Thursday, 3 March 2011

Qaddafi's Libya

For a madman, Qaddafi displays surprisingly subtle strategic skills. He is, of course, an Army colonel (even if his stars are self-appointed) and armies are not known for subtle acts. But the strategy Qaddafi has adopted to counter Libya's popular revolution is worth study, not just by other military dictators but equally by chairmen of besieged corporations trying to salvage damaged brands.

While his first reactions, through surprise and shock, displayed a typical bunker mentality, he has now adopted all the skills of a modern marketer — going on the offensive with openness and some frank admissions and calling in the world's media to prove, or rather disprove, the international community's condemnatory case.

We shouldn't be surprised that the Libyan revolt has not followed the rapid path of those in Tunisia and Egypt. Qaddafi's Libya has always been prepared to be a thorn in the side of all others — often just to assert the uniqueness of its revolutionary status. In addition, Qaddafi has always been a showman.

His apparent rapprochement with the West in recent years gave him the symbolic opportunity to plant his simple bedu tent beside the extravagent richness of the meeting houses of the world's most influential leaders. He gained financially and politically by seeming to come in from the cold. But he could never change his beliefs that his Libya is a singularly revolutionary nation that can stand alongside others, but will never be subsumed.

To Qaddafi — who has long spent his nights in a desert tent surrounded by armed loyalists — the methods used to intimidate and eliminate circling opposition demonstrators seem perfectly logical and justified.

Now he has co-opted the international media to endorse his position. The scattered nature of the opposition and their geographical dislocation enables him to present himself — as 42 years ago — as the nation's natural revolutionary leader fighting reactionary forces. Now these forces are armed, media coverage simply bolsters his story.

Libya's future today is unclear. But one thing seems certain. There will be many twists and surprising turns before the country's latest revolution ends. And the media, which has now (perhaps unfortunately) become part of the story, is likely to play a significant role in its resolution.

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