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Gaddafi goes Tiananmen

Talk about The King's Speech; this was The African King of Kings' Speech. A furious, delirious, possessed, prophet-as-psychopath Muammar Gaddafi may have improvised the ultimate lunatic rant to send chills down the spines of the Libyan people and the whole world - delivered right from the family house bombed by the United States tates under president Ronald Reagan in 1986. His message: there will be blood.

What else is new? After all, Gaddafi is a master of the politics of fear. He threatened those opposing his 41-year rule with the death penalty; called them "greasy rats" and drug addicts; and victims of a conspiracy by foreigners, the US, al-Qaeda, Britain, Italy, satellite television and hallucinogenic drugs. He rallied his supporters to "cleanse" the nation "house by house", inspired by his unsavory collection of deadly offspring. One could not help being reminded of the last days of Saddam Hussein before he was bombed by another US president, George W Bush. 

Abdulmoneim al-Honi, who resigned as Libya's representative to the Arab League, says Gaddafi is barricaded at the Bab al-Azizia base. Only two other bases may be under his full control, al-Saadi and Sirte; "The rest of the country is controlled by the youth."

These are the ones Gaddafi calls "rats". There's no sign these democracy-addicted rodents will be intimidated, even with the prospect of facing - again - squadrons of MiG-23 jets, piloted by Ukrainian, Serbian and Pakistani mercenaries, and equipped with rockets and heavy machine guns. The stage is set for the final showdown. The rant may well have been Gaddafi's Hitler moment - with the German leader's consort Eva Braun played by his Ukrainian nurse.

He evoked the sinister option of Tiananmen - when in 1989 China cracked down on protesters - to contain a "chaos" his own regime's shoot-to-kill fabricated; the mirror image of this chaos is the revenge of the regime itself for being unraveled by peaceful protests. Nothing his "modernizer" son Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi proposes to the nation will mollify the resolve of the protesters. (For the Gaddafi offspring power struggle, see this WikiLeakscable.) 

The blood on the regime's hands as well as the humbling courage of the Libyan people, are self-evident. The self-described "Liberated Eastern Region of Libya" - with the people in Benghazi, for instance, organizing themselves in civic committees - and great swathes of southern Libya have already fallen; the Gaddafi state does not apply anymore. 

The capital Tripoli - crammed with pro-regime forces - seems at least temporarily to have been bludgeoned into silence. Now two intertwined questions are absolutely key. Will the major tribes go after Gaddafi in the next few hours and days? And what about the army - itself divided along complex tribal lines? 

In his 1976 Green Book - pages of which he made sure to read during Tuesday's rant - Gaddafi talks about erasing tribalism; what he actually did was to apply divide and rule. Son Khamis al-Gaddafi's 32nd Brigade remains very much loyalist. Most eastern brigades have dissolved. But virtually no one knows how the others will react once Gaddafi orders them to shoot civilians en masse. That's why Gaddafi needs a tsunami of sub-Saharan Africa mercenaries. 

Mercenaries or scapegoats? 
There was a time when black Africans would cross the Libyan desert for days in overcrowded trucks just to find a job. The other, nasty side of this internal - economic - migration is black Africans now chased in Libya as mercenaries. Al-Jazeera has exhibited the passports of over 100 mercenaries from Niger, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia who have been shooting anti-Gaddafi protesters to kill, and were apprehended in southern Libya. Ads in Guinea and Nigeria are offering would-be mercenaries a hefty US$2,000 a day. And according to tweets, mercenaries now stand at the entrances of Tripoli preventing people from coming into the capital. 

The other side of the coin is the United Nations' High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) desperate for the fate of refugees and asylum seekers in Libya - "Somalis, Eritreans, Ethiopians", according to spokesperson Laura Boldrini, "who risk becoming scapegoats". 

Amnesty International is asking the Italian government to suspend its 2008 immigration deal with Libya. This is a Gaddafi-Silvio Berlusconi pact, according to which Libya gets 5 billion euros (US$6.8 billion) over 20 years as reparation for the Italy's colonialism years, and Libya promises to repress the flux of illegal immigration to southern Europe. No one knows how "Rubygate"-embattled Berlusconi will react to that request; especially now that Gaddafi called his close pal to say "everything is fine" in Libya. 

How to prevent a civil war
A huge question is whether Gaddafi will have enough support to try to pull a Saddam 1991, post-Gulf War, when Iraq's ruler unleashed Republican Guard tanks and helicopter gunships against civilians in Najaf, Basra and across the Shi'ite south (Washington looked the other way). As much as Sunnis supported Saddam's massacre in 1991, no one knows whether any tribe would support a Gaddafi massacre in 2011; moreover, he cannot count on a Sunni-against-Shi'ite war. 

