While parts of Libya begin to imagine a life without Gaddafi – wonderful quote in this typically incisive Anthony Shadid piece in the New York Times: “There is no call for the overthrow of the government; only Colonel Qaddafi is mentioned, as lackey, tyrant and the man with really bad hair” – Western powers are scrambling.
Robert Fisk on Washington asking its brutal buddies to lend a hand (anybody still wondering why nobody in the Arab world seriously believes America when it talks about democracy?):
Desperate to avoid US military involvement in Libya in the event of a prolonged struggle between the Gaddafi regime and its opponents, the Americans have asked Saudi Arabia if it can supply weapons to the rebels in Benghazi. The Saudi Kingdom, already facing a “day of rage” from its 10 per cent Shia Muslim community on Friday, with a ban on all demonstrations, has so far failed to respond to Washington’s highly classified request, although King Abdullah personally loathes the Libyan leader, who tried to assassinate him just over a year ago.
Washington’s request is in line with other US military co-operation with the Saudis. The royal family in Jeddah, which was deeply involved in the Contra scandal during the Reagan administration, gave immediate support to American efforts to arm guerrillas fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan in 1980 and later – to America’s chagrin – also funded and armed the Taliban.
But the Saudis remain the only US Arab ally strategically placed and capable of furnishing weapons to the guerrillas of Libya. Their assistance would allow Washington to disclaim any military involvement in the supply chain – even though the arms would be American and paid for by the Saudis.
More Wikileaks cables seem to suggest that the US once feared (rightly or wrongly?) Islamists in the ranks of anti-Gaffafi rebels:
Leaked diplomatic cables obtained by the WikiLeaks website and passed to The Daily Telegraph disclose fears that eastern Libya is being overrun by extremists intent on overthrowing Colonel Gaddafi’s regime.
Former jihadi fighters who underwent “religious and ideological training” in Afghanistan, Lebanon and the West Bank in the 1980s have returned to eastern towns in Libya such as Benghazi and Derna to propagate their Islamist beliefs, the cables warn.
Derna has become a particular stronghold for the former fighters and conservative imams who have shut down “un-Islamic” social and cultural organisations such as sports leagues, theatres and youth clubs, the cables report.
Local sources blame deliberate government efforts to “keep the east poor” for growing extremism in towns such as Derna.
One cable sent to Washington in February 2008 reports a conversation with a local businessman who described the increasingly incendiary rhetoric at backstreet mosques in Derna, where coded talk of “martyrdom operations” had become commonplace.
The cable states: “By contrast with mosques in Tripoli and elsewhere in the country, where references to jihad are extremely rare, in Benghazi and Derna they are fairly frequent subjects.”