One tip-off that the curtain might be about to fall on the Gaddafi regime in Libya was the departure of the eccentric dictator’s “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse (identified by WikiLeaks) to her native land, last Sunday. She had been the leader’s inseparable companion for the past nine years and is even mentioned by VS Naipaul in his latest novel, set in Africa. It is reported that Gaddafi once sent a private jet to ferry Ms. Kolotnitskaya from Libya to Portugal to meet him during his stopover in that country on the way to the U.S. when her U.S. visa was delayed.
Another portent was the decision by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in favour of sanctions against Gaddafi, his relatives and associates. The Council unanimously approved curbs on travel, freezing of financial assets, weapon sales and a reference to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The Council’s rapid reaction to the violence in Libya came after a day of negotiations during which western countries managed to bring around India, China, Russia and others to support the reference to the ICC.
These countries had been less than strident in their criticism of the Libyan regime, though all of them expressed concern over the continuing violence in Tripoli and other cities. The Libyan Permanent Representative helped tilt the decision in referring the Libyan leader’s case to the ICC, criticizing the regime that appointed him. The developing countries in the UNSC were opposed to broad-based sanctions since they believe these spare the ruling elite and hit the people at large, thus the directive is specifically targeted against Col. Gaddafi and his close circle.
The question that is foremost in the minds of external powers is exactly how the endgame can be reached without disrupting the all-important “black gold” that flows out from Libya to keep their factories going. They know that the recent spike in oil prices is not coincidental. While the eastern portion of the country might have fallen into the opposition’s hands, Gadaffi’s loyalists have taken up positions to defend Tripoli.
Unless they quickly capitulate, a civil war might be the denoument of the present uprising. Libya’s east, was the ruling power centre under the regime of King Idris, toppled by Mr. Gadaffi in a 1969 coup. They have felt discriminated against by Gadaffi whose Qadhadfa tribe, based in the Tripoli area, were the chief beneficiaries of his largess. Tripoli became the new power centre and it is not surprising that the revolt reflected old animosities and began in Benghazi, Libya’s pre-1969 capital.
Gaddafi’s position has become untenable because his support base is not very wide: the oil windfall allowed him to practice clientist politics but he selectively favoured few tribes apart from the Qadhadfas. While early in his rule he encouraged and generously financed pan-Arabism and Pan-Africanism (with himself as the big leader that would follow Egypt’s Gamal Nasser) this soon wore thin. In the meantime a substantial bloc of citizens, concentrated in the east but widely distributed in other areas, were living in poverty. This has been the fuel for the anger and resentment that is flowing in the sands of Libya right now.
Gaddafi’s thin support base is also a consequence of his megalomaniac efforts to monopolise power and marginalise potential rivals. He was an overweening figure in the Revolutionary Command Council that supposedly ruled after 1969. He has also systematically undermined the power of the conventional army by promoting the Revolutionary Guard Corps (RGC), an ultra-loyal well equipped force of around 3,000 men, drawn mainly from the Qadhadfa tribal groups. These are the forces backing him right now. Gaddafi also alienated the Islamic clergy by vigorously promoting an eclectic mix of nationalism and religion outlined in his “Green Book”. These clerics have now officially condemned the use of force against demonstrators.
In the end, Gaddafi ‘s undoing is that of all dictators: their refusal to understand and accept that the human imperative for self-expression and dignity can never be completely eradicated. It might be suppressed but never destroyed: “time is longer than twine”.
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