Sunday, 13 February 2011

Is it too little too late for Gaddafi?

The Libyan leader appears to be doing all he can to stave off a revolt planned on 17 February in his yard.

He apparently met tribal chiefs, journalists from eastern Libya, sent envoys to rival tribes in Benghazi, and payed tuition fees for Libyan students according to a Libya-based Facebook group.

He also ended a ban on privately-owned Quryna newspaper and a Benghazi radio talk show, and will release Islamist radicals pardoned under a recent reconciliation deal. 

But to what extent a revolt can overthrow Gaddafi?


The protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt, the two countries bordering Libya, have certainly shaken the Guide unlike anything else in the past. 

It is enough to look at the time he spent appearing on TVs to comment on what was then happening. He initially sparked an outrage by his praise for Tunisia's former leader Ben Ali. Then, he showed up on Tunisian Nesma TV, in a white suit and a Stevie-Wonder spectacles to praise the Tunisians and their revolt. He was restless and shaken, not knowing what to say in another television disaster.

Later on, he angered the Egyptians by defending Mubarak and describing him as a poor man.

17 Feb revolt

Notwithstanding Gaddafi's fear, a revolt organized on 17 February to topple him may or may not bear fruits. 

First of all, Libya's 6m population are scattered over a vast area of land, with the distance between its eastern and western borders reaching 1,000 km. 

Therefore, a revolt that might succeed in Benghazi or Al-Bayda in the east, might not necessarily unseat Gaddafi from his strongholds of Tripoli or Sirte.

Secondly, Libya's army is run by members close to Gaddafi, who either come from his own Gaddaf al-Damm tribe, or from tribes allied with the latter.

Following the ouster of Tunisia's Ben Ali, there were reports about the arrest of a group of Libyan officers, and well-informed sources about Libya told me it was a failed coup. Therefore, it seems that  cleansing the army of elements suspected

On the other hand, a Libyan Facebook blogger from Qaryounis city was arrested on 11 February, and Gaddafi's proponents are scrambling on Facebook in a fear-mongering drive.

EU, USA stand

One factor that may determine Gaddafi's chances of survival is the reaction by the EU and the USA to the revolts if they get closer to Tripoli.

And I am talking here about clearly calling on Gaddafi not to use lethal power against the protestors as opposed to intervening in the revolt itself. Similar effort should also be made to make sure Gaddafi does not shut down the internet in Libya.

The USA, while enjoying access to Libyan oil and market, sees in him a dictator who failed in transforming his country and nipped in the bud any reforms proposed by his Western-oriented Sayf al-Islam. 

To get a hint of how US foreign policy makers view him, it would be enough to look at this article by Foreign Policy, in which he came second on the list of five "tyrants who should go next".

On the other hand, regarding the EU, Gaddafi is set to take part in a Malta meeting of EU's Mediterranean countries (Group 5+5) to discuss "stability". 

Unlike the case with the USA, Libyan-EU ties go beyond energy and access to markets to illegal migration: For an agreed annual sum of Euros, Gaddafi protects Europe's southern shores (particularly Italy) from an influx of African immigrants, who cross Libya on their way to Europe.

The ties with Europe could also cover joint counter-terrorism efforts such as the fight against Al-Qaeda in North Africa. 

However, the arrival of large numbers of Tunisian immigrants in Lampedusa, Italy, could be one of the things Gaddafi will discuss with his EU counterparts in Malta. 


A revolt against Gaddafi may be a day-dream, particularly in a country that has been ruled with iron and fire since 42 years. But things after Tunisia and Egypt are not the same as before.
Gaddafi's regime is not mightier than Mubarak's. In addition, steps taken by Mubarak after the onset of the protests did not sway or stop the wrath of the people.

Add to all that, given the failure of Sayf al-Islam to sustain a series of cosmetic reforms,  it is obvious that the Gaddafi's regime is too damaged to be repaired. Therefore, change is necessary, if not inevitable.

Gahgeer, 13 Feb, 2011

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