By MATT GELLER
In much of the Arab and Muslim world, it would seem that citizens have very few rights that are absolutely guaranteed. However, it appears that the right to remain silent is one of the few exceptions.
The “Day of Rage” in Syria never materialized due to the overwhelming numbers of armed security forces that were ordered to quell any public dissent. Yemen’s protests have resulted in nine deaths, and although Iran has come out publicly in support of the revolution in Egypt, they appear determined to maintain the status quo within their own borders and undermine any attempts at reform.
However, all of these countries pale in comparison to the appalling use of brute force utilized by Moammar Gadhafi, the de facto leader of Libya.
After anti-government unrest spread to the Libyan capital of Tripoli and protesters seized military bases and weapons Sunday, Gadhafi’s son went on state television to announce that his father would remain in charge with the army’s backing and would “fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet.”
Indeed, it would seem that he intends to keep his word. After protesters reached Tripoli, forces loyal to Gadhafi have responded with violence.
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, addressed the protests by threatening violent responses and a civil war that will ruin Libya.
The speech followed an intense crackdown by security forces that fired on thousands of demonstrators and funeral marchers in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city in a brutal attack that left 60 people dead on Sunday alone. Medical officials, human rights groups and exiled dissidents say more than 200 have been killed.
This is not the first time that Gadhafi has utilized violence as a means of stamping out internal discord. After “liberating” Libya in 1969 in a bloodless coup, his reputation for fiercely reacting to internal discontent has grown extensive.
In 1970 he expelled all ethnically Italian Libyans and in April of 1980 he orchestrated the assassinations of nine dissidents, five of whom were in foreign countries, and in 1996 he expelled 30,000 Palestinians because the PLO engaged Israel in peace talks.
Later that year, executed roughly 1200 political prisoners.
In 2006, 30 Libyans and foreigners were killed after publicly protesting in Benghazi. Libya consistently ranks toward the bottom in Human Rights.
In 2005, “Freedom House” rated the country’s civil liberties and political freedoms a “7” (on a scale of 1-7 with 1 representing “free” and 7 representing “not-free).
While many comparisons can be drawn between Libya and other Arab countries that are also mired in protest, the main difference can be seen by the responses of the military and security forces. Unlike Tunisia, Libya’s military will not dissipate, and unlike Egypt, the military is not an autonomous body independent from the country’s head of state.
Instead, the army remains loyal to Gadhafi, who still holds the military rank of Colonel. The overwhelming power of the military, and Gadhafi’s willingness to use it against his own people, will surely be the biggest roadblock to freedom.
Seif al-Islam promised that all revolutionary groups will be “wiped out.” He also stated that the army would play a main role in maintaining order. “There has to be a firm stand,” he said. “This is not the Tunisian or Egyptian army.”
The United States government has come out in support of the protest, with President Obama saying that he is “very concerned” about the use of lethal force against civilians. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations told “Meet the Press” the Obama administration has “condemned the violence,” adding that, “Our view is that in Libya, as throughout the region, peaceful protests need to be respected.”
It is clear that the violence will not abate until Gadhafi is deposed, and the people of Libya seem ready to continue to fight to end Gadhafi’s rule of more than 40 years.
However, it seems almost inevitable that the revolution will be the most violent in the region due to the near total control that the Libyan dictator wields over Libya’s armed forces. If history is any indicator of what is to come, the country will not be free from oppression without paying a heavy price in human life.