December 29 London Demonstration; Reflections
So there was a demonstration in front of the Libyan embassy in London. It is not the first and sure it won’t be the last. In itself, demonstrating in different capitals in Europe to raise awareness of the blight of the Libyan people, and in the case of the latest London demonstration the children infected with the HIV virus in Benghazi, is fair game and is a legitimate act in the national struggle to rid Libya of the Tyrant, Gaddafi. I sort of followed the work up towards this latest demo over the preceding few days and having seen the report from participants and the images of the demonstration on Libya News and Views, I will allow myself few comments.
I will have to insert a disclaimer right here; which is the fact that I do not for a moment doubt the sincerity of those people who demonstrated against the Libyan tyrant, today in London or at any time any where in the world. I do not doubt there motives or their love to their country and fellow Libyans. My observations are about the mechanics or the tactics and may be even the strategy of opposing and struggling with the Libyan regime.
I will start with few points;
1. The demonstration was mostly publicised over the PalTalk and few Libyan sites.
2. The timing was 29th. December.
3. The issue was meant to be around the HIV children in Benghazi.
4. It seems that several media outlets, Aljazeera, Alhora etc. were informed before hand.
5. The number of demonstrators was at best 50-60.
6. The placards were in Arabic and English.
7. The slogans on the placards were things like:
"PC Evon Fletcher murdered by Gaddafi".
"We need justice."
"Gaddafi is a killer, butcher, a terrorist."
"….Gaddafi ordered the killing of 1200 political prisoners."
"We demand an international investigation."
"Pan-Am LN113 air plane was bombed by Gaddafi."
"Justice produces peace, injustice produces fear."
I guess if any level headed person drove by or walked near the demonstrators on 29 December would have wondered what the gathering was about. Put differently, has our message got through? I do not think so.
For once the issue around which the demonstration was meant to centre was the crime of infecting children in Benghazi with HIV. The bigger problem is the opposition to a killer dictator, i.e. Gaddafi. The message was no where to be seen. The slogans on placards seemed as if they were recycled from other previous demonstrations.
Pan-Am, 1200 political prisoners etc and that is not by any way, shape, or form taking away the significance of these other issues, but the message was fussy.
Worse of all was a placard held by a young girl saying "PC Evon Fletcher murdered by Gaddafi". This will interest nobody on London streets these days. Totally off message.
The timing of the demonstration, 29 December, was totally wrong and probably reflecting naivety. Those of us who lived in the west for a bit will know by now that the political machinery goes on idol between Christmas and New Year. In other words no body will listen to you; the British media is mostly in festive mood and will not bite. I understand that the organisers timed that close to the announcement by the Libyan Supreme Court in the case of the Bulgarian nurses, but that is the point, Gaddafi is learning folks. He timed this announcement perfectly so it will generate the smallest fall out, more about Gaddafi’s learning later.
Aljazeera, Alhora and the likes are OK if they cover the story, but they did not, simply because a demonstration in front of the Libyan embassy in London may be "news" to us but it is a non-event as far as international media outlets are concerned. They run on a different agenda. What would have been much better was the UK NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children), for example.
Libya and its people have suffered in the hands of a tyrant for over 30 years. In the last few years and particularly after the September 2001 attacks and subsequently the attack on Iraq in 2003, Gaddafi changed tactics and strategy to go with the flow and the international political climate of a unipolar world.
He joined the "war on terror", so every opposition group is a terrorist group, and it helps if that group has any Islamic flavouring.
Free market and oil, role on.
Capital punishment and stuff, he can do that too; he more or less changed the Libyan penal code in few hours. In other words he learned to talk the talk. The Americans and before them the British like that very much. Why intervene militarily directly in a country if a tyrant can hand it over and its resources on a silver plate? They (US and UK administrations never wanted to raise a finger even over the latest jamming of satellites by the Libyan government. So put simply the guy can not do any wrong at the moment in the eyes of the Americans and the British.
But have those who are trying to work against Gaddafi learned much from previous experiences or have they adjusted to changing circumstances?
I am not sure they are doing that in an effective and timely fashion. For the most part they are trying to talk in the language of the 1980’s and 90’s and what Gaddafi represented then to the West.
Unfortunately the 80’s and 90’s have come and gone and Libyan opposition groups, for various reasons, never delivered a killer blow to the regime.
Our opposition to the dictatorship in Libya should be divorced from what the US or the UK governments think of the regime. Of course we have got to read the geopolitical map but we should push our cause as we see fit and play the game.
Gaddafi is sitting on mine of gold, and his behaviour and the way he conducts himself can simply be explained by survival instinct and because of that Libyan opposition groups can not compete with him on a material and resource level. The example of the Amal station is a classic. Gaddafi however is vulnerable to pressure especially in issues of freedom of speech and human rights and stuff like that, issues that are close to the "hearts" of western politicians. But a demonstration like this latest will cut no ice in this regard.
Timing, message, audience are all important. Opposition groups will need to fight small battles in well targeted campaigns to achieve the strategic victory of freedom and justice to Libyan people in a free Libya. Regardless of what has been said about the opposition meeting last summer in London, it was literally just that, a meeting. Although the effect on the regime at the time was noticeable which goes to prove the point that nothing disturbs Gaddafi than well publicised opposition activities. But opposition activities are a means to a strategic end. We can have a demonstration in London every Thursday, like the one this week and the regime will learn to live with it. The message was fussy and no body will pay attention and Libya’s dark night extends further.
Another issue is having a foot hold, a base for the opposition groups inside Libya, and this card ought to be played to the advantage of Libyans. This does not have to be confrontational. Doing "good" and fighting "evil" inside Libya is another way of fighting small tactical battles in the bigger war of liberation.