Dubai: While the Arab world was certainly intrigued by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during his earlier tenure, many lost interest in the controversial leader during his final years. Before the Arab Spring, the Arab world’s role models were few.
Palestinians were being brutalised by Israel with little or no reaction by the Arab league. Soon, the likes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah became idealised by Arabs who felt they had no voice under Israeli oppression.
During this time, an interesting anti-American axis emerged in the world — a mix of socialist and populist leaders whose constituents either loved or hated their leaders. Chavez reached the height of his popularity in the Arab world when he broke diplomatic relations with Israel.
But his humanitarian credentials quickly came into question during the Arab Spring and its aftermath. It was no secret that besides Iran, Chavez found himself allied with the grimiest of dictators in the Arab world from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
When Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was dropping bombs on his own people, Chavez said: “I can’t say that I support, or that I am in favour of, or that I applaud any decision that any friend of mine makes in whatever part of the world, no, not from afar, but yes, we support the government of Libya.”
He also famously backed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009 amid Iran’s disputed elections and anti-government protests.
But perhaps the most shocking and the final straw for many Arabs was his loyalty to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, who Chavez described as a “humanist and a brother” despite his international condemnation at the United Nations and being accused of “Crimes against humanity”.
His rhetoric on Syria particularly shocked the masses when, during the time Syrians were being brutalised by their own leader, Chavez famously said in 2012, “How can I not support Al Assad? It is the legitimate government of Syria. Who should we be supporting, the terrorists? The so-called “Transition Council” who are killing people everywhere? I don’t understand how some governments in Europe, that claim to be serious, have been meeting with terrorists.”
Many Arabs have grown to detest the leader who began to see his double-standards on issues of humanitarian concern. It is doubtful his death will be mourned in the Arab world today.