by Ryan Mauro
The Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s rule may be coming to an end as an uprising spreads across the country. There are unconfirmed reports that he has already fled to Venezuela, leaving his son, Saif al-Islam, to run the country, and clashes are escalating in the capital of Tripoli. The regime seems certain to fall soon unless Qaddafi’s security forces are loyal enough to brutally massacre their fellow citizens.
The Libyan ambassadors to the Arab League, India and China have resigned in the wake of the widespread violence against the protesters, with the ambassador to China calling on the entire diplomatic staff to resign and the army to intervene. He also claimed that Qaddafi had fled the country, adding fuel to the rumors of his departure. Notably, Qaddafi’s son was the one to address the country Sunday night. Saif al-Islam admitted that “mistakes” had been made and pledged sweeping reforms. He denied that his father had left Libya but did not explain why he wasn’t the one making the speech.
He called the deaths of protesters a “tragedy” but then downplayed the losses, claiming that only 14 had been killed and that the death toll has been exaggerated by the media. It is estimated that at least 200 were killed by Sunday, and the number is rising very quickly. Saif al-Islam claimed that the protestors attacked the army first, and he then accused the opposition of trying to create an “Islamic emirate” in Benghazi and others of trying to secede from Libya. He warned that the unrest was bringing the country to the verge of civil war, and placed the blame on the shoulders of the regime’s opponents. “We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet,” he said. This speech will do nothing to satisfy the protesters and will only antagonize them.
The CEO of the Gerard Group, Ilana Freedman, wrote on Saturday that she expected Qaddafi to “fall within a matter of days.” Her prediction appears to be coming true. The uprising has now spread to Tripoli, with clashes occurring around Green Square that involved gunfire. At least 2,000 have begun protesting there, and at least four have been killed by the security forces. Nearby in Al-Zawia, protesters are heading towards Qaddafi’s palace. There have been defections of police and soldiers, and the tribes are now getting involved on the side of the opposition.A group of 50 influential tribal chiefs, Muslim clerics, and intellectuals from around the country, including Tripoli, released a statement demanding that the government stop using violence. “Stop the massacre now!” it said. It also said that the actions of the government violated Islam. The Warfala tribe, which represents 1/6 of the country’s estimated 6 million people, has officially joined the fight against Qaddafi. Soon after, the Tuareg tribe in the south, numbering over half a million people, joined in and began attacking police stations and government buildings. The chief of the Al-Zuwayya tribe in the east then followed, saying he would ”stop oil exports to Western countries within 24 hours” if the “oppression of protesters” continued. This would paralyze the economy and government, as oil exports account for between 75 and 90 percent of the regime’s revenue.
The demonstrations were supposed to begin on February 17, but began two days early when the regime arrested one of its critics in advance of the event. A crowd of 2,000 soon formed and he was released, but the protests continued, centering in Al-Bayda where local police officers defected and the city fell to the opposition. The regional security chief was subsequently fired. The regime released 110 members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group, apparently with the false belief that this was a concession the opposition would appreciate it [sic]. Qaddafi also tried to direct the energy of the unrest toward Israel and loudly called on Muslims to join Palestinians in non-violently gathering in Israel to demand a Palestinian state. He said that the regional revolutions were in reaction to “American arrogance.” This overused scapegoating failed.
The unrest quickly spread to Benghazi, which is ironically where the coup took place on September 1, 1969 that brought Qaddafi to power. Video was captured of protesters wrecking a monument of Qaddafi’s “Little Green Book” and of two unarmed protesters being shot in the head. The prison was raided, releasing 1,000 inmates, including dozens of political activists. A fierce battle ensued when the regime’s thugs tried to overrun the protestors’ camp, ultimately losing. Benghazi was overtaken by the protesters with some help from an army unit that had defected.
The demonstrations quickly spread throughout the east and then to the west. The regime has used more violence than any other government has used in the unrest since the Jasmine Revolution, but it failed to stop the crowds. African mercenaries were hired by the regime and the Internet was shut down. Many Libyans received threatening text messages. Gas and electricity was cut off from some areas, and machine guns and sniper rifles were used against those who protested at the funerals of the slain.
The willingness of Qaddafi to slaughter thousands of innocents in order to continue his reign cannot be underestimated, but the use of brutality has thus far only generated more outrage and furor against his regime. Libya may not pose as much of a threat to the U.S. since giving up its WMD programs (and subsequently being taken off the State Sponsors of Terrorism list), but this is a regime that regularly preaches anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. It also vocally supports terrorists and declared jihad “by all means” against Switzerland for banning minarets on mosques, though Qaddafi backtracked on this and said he did not mean violence.
It is unknown what a post-Qaddafi Libya will look like, but his regime’s overthrow is something that the West should applaud. The world will be safer and, hopefully, the people of Libya will be better off.
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