Analysis by Emad Mekay
HAVANA TIMES, Feb 23 (IPS) — The brutal response by Libyan leader Muammar Al-Gaddafi against pro- democracy protestors in the country indicates his determination not to leave office without a bloody battle, but his moves follow the path that eventually led to ouster of two neighboring dictators.
In a televised address Tuesday from his residential compound that was bombed by U.S. planes in 1986, a highly animated and yelling Gaddafi repeatedly called the protestors “rats” and warned them that they will be crushed and sentenced to the “capital punishment” for going against his rule.
But it was that realization that they face death and heavy reprisals that actually made demonstrators two weeks ago in Cairo’s Tahrir Square more entrenched in their positions.
And like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Tunisia’s Zine Al-Abidin Ben Ali, Gaddafi too cut off all communications in the country and used force against protestors.
In Tunisia and Egypt, that violent reaction in itself turned otherwise passive residents – who weren’t taking part in the protests initially – against the governments in the two countries.
Violent reaction by the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt against the protestors in fact strengthened their calls from simple reform to complete change.
Instead of using thugs and hired muscle on horseback and camels, like Mubarak did against the Tahrir Square pro-democracy activists, Gaddafi employed foreign mercenaries and heavily armed militiamen, according to eyewitnesses.
The shots on Tahrir protestors by snipers from rooftops was also echoed by Gaddafi who allowed his supporters to shoot at demonstrators from building rooftops, helicopters, and, according to some reports, warplanes.
By using overwhelming force, Gaddafi is in fact renouncing any remains of legitimate claims to power.
Employing foreign mercenaries to quell the uprising by his own people shows that he doesn’t have enough public support among his own people, and possibly even among his own military.
Just like the final days of Mubarak, Gaddafi now stands nearly isolated as international condemnations pour in against his regime and his brutal attempts to suppress uprising.
“Those who are still with him in the military will soon realize they cannot go on using such heavy weapons and sheer brutal force against their fellow Libyans and will turn against him,” said Khaled Mahmoud, a Cairo-based independent expert on Libyan affairs.
Mahmoud pointed to defections in Gaddafi’s diplomatic corps and by some ministers as a prelude to possible major military defections. At least twelve Libyan diplomats have announced their resignation – amongst them Libya’s envoys to France, the United States and UNESCO
“The most telling sign that Gaddafi will fall is that wave of defections from his close diplomatic supporters and some military officers,” said Mahmoud. “He is used to firing people not being deserted like that.”
“Gaddafi’s use of hired guns also means he is really shaken and scared. Those are not signs of someone confident of public backing,” Mahmoud added.
Mahmoud who writes for the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alwasat said that Gaddafi’s threat to use even more force in his speech Tuesday means he has no political course to take.
Other analysts say that Gaddafi – who came to power in a 1969 coup – didn’t learn any lessons from his two neighbors, Egypt and Tunisia.
“Just like the Egyptian regime who thought Egypt was not Tunisia, Gaddafi thought Libya was neither Tunisia nor Egypt,” wrote Sohail Ghanoushi in a column for aljazeera.net Tuesday.
“He didn’t understand the lesson even though it is a simple and obvious lesson… a ruler’s job is to protect the country and his citizens not to start a holocaust against them.”
On the ground, there were signs Gaddafi maybe indeed losing his iron-fist grip on the country, just like the two former dictators did in their final days.
Egyptian expatriates returning from Libya told the local press that Gaddafi’s troops have abandoned many positions and deserted hundreds of miles of land – especially in the Eastern part of the country where two major cities, Benghazi and Bayda, are no longer under Gaddafi’s control.
The London-based Libya Al-Youm newspaper reported that members of three large tribes including the large Warfla tribe, have threatened to take “heavy weapons” against the regime if mass murder of their “sons” doesn’t stop – an indication that the tribal system could be working against Gaddafi.
Politically, the two speeches that Gaddafi and his son, Saifulisalm, gave were awkward, rambling and threatening in tone – just like Ben Ali’s and Mubarak’s.
Mubarak’s last speech, that came when hundreds of thousands gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square waiting for his resignation, shocked Egyptians because of Mubarak’s intransigence and insistence not to leave office. The speech is widely thought now to have galvanized the protestors.
“For Gaddafi, the last straw came during the past few days with Saifulislam’s threatening, arrogant and insulting speech to the Libyan people,” said Abdelmonem Al-Houniy, Gaddafi’s former ambassador to the Arab League in Cairo who quit two days ago in protest against the use of violence against the protestors.
“That speech meant the regime is writing its own death certificate by insisting to go against its own people,” he told IPS.