THE ROVING EYE Gaddafi goes Tiananmen
By Pepe Escobar
"The unity of China was more important than the people of Tiananmen Square."
"It's impossible for the youth to follow anyone else. If not Gaddafi, who else
would they follow? Somebody with a beard?" Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, February 22
Talk about The King's Speech; this was The African King of Kings'
Speech. A furious, delirious, possessed, prophet-as-psychopath Muammar Gaddafi
may have improvised the ultimate lunatic rant to send chills down the spines of
the Libyan people and the whole world - delivered right from the family house
bombed by the United
States under president Ronald Reagan in 1986. His message: there will be blood.
What else is new? After all, Gaddafi is a master of the politics of fear. He
threatened those opposing his 41-year rule with the death penalty; called them
"greasy rats" and drug addicts; and victims of a conspiracy by foreigners, the
US, al-Qaeda, Britain, Italy, satellite television and hallucinogenic drugs. He
rallied his supporters to "cleanse" the nation "house by house", inspired by
his unsavory collection of deadly offspring. One could not help being reminded
of the last days of Saddam Hussein before he was bombed by another US
president, George W Bush.
Abdulmoneim al-Honi, who resigned as Libya's representative to the Arab League,
says Gaddafi is barricaded at the Bab al-Azizia base. Only two other bases may
be under his full control, al-Saadi and Sirte; "The rest of the country is
controlled by the youth." These are the ones Gaddafi calls "rats". There's no
sign these democracy-addicted rodents will be intimidated, even with the
prospect of facing - again - squadrons of MiG-23 jets, piloted by Ukrainian,
Serbian and Pakistani mercenaries, and equipped with rockets and heavy machine
guns. The stage is set for the final showdown.
The rant may well have been Gaddafi's Hitler moment - with the German leader's
consort Eva Braun played by his Ukrainian nurse. He evoked the sinister option
of Tiananmen - when in 1989 China cracked down on protesters - to contain a
"chaos" his own regime's shoot-to-kill fabricated; the mirror image of this
chaos is the revenge of the regime itself for being unraveled by peaceful
protests. Nothing his "modernizer" son Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi proposes to the
nation will mollify the resolve of the protesters. (For the Gaddafi offspring
power struggle, see this WikiLeaks
The blood on the regime's hands as well as the humbling courage of the Libyan
people, are self-evident. The self-described "Liberated Eastern Region of
Libya" - with the people in Benghazi, for instance, organizing themselves in
civic committees - and great swathes of southern Libya have already fallen; the
Gaddafi state does not apply anymore.
The capital Tripoli - crammed with pro-regime forces - seems at least
temporarily to have been bludgeoned into silence. Now two intertwined questions
are absolutely key. Will the major tribes go after Gaddafi in the next few
hours and days? And what about the army - itself divided along complex tribal
In his 1976 Green Book - pages of which he made sure to read during
Tuesday's rant - Gaddafi talks about erasing tribalism; what he actually did
was to apply divide and rule. Son Khamis al-Gaddafi's 32nd Brigade remains very
much loyalist. Most eastern brigades have dissolved. But virtually no one knows
how the others will react once Gaddafi orders them to shoot civilians en masse.
That's why Gaddafi needs a tsunami of sub-Saharan Africa mercenaries.
Mercenaries or scapegoats?
There was a time when black Africans would cross the Libyan desert for days in
overcrowded trucks just to find a job. The other, nasty side of this internal -
economic - migration is black Africans now chased in Libya as mercenaries.
Al-Jazeera has exhibited the passports of over 100 mercenaries from Niger,
Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia who have been shooting anti-Gaddafi protesters to
kill, and were apprehended in southern Libya. Ads in Guinea and Nigeria are
offering would-be mercenaries a hefty US$2,000 a day. And according to tweets,
mercenaries now stand at the entrances of Tripoli preventing people from coming
into the capital.
The other side of the coin is the United Nations' High Commission for Refugees
(UNHCR) desperate for the fate of refugees and asylum seekers in Libya -
"Somalis, Eritreans, Ethiopians", according to spokesperson Laura Boldrini,
"who risk becoming scapegoats".
Amnesty International is asking the Italian government to suspend its 2008
immigration deal with Libya. This is a Gaddafi-Silvio Berlusconi pact,
according to which Libya gets 5 billion euros (US$6.8 billion) over 20 years as
reparation for the Italy's colonialism years, and Libya promises to repress the
flux of illegal immigration to southern Europe. No one knows how
"Rubygate"-embattled Berlusconi will react to that request; especially now that
Gaddafi called his close pal to say "everything is fine" in Libya.
