Libya on the brink

Libya on the brink

It took a little under a month for Tunisians — with a vital assist from their military — to oust Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak went from pillar of stability to disgraced ex-president in just 18 days.

Now, as we enter a seventh day of protests and armed street battles raging across Libya, the unimaginable fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi suddenly seems very imaginable indeed.

So far, ant-government demonstrators have more or less taken over major cities in eastern Libya, including Benghazi, the country’s second-largest. The uprising has been bloody: Human Rights Watch reports that as many as 233 people have died, and probably more.

Last night, events seemed to reach a tipping point, as representatives of several large tribes voiced their support for the rebels and several diplomats — including Libya’s envoy to the Arab League and its No. 2 man in China — resigned in protest.

Then, as protesters reportedly thronged Tripoli’s Green Square and marched on Qaddafi’s compound, Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of the ruler, appeared on state television, dressed in a black suit and tie and slouching in front of a green map of Africa.

In a bizarre, apparently off-the-cuff speech, Seif accused the protesters of receiving foreign help and seeking to set up "Islamic emirates" in eastern Libya — that is, when they weren’t doing LSD and working with African mercenaries. Warning of a "civil war" in the making, he vowed to fight "until the last man, until the last woman, until the last bullet."

Many things still aren’t clear in Libya, where rumors are flying fast and furious and foreign journalists aren’t able to operate. Last night, there was a rumor going around Twitter that Qaddafi had fled to Venezuela; Caracas denied it. Another story had it that Seif had been shot by his brother Mutassim, who as the national security advisor theoretically controls large parts of the security apparatus.

Seif’s speech was certainly crazy, but he may be right about one thing: There is a nasty internecine conflict on the way in Libya. From all that we’ve seen, the regime will do anything to stay in power, including shooting people in cold blood with heavy-caliber weapons. It doesn’t look like there will be a nice, friendly "let’s all hold hands and clean up Tahrir Square" moment. After four decades of unspeakable tyranny, Libyans will be out for vengeance.

For those interested in following events in Libya on Twitter, I’ve made a list of key sources to follow. Please bear in mind, however, that much of what goes around in hearsay and unconfirmed rumor — much of it no doubt wrong. Unfortunately, it’s the best information we have to go on right now. I’ll keep adding good feeds to the list as I find them, and feel free to recommend your own.