'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Revolution comes to Libya? 

UPDATE: (Feb 21, 7:19 PM Pacific Time) News out of Libya indicates that Qaddafi has deployed the entirety of the state terror at his command. Although the full scale of the horror is most likely far greater than what few reports have gotten out of the country via some of the terrorized, here is a summary of bit of what we know: Photos have been shown of bodies with holes that back up the stories of heavy artillery being used against protesters; numerous reports of military jets and helicopters actually strafing crowds and bombing buildings in multiple cities in the west, including Tripoli; some indications that military planes were also deployed against the east, Benghazi in particular, as that is where the two Libyan air force officers who defected to Malta said they were headed before they refused orders; roaming gangs of armed thugs/mercenaries in motor vehicles armed with machine guns and firing indiscriminately at people have been reported by eyewitnesses in Tripoli; reports have also come in of rapes by mercenary forces.

There remain some signs of military defections, but the extent is entirely unclear and, in any case, Qaddafi and his sons still have mercenaries and essentially private militias at their disposal that are said to be better equipped than the military, although it seems certain to me that a full military mutiny would certainly tip the balance.

The (toothless and corrupt) Arab League is meeting tomorrow as is the (toothful and corrupt) UN Security Council. The outcome of those meetings will likely be influenced by the defection of Libyan diplomatic officials around the world, including some nine Ambassadors. There have been calls for the declaration of a no-fly zone in Libya and even the insertion of troops. I actually have to admit that I'm completely torn about such a prospect, generally viewing the recent history of UN-sanctioned military/police action as a manipulated tool of neo-colonialism, but horrified by the levels of violence that Qaddafi seems willing and able to deploy. I'd be interested to hear your views on the subject, even though our views obviously won't determine the outcomes of the meetings tomorrow. I would enthusiastically support the seizure of all regime assets abroad (I'm looking at you, Mr. Berlusconi, etc.) and banning all military sales to Libya (I'm looking at you, Misters Cameron and Obama, etc.).

Al Jazeera is reporting that the US State Department has said that is studying Saif Qaddafi's speech for "prospects for reform." If that's accurate, that's possibly one of the dumbest things out of the State Department throughout this whole regional uprising. The most recent official statement I could find is the same old boilerplate about calling on the Libyan government to uphold their "commitment to protecting and safeguarding the right of peaceful protest."

ORIGINAL POST: Events are unfolding in Libya with great rapidity and a large amount of blood.

Hundreds are dead, some 300 in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, alone. Credible reports mount that the Libyan state has brought in mercenaries to attack protesters. Reports of heavy weaponry and sniper teams deployed against protesters are numerous. Other reports are coming in of military defections in Benghazi as well as the decisive defeat of Libyan security forces in that city. The mood is celebratory in Benghazi over having driven out and/or brought over to the protesters' side security forces, according to a doctor talking to Al Jazeera English ("Benghazi no longer belongs to Qaddafi," she says). There are reports of take-overs of military barracks and armories in other towns and cities in the east. Thousands of protesters, the latest reports say, have retaken Green Square in Tripoli after having been driven away a couple days ago and security forces for the moment have melted away. I'm not sure how important the tribes are, but a number of tribal leaders of some of the larger tribes have been giving vocal support to the protesters and there are reports of tribal-based attacks on governmental buildings in the the south of the country. Al Jazeera carried an interview with another tribal leader, this time in the east, I think, threatening to disrupt oil exports unless violence against the protesters stopped. Sketchy reports of protesters in cities just outside Tripoli preparing to descent on the capitol have also come in. Issandr El Amrani is reporting that airports have been sabotaged in order to impede the arrival of mercenaries, that oil companies are preparing evacuations, and that at least one major oil port has been shut down.

In the midst of all that, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, feted here in the NYT in an article of the "pro-western reformer" genre in which that publication specializes, appeared on Libyan state television in a rambling speech in which he blamed the protests on: outside Libyans in Europe and America hoping to spark a civil war so they can come in and rule the country, Islamist forces hoping to set up independent emirates, drugs, conspiracies by outside "Arab brethren" and Africans, and "mistakes on both sides" (namely protesters attacking security forces and security forces unprepared to deal with attacks) which had led to unfortunate deaths (although far fewer, he claims, than the pernicious foreign media is reporting).

He raised the specters of the break-up of the country, civil war, imperialist intervention, the disappearance of the social benefits of oil wealth (I imagine that many Libyans found this particularly risible) and called for a general assembly for national dialogue the General People's Congress to discuss reform tomorrow, which I can't imagine could possibly be anything more than theater that will fail to convince protesters, while promising constitutional reform, democracy, etc. etc., which in any case, he says, the Libyan government had already been in the process of implementing.

Embedded throughout the address were barely veiled threats of greater bloodshed--"We all have guns" he said at one point.

And switching focus to Bahrain for a brief moment: protesters have retaken Pearl Square in Manama and in the current absence of security forces have begun to set up a tent city similar to what we saw in Tahrir, calls for the fall of the monarchy appear to have solidified, and strikes have begun that have affected "some companies and some government facilities," according to Al Jazeera's James Bays, and have led to school closures.

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