The implosion of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year-old rule will put a new spring in the step of the Arab revolutions and demonstrate once again that these entrenched autocratic governments are not invincible.
From the Atlantic coast to Gulf shores, live images on Arab satellite channels of rebels pouring into Tripoli, trampling on pictures of Gaddafi and chanting “From alley to alley, door to door”, taunting the leader with his own threats to hunt down his enemies, will rattle Arab leaders facing similar revolts.
Arab capitals have been enthralled as street protests forced Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country he had ruled for 23 years and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to step down after 30 years in power and now Gaddafi’s government to decompose.
Arabs who this month have seen Mubarak and his sons appear behind bars and who now see the rule of the longest-serving Arab ruler collapsing must wonder what else is possible.
From Syria to Yemen, Arab autocrats who sought to use force and repression to contain pent-up popular aspirations and fend off uprisings must have pause for thought after events in Libya.
“It is an important development because it shows there are different ways in which Arab regimes will collapse. It just shows once you get a momentum developing and the right combination — a popular will for change and regional and international support — no regime can withstand that,” said Beirut-based Middle East analyst Rami Khouri.
“Syria has this combination of a popular uprising with regional and international backing. These authoritarian regimes, even if they are strong, collapse in the end. We have three transitions now, Tunis, Egypt and Libya and more are to follow.”
Khouri said a revolt in Bahrain by a Shi’ite majority seeking more rights from the Sunni Al Khalifa ruling family had failed because it lacked regional and international backing.
It is true, experts say, that Gaddafi’s downfall depended crucially on Western military intervention, which evidently is not going to be repeated in Syria or elsewhere — debt-laden Western powers, still deeply involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, have no appetite for new fronts in the Muslim world.
The five-month Nato bombing campaign in Libya prevented Gaddafi’s forces from recapturing the rebel city of Benghazi and quelling the revolt that erupted on February 17, which would have been a discouraging reversal for restive Arabs elsewhere.
“It shows that if the protesters, opposition, freedom fighters or rebels in Yemen or in Syria persist they may be able to topple the regime,” said Middle East analyst Geoff Porter.
“People’s views of the Arab spring were formed by Tunisia and Egypt where protests lasted up to a month. They thought Libya will be impossible because it didn’t fit the Tunisia and Egypt model,” he said. “Libya’s protests will encourage and embolden protesters in Syria and Yemen although they miss a big component which is the support of Nato.”
Scenes of popular rejoicing in Tripoli after Gaddafi’s forces apparently melted away suggest many in the capital had loathed their leader, but had not previously dared defy him for fear of retribution.
“This is another day, a new page in Libya’s history. We are witnessing a new dawn and a new history of freedom,” said Mohammed Derah, a Libyan activist in Tripoli.
Anti-Gaddafi demonstrations in Tripoli early on in the revolt were forcibly suppressed.
“Libya showed that Gaddafi didn’t have the support he claimed he had. One may be able to make the comparison to Syria and Yemen where joining a revolution is a big risk. [People] may not support the regime but they wouldn’t risk their lives until rebels show up,” Porter said in reference to the paucity of demonstrations in Syrian cities such as Damascus and Aleppo.
Experts said economic and oil sanctions imposed on Gaddafi had played a big role in bringing his forces to their knees and similar actions against Syria could have a similar impact.
Al-Assad, who faces growing international calls to step down over his crackdown on more than five months of protests which UN officials say have cost about 2 000 civilian lives, warned the West on Sunday that Syria would not tolerate any outside interference, saying unrest had become more militant.
“As for the threat of a military action … any action against Syria will have greater consequences [on those who carry it out], greater than they can tolerate,” he said.
No country has proposed any military intervention in Syria, which borders Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan — and has powerful allies in Shi’ite Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
“Assad is probably afraid he will be in the same camp but he thinks he has different international relations than Gaddafi, who had no friends. Al-Assad has the support of Tehran and Hezbollah and that changes the international community’s calculus,” Porter said.
