How’s this for columnist karma: no sooner had we posted my tribute to history’s graceful losers than F.W. de Klerk popped up in New York at the end of an American speaking tour to raise money for a foundation he heads. I spent an hour with him Wednesday at his hotel, discussing the negotiated surrender of white rule in South Africa and the echoes he hears in today’s Middle Eastern tremors.
What de Klerk sees when he looks at Egypt and Tunisia is the kind of wholesale revolution in the streets that would have swept his own country if he had not agreed to sit down with apartheid’s adversaries. Or, to flip it around, he sees spasmodic upheaval that could have been averted if that part of the world had started earlier on fundamental reforms.
“America and the European Union and other leading countries in the world might ask themselves, maybe they should have applied the same pressure that they did on South Africa to some of their friends in the Middle East,” he added with a sly smile. “That could have helped to avoid what is happening now.”
To my list of lessons that the South African experience offers for the erupting Arab world, de Klerk had a few additions. First, sanctions are a crude weapon. He endorses sanctions to stop the current carnage in Libya but warns that isolating a pariah regime can be counterproductive, especially if it drags on for years. De Klerk contends that the sanctions imposed on South Africa — international sports boycotts, prohibitions on investment — were easy for the white rulers to get around, hurt blacks far more than whites and sometimes backfired.
“We circumvented them so successfully,” he said. “When there was an oil embargo, we stored up oil to the extent that when in the early ’80s, when I became minister of mineral and energy affairs, we had enough oil stored … to last four years without a new drop of oil coming into South Africa.”
The international opprobrium had the effect of making the white electorate resentful and inward-looking, he said. “The biggest victory ever in a white election for the National Party was in ’77” when the ardent apartheid champion John Vorster won 80 percent of the seats in Parliament. “His platform was: Who is America to tell us what to do?”
De Klerk says the isolation of sanctions was a major reason that the South African regime acquired a small nuclear arsenal — seven atom bombs, which he later destroyed. “I’m not saying it didn’t keep us on our toes,” he told me.“I’m not saying it wasn’t effective in considering that we should change.” But what ultimately persuaded his party to abandon apartheid was the realization that it was “a failed policy.”
Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s regime has a matter days before it falls, Al-Hayat reported, citing Major Abdel Moneim al-Houni, a former member of Libya’s revolutionary command council who resigned as the country’s ambassador to the Arab League on Feb. 20.
Houni told the Saudi-owned newspaper that Imam Moussa al- Sadr, chairman of Lebanon’s Shiite Islamic Council, who went missing on a visit to Libya in August 1978, was killed and buried in the Sabha region in the southern part of the north African country. Houni said his brother-in-law, who was the pilot of Qaddafi’s private plane, was tasked with transporting Sadr’s to Sabha and was killed himself shortly after doing so to keep the crime secret.
Lebanon’s examining magistrate issued a summons in 2008 for Qaddafi to appear for questioning about Sadr. Relations between Libya and Lebanon were strained by the disappearance of the cleric and two of his aides. Libya has always maintained that Sadr left the country to Italy.
I wish more outlets were covering this - Bloomberg is the only non-Iranian or Lebanese source I could find.
Brief background: al-Sadr, an Iranian, helped found the Shi’a group Amal in Lebanon. Amal played a key role in that country’s 1975-90 civil war. In 2008, Lebanon indicted Gadaffi over al-Sadr’s disappearance. Al-Sadr’s niece is married to former Iranian president Mohamed Khatami, and Iraqi resistance leader Moqtada al-Sadr is his cousin.
— Outgoing Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi