Monday, August 22, 2011


How close is the fall of Tripoli?

The speed of the rebels’ advance over the weekend has been rapid with some just four miles from the centre last night as their guns were heard in the suburbs. Crucially, they control food and fuel supplies to the Libyan capital – increasing pressure on Gaddafi loyalists who are also suffering power cuts. Gaddafi is constantly moving between his many bunkers and his priority is now survival rather than strategy-making. Many Libyans say Tripoli will fall to the rebels by the end of Ramadan on August 31.

How will the rebels take control?
The last thing Nato planners want is a messy, final battle in a ruined Tripoli. The great fear is of huge numbers of civilian casualties among the two million population since Nato’s ability to use air power diminishes the closer anti-Gaddafi forces get to the city.

Will pockets of resistance remain?
Once Gaddafi and his sons have gone, his remaining troops will have little incentive to go on risking their lives. That will particularly be the case for those African mercenaries who have been in the pay of Gaddafi. The regime’s most diehard supporters will probably flee.

Will Gaddafi flee Libya or try to tough it out?
If he stays in Libya, he will be tried by the National Transitional Council and almost certainly executed. The same fate is likely to await his sons, especially Saif al Islam, a former playboy who now espouses extreme Islamist views. Gaddafi’s only alternative is to try to flee Libya although he will find it impossible to go to any country that is a member of the International Criminal Court because it would be legally obliged to extradite him. This means escape to Venezuela and his former ally Hugo Chavez, or to Jacob Zuma’s South Africa, is not on the cards. That leaves the international pariah nation of Zimbabwe as a possible option.

Do the Nato forces want him to face a public trial?
For the last few weeks, French and British politicians have been talking about Gaddafi being allowed to retire to somewhere in Libya’s southern deserts as part of their campaign to encourage his departure. If they keep to their word, Nato countries’ leaders are unlikely to demand he is put on trial.

Who are the rebel leaders and how would they form a government?
Rebel leaders have adopted anonymity to avoid possible reprisals against family members still living in pro-Gaddafi areas. The National Transitional Council is based in the western rebel bastion of Benghazi and consists of professional people and defectors from Gaddafi’s regime. There is a separate, mainly ethnic Berber rebel leadership in the eastern Nafusa mountains. So far during the rebellion, each town liberated from the Gaddafi regime has to form a ruling civilian committee under a governor, who then appoints an executive committee to handle issues such as security, food, fuel, waste collection and health. However, running a small town is not the same as running a country and these are only stop-gap measures.

Aren’t the rebels divided along tribal lines?
Libyans claim that stories of tribal rivalries are grossly exaggerated and that the rebels are fighting a unified battle for a single democratic Libya. The truth is that Libya is not like Iraq, with its broad divisions of Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. So far there has been little tribal conflict. On the other hand, no one really knows how powerful Islamist groups might prove to be in the country.

How soon will there be democratic elections?
Not for a long time. The National Transitional Council says they will be held in two years, once a new constitution has been put in place. Delaying elections will allow moderate secular parties time to form and catch up with the already powerful Islamist groups who operate through their networks of mosques. The big problem being faced across the newly-democratised Middle East – in Tunisia and Egypt, for example – is how to transform single-issue pressure groups such as those fighting corruption and advocating women’s rights into broader-based parties which can appeal to moderate voters.

What role would Britain and others play?
Having helped topple Gaddafi, Britain and France will be duty-bound to offer advice and assistance to those making Libya’s transition to democracy. The British government has already assigned that role to International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell. Apart from restoring Libya’s oil and gas exports (which will fund the cost of reform so that the British taxpayer doesn’t have to), there will be advice on how to establish and operate democratic political parties. The biggest long-term problem will involve ensuring that Libya’s potentially huge oil and gas revenues are equitably distributed between the regions and used to reduce the country’s chronic youth unemployment levels.

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