The Tripoli Dawn Protest: A Sign of Gaddafi’s Power

Al Jazeera has posted footage of a communique from a group of Gaddafi’s opponents in Tripoli:

An excerpt from the translation:

These are our streets, and these are our alleys , for we vow to you shameful and disgraceful Gaddafi, not you nor your battalions, nor your snipers, nor your mercenaries however many they are, will not terrify us  anymore, and we will not back down on our revolution and up rise no matter how greater the sacrifice.

For this city with its students and professors and universities and businessmen and fishermen and doctors and those who witnessed you crimes on February 20th , the day that your revenge reached the highest limits of murdering the injured of those who did not die on site during the demonstrations on Martyrs Square, where those who did not fall from your machine guns in the streets were pursued by your gunmen in the emergency rooms and intensive care units of the hospitals in Tripoli. This city will not allow you to make it weak, easy nor vulnerable ever again.

The Libyans may have been tolerant to the exploitation and abuse of this insane system, in fear of its tyranny and infinite madness, but now that the fear barrier has been broken and shrivelled in the events of the last few weeks, we are thus continuing in the path of freedom and Tripoli will remain a burning flame under his feet and those who follow him.

The footage reveals that these bold words are nothing but bravado. The protesters are few, and they carefully cover their faces to avoid identification and reprisal. They remain very quiet and are constantly looking over their shoulders for signs of Gaddafi’s men. The protest is, in a word, eerie. Their actions testify to Gaddafi’s successful restoration of authority in Tripoli and highlight the opposition’s weakness there–the days of large, open demonstrations are clearly over. Note also that the men are unarmed. Despite the opening of the armories, these opposition members either did not manage to acquire weaponry, or do not feel safe carrying it openly. Both suggest that Gaddafi has regained the monopoly on violence in the capital, and that his roving militias have successfully put the opposition on its heels.

There are, however, positive signs. The first is that the group was able to organize and meet at all. Though it is possible that they are all relatives or come from the same neighborhood, it is more likely that this group is evidence that the lines of communication within the opposition have not been completely severed. The importance of this cannot be overstated–information has emerged that the protests in Egypt began when a small set of activists (including Google’s Wael Ghonim) organized a wave of small protests in several locations around Cairo, ensuring that the authorities would not be able to respond with effective strength. There is thus a continuing potential, though weak, for the reemergence of demonstrations in Tripoli; this forces Gaddafi to devote men and effort to its prevention and thus inhibits his ability to conduct operations elsewhere. Given the well-known violence of Gaddafi’s men, however, the reemergence of the protests will require another “loss of fear” like that which occurred at the start of the revolt–a tough hill to climb, given the crackdown.

The second positive sign is that the protesters deliberately gave enough information to identify the protest’s location–note especially the shot of the minarets under construction at 2:07 in the video. This shows us that they came from another part of the city to carry out the demonstration–after all, why would they go to such great lengths to conceal their identities and prevent the protest from being spotted, and then hold it on their front porch? The protesters were thus able to move through the city to the protest site while carrying (concealed, of course) anti-Gaddafi banners–a sign that Gaddafi’s control of the city, even in low-traffic periods like dawn, is far from total, and another sign that the lines of communication are still open within Tripoli’s opposition.

The upshot: Gaddafi’s hold on power in Tripoli is secure, but not complete.
Prediction: Tripoli’s opposition will not emerge as a major active force, at least not for several months; it will continue to divert Gaddafi’s forces from the front lines to the east.


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