Bloggers warn of lynchings and Gaddafi’s deserted by his blonde Ukranian nurse
Published in The Mail on Sunday (February 27th, 2011)
Muammar Gaddafi has survived many threats in his time. But now the people he has terrorised for so long have shaken off their fear and are confident they will soon be free.
‘We will wait as long as we have to wait. We know that it is only a matter of time before he goes,’ one opponent told me yesterday from Tripoli. ‘It took four weeks in Tunisia, three weeks in Egypt. We have been going only 11 days. We will win in the end.’
Like many of his fellow citizens, this man seemed remarkably sanguine given the atrocities unleashed in response to the Libyan uprising. As we spoke, reports emerged of armed loyalists setting up road blocks across Tripoli to prevent demonstrations.
This followed Gaddafi’s latest rambling speech in which he threatened to throw open his armouries for supporters. Hope is entwined with horror. Two weeks ago I was walking these same streets after travelling to Libya to speak to dissidents preparing for their ‘day of rage’. Dodging the secret police amid Gaddafi’s clampdown, we discussed their hopes and fears over thick coffee.
Despite watching Hosni Mubarak’s regime crumble in Egypt, even the most optimistic thought they had little hope of ending their dictator’s 41 years of misrule.
Once again we have seen the fragility of a state founded on fear. Today in the east of the country they are flying the traditional flag of their nation in place of Gaddafi’s green pennant. In Tripoli, however, the battle still rages. It was clear when I visited that Gaddafi had concentrated his forces in the capital, leaving the traditionally-rebellious east of the country exposed. Now it is the last redoubt in his desperate struggle to remain the longest-serving ruler in Africa.
One middle-aged man I enjoyed lunch with a fortnight ago told me yesterday he was holed up alone in his flat, having sent his family out of the city. As we talked it was quiet but on Friday armed gangs
of Gaddafi loyalists had prowled the streets below, shooting people at random. ‘It is terrible – they have machine guns and there is endless shooting. Everyone is a target. We pray it will soon be over and he will be gone.’ Rumours sweep the city, among them that there are gangs of mercenaries going from house to house.
One woman left a voice note on Twitter: ‘We are afraid because we are women. I have daughters here. Every house is armed only by knives. We have nothing else, but we have God.’
Behind their locked doors, people are watching rolling TV news reports on Al Jazeera and the BBC and seemed buoyed by growing international condemnation of Gaddafi. They hope the arrival of foreign media in the city will encourage more people to brave the bullets and join the protests, while preventing any more of the worst atrocities, such as anti-aircraft guns turned on crowds of demonstrators.
One striking feature of the uprising so far has been the spirit of forgiveness towards many of those associated with the regime, which offers hope for the country’s future if Gaddafi is ousted quickly. People hope this will encourage more key figures to peel away, hastening the dictator’s downfall.
Things are bleak, however, for the Africans working in Libya.
I chatted a fortnight ago to a cheerful group of Ghanaians building a new office block. Now such people fear being lynched as mercenaries, as one blogger revealed yesterday, telling of a Sierra Leonean in hiding with seven others. ‘As Gaddafi’s forces try to keep control, xenophobia grows stronger. All black Africans are becoming targets.’
It remains impossible to predict how this courageous uprising will end. But yesterday there was one more sign the Libyan leader is being abandoned by his closest allies. A Ukrainian paper revealed that Galyna Kolotnytska, described in a WikiLeaks diplomatic cable as a ‘voluptuous blonde’ who travels everywhere with Gaddafi, has told her family she is heading home.
In the Green Book, Gaddafi’s ludicrous political tract, he wrote that the strong always rule – ‘those who are strongest in society hold the reins of government’.
We must hope the defection of a Ukrainian nurse is one more sign that the desert despot is fast losing his grip on those reins of power.