Libya - The Violence of an Unraveling Regime (with ongoing updates)
Last night, Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi—son of Libyan "leader" Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi—gave a televised speech in which he denied the existence of genuine grievances and protests for regime change in Libya, attributing the last six days of social unrest to both foreign interference as well as “drunken and drugged out” elements of society. The protests, which began in Benghazi in the eastern part of the country, have spread to all major urban and rural areas, including the capital city of Tripoli in the western part of the country. Typical of most existing and former authoritarian regimes in the Arab world, Saif al-Islam claimed that without the regime Libya would be thrown into chaos—all varieties of it (an Islamist takeover, a civil war between the resource-rich eastern and population-dense western provinces, and the return of colonialism). He proceeded to assert the resolve of the regime to withstand all attempts to “undermine the state of Libya” threatening that “now is the time” to use violence in all its forms, including the armed forces, armed civilians, and the revolutionary committees. Saif al-Islam ended his speech with what appeared to be a dare directed at the Libyan people. He claimed that thousands of protesters represented very little of the 5-6 million inhabitants of Libya.
Today, the day after his speech, over a million protesters gathered in Tripoli defying the regime’s representations both in terms of numbers (with fifteen to twenty percent of the population turning out) and in terms of location (the capital city which is located in the western part of the country). The courage and persistence of protesters in the face of Saif al-Islam threats is humbling considering that233 deaths and thousands of injuries had been confirmed as of the end of the day on Sunday (the night he gave his speech). These were the result of a variety tactics including the deployment of the police, army, and hired mercenaries.
What is horrifying about the present situation in Libya is that the “chaos card” is no longer a threat nor is it a strategy of maintaining power; it is the regime’s revenge for already becoming unraveled. Al-Jazeera quotes Libyan military officers who defected reporting Qaddafi claiming: "I was the one who created Libya, and I will be the one to destroy it." Media reports confirm the defection of various regime elements, including ambassadors to India, the UK, the Arab League, and the United Nations as well as two defecting pilots who landed two fighter jets in Malta instead of following orders to attack protesters.
Despite the unmistakable signs of the fall of the regime, the severity of the situation seems only to be escalating. Confirmed reports describe shoot-to-kill policies in certain parts of the country as well as the use of helicopter gun ships, fighter jets, and other artillery to inflict mass violence. The death toll today, Monday February 21st, alone is currently at 250 with several thousands injured. One of the greatest difficulties in understanding what exactly is happening in Libya is the relative media blackoutenforced by al-Qaddafi's regime, who disabled internet service across the country and disconnected phone service in many parts. Reports have also confirmed the jamming of satellite signals for several news stations, including al-Jazeera, al-Manar, NBN, and New TV. Beyond the fact of the unraveling of a 42-year old authoritarian regime at the hands of a popular uprising and the regime’s massacring of the Libyan people, it is difficult to analyze the situation on the ground. However, there should be no lack of clarity as to both the legitimate aspirations and humbling courage of the Libyan people, as well as the blood that is on the hands of the Libyan regime. The complicity--by virtue of silence--of the broader community of state leaders and international institutions is equally clear.
Below begins an ongoing list of updates on the situation in Libya.
[10:55pm Beirut / 3:55pm New York]
Al-Jazeera reports that several cities are being shelled by tanks and jets.
Al-Jazeera reports that two more pilots refused to follow orders for air strikes and have landed in Benghazi.
[11:06pm Beirut / 4:06pm New York]
In a live interview with Al-Jazeera, Head of the Libyan Diplomatic Mission to the United Nations says that he "can in no way accept the shelling of the Libyan people." In response to being asked about who he is representing at the UN, the head of the mission replies that he "currently represents the will of the Libyan people until the situation ends."
[11:22pm Beirut / 4:22pm New York]
Al-Jazeera reports that Libyan authorities have cut off all communication services in the country.
[11:52pm Beirut / 4:52 New York]
Al-Jazeera reports that the Libyan Diplomatic Mission to the United Nations has released a statement calling on al-Qaddafi to resign.
Libyan state television announced that Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi is forming a committee to "investigate the incidents of the past few days."
