x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Libya is larger than one man's call for civil war

In Libya's hour of need, Qaddafi takes to the airwaves not to assuage the danger facing his people, but to fan the fires of violence.

Libyan diplomats at the United Nations have accused their own country of genocide, calling for international intervention and a no-fly zone to protect civilians from fighter jet strikes. On Tuesday, GCC states echoed the charge of genocide.

From within and without, Col Muammar Qaddafi's regime is under assault. He claims the support of Libya's influential tribes, and it is too soon to say where all of their loyalties will fall, but some are close to open revolt. The east of the country has broken from Tripoli's rule. And day by day, allies of the regime, such as the justice and interior ministers, resign their posts in protest.

Yet Col Qaddafi appears intent on trying to turn back the waves. In his speech on Tuesday night, he all but declared war on his own people. "I have not yet ordered the use of force," Col Qaddafi said, despite hundreds having already been killed. "When I do, everything will burn."

Logical coherence has hardly been the hallmark of his rule, but by calling for the execution of anyone who harms Libyan civilians, he seems to be condemning himself. Eyewitness accounts of foreign mercenaries have terrified Libyans, not to mention cast a needless racial tint on the conflict. Threats of air strikes on the streets, if they have not already happened, are borne out by the defection of two jet pilots to Malta earlier in the week.

Reliable information is still only trickling out of Libya, and it is too early to absolve protesters of their responsibility. Reports that unarmed policemen have been hung deserve concern at least.

But far from exercising leadership to protect his people, Col Qaddafi has called for a house-to-house sweep of his enemies. Alone of all the Arab leaders affected by popular unrest in the Middle East, he has offered no concessions or reforms, only promised more violence. It may be in line with most of his 41 years in office, and it surely will be his lasting legacy.

The hope for an end to bloodshed lives despite Col Qaddafi, not because of him. International intervention always has to be viewed with a sceptical eye - foreign boots on the ground too often aggravate the situation.

But there is a role for the international community. Obviously Libya's arms suppliers, particularly Italy and the transshipment point of Malta, have a responsibility. And Libyans' own request for a no-fly zone to prevent air strikes against civilians and limit the influx of mercenaries deserves another consideration after the UN Security Council declined to act on Tuesday.

Libya has always been more than Col Qaddafi, despite the spell that he likes to weave from the speaker's podium. It is difficult to believe after this recent speech that his words will continue to beguile many of his countrymen.