26 Feb 2011

Libya: is this really a regime in its last hours?

Chief Correspondent

It seems to me that this does not add up to a regime in its last hours. It does not appear to be a regime in its very last days even, blogs Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson.

Different Libyans will put a different date to the start of their uprising: Feb 14? Feb 17? It does not matter.

But well over a week into this seismic spring, Friday saw something of a pause. Let’s change around the usual perspective and consider life from Colonel Gaddafi‘s standpoint. He’s had a better time of it over the past 24 hrs – no denying that.

He’s appeared beyond the (large, thick and heavily guarded) walls of the palace to stand, fists clenched, over Green Square and invite Libyans to both party, dance and fight in the same speech. His militias stopped the opposition from reaching Green Square – in part, by firing on them.

The opposition did not bring vast numbers onto the streets after prayers. It was not the promised last day for Gaddafi. He deployed the army in real numbers around the capital and along the road to the military airport.

He sent squads across Tripoli to clear rubble from recent demos off the streets and paint over the graffiti of the past 10 days or so. Further, his regime organised an international press tour to show foreign media around the capital – the second such operation in three days – more are en route today as I write.

Outside Tripoli itself, for the first time in several days, no town of significance or airstrip fell to the rebels. And those rebels did not, could not, send the thousands promised, from the east, to reinforce their struggle for the capital.

True, another prominent diplomat defected to the opposition from his UN post on Friday, but clearly the Colonel’s global diplomatic infrastructure appears mostly intact from a country all but divided in half. Defecting diplomats are news – those who stay at their posts are not.

I stand here, I see a fully-functioning Libyan frontier post with Tunisia – ready to confiscate cameras and any TV equipment of media foolish enough to cross – as some do from time to time, despite all advice to stay put. So what does all this mean?

It seems to me that this does not add up to a regime in its last hours. It does not appear to be a regime in its very last days even.

Would I go further? Months? That might be pushing it for Muammar and the boys and few see him holding out that long. But my sense is that he possibly has at least another week in him yet.

Predictions are dangerous and many, many Libyans want him out now – let alone in hours or days. But many, too, do not and the Colonel himself appears to endorse only one option, to stand and fight. But why throw so much at defending the road to the capital’s military base? To get something into the country – or to get people out?