Posted on 20-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The regime of the longest ruling non-royal in the world is crumbling and the amount of blood likely to be spilled in its death throes should easily surpass that shed so far in the other Arab states.  Used to pariah status in the west, Muammar Gaddafi was always unlikely to bow to international pressure of the type that cowed Baharain’s al-Khalifas.  True to form, his regime reacted to protests this week with bullets.  With limited media and internet access, distinguishing fact from fiction in Libya is hard.  But it does appear that the regime’s forces shot to kill and the death toll was high.

And then things appear to have spiraled out of Gaddafi’s control.  Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Libya is still a tribal society.  Gaddafi’s tribal balancing act appears to have collapsed when he ordered his troops to open fire.  Reports indicate that parts of his army switched sides enabling insurgents to seize control of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, and the fighting has now spread to Gaddafi’s home turf of Tripoli.  The Warfala tribe, one of Libya’s largest, may have turned on Gaddafi as well.

The cornered dictator sent the respectable face of his regime, his son Saif, on state television to broadcast paranoid stories of foreign attempts to split Libya and the impending civil war.  That civil war appears to have already begun.  There may be no Saudi (or as rumored Venezuelan) exile for Libya’s long time autocrat.  He has indicated that he will fight to the “last man standing.”

Western countries who allowed the lure of Libya’s oil reserves to seduce them into rehabilitating Gaddafi can only sit and watch as this bloody denouement plays itself out.  The fall of Gaddafi would be truly momentous and will cause more and more Arab autocrats to doubt the fealty of their armies.  A sign of the times is a letter sent by senior commanders of Iran’s revolutionary guard to their commanding officer promising not to open fire on demonstrators.  If true, and if it holds up, Iran’s rulers may soon be faced with a popular revolution instead of the reformation sought by the Green Revolution two years ago.  In the latest bout of Iranian protests, the vitriol is increasingly directed at the true leader of Iran’s autocracy, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, instead of the President Ahmadinejad.

Protests also appear to have spread to Morocco.  The still popular King Mohammed VI once allegedly indicated that he wished to emulate Spain’s democracy bringing King Juan Carlos rather than his own father King Hassan II.  While Morocco may have eased up on the worst excesses of Hassan’s reign, it is time for the still absolute monarch to emulate his political idol more completely.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s worried rulers have promised to support the al-Khalifas of Bahrain.  The nature of that support is still unclear and for now Bahrain appears to have walked back from the brink.

With the Middle East convulsing, it will be interesting to see if the virus of unrest casts a wider web.  China’s rulers are on edge and Venezuela’s caudillo appears to be uncharacteristically quiet.  The next wobbly domino should emerge soon.

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