocrats in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia and flee with whatever wealth he has. Or he can remain self-deluded and try to fight back the immense tidal wave of democracy sweeping the Arab world, in the same vein as former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In any way, Qaddafi cannot eschew facing an international trial for the genocide of his own people. The rabid cry that “he will die as a martyr” in defense of power may be his last stifling grip over his people.

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan came under fire for calling the Libyan leader a “mad dog” in 1986. But watching Qaddafi’s tyranny today, Reagan had hit the nail on the head. The man is a lunatic killer. The international community must focus on the scope of atrocities and destruction he is capable of. There is no time to lose. The global community must cut off all ties with Libya and impose a no-fly zone over the country to prevent Qaddafi from bombing protesters as was done in Iraq by Saddam Hussein. Travels by Qaddafi, his family and military aides must be banned and their overseas assets frozen. The United Nations also should study sending peacekeeping troops.

How the Libyan revolt ends can determine the direction of the democracy uprisings in the Arab world. The protests in Bahrain have turned bolder as the government intensified its clampdown on demonstrations; they are now demanding an end to the Sunni monarchy.

Political unrest in Yemen, Jordan and Iran is also simmering. The democracy revolution in the Arab community will likely gather impetus if the longest-serving dictator kneels to the multitude of voices for justice and follows the footsteps of Ben Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt.

Longtime dictators like Mubarak turn obsessive to cling onto power. Having lived so long in a self-important pathological world, they are devoid of the mental facilities to comprehend the yearning for democracy. The cries for justice and freedom to the patriarchal autocrats come across as ungrateful whining; they think they can command with the usual paltry handouts from petrodollars.

But the revolutionary pro-democracy movement in the Arab world has crossed the bridge of no return. A wise monarch and ruler in societies where the protest fervor has not reached would reform their political and wealth distribution system to radically improve civilian rights and the wealth gap. Nearly half of the Egyptian population gets by on $2 a day, and nearly 30 percent are illiterate. It is a sad reality of one of the oldest civilizations.

Most countries in the Arab world and the Middle East bloc are no better. Despots in these societies bear no concept of what’s good for the greater good, and they try to hold onto power for as long as they live, leaving their wealth and power to their sons. The North Korean regime is no different.

If the revolution in the Arab world succeeds, there is hope that China and North Korea can change, too. In Beijing and Shanghai, China - despite severe censorship of the Arab revolts - was baffled by online-organized youth-led rallies that were inspired by Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution. Since then, the country has tightened its control over human rights activists and bloggers. Molihua - jasmine in Chinese - blossoms in May, but its fragrance can be called upon in February, author Hao Qun said.

If over 450 million Chinese Web users come under molihua’s influence, China may not be able to contain the ferment with a military response or political and social reforms. An Arab-like revolution may not work in China, but we have seen what public hunger for justice powered by the permeating force of the Internet and digital technology can do. If China changes, so can North Korea.

*The writer is a senior columnist of JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Young-hie
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