Sunday 27 February 2011

Game Over For Gaddafi

Just when I thought I had witnessed the most unexpected events in the Middle East, the story of Libya reveals itself to be more surprising than anything I have seen to date. The fact that the uprising that is sweeping the Middle East has reached Libya is not the surprise. Colonel Gaddafi's authoritarian style was always going to be under attack as soon as his people had sufficient support and confidence to rebel against him. What has been most shocking for me is the way in which some of Gaddafi's closest circle have rebelled against him without being pushed very hard.

First was the strange story of two Libyan Mirage fighter jets that arrived in Malta last week. We were led to understand that the pilots had defected from Libya with their planes after they were ordered to bomb protestors who had taken over Libya's second-largest city, Benghazi. Considering that pilots are regarded amongst the elite of the elite of the Libyan military and Libyan society in general, I would imagine that pilots are screened to ensure their loyalty to Gaddafi and his regime. As such, they should not necessarily have conisdered an order to bomb protestors who are threatening the overthrow of Gaddafi as being something out of the ordinary. And yet, their loyalty appeared not to be as strong as I had imagined it would be. It proved not to be any match for their feeling of revulsion at the prospect of bombing their own people.

This episode was superceded by the scenes that took place at the United Nations Security Council on Friday when Libyan ambassador Mohamed Shalgham stood up to criticise his leader and childhood friend. Earlier in the week, he had spoken out in defence of Gaddafi and against the protestors. By the end of the week, however, he could no longer defend the manner in which Gaddafi was attacking the protestors in defence of his regime. He called on the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on the Libyan regime. This must surely be a unique United Nations event, when the ambassador of a country speaks out against his own government in this international forum. The Security decided in a unanimous vote to impose sanctions on Libya, and to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

This was followed soon afterwards by scenes of the staff of the Libyan embassy in Washington taking down the Libyan flag, and replacing it with a flag that was in use prior to Gaddafi assuming power. Even Hollywood could not have written this script.

Amongst all the pieces of information spilling haphazardly out of Libya is the fact that Gaddafi was personally responsible for ordering the hit on Pan Am flight 103 which exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. According to a Swedish newspaper, former Libyan justic minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil said that Gaddafi personally ordered the hit on the plane. This confirms long-held suspicions that Gaddafi was personally behind this ghastly act of international terrorism.

Despite the fact that his support system is crumbling before his eyes, Gaddafi is hanging on for dear life. He is clinging on to power in Tripoli while the demonstrators have succeeded in taking control of many other cities across the country. His calls for his supporters to come out in public to show their support for him, has resulted in more violence and bloodshed. The army's support for him is wavering, and the writing is surely now on the wall Gaddafi has his supporters.

Leaders like Gaddafi are well-known for clinging onto whatever they have, and never being prepared to give up their power. This spells disaster for the people of Libya whose lives are endangered by protesting against their leader who has long overstayed his welcome. Despite the physical danger endured by the protestors, they seem to be prepared to risk their lives in favour of working to oust Gaddafi. When the situation reaches this position, there can surely be no turning back for the Libyan leader. The time has come for him to leave. The only question that remains is whether he will agree to do this without more bloodshed and loss of life. The message that he is sending, is that he will continue to fight even when the situation is hopeless.

As this revoluation blows through the Middle East, I hope that the leaders of other countries who will undoubtedly be affected, will be prepared to spare the bloodshed and violence. One of the key characteristics of being a good leader, is knowing when it is not worth fighting. Gaddafi has failed this test miserably. Is it too much to hope that other leaders in the Middle East will avoid this tragic error?

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