Forgiveness is strength

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

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“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong,” wrote one of the 20th century’s wisest men, Mahatma Gandhi. The British ruled his country India with an iron first and stripped it of its resources for almost 90 years, but he eschewed revenge for reconciliation. So too did Nelson Mandela, who guided a divided South Africa toward a peaceful future. The Arab world should take a leaf out of their book.

During a troubled era, when our enemies are so numerous it is hard to keep track of them, we should shore up our defenses rather than exact revenge on the disgraced mighty who have fallen, such as the surviving sons of Libya’s late leader Muammar Qaddafi. We should be better than that. There is nothing purer than mercy. Kicking someone when they are down stains our Arab dignity.


I always thought Qaddafi was slightly unhinged, but his end was shameful in its bestiality. He made many grave mistakes, but he kept Libya united and terrorist-free, and his people never went without. His family are now scattered and have lost everything. They can harm no one, and should be left to live their lives in anonymity.

There is nothing purer than mercy. Kicking someone when they are down stains our Arab dignity.

Khalaf al-Habtoor

As though the Lebanese have nothing else to worry about, they have gone after Qaddafi’s 40-year-old son Hannibal. They are being attacked by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Hezbollah is fighting alongside the regime in Syria. The Lebanese cannot produce a president despite 18 months of negotiations, and their economy is in freefall.

Yet they prioritized the abduction of Hannibal from Syria to be arrested in connection with the disappearance of Lebanese Shiite cleric Musa al-Sadr, who failed to return from Libya in 1978 when Hannibal was just two years old. Did he slaughter him with his teddy bear?

This is a case of the sins of the father being the sins of the son. Sadr, born in 1928 in Iran, is long gone. What do they hope to achieve with this, other than revenge against someone who had nothing to do with his disappearance?

According to Lebanese channel MTV, Hannibal, who was anxious to reunite with his Lebanese wife, was tricked into meeting people he was told could help him. Instead, he was kidnapped, interrogated and beaten by gunmen believed to be members of the Amal movement, which is allied to Hezbollah and headed by parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri. If anyone knows what happened to Sadr, it is Berri.

If Berri is so interested in justice, why does he not hand over the four Hezbollah members indicted by the Hariri Tribunal for their involvement in the assassination of one of Lebanon’s greatest sons, Rafiq Hariri?

If the government cares about its own credibility, it should wrest Qaddafi, who is not wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), from Berri’s grasp. His only crime, as far as I can tell from newspaper reports, is that he was “a playboy.” In that case, Lebanese jails should be overflowing. Prime Minister Tammam Salam should show the world that Lebanon is not entirely run by armed militias in the pocket of Tehran, by releasing Hannibal forthwith.

Libya’s judiciary, operating under the auspices of the Islamist-dominated government in Tripoli - which is not internationally recognized - is being similarly vengeful. Another of Qaddafi’s sons, Saadi, is on trial for murder and oppression. In August, a video emerged showing him being hit in the face and on the soles of his feet. Other inmates can be heard screaming in pain in the background.

A third son, Saif al-Islam, whose fingers were chopped off by the militia that captured him, has been sentenced to death by firing squad for crimes committed in the course of the revolution, during which three of Qaddafi’s other sons were killed. It seems his heirs are being systematically exterminated for defending their father from militias and NATO special forces, which were under orders to kill him on sight.

Arab Spring

While many of the pre-Arab Spring autocrats deserved to be toppled, in retrospect, those who warned that they would be replaced by jihadist extremists, or that their departure would herald sectarian strife resulting in civil war, were correct. No one believed them at the time.

Saddam Hussein’s ousting should have taught us a lesson. His iron fist not only served as a buffer against Iranian expansionism, but preserved Iraq’s territorial integrity. Far from opening democracy’s door, his downfall opened a Pandora’s box of hatred and bloodshed.

A case in point is the deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. An undated video taken while he was still in office - translated by Raymond Ibrahim and published on the Gatestone Institute’s website - shows his insight into the future of Egypt without him.

He tells an interviewer that the Muslim Brotherhood takes advantage of the poor economic situation by handing out small sums of money to its followers, saying: “Take this bag of [nitro]glycerine and throw it here, or do this or that to create a state of instability in Egypt... Don’t ever believe that they want democracy or anything like that. They’re exploiting democracy to eliminate democracy.

“And if they ever do govern, it will be an ugly dictatorship. For years we’ve been trying to dialogue with them, and we still are. If the dialogue is limited to words, fine, but when dialogue goes from words to bullets and bombs…”

His prediction was spot on, and if it were not for the timely intervention of current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, it is more than likely Egypt would have gone the way of Syria, Iraq and Libya.

From the start, I felt aggrieved at the way Mubarak, a war hero, was treated. All the good things he had done over 30 years were obscured by a wish for revenge. He could have spent his twilight years in comfortable exile, as Tunisia’s former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali did.

For days, a plane reportedly awaited Mubarak on a tarmac near Sharm el-Sheikh. He had offers from various countries, but he allegedly chose to stay because he loved his country and did not want to die anywhere else. If he had left, he would have escaped prison, multiple trials and retrials, and humiliation. Is it not time that the Egyptian courts and people showed this ailing 87-year-old compassion?

I believe Sisi is a strong and merciful leader who has pardoned many hundreds of convicted prisoners. Admittedly, until recently the climate was not conducive to a pardon for Mubarak due to post-revolutionary public opinion, but I believe time has healed some hearts and it is my hope that Sisi will pardon him.

“Whoever does not show mercy to those on earth will not receive the mercy of He who is in the Heavens,” said the Prophet Mohamed. That alone should give Muslims with hardened hearts pause for thought.

Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.

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