What The Hell Is Going On In Libya?

Daily Mail:

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has fled Libya and may be heading for Venezuela, William Hague said today.

The Foreign Secretary said he had seen ‘information’ that suggests Gaddafi is on his way to the South American country – as Libya was up in flames today with reports of around 400 dead.

The dictator was said to have fled as the country, which he has ruled for more than 40 years, was up in flames after anti-government demonstrators breached the state television building and set government property alight.

The country’s diplomats at the UN are calling for Gaddafi to step down. Deputy Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said that if Gaddafi does not reliqniquish power, ‘the Libyan people will get rid of him’.

But officials in Venezuela, where president Hugo Chavez is an ally of the Libyan dictator, denied any suggestions that Gaddafi was seeking refuge there. Information minister Andres Izarra said the reports were ‘false’ .

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

Because of the country’s severe media restrictions, information out of Libya is extremely difficult to verify. Protesters send reports to Libyan exile groups or to open-source organizers such as Shabab Libya, which then filter through to social or traditional media. On Saturday, Switzerland-based exile groups told Reuters that protesters had completely seized Bayda, also located in the east. In the broken, urgent English common to such dispatches, Shabab Libya reported on Twitter, “Now breaking from #bayda they fought and beat the mercenaries and hanged them in the valleys surrounding bayda. now %100 secure.” Reuters later added that government forces were attempting to retake the town.

Even by the mildest and most reliable accounts out of Libya, the uprising there has been far more violent than any of those across North Africa and the Middle East. Other such demonstrations have emphasized nonviolent occupation, with protesters seizing a central location such as Cairo’s Tahrir Square and holding it against government attempts to disperse them. Libyan protesters began as the others, gathering peacefully in city centers. But over the past week, perhaps in response to the brutal and often fatal government response, the demonstrators have gone from enduring the crackdown to actively fighting back. Matching aggression with aggression, and likely fearing for their lives if they fail, the enraged protesters of Benghazi and elsewhere are attacking security forces and buildings. It’s not that Libya’s protesters are especially violent; the severity of Qaddafi’s crackdown has forced them to choose between going on the offensive or accepting annihilation.

For now, it’s impossible to know for sure whether protesters really did secure Libya’s third-largest city, whether the lush Mediterranean hills outside the city are punctuated with the hanging bodies of security forces, or whether government militias launched a counter-assault that may still be ongoing. But such claims are in line with a pattern of jarringly violent reports out of Libya. Security forces opened fire on a funeral procession in Benghazi, Al Jazeera reports, killing at least 15 mourners. According to BBC News, army snipers are firing indiscriminately at protesters. Libyan social media outlets, which have been several hours ahead of traditional media but may be prone to exaggeration, carry several shocking reports: that protesters have set fire to government buildings in the western city of Yifran, that security forces are raining mortars on civilians in Benghazi, that children are among the dead.

James Ridgeway at Mother Jones:

The Libyan protests have been inspired by the wave of uprisings across North Africa, but they grow out of deep-seated poverty, unemployment, and political repression at the hands of yet another entrenched despot. Whether they will result in Libya achieving the sort of change experienced by Tunisia and Egypt is impossible to say, but early signs indicate that whatever the outcome, a high price is likely to be paid in human life.

Complicating matters is Libya’s unusual position in world affairs. Not long ago it was a pariah nation. But since 9/11, it has wormed its way back into favor with the United States and Europe because Qaddafi joined the war on terror, cooperating in the Lockerbie bomb investigation, coming down hard on al Qaeda, and kicking out terrorists he had once sheltered. At the same time, he has steered Libya into an increasingly powerful position in world politics because of its vast oil reserves. Libya has an especially close relationship with its former colonial master, Italy. It now provides about 20 percent of all Italy’s oil imports and has invested in sizeable amounts in that country’s energy infrastructure including the transnational energy giant ENI.

Along with their energy deals, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Qaddafi have agreed to work together to stem the increasing numbers of migrants seeking a better life in Europe. In addition to those leaving from North Africa, thousands more have been moving up the Red Sea from Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and other countries. Their point of entry is Italy–specifically, the small Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies in the Mediterranean midway between Libya and Sicily.

In 2009, Qaddafi and Berlusconi made an agreement that became part of an open and often vicious campaign against migrants: Libya would try to keep them from leaving in the first place; if they got out, Italy would send them back to Libya without providing them a chance to make asylum claims.

Ed Morrissey:

In Libya, it appears that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi got his answer to the ultimatum delivered last night. He warned of a bloody reprisal by the regime if protestors did not cease. Now that the rebels have called Gaddafi’s bluff, he has to wonder whether the “five million” in his military will respond to his call, or join the protestors in ridding themselves of Libya’s petty dynasty.

Speaking of which, where is Col. Moammar? If he was still in Libya, wouldn’t he be the man to put on television and rally the army to the regime?

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

While events are murky at best, it seems unlikely that Gaddafi’s regime can survive. What will follow it is, at this point, anyone’s guess.

That sets up an interesting comparison. The United States supported Mubarak’s government in Egypt for several decades, militarily and otherwise. Now, the frequently anti-American tone of Egypt’s rebels is often attributed to that support. Many commentators argue that the U.S.’s support of Mubarak was short-sighted, and that it will be our own fault if the government that ultimately emerges in Cairo is anti-American.

Perhaps so. But if that theory is correct, shouldn’t we see a different result right next door, in Libya? The U.S. has never supported Gaddafi; on the contrary, we tried to assassinate him at least once. So does that increase the likelihood that the rebels who detest Gaddafi will be friendly to America when some combination of them take power? On its face, that makes sense; one can draw an analogy to Eastern Europe, where the governments that took power upon the collapse of the Soviet Union were almost uniformly pro-American.

Will the same thing happen in Libya? I don’t know; but history seems to be setting up a laboratory experiment in north Africa.

Dan Drezner:

In Sayf-Al-Islam’s rambling speech last night on Libyan State television, he blamed the current unpleasantness in his country on, as near as I can determine, crazed African LSD addicts.

This isn’t going down as well as Sayf had intended, and Libya seems less stable than 24 hours earlier.  Indeed, Sayf’s off-the-cuff remarks managed to make Hosni Mubarak’s three speeches seem like a model of professionalism, which I would not have thought was possible a week ago.

Indeed, it is striking how utterly incompetent leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have been at managing their media message.  Speeches are announced, then never delivered on time, and then delivered with production values that woulds embarrass a public access channel in the U.S.  It’s like political leaders in the region have discovered blogs just as the young people has moved on to Twitter or something.  [Er, no, that’s the United States–ed.]  Oh, right.

Having just finished a week of intense media whoring, methinks that one problem is that most of these leaders have simply fallen out of practice (if they were ever in practice) at personally using the media to assuage discontent.  I’ve been on enough shows on enough different media platforms to appreciate that there is an art, or at least a tradecraft, to presenting a convincing message in the mediasphere.  Authoritarian leaders in the Middle East are quite adept at playing internal factions off one another.  That’s a different skill set than trying to craft a coherent and compelling media message to calm street protestors no longer intimidated by internal security forces.

Andrew Sullivan:

It looks to me as if this is all but over. Ambassadors abroad are resigning right and left. There are no signs of the regime’s authority in the capital, except a few pockets of troops loyal to Qaddafi. Amazing. Look at the map. From Tunisia through Libya to Egypt and Bahrain, regime change has come from below in just a few weeks. Now wonder the King of Jordan is getting a little jumpy.

Can you imagine the mood among the Saudi dictators right now?

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Filed under Africa, Global Hot Spots

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