Qaddafi has been draping himself in the battle flags of the past and appealing to international opinion in order to achieve a ceasefire which would provide a cover for the complete elimination of the rebel positions in Misrata.
Draped in his Punic Roman toga whilst addressing “his” people, he has also received support from a super-team of his international pals — a pro-regime “anti-imperialist” international including Daniel Ortega, Castro, Chavez and Kim Jong-Il. The death of his youngest son in the NATO raids on his Tripoli compound has led to further appeals to NATO to back off. Some Tory MPs are receptive.
The rebels themselves insist that no settlement can be based on the perpetuation of Qaddafi’s family clique.
The pro-regime militias have continued to target journalists, bloggers and paramedics, and more reports are coming out of wider atrocities in the early period of the uprising against civilians including widespread rapes and the mass murder of pro-rebel troops.
Libya’s tribal complexity could have a serious impact on the struggle. Rebel spokespeople have spoken out against descent into tribalism and factionalism. The regime has threatened to use tribal militias against the people of Misrata, implying a threat that they would be particularly unrestrained in their brutality.
However, only Qaddafi’s own Qadhadfa tribe is totally loyal. The Warfalla tribe of Tripolitania, who provide many of the personnel of the security services, have wavered backward and forward between the regime and the rebellion. Other tribes, including the Tuareg, the Touballa, and the Magarha, who have been particularly persecuted by the regime, have entirely supported the rebellion.
Over the last two days Libyan regime incursions into Tunisia to attack Berber insurgents at the crossing points have been documented. The Zuwayya tribe of Cyrenaica (Senoussi loyalists) have consistently committed themselves to the revolution.
The tribes will be important in democratic post-Qaddafi Libya but we must hope, as the rebel authorities do, that there is an overriding democratic mandate from the whole people of Libya, and a rejection of communalist politics.
Misrata itself is still under blockade under the most terrible conditions. Although there have been many attempts by the pro-tyrant left to downplay Qaddafi’s drive for slaughter, and to brand the rebel movement reactionary, it is clear that the rebels form a genuine citizens’ army.
They are not a socialist or working-class force — but if they stand for limited goals of an open civil society and multi-party government against Qaddafi, then that should be enough for the left.
Qaddafi himself has tried to buy off sections of the rebels by offering them cars and substantial cash payments. As one rebel, reported in the Guardian, said, the revolution was never about money, it was simply a refusal to submit to execution when asked to lay down arms against the regime. The rebels know the fate of those in the past who have offered any challenge to the Qaddafi family business.
To describe the uprising as about securing the oil lines for “imperialism” or being a proxy of sinister bourgeois forces is nonsense.
Of course, this is a bourgeois revolution, in the usual manner of bourgeois revolutions — contradictory, confused, and often unaware of its own nature. But the rebels know that if they lose militarily, then they will be physically eliminated.
In the same way as the Petrograd commune, in 1919, fought for its existence, knowing that the counter-revolutionaries would kill them all if the city fell, so free Libya fights for its very existence.