For Khouri, the Libyan rebel success will shake the confidence of rulers such as Al-Assad, who apparently believe their military-backed governments are immune to popular discontent.
“Assad lives in a world of his own. He doesn’t live in a real world. He is oblivious to the new reality. These dictatorships feel invincible,” Khouri said
“What we are seeing is that they are not invincible. They are very vulnerable. Most of these regimes have been in power for decades and decades and have reached the end of the line.”
- February 15-19: Inspired by revolts in other Arab countries, including neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, a rebellion breaks out including in Benghazi, Libya’s second city.
- March 19: With troops loyal to Gaddafi threatening rebel-held Benghazi, French, US and British forces launch UN-mandated air attacks and push them back.
- March 30: Libyan foreign minister Mussa Kussa defects. Dozens of political and military figures follow suit.
- March 31: The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation takes over formal command of the military operation.
- April 20: France and Italy join Britain in sending military advisers to assist the rebels.
- May 1: Gaddafi escapes a Nato air strike, which the regime says kills his youngest son, Seif al-Arab, and three grandchildren.
- June 1: Nato says the operation, originally due to wind up at the end of June, will continue until the end of September.
- June 9: An International Contact Group on Libya meets in Abu Dhabi, and finalises a fund aimed at helping the rebels.
- June 20-21: Gaddafi’s regime says 24 civilians have been killed in Nato air strikes.
- June 27: The International Criminal Court (ICC) issues an arrest warrant for Gaddafi for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
- June 29: France says it has air-dropped weapons to rebel forces.
- July 14: The rebels consolidate their positions in the west, and begin an offensive on the oil town of Brega. Nato dismisses accusations that its attacks have killed more than 1 100 civilians.
- July 15: In Istanbul, the Contact Group designates the rebels as Libya’s legitimate rulers, paving the way for the release of frozen Gaddafi regime assets.
- July 25: Nato says it supported rebels by hitting a military facility, armoured vehicles, tanks and light military vehicles around Brega.
- July 28: Rebel military chief General Abdel Fatah Yunis is assassinated as insurgent fighters pound forces loyal to Gaddafi in the west.
- August 5: The regime denies the death of Gaddafi’s son Khamis in a Nato raid, as announced by rebels.
- August 6: The western town of Bir al-Ghanam falls to the rebels.
- August 8: Rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil sacks the entire executive office of his government.
- August 9: Libyan authorities accuse Nato of a “massacre” of 85 villagers in air strikes south of Zliten in western Libya. Nato insists it has no evidence of the civilian deaths.
- August 10: EU widens sanctions against the regime.
- August 15: Rebels say they have seized “most” of Zawiyah, the final hurdle on the road to Tripoli as Kadhafi calls the insurgents “rats” and predicts their demise. The UN chief’s special envoy visits Tunis for talks on Libya’s future. Gaddafi’s deputy interior minister flies out to Cairo.
- August 20: Fighting erupts in Tripoli as rebels close in on the capital after claiming the oil city of Brega, a day after seizing Zawiyah and Zliten.
- August 21: Libyan rebels enter Tripoli from the west, greeted by cheering crowds, witnesses say, and launch an offensive. Gaddafi vows he will not surrender and boasts he will “emerge victorious” in the battle for the capital. Nato says the regime is “crumbling,” while the ICC says Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam is in custody. Senior rebel figure Mahmud Jibril warns there are still pockets of resistance in and around Tripoli, while urging insurgents to act responsibly and avoid taking vengeance.
- August 22: US President Barack Obama says the Libyan “tyrant” must leave now to avoid further bloodshed while calling on the rebels to respect human rights, show leadership, preserve the institutions of the state and move towards democracy. – Sapa-AP, AFP
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade cling to power appears to be in increasing jeopardy as anti-government protesters grow more impatient. For more news click here.