Following the uprisings in the bordering countries of Tunisia and Egypt the democratic revolution has spread to Libya. And as Solidarity goes to press on 22 February it is unclear whether one of the most brutal and repressive regimes on the planet will survive.
With extraordinary rapidity, following demonstrations and then a rising in the eastern town of Benghazi, the regime appears close to collapse. Although clear information is difficult of obtain, it seems that the army has split and those forces remaining loyal to Qaddafi are resorting to great violence. Reports suggest the regime is using planes to bomb civilian areas and snipers to shoot down unarmed pro-democracy protesters. Hundreds are dead.
Protests spread to the capital, Tripoli, on Sunday night as fantastically brave, unarmed citizens went on to the streets to demand freedom. Demonstrators at a huge anti-government march in Tripoli on Monday afternoon came under attack from planes and security forces using live ammunition. On Monday two fighter pilots flew their planes to Malta rather than attack their own cities.
Much of the east of the country appears to be now in the control of those rising up against Qaddafi. According to Al-Jazeera protesters are also in control of Sirte and Tobruk in the east, as well as Misrata, Khoms, Tarhounah, Zenten, Al-Zawiya and Zouara.
A number of senior Libyan diplomats have publicly denounced the government’s violence. Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said Qaddafi had begun a “genocide against the Libyan people.”
Early in the morning of Tuesday 22 February Qaddafi showed himself on Libyan state television to prove he had not fled the country.
Qaddafi has built a powerful security apparatus to protect his rule. The various branches of the army, police, secret police, special units and militias of the so-called Revolutionary Committees total over 100,000. Qaddafi will not give up easily and his state is capable of extreme ruthlessness — for example in 1996, following a prison riot, Qaddafi had over 1000 prisoners killed.
Muammar Qaddafi came to power 42 years ago in a military coup. Libya’s six million citizens have since been the prisoners of an increasingly grotesque dictatorship which uses pseudo-revolutionary, anti-imperialist language to justify itself. Qaddafi recently called for a Middle East without Israel. He uses such reactionary populism to prop up his rotten regime.
Qaddafi has also spent the country’s oil wealth to buy off opposition, as well as funding the lifestyles of his family and cronies (for example, the football career of his son Saadi).
Demonstrations have been held outside Libyan embassies across the world. In London a protester pulled down Qaddafi’s all-green Libyan flag and replaced it with the tri-colour flag — adopted by protesters — that Libya used after gaining independence in 1951.
Libyan political life has been pulverised under Qaddafi and the political demands of the oppositionists remain unclear. However outside the embassy in London one demonstrator told me, “The people here don’t want Qaddafi. We don’t want Islamists. We just want to live in peace. I came to London 39 years ago only intending to stay for two years. I just want to go home.
“And we want the Libyan Christians and Jews to come home too — they are all our Libyan sons and daughters. We can all live together again in peace.”