Al-Jazeera reports that Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi admitted to ordering air strikes on Triploi and Benghazi and that he claims to have only targeted ammunition storage.
[12:08am Beirut / 5:08pm New York]
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Ka'im is live on Al-Jazeera and denies that there was a massacre of civilians in Benghazi. He is also denying the existence of "African mercenaries" and shelling anywhere in Libya and said: "I trust any foreign news channels more than all the Arab news channels." He rejects any calls for al-Jazeera to send a crew to Libya with guarantees of protection. He claims that that Al-Jazeera is fabricating its stories.
An Egyptian television station claims that al-Qaddafi will make a television appearance soon.
[12:18am Beirut / 5:18pm New York]
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton states that it was "time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed" in Libya.
[12:24am Beirut / 5:24pm New York]
Khalid Ka'im (Libyan Foreign Ministry) is accusing Al-Jazeera of being a Qatari Zionist project and that the station's agenda is clear. In response to a question about the possibility of al-Qaddafi addressing the Libyan people, Ka'im says he is awaiting information.
[12:34am Beirut / 5:34pm New York]
Al-Arabiya reports that al-Qaddafi will make a public address soon.
[12:43am Beirut / 5:43pm New York]
Al-Jazeera reports that a group of Libyan military officers released a statement calling on all members of the army to join the people.
[1:39am Beirut / 6:39pm New York]
Libyan state television announced that al-Qaddafi will give a speech shortly.
[1:47am Beirut / 6:47pm New York]
Libyan state television now says it will broadcast a live interview with al-Qaddafi shortly.
[2:02am Beirut / 7:02pm New York]
Al-Jazeera reports that Libya's Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations calls for a no-fly zone to be established over Libya.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is "outraged" at reports of air strikes on demonstrators and says such attacks "would constitute" a violation of international humanitarian law. As if everything before the use of air strikes was not outrageous and not in violation of international law!
[2:08am Beirut / 7:08pm New York]
Libyan state television just broadcast allegedly live images and sounds of al-Qadddafi standing near a military jeep, holding an umbrella, and claiming to still be in Libya and not in Venezuela (in reference to earlier unconfirmed reports). al-Qaddafi stated that the rain prevented what he had hoped would be a meeting with some "shabbab" in the Green Square in Tripoli. The scene was no more than 10 seconds and was apparently meant to prove his continued presence in Libya. Though clearly, assuming it was live and in Libya, it is not safe for him to be in any sort of public presence.
[2:49am Beirut / 7:49pm New York]
Al-Jazeera reports that Qatar's Prime Minister (also Foreign Minister) called for an extraordinary meeting of the Arab League to discuss developments in Libya.
Al-Jazeera is also now able to confirm earlier reports that the Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Abdul-Jalil had resigned earlier today and joined the protesters.
[4:20am Beirut / 9:20pm New York]
It would seem like now would be a juncture at which closing this post would make sense. Al-Jazeera is broadcasting an unrelated documentary while other channels have relapsed into their "regular programming." But the people of Libya continue to face the reality of the following through on what was an implicit promise of "we will kill you" (on the part of Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi). As I type these words, I can't help but think back to the calls from those on the ground in Libya that were aired live throughout the day on al-Jazeera and other stations. Whomever was speaking conveyed a sense of despiration and fear at what they were experiencing as well as a sense of horror and shock at the silence of "world leaders." As one Jadaliyya co-editor put it: "again, we will witness eleventh hour humanitarian/democratic support by many western powers regarding another Arab revolt." Now is not the time to analyze the different reasons behind the silence on the part of governments in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as various international organizations. Despite their fear, despiration, horror, and shock, the Libyan people continued to turn out in larger numbers throughout the day. What is certain is that Qaddafi's regime is on the brink of a total collapse in the face of unwavering demonstrators and various defecting elements. Unclear is the amount of death, injuries, and trauma that will accompany the final end of this regime. As of writing this conclusion, the unconfirmed total deaths is well over 600 and nearly ten thousand injured as the seventh day of the Libyan uprising has come to a close.