Gwynne Dyer: Bahrain reform may be real but Libya's may promise more blood

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      Watching the extraordinarily rambling and repetitive speech by Colonel Moammar Gadhafi’s 38-year-old second son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, on Libyan television on Sunday night, I couldn’t help being struck by how ignorant the man was.

      According to Saif, the protests in Libya are the work of drunks, criminals, and foreigners who had been paid to destabilize the Libyan state. (“At this time drunks are driving tanks in central Benghazi.”) If everybody does not rally around the regime, there will be a terrible civil war. (“We are a tribal people.”) The country will break into a dozen separate emirates, all foreign investors will leave, and the oil will cease to flow.

      Bereft of its oil income, Libya will have to close its hospitals and schools. Everybody will fall into poverty so deep that it will take 40 years to climb back out. The Americans and the British will take over the country. There will be a great plague, and it will rain frogs and spiders.

      I made up that last bit, but he really said the rest of it. How can he imagine that Libyans will simply swallow this stuff? The regime doesn’t let them travel and state censorship is fierce, but Libyans are literate people and they are not fools. Saif’s threats will not persuade them—and neither will his promises.

      He offered the concessions that are typical at this stage in the collapse of an Arab regime. There will be a great public consultation to discuss the country’s future, including a new constitution. Salaries of government employees will be doubled. If the people will just stop protesting, everything can change—except, of course, the regime itself.

      Gadhafi’s son’s speech sounded just like the final television speeches made by Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s ex-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali before they fled their respective capitals, so it probably won’t be long now. The Gadhafi regime has already lost control of the eastern part of the country, and on Sunday the street protests spread west to Tripoli.

      Saif al-Islam would not do well in exile; the money would not be consolation enough. He does actually care about the country, and he doesn’t understand why its people do not love him and his family back. Whereas his father Moammar, if he makes it out safely, will survive with his ego quite undented.

      Forty-one years of absolute power have so shaped the character of the Clown Prince of Arab dictators that nothing can now shake his vainglorious self-regard. Even when the Libyans finally reject him, he will see it as their loss, not his. He never was very bright.

      Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, heir to the throne of Bahrain, is playing a very different game. It was he who ordered the army to leave Pearl Square in Manama, the capital, on Sunday (February 20), two days after four protesters were killed and 231 wounded in a military night attack to clear the square. He understands that the survival of the monarchy now depends on persuading the majority of Bahrainis that the promise of fundamental reform is real.

      He doesn’t yet control the riot police, who wounded several dozen more people with shotgun fire before they abandoned the square to the returning protesters on Sunday. So he hasn’t yet won the battle within the royal family over what to do next—but he probably will, for it faces the threat of a republican revolution in Bahrain.

      The great difference between Gadhafi in Libya and the ruling families of all the other oil-rich Arab states is that they have the option of retreating into constitutional monarchy. Gadhafi can only rule or flee, but the al-Khalifas can make a deal.

      The opposition parties have agreed to open talks with Prince Salman if he meets their demands: the current government must resign, political prisoners must be released, and the killing of protesters must be investigated. All those things will happen, and then the haggling will begin.

      The protesters do not want more killing and they certainly don’t want to damage the tiny country’s wealth. (Bahrain’s 800,000 residents enjoy a per capita annual income of $25,000). But they do want an end to the disadvantages suffered by the 70-percent Shia majority in a state ruled by a Sunni royal family. They also want a real democracy, not the current halfway house.

      Such a regime would be a frightening anomaly in a region otherwise ruled by absolute monarchies, but retaining Bahrain’s royal family would mollify the neighbours greatly. In Bahrain there is unlikely to be any further bloodshed, and the outcome will probably be a constitutional compromise.

      In Libya, however, there might be more blood and no compromise. As Saif al-Islam Gadhafi warned in his epic rant: “You will see worse than Yugoslavia....The army is not the army of Egypt or Tunisia. They will support Gadhafi to the last minute....Sixty years ago they defended Libya from the colonialists; now they will defend it from drug addicts. We will fight to the last man and woman and bullet.”

      Or alternatively, the regular army may simply force Gadhafi’s praetorian guard to surrender in Tripoli, as it has apparently already done in Benghazi. It could be over in Libya quite soon, as the old Arab order continues to unravel.




      Feb 21, 2011 at 7:12pm

      I like the idea of seeing Gadhafi and Chavez together on Venezuelan TV. Maybe they can sing a song or two about the difficulties of running an authoritarian non-aligned oil state.

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      Feb 25, 2011 at 1:25am

      I find this interesting. Saif al-Islam Gadhafi mentions Yugoslavia in the midst of dishing out a pile of unintelligible vile, during which he pulled his finger out of his butt and wagged it at everyone. That was effective.

      Yugoslavia came up in David Cameron's statements about Libya recently. Clinton unleashed horrible violence in the former (neutral) Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and to this day major media and scholarship generally, fails to acknowledge that the major violence was a 'result' of Clinton's assault, not the cause of it. As Michel Chossudovsky carefully explains, imperial powers and the capitalists they harbor, sought to re-colonize the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and a fair bit of unrest over there gave them the pretext for 'humanitarian intervention' and 'democracy promotion' that would rob those people of their country (or new countries) as austerity settled in, as it always does when the corporatocracy's institutions follow up the military's dirty work with economic shock therapy. For a non mainstream take on the humanitarian intervention that David Cameron says Libya now needs - causing me to shudder - read Noam Chomsky's "The New Humanitarian Interventionism - Lessons From Kosovo," in which he discusses ""humanitarian crises" in the technical sense: when the interests of the powerful are endangered." -pg 66

      Maybe Saif al-Islam Gadhafi and his father have been talking to the current crop of imperial leaders, indirectly of course, and have been promised refuge for plunging their country into incredible violence that would allow 'humanitarian intervention' and more incredible violence, leaving the victims of the instability caused by tortured people rebelling against a tyrannical leader with a way out, like oil gushing from the ground into the warm arms of the ground level atmosphere.

      The fact is: There are 'no' humanitarian armies on this planet. If there are any that might possibly be used to perform humanitarian intervention, they certainly won't be found in the U.K., France or the U.S..

      Chomsky also had some interesting stuff to say about Clinton's sidekick Tony Blair, who said, about the attack on the SFRY, that they were fighting "for values," and "a new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated... We are fighting for a world where dictators are no longer able to visit horrific punishments on their own peoples in order to stay in power," unless we arm them. (pg 3)

      * "Libya: David Cameron 'incredibly sorry' for rescue debacle" (The Telegraph) /

      * "Calls mount for military intervention in Libya" By Ann Talbot (World Socialist Web Site) /

      * "Dismantling Former Yugoslavia, Recolonizing Bosnia-Herzegovina" by Michel Chossudovsky /

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      Feb 25, 2011 at 4:09am

      Chavez may be an economic nutbar but he is not in the same league as the other dictators when it comes to oppression.

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      Feb 25, 2011 at 2:40pm

      Chavez should 'not' be in the same league as the mindless, godless dictators ('autocrats' in ruling class parlance), but when he shakes hands, smiling, with those freaks, so loved by American admins, he does himself, and those who depend on him to keep the black corporatocracy away, no favor.

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