They Think It's All Over!
Saturday, 20 August 2011
Tonight Libyan rebels, now recognised as the official government of Libya by the US, UK and Europe, are reportedly in the streets of Tripoli, the capital of Colonel Gadaffi's regime.
Tripoli is surrounded by Free Libya Forces, and rebels are confident that they can take Tripoli in the next few days as rumours suggest that Gadaffi is preparing to flee.
Libya is a large country in the North of Africa, to the west of Egypt. It only has a population of 6m, being largely desert. 2m of that population live in Tripoli, including the most loyal supporters of the Gadaffi regime. 50,000 people were arrested in a security clampdown in Tripoli after the initial protests, so those who are against the regime have had to keep to themselves.
It is estimated that most of Libya's wealth is hoarded by 120,000 of Gadaffi's closest allies. These people and many of the poorer workers who are dependent upon the state for their income are likely to be loyal to the regime. These local loyalists are supplemented by mercenaries from Africa, most notable Nigeria. All government supporters are in danger of summary justice and revenge attacks if the capital falls to the rebels, so can be expected to fight for their lives. However, surrounded and cut off, the fall of Tripoli is inevitable. The siege has led to a threefold increase in prices as food, fuel, and resources run out. Residents are afraid to go out and shops are closed. Local reports describe Tripoli as a "ghost town". It is feared that the final stand could be bloody, and the aftermath, even more bloody. One local expressed frustration at the wests failure to intervene directly, and said, "We are fighting for our freedom. We want to be free on in our graves tonight.". He went on to say that he feels that the regime will be gone within hours.
Earlier this year a wave of protest and calls for democracy erupted across the middle east, after food riots and demonstrations for human rights in Tunisia led to the downfall of it's entrenched dictator.
Peaceful protests in Egypt were met with violent repression by thugs who supported the old regime. However, after many weeks of nightly running battles, the army eventually stepped in to keep the peace and eventually the authoritarian government of President Mubarak agreed to step aside. The ultimate outcome in Egypt is still in the balance as negotiations for the new constitution and elections continue amidst on-going peaceful protests in Tahir Square.
When the people of Libya were inspired to march for more democracy and human rights, they were met with violent repression. Images and video flooded the web of machine guns, artillery guns, tanks, and military aircraft being used against peaceful civilians. Reports from soldiers at the time described those who refused to participate being burned alive by their superiors.
The people soon organised themselves, and along with some defectors from the Libyan army, forced the army out of eastern Libya, often using improvised weapons and occasionally weapons from Gadaffi's own stock piles. Gadaffi recruited an army of mercenaries from sub Saharan Africa to bolster his forces, and in more recent weeks had enlisted teenagers as his loyal forces became fewer in number. Meanwhile in Eastern Libya foreign workers were faced with attack from both sides, with rebels suspecting any sub-Saharans as being mercenaries, and Gadaffi targeted the ports as they attempted to flee.
The UN stepped in after Gadaffi declared his intention to wipe out the population of cities which had supported the rebels, but not before his forces had fought their way to the outskirts of the Eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, leaving a trail of devastated host towns in their wake. A resolution was passed that "all necessary means should be used to protect civilians". France and Britain took the lead, and attacked columns of Gadaffi tanks and destroyed his air capacity, before controversially taking action against his command and control centres in and around Tripoli.
Clearly the Europeans and US have used their intervention to support the rebels. This is a controversial position, given the specifically neutral nature of the UN resolution which eventually was supported by the whole security council. There is little doubt that a resolution would not have been supported by Russia and China if regime change had been an express goal. However, Europe and the US have seized on the "all reasonable force" clause, to justify regime change as a the ultimate ideal resolution to the threat to civilians. The Libyan regime has however, not accepted that human rights abuses occurred during its suppression of protests which triggered the uprising, and made no moves to retire of it's own volition.
One thing is certain that once such an uprising has begun, an authoritarian regime like Libya would have to eliminate the threat to its control, so regardless of the merits of either side, the status quo cannot be maintained. Given the violent suppression of the protests which triggered the uprising, it seems clear that Europe has decided that a fresh leadership is the preferred option, and it is hoped that a democratic government determined by the people, rather than imposed upon the people, will be the outcome. The US is only to willing to support such reform, to remove an old enemy.
The conflict, continued for many months, with each side gaining and losing territory repeatedly. In recent weeks, however, an international consensus has developed recognising the rebels as the true government of Libya, and frozen funds were made available to them, along with training and support from European powers.
The turning point was when the the rebels secured the strategic oil refinery and ports in the middle of the country. This weakened the old regime by cutting off access to fuel.
In the last few days, all towns and cities outside of Tripoli have been secured by the rebel forces, most notably Libya's second town of Zawiya in western Libya taken on Thursday. Resistance from the old regime was reported weaker, culminating in tonight's reports of rebels in the old regime's capital of Tripoli. There are however, still some Gadaffi forces marauding through the country and the situation is far from certain.
Rebels have reported surrounded Mitiga, a military airbase in the Tajourah district of Tripoli, and gun fire has been heard throughout the city. Local reports say that local young people have also surged onto the streets as they broke fast during the holy month of Ramadan. The regime is not going to go without a fight though, and snipers are stationed on roofs throughout the city.
It is likely that reports by Ibrahim Musa, spokesman for the Libyan government of the rebels executing loyalists in captured towns are true; this is almost as inevitable as the execution of rebels by Gadaffi loyalists. This is the true tragedy of any armed revolution the world over, and this is the reason why democracy, is the only way forward. In a democracy a revolution occurs at the stroke of millions of pens, as the people vote. However, where tyrants grip power with a firm hand, democracy is a luxury that has to be fought for.
Syria, another dictatorship, has also faced protests at the authoritarian regime, and has also been conducting crackdowns on protesters. As evidence mounts regarding atrocities, western nations have condemned the regime there, and called for the UN to take action. However intervention is unlikely. The inconvenient truth is that the military of that country it too powerful for western nations to overcome. Change will only be able to come from within, and some would argue that is a good thing.
In the 'West', democracy was also hard won, after centuries of dictatorship through the monarchy and colonial systems. Eventually, deprivation, abuse, and war, lead each country to democracy, as it became impossible to impose autocratic rule on the masses. For some countries this required a bloody revolution, but others, including the United Kingdom, recognised the inevitability of popular rule, and evolved towards a bloodless democracy. Hopefully others will follow the same model.