The ingredients for a faster regime collapse in Libya were better than the conditions earlier in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt. But contrary to many expectations, the Libyan situation turned out to be extremely complex.
Based on the assumption that the Tunisian pattern would automatically enforce itself on the other Arab countries where the winds of change were forcefully blowing, many observers believed it would be a matter of days before Muammar Qadhafi would fall.
The Libyan uprising was very daring right from the beginning. People rose everywhere expressing their rejection of Qadhafi’s unparalleled tyranny. They demonstrated their unwavering resolve to take it all to the finish. Libyans were unanimous in their condemnation of the four-decade long eccentric dictatorship, the squandering of the country’s wealth on matters hardly related to their development or welfare, of impoverishment, unemployment, backwardness, injustice and inequality. They also deplored the cruelty of the regime, the detention, the murder, the suffering at the hands of Qadhafi’s security groups and police state oppression.
If that sounds familiar, a lot more was not. And although we have yet to wait to learn of the horrible atrocities that have not been revealed yet, we certainly have enough proof of the cruelty, but also the absurdity, of the tactics Qadhafi and his supporters have used to respond to the people’s peaceful uprising.
Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, many foreign countries were quick to match internal rejection with international denunciation of Qadhafi and his rule. They also spoke of intervention to save the protesters from the excessive use of force being used against them. Words were indeed followed by deeds at the United Nations Organisation, the International Criminal Court and the relevant financial institutions which froze Qadhafi family’s and aides’ assets.
Add to all this the successive defections of many in the Libyan diplomatic corps, the army, senior civil servants, tribal leaders and even close Qadhafi relatives and long time aides, and you will be right to presume that Qadhafi’s days were counted.
Qadhafi‘s and his son’s threats to fight the Libyan people to the finish were, under the circumstances, thought to be empty and foolish. Qadhafi was also thought to be delirious and completely out of touch with reality. Some wrote him off as crazy.
Most likely he is desperate and over the years he must have been haunted by the fantasy that he really created a country of his own and therefore no one has the right to challenge his ownership of Libya. He must believe what he keeps repeating: that he is neither a president nor a king to resign; he is an uncontested leader of a revolution, who possesses nothing but his gun and he will use it to regain control. He also claimed that he turned power to the people to govern themselves, a form of democracy superior in his view to any other system of government yet devised. If he is truly insane, it is just because he believes this hallucination.
Now Qadhafi is using all the force he can muster to fight a civilian population. He is indiscriminately using tanks, artillery, aircraft and heavy machineguns against his population.
Even if Libyans are fighting Libyans, what is going on is not a civil war. And even if the country is now split, with one part under the control of the former regime and the other under the rebels, it is wrong to assume that Libya will be split into two states, with Qadhafi keeping significant parts of the country, including the capital, while the revolutionaries establish their own state in and around Benghazi in the eastern part of the country.
Qadhafi, who used mercenaries at the beginning, is now using also the remnants of the army who either stayed loyal or had no opportunity to defect. This sounds like a recipe for a prolonged internal, and a very bloody, war. Civilians will pay the highest price.
Qadhafi’s chances of winning the war against his people, building a mini-state in the western part of the country or abdicating and seeking asylum abroad are almost nil. Presumably, that is why he decided to go on with what looks like a losing war, unmindful of international threats to drag him to the International Criminal Court or to shun him altogether. Most likely, he will not survive to face such eventuality.
If in the meantime, Qadhafi has succeeded to establish control over the capital and some areas around, he will be isolated as he may not find many foreign states willing to deal with him. If this is what he has in mind as a second best option, it is not going to be viable.
The situation in Libya looks badly deadlocked. Despite the reasonable belief that the Qadhafi regime is bound to collapse, the cost may have to bevery highfor the country and its people.
Apart from loud condemnations and dreadful threats of intervention, neither foreign powers nor the UN have been of much help. Forget about the Arab League, as it does not count, despite its decision to freeze Libya’s participation in its routine meetings. Libya is not the problem; it is Qadhafi whose disdain for the league is well known.
Libyans, with the Iraq military adventurism right in front of their eyes, have opposed military intervention out of genuine concern that this might undo most of their revolution’s gains, on top of messing up everything else. Even declaring a no-fly zone has proved to be problematic in the absence of a UN resolution sanctioning such action. It could also lead tocounterproductive escalations and harmful consequences. On the other hand, it would be bizarre to leave the Libyans fighting alone against a vicious army commandeered by a vicious and a desperate leader.
Some kind of objective and lawful international action should be considered, and that should happen very soon if the suffering of the Libyan people were to be diminished.
*Publishe3d in the JORDAN TIMES on Mar. 9, 2011.