How to prevent a civil war
A huge question is whether Gaddafi will have enough support to try to pull a
Saddam 1991, post-Gulf War, when Iraq's ruler unleashed Republican Guard tanks
and helicopter gunships against civilians in Najaf, Basra and across the
Shi'ite south (Washington looked the other way). As much as Sunnis supported
Saddam's massacre in 1991, no one knows whether any tribe would support a
Gaddafi massacre in 2011; moreover, he cannot count on a Sunni-against-Shi'ite
What Gaddafi will do is to go for Benghazi with a vengeance. So it's up to the
protesters there to lay their hands on some serious heavy weapons and come up
with an organized resistance strategy. They may be able to resist for a while -
as the only possible solution to avoid a bloodbath has to be tackled by the UN;
to declare a no-fly zone, which would wreak havoc on the regime's push to
supply its mercenaries, and even abort a possible offensive against Benghazi.
In parallel, that could provoke the defection of more tribes and more officers
in military bases. The secret of success would have to be a UN resolution - not
by any means a North Atlantic Treaty Organization intervention, which would
only play right into Gaddafi's narrative of "foreigners, the US and TV
channels" trying to re-colonize Libya.
Prospects are not very encouraging, considering the UN Security Council's bland
statement condemning the violence against civilians. Libya's deputy UN
ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has called for Gaddafi to go, at least kept a
brave face, saying this was "a good step to stopping the bloodshed".
Watch King Abdullah
Next is the black gold angle. Investment strategists, such as Arjuna Mahendran
from HSBC, are already worried about oil prices hitting "$120 a barrel in the
next three months". Correction; it could be next week, or by early March, as
the price of Brent crude for April delivery was already at $106.81 this Tuesday
in London. Nobuo Tanaka, the director of the International Energy Agency, has
been more realistic; he said that if oil stays over $100 a barrel all along
2011, "we would have the same type of crisis as in 2008"; thus goodbye to
global economic growth.
Not only Libya but the whole MENA (Middle East-North Africa) region is scaring
the markets to death (certainly not the Persian Gulf autocrats, who have
guaranteed multibillion dollar budget surpluses even before the latest spike).
If Libya for instance breaks up, major oil fields, controlled by more or less
independent tribes, could turn unpredictable.
Libya produces 1.7 million barrels a day over a global total of over 80 million
barrels a day (but holds a significant 10% of the European market). The rebels
in control of eastern Libya have already cut the gas flow from the al-Wafa
field to Italy and the European Union via the Greenstream pipeline since Monday
night. Libyan oil terminals are also idle.
Everything would still be rosy as long as the great 2011 Arab revolt does not
hit Saudi Arabia. But that's not a given. Every energy producer may crank down
production and force prices to rise, but only Saudi Arabia may crank up
production to make prices fall. So essentially, before buying their next sports
utility vehicle, people should check on King Abdullah's succession.
Back to 1848
Few may remember then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's 2008 northern
Africa tour, when she said that US-Libyan relations were entering "a new era of
cooperation". Libya left rehab only in 2003, when Gaddafi agreed to abandon his
nuclear program and open up to salivating foreign investors in oil and gas;
then in 2006 Gaddafi merrily embraced free market and geared up for the usual
International Monetary Fund/World Bank "structural adjustment" prescription
Former British prime minister and Iraq war faithful Tony Blair was instrumental
in all this, including the facilitation of the sale of tear gas and crowd
control weapons which Bahrain's Sunni monarchy and Gaddafi have been unleashing
on their own citizens. Wily Gaddafi has managed to become one of the West's
favorite pet dictators, and the idyll seemed to be everlasting.
Blame it on that self-immolation in Tunisia. The great 2011 Arab revolt is very
much like 1848 - the people's spring that in a few months took Europe by storm
and turned the political system of the Congress of Vienna upside down. The
problem is the "domino" revolutions of the time, from the Sicily of the
Bourbons to the Paris of Louis Philippe, failed. But still - what a pleasure
today to reread Karl Marx as a journalist and editor of the Neue Rheinische
Zeitung, expanding on revolution and counter-revolution. His ultra-sharp
analyses still apply.
Would Marx be facebooking and tweeting today he would see Arabs, everywhere,
fighting for their dignity and self-expression. He would see how the young
protester in Tahrir Square in Cairo, the Shi'ite lawyer in the Pearl roundabout
in Bahrain or the anti-Gaddafi teacher fighting for his life in Benghazi have
erased the caricature of the bearded terrorist - which now only exists in
Gaddafi's imagination (and the nightmares of US neo-conservatives).
No religious fanaticism; no single-minded nationalism. Just like the Europeans
in 1848, the Europeans in the 1940s fighting fascism, the Europeans of 1989
getting rid of the Berlin Wall. And Marx would probably predict how those poor
conscripts in Libya - just like in Egypt - would rather join their compatriots
than smash them with a Tiananmen option.