Monday, March 07, 2011

Colonel Gaddafi Digs In

Libyan military forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi have spent another day counter-attacking rebel positions in the east of the country. After large parts of the country fell during the early stages of the uprising, it's now the regime forces which are making most of the running.

Libya is different to Egypt and Tunisia, the two other North African countries in which autocratic leaders have recently departed in the face of public opposition. Part of it is down to Colonel Gaddafi himself, a man habitually described as mad, or at the very least unpredictable. Despite suggestions he might flee to Venezuela, he has remained in Tripoli in an attempt to see off the uprising, perhaps because he refuses to believe many of his people really have turned against him, and perhaps because after 42 years in power he simply can't contemplate leaving.

But part of it is also down to the internal structures of Libya. In Egypt, it was the powerful military, and its refusal to turn on the protestors, which spelled the end for President Mubarak. However, Libya has a relatively weak military, a legacy of Colonel Gaddafi wanting to prevent a coup of the sort that first brought him to power.

There are also large numbers of African mercenaries on Gaddafi's side, reportedly being paid $200 a day to fight. These are desperate men who have no qualms about attacking rebels and civilians. The international disgust about Libyan forces "firing on their own people" slightly misses the point. The foreign fighters aren't firing on their own people as such. They're doing what they're being paid to do, and as a result are much more likely to remain loyal to Gaddafi.

Any hopes of a relatively bloodless revolution and transition to democracy have already been dashed. Years and possibly decades of fighting, negotiations, peace plans, and international involvement now look very likely.

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