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Libya’s Lord of the Flies

LONDON – “I am a glory that will not be abandoned by Libya, the Arabs, the United States, and Latin America…revolution, revolution, let the attack begin,” said the self-described King of African Kings, Dean of Arab Leaders, and Imam of all Muslims, Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi. The statement summarizes the Libyan regime’s extremely repressive response to the popular uprising against Qaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship.

But Qaddafi’s tactics have boxed him in. Should he be defeated, finding refuge abroad, as Tunisia’s former President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali did, will be difficult. And internal exile, such as that currently afforded Hosni Mubarak, will be impossible.

Although the regime’s capacity to commit large-scale massacres has shrunk, Qaddafi’s defeat will come at a high cost in terms of human life. In an extreme scenario, the regime could use chemical weapons, as Saddam Hussein did against the Kurds of Halabja in 1988, or it could launch an intensive aerial bombardment campaign, as Syria’s Hafez al-Assad’s did in Hama in 1982.

At that point, international intervention would be more likely than ever. One and a half million Egyptians and many other foreign nationals, including British citizens, are in Libya and now are in an extremely vulnerable position. In his first speech during the crisis, Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, the Colonel’s supposedly “moderate” son, alleged an international conspiracy against the regime, involving Egyptians, Tunisians, and other foreign agents. The response of father and son has been to incite violence against foreigners.