Turmoil in Libya: where next?


‘This is for our brothers and sisters in Libya,” iconic rocker Bono announced before performing Sunday Bloody Sunday at U2’s recent Cape Town concert. His words on that Friday night turned out to be prophetic – the weekend saw 200 people dying violently in that country.

Just days ago about 1 000 people were reported to have been killed and more than 1 400 were missing, casualties of the wave of violence that has spread through Arab countries to hit this Africa dictatorship in mid-February.

Prompted by events in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak’s rule was ended, many people in other parts of the Arab world also took to the streets – in Yemen, Algeria, Iran, Bahrain and now Libya, where bloody consequences are feared.

Foreign journalists are banned from Libya so much of what is happening is being filmed on cellphones and broadcast over the internet by Libyans as President Muammar Gaddafi, after 41 years of brutal rule, stubbornly clings to power.

And they will do so until “his last drop of blood”, his son, Saif el-Islam, threatened on TV.

El-Islam, who as a student at the London School of Economics wrote a thesis on democracy, has long been regarded as Gaddafi’s more liberal son.

But now his father’s – and therefore his – position of power is under threat the man who likes wearing custom-made British suits and owns a £10-million (about R115-million) home in upmarket Hampstead, London, is showing his true colours.

Shortly after his speech news leaked that snipers had been deployed, helicopters with machine guns had been called up, and members of the special forces had fired on protesters.

Hospitals were battling to keep up with the number of dead and injured, human rights groups in the country said. Most injuries were gunshot wounds.

On Gaddafi’s command cellphone and internet connectivity was terminated for days to limit information getting to the outside world. He also threatened to block Facebook and Twitter but little came of that because not even the man who calls himself “the king of kings in Africa” has the power to control modern technology.

Tweets were sent from Benghazi about mercenaries hired to suppress dissent. Video imagery by the Al Jazeera news channel often popped up on blogs and YouTube under headings such as, “The streets of Libya are burning”, accompanied by close-up shots of bodies on the pavements and in makeshift mortuaries; posters of Gaddafi being burnt; and protesters shouting, “The Libyan people are not afraid of anyone”, “The people demand the toppling of the regime!”, “Down with the hothead Gaddafi!”, “We are proud Libyan women, we are free Arab women!”

Libyans have scented freedom and they like it.

More on this in YOU, 3 March 2011.

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