Sunday, May 22, 2011
Gaddafi Feels The Squeeze
The Economist comments (22/05/2011): From all sides, military, diplomatic and economic, the noose is gradually tightening around the Libyan strongman
It has been a rotten week for the Libyan dictator. The city of Misrata, the country's third biggest, under siege for the past two months, has been secured by the rebels, along with its airport and port. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's command-and-control centres are being systematically pulverised by Nato missiles. Libya's rebels are again poised to advance westwards towards Brega, after holding back to let Nato hammer the colonel's forces in and around it.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at The Hague has issued a warrant for the colonel, his son, Saif Al Islam, and brother-in-law, Abdullah Al Senussi, his intelligence chief, to be tried for war crimes. One of the colonel's key ministers, Shukri Ganem, a former prime minister who has been in charge of Libya's oil since 2006, seems to have defected.
Gaddafi's forces are running increasingly short of fuel. The people of Tripoli, his embattled capital, are short of just about everything, including food. The rebels in the east, based in Benghazi, are managing to import their basic requirements—and are getting diplomatically, politically and militarily better organised.
On the military front, the rebels have reined in the young men who had at first been recklessly rushing up and down the coastal road to virtually no effect. A clear line of command has at last been laid down, with Gaddafi's former interior minister, Abdul Fatah Younis, as commander-in-chief and General Khalifa Haftar, who previously claimed the top spot on his return from many years in the US, politely sidelined. A civilian, Jalal Al Digheily, has been appointed defence minister in the National Transitional Council (NTC), a fledgling government.
Nato says that co-ordination with the rebels has also improved, enabling targets to be hit with increasing accuracy. Gaddafi's forces are also coming under increasing pressure in the Nafusa mountains, a Berber-populated area to the south-west of Tripoli; rebels now control the main nearby crossing-point to Tunisia, though the Libyan regime still holds the coastal one. Though some members of the Western coalition against Gaddafi have qualms, the British in particular are stretching the definition of UN Security Council resolution 1973, which lets the coalition take ‘all necessary measures' to protect civilians.
On the political front, the rebels have tidied themselves up too. Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a former justice minister under Gaddafi, is proving a consensual chairman of the NTC, while Mahmoud Jibril, who ran the colonel's economic development board until he defected and has a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh, is in effect the prime minister heading an ‘executive team'.
He and his closest ally and deputy, Ali Essawi, who also held senior economic posts under the colonel, have forged close ties with some Gulf states. Ali Tarhouni, a former professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, is handling the oil portfolio with aplomb. There are inevitable mutterings that the emerging administration, which stresses its transitional nature, lacks accountability. But foreigners in Benghazi say it has begun to function a lot better.
The NTC is keen not to appear to represent only the east of the country, so it has expanded to embrace a wide geographical spectrum, with as many members from Tripoli as from Benghazi. Though some members have links to the Muslim Brothers, the prevailing flavour is secular. All members fiercely oppose the notion of a de facto partition between east and west.
The colonel's claim to hold the loyalty of most of Libya's many tribes is debatable, as is the influence of tribal leaders in determining the outcome of national politics. Most experts on Libya say that tribal allegiance is socially important but not a clinching factor in wielding power in the national arena, though Gaddafi has lavished largesse in certain areas, particularly in his home town of Sirte and in the south around Sebha. Some say he could make a last stand in either place.
The NTC's biggest and most immediate need is cash. So far, thanks partly to the generosity of Kuwait and Qatar, it has paid civil servants their monthly salary and subsidised imports of basic food.
Ceasefires hitherto declared by the colonel have so far failed to take effect. The ICC warrant will make it harder for him to flee. Some supporters of the NTC hope he will eventually be put on trial after his regime collapses from within.