The rebels are closing in. The heirs to the regime have either been arrested or killed. The compound is all that is left of a dictatorship that has spanned four decades.
With only 20% of the capital, according to current reports, still in his possession and night long celebrations in the capital’s Green Square it looks like the jig is up for Colonel Gaddafi.
His time in power, lubricated by sitting on top of an oil reserve that the Western powers don’t want to lose, has been marked by suspicion, mystery and worldwide condemnation. It is hard to believe this is the end of the saga that has been going on since the airstrike began back in March.
Back when NATO sanctioned the air attack the government tried to suggest that it would be quick and painless as Gaddafi was already on his last legs. However the past 5 months have proved that was as naive as most commentators and members of the public thought at the time.
Gaddafi’s regime may be ‘falling apart’ according to David Cameron but how long will it be till he gives up the ghost? Twitter is circulating the rumour that he is already dead and many people have speculated that he is stalling till he comes up with a proper exit strategy.
However, like the Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo who had to be captured inside his own home before he surrendered, Gaddafi won’t stop until the bitter end.
What else has he got to lose? There is no way he can ever effectively gain control of his territory entirely again or if he does it’ll crumb after his death when the regime loses the founder.
Yet, if he were to capitulate now he cannot guarantee that he’ll receive any of the amnesty that countries like the UK had promised him if left the country earlier, the other Middle Eastern countries won’t give protection to a Marxist pretender that could threaten the stability of their own precarious dictatorships and no democratic country would even contemplate housing him.
His all or nothing gamble on victory has failed and he has nowhere to go except prison or the grave. As far as he is concerned it is probably better to go out fighting like the revolutionary he believes he still is than rot away in the Hague like any other war criminal. And given his previous callous disregard for his people, he doesn’t care how many people he’ll take with him. Reports describe him as ‘delusional’ and that he has become so warped by power and his own legend that he doesn’t seem to believe he or his legacy is fallible.
This could be damaging for the National Transitional Council as well. Gaddafi has got to be removed in a reasoned and democratic way with NATO’s full support if the new Libyan regime has a remote possibility of surviving. A draft of a constitution has already been written but whether this will ever be implemented is still up in the air. A Tripoli resident has already told the BBC World Service that the rebels have been looting shops and homes for supplies. The rebels need to be careful with their image and portray themselves as a liberating army coming to bring democracy to Libya rather than make a martyr out of Gaddafi.
Although the demise of Gaddafi’s regime is a call for celebration, Libyans should not get too complacent. The fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 was met with relief but there is still infighting and corruption in Iraq eight years later. The new governments of Egypt and Tunisia are struggling under the weight of the accusations that they have simply replaced the old elites with a new one.
This is the greatest chance for change in Libya but they should be aware of how they deal with the old one. It is the only way they can hang onto the moral high ground they’ve acquired.