Seeing the Libyan regime come unraveled over the past few days has been like watching a train wreck. I want to look away, but somehow I just can’t drag my eyes and ears away from it. The drama and tragedy surrounding the entire revolution is offset by Qaddafi himself. He has become the comic relief in a performance that is sometimes overwhelming in its intensity. People are being savagely attacked by large calibre artillery wielded by ruthless loyalists and hired foreign mercenaries. Diplomats round the world are denouncing their leader and defecting. The police force has abandoned him and gone home, refusing to take up arms against their countrymen.
The larger tribes that have supported Qaddafi in the past have pulled away from him, one by one; even his own tribe. Now it appears that even family members, such as a cousin are defecting and denouncing Qaddafi's madness. Despite his historical bribes, scare tactics and blackmail to retain their loyalty they are all declaring opposition to his regime. The three pillars of his rule, tribal, military and diplomatic have crumbled around him. Now, it appears Qaddafi is losing his sanity in addition to his rule.
It was widely believed that Libya was immune to the democratic fever spreading across the Arab World simply because of his reputation for brutality. Political Islam, both moderate and radical has been systematically destroyed following the Islamist rebellion in the late 1990s in Cyrenaica. In 1973 “direct popular democracy” was declared and the jamahiriyah (state of the masses) was born.
Not even the army was above suspicion. The officer corps was tightly controlled and closely monitored for possible disloyalty. Little wonder that army units were amongst the first to disavow loyalty to the regime.
Protesters managed to commandeer a tank from mercenaries at Benghazi airport. Amongst the items found inside were bottles of vodka. Most were empty. Looking at the inside of the tank, it was a right mess. Spent rounds and heavy artillery cannisters were strewn about the ground around the tank; evidence of a heated battle. The mercenaries, black Africans, have been imported from Guinea and Nigeria. Some reports say adverts had been spotted in both countries offering to pay up to 2000 USD per day for mercenaries.
Tripoli, the capital, is going to be the most difficult to liberate. Qaddafi's sons have concentrated their militias there and there will be, without doubt, a great deal of blood shed in that operation. Given the apparent loyalty of the sons and their armed henchmen, Qaddafi is well able to order extreme violence in defence of “his” capital as he loses his grip on sanity.
Countries from around the globe; China, Turkey, France, United Kingdom and Jordan among others are working frantically to repatriate their citizens. Most are declining to make strong statements against the Gaddafi regime until they are certain they have managed to get their citizens out.
In Az Zawiyah, Qaddafi forces even fired on a mosque with anti-aircraft weapons in an attempt to kill protesters.
Both Qaddafi and his son, Saif al-Islam are repeating the same refrain again and again. Lies are being spread about Libya by Al Jazeera and other foreign media outlets. He refers most often to Al Jazeera because they are an Arabic paper and he proclaims shock that brothers would attack him and tell lies about him. Today, 24th February Qaddafi telephoned a 37 minute statement to state television. It had been reported that he would appear live as he had a couple of days ago. Like the speech he gave two days ago he ranted and raved, comparing himself to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II in that he was only a symbolic leader. The unrest in the country was again blamed on al-Qaeda arming drugged teenagers. He further claimed that married people with families and good jobs weren’t part of the protests and that no one past the age of 20 was involved. He observed that “people with any brains won’t take part in these protests.” Later in his speech he said “It's obvious now that this issue has been led by al-Qaeda ...get control of your children, keep them at home". After listening to about half of it, I stopped. The raves were becoming more and more lunatic by the second, not to mention almost unintelligble.
Secretary Clinton has been dispatched to Geneva for a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting at the weekend. She will also speak with allied foreign ministers. When announcing Clinton’s trip, Obama said “It is imperative that the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice.” In his first statement on the Libyan affair, he also allowed that the suffering and bloodshed is “outrageous” and “unacceptable”. He has ordered his national security team to prepare a full range of options to deal with the crisis.
When Qaddafi is gone, and he almost surely will be gone soon, it will be interesting to see who emerges as a new leader of the oil rich country. Given the insular nature of the regime, no real contenders actually exist. Only the Muslim Brotherhood and a few extremist Islamic groups are actually inside the country. It’s difficult to imagine the Libyan people would allow any extremist group to take charge after the 42 years of repression they have experienced. The Brotherhood might be a contender, but based on what I saw and heard from them during the Egyptian revolution I’m not certain they have any interest in assuming the role of leading post-Qaddafi Libya. What is certain is that the EU and USA will do their best to insert their fingers into the pie in order to ensure a continued profit from Libyan oil.