What Gaddafi will do is to go for Benghazi with a vengeance. So it's up to the protesters there to lay their hands on some serious heavy weapons and come up with an organized resistance strategy. They may be able to resist for a while - as the only possible solution to avoid a bloodbath has to be tackled by the UN; to declare a no-fly zone, which would wreak havoc on the regime's push to supply its mercenaries, and even abort a possible offensive against Benghazi. 

In parallel, that could provoke the defection of more tribes and more officers in military bases. The secret of success would have to be a UN resolution - not by any means a North Atlantic Treaty Organization intervention, which would only play right into Gaddafi's narrative of "foreigners, the US and TV channels" trying to re-colonize Libya. 

Prospects are not very encouraging, considering the UN Security Council's bland statement condemning the violence against civilians. Libya's deputy UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has called for Gaddafi to go, at least kept a brave face, saying this was "a good step to stopping the bloodshed". 

Watch King Abdullah
Next is the black gold angle. Investment strategists, such as Arjuna Mahendran from HSBC, are already worried about oil prices hitting "$120 a barrel in the next three months". Correction; it could be next week, or by early March, as the price of Brent crude for April delivery was already at $106.81 this Tuesday inLondon. Nobuo Tanaka, the director of the International Energy Agency, has been more realistic; he said that if oil stays over $100 a barrel all along 2011, "we would have the same type of crisis as in 2008"; thus goodbye to global economic growth. 

Not only Libya but the whole MENA (Middle East-North Africa) region is scaring the markets to death (certainly not the Persian Gulf autocrats, who have guaranteed multibillion dollar budget surpluses even before the latest spike). If Libya for instance breaks up, major oil fields, controlled by more or less independent tribes, could turn unpredictable. 

Libya produces 1.7 million barrels a day over a global total of over 80 million barrels a day (but holds a significant 10% of the European market). The rebels in control of eastern Libya have already cut the gas flow from the al-Wafa field to Italy and the European Union via the Greenstream pipeline since Monday night. Libyan oil terminals are also idle. 

Everything would still be rosy as long as the great 2011 Arab revolt does not hit Saudi Arabia. But that's not a given. Every energy producer may crank down production and force prices to rise, but only Saudi Arabia may crank up production to make prices fall. So essentially, before buying their next sports utility vehicle, people should check on King Abdullah's succession. 

Back to 1848 
Few may remember then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's 2008 northern Africa tour, when she said that US-Libyan relations were entering "a new era of cooperation". Libya left rehab only in 2003, when Gaddafi agreed to abandon his nuclear program and open up to salivating foreign investors in oil and gas; then in 2006 Gaddafi merrily embraced free market and geared up for the usual International Monetary Fund/World Bank "structural adjustment" prescription pills. 

Former British prime minister and Iraq war faithful Tony Blair was instrumental in all this, including the facilitation of the sale of tear gas and crowd control weapons which Bahrain's Sunni monarchy and Gaddafi have been unleashing on their own citizens. Wily Gaddafi has managed to become one of the West's favorite pet dictators, and the idyll seemed to be everlasting. 

Blame it on that self-immolation in Tunisia. The great 2011 Arab revolt is very much like 1848 - the people's spring that in a few months took Europe by storm and turned the political system of the Congress of Vienna upside down. The problem is the "domino" revolutions of the time, from the Sicily of the Bourbons to the Paris of Louis Philippe, failed. But still - what a pleasure today to reread Karl Marx as a journalist and editor of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, expanding on revolution and counter-revolution. His ultra-sharp analyses still apply. 

Would Marx be facebooking and tweeting today he would see Arabs, everywhere, fighting for their dignity and self-expression. He would see how the young protester in Tahrir Square in Cairo, the Shi'ite lawyer in the Pearl roundabout in Bahrain or the anti-Gaddafi teacher fighting for his life in Benghazi have erased the caricature of the bearded terrorist - which now only exists in Gaddafi's imagination (and the nightmares of US neo-conservatives). 

No religious fanaticism; no single-minded nationalism. Just like the Europeans in 1848, the Europeans in the 1940s fighting fascism, the Europeans of 1989 getting rid of the Berlin Wall. And Marx would probably predict how those poor conscripts in Libya - just like in Egypt - would rather join their compatriots than smash them with a Tiananmen option. 

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