Events in the Middle East did not stop with Egypt: now the island kingdom of Bahrain is on the brink, after a series of bloody confrontations between popular uprising and security forces. There is unrest in Yemen and Algeria. Most disturbingly, the demand for change has reached Libya, for over forty years ruled over by the increasingly eccentric and legendarily flatulent Muammar Gaddafi.
The problem for many outside Libya is that access for media organisations is nothing like as good as it was in Egypt: much of the time, second and third hand information emerges from the country after the event. But what is coming clear is that Government forces have been turning their heavier weaponry on protesters, with appalling loss of life.
Governments maintain control partly through the acquiescence of the people: there will never be a security apparatus large enough to suppress genuine and widespread dissent. That the Libyan authorities have tried to brutalise the people, and apparently failed, means the game is up for Gaddafi. Moreover, that brutality makes it virtually impossible for the authorities to row back the hostility: the end is now likely to be very nasty for the current incumbents – think Romania, only worse.
The rambling but defiant broadcast by Gaddafi’s son Saif yesterday evening will only make matters worse: his assertion that his father – earlier rumoured to have fled the country – would fight to the last man, and the “last bullet”, will stiffen the resolve of protesters to get rid of him. Corruption, lack of economic progress, and repression have failed the people, and made change inevitable.
And what of the West? As with Egypt, the UK, the wider EU, and US are caught in No Mans’ Land: we wanted the stability of Mubarak, and now we want the oil from Libya. But we don’t like being linked to Governments that practice casual mass murder of their own people. And there is widespread embarrassment at all the military aid that has been thrown at Gaddafi over the years.Once more, this is a matter for the people to sort out. Libya is another example of the rotten door being kicked in: for Gaddafi, whatever the defiance and brutality, the game is up, and he must go. If he wants to enjoy his retirement, he would be best advised to go sooner rather than later.