Information is patchy as communication networks are down, but reports from Libya all indicate that after 42 years in power, Colonel Gaddafi’s time is up. The tribes are heading to the capital en masse, soldiers still answering to the regime are trying to stop them, and the violence is escalating. According to the latest reports the regime has deployed helicopters and jets to crush the uprising, allegedly flown by mercenaries from Eastern Europe, Cuba and elsewhere. Meanwhile, former regime stalwarts have been defecting in growing numbers. The head of Afriqiya Airways, the head of the Libyan Chamber of Commerce and several ambassadors are among those who have resigned or relocated. Many of them are reportedly now in Dubai. Islamic scholars in Libya spoke up today for the first time to rule that fighting Gaddafi was legitimate jihad. The demonstrators are calling for a million people to march tomorrow on Bab al-Aziziya, the fortified military compound where Gaddafi lives in Tripoli. But no one knows where he is now.
Rather than stem the revolution, Saif al-Islam’s rambling speech last night made the regime seem desperate. He looked nervous, and his threats only further enraged the people who have waited in vain for him to deliver on the promises of reform he made 11 years ago. In Benghazi people threw shoes at his image on the giant TV screens that have been set up in public places. His speech wasn’t live – he gave the game away when he spoke about the ‘pre-recording’ – and it’s thought that he has already left the country. Gaddafi’s wife and daughter probably left on Thursday, and are rumoured to be in Germany. For Gaddafi himself, however, there are not many places to go. No African country could afford not to hand him over to face justice, and he can’t go to Saudi Arabia, the dumping ground of choice for former dictators, on account of his old feud with the king. Venezuela or Cuba seems most likely.
Even if the regime collapses, more bloodshed is possible. But Saif’s predictions of civil war and the ‘Somalia-isation’ of Libya are implausible, and were immediately undermined by the tribal leaders’ calling for unity after his speech was broadcast. Assuming Gaddafi goes, however, it’s far too soon to say who or what might replace him, not least because he so effectively suppressed all opposition for so long. Factions from the army, tribal leaders and religious authorities will all want a seat at the table. Whether or not there will be a role for any Libyans currently in exile remains to be seen.