A Libya Update

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 26, 2011

Civilian militias are being armed by the Qaddafi regime, and protesters continue to be shot at. How the situation in Libya now differs from outright civil war is anyone’s guess; my personal reading of the situation suggests that there is no functional distinction whatsoever. The effort to recruit and arm civilian militias clearly stems from the regime’s need to compensate for the defections it has suffered during the course of the uprising against Qaddafi.

Meanwhile, the British are desperate to get their citizens out of Libya:

Britain has been buying off Libyan officials with hefty additional fees in order to expedite the troubled evacuation of UK nationals, according to senior government figures.

The revelations over the demands for what one senior figure described as “bribes” underlines the problems faced by the government as it oversees a rescue effort that has been criticised as inadequate, poorly co-ordinated and slow.

Speaking in Downing Street after a specially convened meeting of the National Security Council and Cobra emergency planning committee, David Cameron stressed the government was doing “everything we can” to help the 200 British citizens still stranded.

The cabinet has come under intense fire over its efforts to help British nationals, which have been beset by technical problems and a perceived lack of leadership.

Mr Cameron, who returned on Thursday from an official tour of the Gulf, is seeking to reassert his authority over Whitehall planning while Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, cut short a holiday to attend the meetings.

About 500 Britons have been evacuated from Libya and the government focus is now on those who are stuck in oil facilities in the desert or other remote places that prevent them from reaching Tripoli.

Speaking of bribes, Qaddafi is now desperate to buy off the protesters, offering the equivalent of $400 to each family, and $100 for phone credits. It is difficult to see how this tactic will succeed; revolutions in advanced stages cannot be prevented on the cheap, after all. And indeed, the report notes that “[t]he announcement of financial incentives appeared to have little effect.” As a consequence, of course, efforts to brutally crush protests will likely continue. Qaddafi’s onetime friends are warning us as much:

Abdurrahman Shalgam, an ally of Gaddafi since the pair were teenage radicals in the late 1950s, compared the leader’s actions to those of Pol Pot and Hitler and backed the protesters in Tripoli.

In an emotional speech to the UN Security Council in New York, Mr Shalgam, who had previously remained loyal, said: “Muammar Gaddafi is telling the Libyans ‘either I rule you or I kill you’.” He told the 15 members of the council, who are considering an Anglo-French plan for sanctions against the Gaddafi regime: “We need a courageous resolution from you”.

Outside the chamber, he gave another speech in which he pleaded for the outside world to do something “within hours, not days” to stop the bloodshed in the country.

Mr Shalgam said Gaddafi had lost the support of “90 per cent” of his diplomats and predicted further revolution in the middle-east.

“Slavery and the rule of one person is finished – it’s finished,” he said.

No one should think that people like Shalgam would not continue to stick with Qaddafi if the Libyan dictator’s position were secure. Shalgam’s defection smacks of opportunism, and there is likely blood on his hands as well. That doesn’t chance the fact, however, that his speech is yet another nail in the coffin that has been constructed for the Qaddafi regime.

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