This commentary was published in The Independent on 03/03/2011
Poor old Libyans. After 42 years of Gaddafi, the spirit of resistance did not burn so strongly. The intellectual heart of Libya had fled abroad.
Libyans have always opposed foreign occupiers just as the Algerians and the Egyptians and the Yemenis have done – but their Beloved Leader has always presented himself as a fellow resister rather than a dictator. Hence in his long self-parody of a speech in Tripoli yesterday, he invoked Omar Mukhtar – hanged by Mussolini's colonial army – rather than the patronising tone of a Mubarak or a Ben Ali.
And who was he going to free Libya from? Al-Qa'ida, of course. Indeed, at one point in his Green Square address, Gaddafi made a very interesting remark. His Libyan intelligence service, he said, had helped to free al-Qa'ida members from the US prison at Guantanamo in return for a promise that al-Qa'ida would not operate in Libya or attack his regime. But al-Qa'ida betrayed the Libyans, he insisted, and set up "sleeper cells" in the country.
Whether Gaddafi believes all this or not, there have been many rumours in the Arab world of contacts between Gaddafi's secret police and al-Qa'ida operatives, meetings intended to avoid a recurrence of the miniature Islamist uprising that Gaddafi faced years ago in Benghazi.
And many al-Qa'ida members did come from Libya – hence the frequent nomme de guerre of "al-Libi" which they added as a patronymic. Natural it then was for Gaddafi, who once hosted Abu Nidal's Palestinian assassination groups (who never betrayed him), to suspect that al-Qa'ida lay somewhere behind the uprising in eastern Libya.