Fri 25 Feb 2011
After the outing of two long-standing autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt, the domino theory pizza delivery is now at the shores of Tripoli. What can one say about Colonel Muammar Gaddafi that does not sound like a bad Hollywood movie? He is, of course, also a dear friend of Italy’s clown prince Berlusconi. If Gaddafi did not exist in his Libyan tent, guarded by a bevy of young ladies, Monty Python would have invented him. Here is a guy who came to power at age 27 in the year that Led Zeppelin dominated the pop chart with ‘Whole Lotta Love.” That was over four decades ago. It appears that in Libya today there is not a whole lotta love for this odd and daffy caricature.
Gaddafi is too easy to satirize. Blaming Al-Qaeda for putting drugs in the coffee of young Libyans is about as bizarre a claim as one can imagine. One of the few admirable qualities may be that Gaddafi never promoted himself to General; although he hardly needed to do so given his absolute power. His ruthless response to the recent peaceful protests follows on his long history of brutality against Libyans who dare to oppose him. At present he is clinging on to power in Tripoli with mercenaries and a few surviving “loyal” supporters. Those who stand to lose may stay “loyal” for the moment, but as his power grip nears the end I suspect he will have few if any willing to follow him into exile (or die fighting). Thus far perhaps as many as 2,000 Libyans have been killed with indiscriminate firing in the squares and side streets. The scene has become far uglier than anything that transpired in either Tunisia or Egypt. Fortunately, it appears that a large part of the army has deserted Gaddafi.
The irony is that as much as Gaddafi is hated in the West, thus far little has been done to stop him. Perhaps Berlusconi will send a plane to spirit his friend out, but Gaddafi seems crazy enough to try and hold on to power no matter how many people are killed. The U.N. Security Council is meeting, but thus far only words have been hurled in Gaddafi’s direction. Swiss banks have frozen his assets. The oil fields have been taken over by protesters, supported by the army. The days of Colonel Gaddafi are nearing an end, but probably not before many more lives are taken.
For those of us who have lived and conducted research in the Middle East and North Africa, the past two months have become a political tsunami that has taken all by surprise. Never underestimate the likelihood of something that seems unlikely among the jabber of experts.
Daniel Martin Varisco
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