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 Do Libya's rebels have staying power?

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Mr007



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PostSubject: Do Libya's rebels have staying power?   Thu Mar 03, 2011 10:37 pm

Do Libya's rebels have staying power?
Recruits to anti-Gaddafi forces in Benghazi, Libya - 3 March 2011 The anti-government force has no shortage of volunteers
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Mid-East Unrest

* Tripoli simmers
* Key maps
* Standoff hampers diplomacy
* Who is propping up Gaddafi?

Libya's rebels have control of Benghazi and much of the east - but do they have the resources to break the current stalemate with Col Gaddafi? The BBC's Kevin Connolly reports.

In Benghazi, swirls of cigarette smoke rise up in the rooms where the revolution was hatched, in much the same way that desert storms sometimes darken the skies outside.

It is a fitting image for a city celebrating freedom, where the balance of forces between revolution and counter-revolution is hard to measure.

This much is clear: Benghazi, always the most independent-spirited city of a nation cowed by 41 years of brutal autocracy, has risen up against Muammar Gaddafi and shrugged off his rule.

Protesters, many of them young and all unarmed at first, faced the violence of loyalist forces who used live ammunition against them.

The overwhelming mood of the moment here is a joy and a sudden embracing of a freedom that the rest of us, rather lazily, take for granted.

One woman in a crowd of demonstrators said to me simply: "I have been in prison all my life; I never thought I'd be released."
Museum pieces

What is much less clear is what happens next - and to a certain extent, what is happening now.

For example, rebels have taken over military bases around the city and are talking of turning themselves into a revolutionary army.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

Libya is one body, says a poster here, and Tripoli is its heart”

End Quote

A week ago, there was talk of trying to export the revolt westwards, along the great coastal highway that curves its way around the bay of the Mediterranean to distant Tripoli.

But it is not clear how potent the weapons left behind by Col Gaddafi's forces are.

The tanks and anti-aircraft artillery we have been shown are museum pieces.

Lashing machine-gun mountings onto the backs of flatbed trucks makes a weapons system which looks good on television, but which is not much use for fighting an army.

It is not really clear how many men Col Gaddafi's forces had inside their various barracks, how many were killed, captured or defected, and how many melted away to fight another day somewhere else.

Nearly all the anti-government fighters I have met, and their supporters, are utterly convinced they are facing a large force of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa.

It is possible to detect a whiff of racism in the way that story is discussed.

It has been difficult so far to find any concrete, firsthand proof.
Inconclusive clashes

Establishing both the manpower and the firepower at the disposal of the rival forces is difficult.

There is talk of the rebels having defecting officers on their side, and of their raising and training a force of 10,000 men.
Libyan rebels with an anti-aircraft gun at Ajdabiya, 160 kms (100 miles) west of Benghazi, Libya - 3 March 2011 Many of the rebels' weapons are museum pieces

But only a handful of armies on earth are capable of moving that number of fighting soldiers and the tons of supplies they'd need over the vast distances of the desert. Equipping them would take months and cost millions.

Nor is it clear to what extent Col Gaddafi's own forces are capable of large-scale and sustained operations.

We have seen television pictures of his snipers firing live ammunition into crowds of protesters. Fighting more substantial forces would raise much bigger questions.

He has bomber aircraft, helicopter gunships and some naval vessels. But we cannot know if most of the men who operate them are prepared to follow orders which would involve firing on fellow Libyans.

He is believed, for example, to have run down the country's conventional armed forces to reduce the possibility of a coup.

He prefers to rely instead on katibas, which are informal paramilitary-style brigades loyal to a powerful individuals, including Col Gaddafi's sons.

Where the forces have clashed, as they would have at the oil terminal at Brega, the results have been inconclusive, but have offered the rebels some encouragement.
Volunteer spirit

In following the new politics of the revolution, we must also be cautious.

After 41 years of brutal autocracy, there is no culture of political freedom, no leaders in waiting, no tradition of freedom of speech or assembly and no constitution.

There is not even an electoral register, of course, so the difficulties of moving quickly to democracy are forbidding.
Bonfire of Col Gaddafi's writings in Benghazi - 2 March 2011 Up in flames: the political writings of Col Gaddafi burn in Benghazi

On the positive side of the ledger, the committees in the courthouse, where the revolution is being organised, have democratic instincts and they are desperate to build a better and freer life for their children than the lives they led themselves.

And it may be that the modern age, with its texting, tweeting, facebooking and good old-fashioned satellite television may make it impossible for autocracy to flourish again in the Arab world or anywhere else.

There are no opposition figures who have any democratic legitimacy either, however well intentioned they are, so there is a difficulty in translating the energy and hope of the discussions in the old courthouse building, which is the heart of the rebellion, into concrete political action.

For the moment, a spirit of volunteering is abroad. There are even teenagers trying their hand at traffic police point duty, admittedly with varying degrees of success.

And there's one more thing on which the rebels are agreed: They do not want any outcome to all of this which is based on separatism or secession.

Libya is one body, says a poster here, and Tripoli is its heart.

One problem they have to overcome though, is how Benghazi itself will function if the current stalemate persists.

It is hard to get clear answers about the extent to which it relies on Tripoli for such basic necessities as supplies of cash from the central bank or power and telecommunications.

Understandably, the rebels have their eyes focused on the great prize of freedom, which is in their grasp.

But if this is not resolved quickly, and it does not look as though it will be, they may have to turn their attention to the problems of running a city which is isolated from the system of which it is a part.car hire
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