Many in the West are surely left scratching their heads at why so many in Libya remain fiercely loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi. This Washington Post article seeks to answer why. While the cult of personality he has built partially explains his enduring support, better reasons exist in the relatively high levels of personal income (vs. neighbor Egypt), the generous social welfare benefits he extends and the backing of powerful tribal elements within Libyan society. While it’s not clear just how many in Libya profess allegiance to the Colonel, even his opposition concedes he can count on the loyalty of many. One rebel estimate has this at 25% of the population. Perhaps we’ll never know, but the reality is that many in Libya are not aching for the change rebel groups are demanding.
Allied forces – including those of The United States, Great Britain and France – bombarded Libyan air defenses, airfields and ground forces in the start of the activation of the UN Security Council’s resolution to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas. Bombed out tanks and armored vehicles belonging to Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s military littered the streets surrounding Benghazi, a rebel stronghold. The attacks also jammed Libyan military communications, part of an orchestrated campaign to disable Gaddafi’s prime advantage in the months-long civil war: coordinated air and ground power vs. a determined, yet unsophisticated opposition. Admiral Mike Mullen – Chairman of the U.S.’s Joint Chief of Staff – commented that allied operations went very well on their first day and that a no-fly-zone is now effectively in place. No indication of the length of the bombing campaign is apparent; regardless, Col. Gaddafi issued forceful vows of revenge.
The UN took decisive action to back rebel forces battling the regime of Muammar Gaddafi today. The UN Security Council voted 10-0 to establish a no-fly zone and all measures short of an invasion to protect civilians from harm. France, Great Britain and Lebanon pushed for the resolution with backing from the United States. China, Germany and Russia – thought to be opponents of the resolution – abstained from voting. The security council’s decision comes as Gaddafi’s forces have made gains against their rebel opponents in recent weeks, taking back towns once seized by anti-regime forces. An expected onslaught of the strategic rebel base of Benghazi is expected imminently.
Western leaders continued to consider their options as pro-government forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi made gains against rebel groups. U.S. President Barack Obama and various European lawmakers escalated their demand that Gaddafi step down. However, all stopped short of calling for a no-fly zone, considered by some the best way of hampering Gaddafi’s military effectiveness vs. the rebels. It appears that to ensure Gaddafi’s removal, more than harsh rhetoric will be required; U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper predicted a government victory over the rebels. Indeed, government forces re-took the once-rebel held city of Zawiyah, located just 30 miles west of the capital, Tripol.
The New York Times detailed the vast amounts of money Qaddafi can tap into to buy the loyalty of political supporters, fuel his military operations and pay for mercenary groups to hound rebel groups. Over the years, Qaddafi hoarded vast sums within the Libyan Central Bank and other domestic banks around the country. This has made western efforts to freeze his assets difficult, leading some to predict he has enough cash to cling to power for some time. The funds have blunted the impact of the sharp decline in oil production since the conflicts began a month ago; the country typically pumps 1.8 million barrels per day – that number is now down to only 300,000-400,000.
Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi appear to have handed opposition groups significant setbacks as battles continue to rage in Libya. Loyalists forces repelled a rebel attack and then laid seige to the oil port of Ras Lanuf, a major stronghold for anti-regime groups. Unconfirmed reports also stated that the city of Zawiyah has come back under the control of Gaddafi after falling to the rebels in the past weeks. These battefield developments occurred as Western nation-states and transnational organizations consider the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over the country.
The Libyan air force stepped up its efforts to strike rebel-held areas in the eastern portion of the country as the popular uprising against Muammar Gaddafi continues. This time, skirmishes reached Ras Lanuf, one of the country’s important oil ports. Cloud cover meant the air strikes lasted a relatively short period, although correspondents from the BBC claimed the strikes proved far more accurate than previous attacks. The use of airplanes and helicopters to attack rebel positions will certainly contribute to renewed calls for an internationally to be imposed no-fly zone over the country.
After Friday prayers, hundreds of protesters braved uncertain conditions to have their voices heard in Tripoli. A BBC News reporter that was on the scene says that security forces responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Meanwhile, explosions and heavy artillery was heard in the port town Ras Lanuf where opposition fighters are advancing on pro-Qaddafi forces. Reports from the opposition claim that they have taken the city, while official Libyan state TV reports that pro-Qaddafi forces had held the city. Libyan Air Force loyal to Qaddafi have also been reported to have conducted a couple of air-strikes against ammunition depots.
An Israeli journalist and musician, Noy Alooshe, has created a video mocking Colonel Qaddafi’s speech from last week. This video has gone viral and brings a touch of lightheartedness to what generally has been a horrific struggle for freedom in Libya. This NY Times piece discusses this video that has become extremely popular throughout the Middle East. It also provides some hope, at least for me, that maybe the Israeli and Arab people can live peacefully, even if their governments can’t. Here is an Israeli showing his support for the democratic movements in the Middle East while his government is scared of the consequences of democracy. You can watch the video on YouTube.