It was probably inevitable that an Arab regime, faced with the revolutionary upheavals already seen elsewhere, would be prepared to go all out in crushing opposition by using all the force at its disposal. Amid reports of use of military aircraft to strafe and bomb protesters, and the use of machinegun and even antiaircraft weapons against the demonstrators, the Libyan regime has thrown down the gauntlet. Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi's pledge to fight to the last bullet shows a ruthless determination that has punctured his reputation as the moderate face of his father's regime.
Although there are many reports of Army officers and units refusing to attack the crowds, and two fighter aircraft defected to Malta rather than strafe demonstrators, the Libyan Army probably lacks the sheer clout to do what the small Tunisian and huge Egyptian armies were able to do: tell the leader his time is up. Qadhafi has relied on special elite units with tribal and family links to himself for his own protection, while keeping regular army forces rather limited. Over the past few days there have been many reports of apparent mercenary troops — sub-Saharan Africans or North Koreans, allegedly — being used against demonstrators. Such outsiders could have little scruple about firing on civilians.
Libya also has few of the institutions of civil society which helped serve as centers of organizing in Egypt, and other than the military there is no obvious institution that could replace the regime. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, where elements of the old regime continue to hold positions in the transitional government, the decision to wage open war on the demonstrators more or less guarantees there can be no soft landings here. Either the regime will crush the demonstrators and reimpose the strictest controls, or they will sweep it away with little certainty about what might replace it. Either way, the regime's decision to use the most brutal force has made the stakes enormous.