A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Is the Noose Tightening?

While the Libyan authorities and the African mercenary gunmen imported by the regime have been killing indiscriminately in Tripoli, there are indications that, outside the capital, revolutionary forces are gaining ground. If present trends continue, Qadhafi may find himself in control of little beyond the capital, and the capital itself a charnel house of his own making.

Eastern Libya — Cyrenaica — seems mostly under the control of the rebels and their defected military allies. Now the tide appears to be moving west. There were reports today that Misurata had fallen, and that demonstrators were fighting for Sabratha and Zwara. There was heavy fighting at Tajura, just outside Tripoli. An unconfirmed broadcast claimed that the Kufra Oasis was in rebel hands.

All this could swing back in the government's favor.An Al Jazeera reporter said an Air Force major had reported that the Armed Forces balked when 4,000 African mercenaries were imported by the regime to fire on protesters; the presence of armed non-Libyans makes it harder for the Army to step in, as it did in Tunisia and Egypt.

Reports that Qadhafi's daughter ‘A'isha was on a private jet that was turned away by both Beirut and Malta raise questions as to whether the family is running for cover, even as Qadhafi himself was vowing to "cleanse Libya house to house," apparently threatening to kill his own population. His bizarre, rambling diatribe yesterday suggests a man as out of touch as he is out of control, giving orders from his bunker to troops he doesn't have . . . now why does that sound familiar? Add to this reports that he might sabotage the oilfields or pipelines if he falls, bringing down the temple, like Samson, on his own head and his country's, and you have a grim picture.

I'm not entirely sure what the outside world can do. He's already blamed the US and Israel for inciting the uprising (allied as they are, of course, with Al Jazeera); the more outside pressure, the more he will justify his actions as resistance to neocolonialism, and portray the demonstrators as foreign puppets. Still, sanctions and a no-fly zone to bring down the gunships firing on demonstrators might help.

The world is watching with horror. This cannot end well for Qadhafi now, but how many of his own countrymen have to die as he lashes out?

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