Muammar Qaddafi, clinging to power in Tripoli, has now faced down
more internal and external pressure than fellow autocrats in Egypt
Muammar Qaddafi is ringed by financial sanctions. The United
States and European powers say they are mulling further steps,
including extending a no-fly zone over the country to protect the
uprising against his rule. The country is split, with large swathes
of territory out of his hands and opposition forces closing in on
Yet Mr. Qaddafi, still clinging to power in the capital, has now
faced down more external and internal pressure than Egypt's Hosni
Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali combined. His
country's situation is more chaotic, and as a percentage of the
population, he has killed more of his own people in an effort to put
down the democracy uprising.
Muammar Qaddafi: Five ways Libya's leader has held on to power
So how is he hanging on? Two main reasons: Libya's divided armed
forces and Qaddafi's apparent tolerance to see his country torn
apart by civil war.
Libya's weak military
Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, where the militaries have a tradition
of loyalty to the state and to the armed forces as an institution,
the regular Libyan military has been kept deliberately weak and
divided by Qaddafi - who seized power as a 28-year-old Army captain
with a few hundred confederates in 1969.
The best-trained and equipped forces in the country are
paramilitaries commanded by his friends and family members, who
answer directly to him. There is quite simply no general with the
power to tap Qaddafi on the shoulder, tell him "time's up," and have
the whole military stand behind him.
"We simply don't have the forces to go to Tripoli and confront
him," says a former officer in his Air Force, who's helping to
organize the defenses around liberated Benghazi, Libya's second
largest city. "There's been lots of talk of sending people against
him but we don't yet have the weapons, the training, to really get
While there are some well-trained troops who have technically
rebelled, it's unclear if they'd be willing to take offensive action
For instance, Interior Minister Gen. Abdel Fatah Younis was
dispatched to Benghazi with a unit of special forces to put down the
armed protesters who eventually overwhelmed the Benghazi barracks.
He immediately defected from the regime and said he refused to shot
But many of the youth fighters in Benghazi who sparked the
uprising say he also provided safe passage out of town to regime
loyalists, who have reinforced Qaddafi's supporters in Tripoli and
his hometown of Sirte.
Qaddafi is no run-of-the-mill despot
As much as Mr. Ben Ali or Mr. Mubarak resisted their departures,
they seemed to take seriously concerns about plunging their
countries into a civil war.
But almost since Day 1, Qaddafi has not only warned of civil war,
but also seemed to invite it. He has consistently described
democracy protesters as drug addicts, terrorists, and tools of
foreign powers in moves that seemed practically calculated to turn
his own people further against him. …