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Democracy Now on the Battle for Tripoli and the Collapse of the Gaddafi Regime

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The dangerous part in the eastern region of Libya had been the presence of these military forces that are really not under the full command of the national military. That would be the number one priority, which is to unify the military, to make sure it takes orders from the council, and also to unify the security forces that are in existence, so that peace and order can be in the country. The government, the NTC , is not in complete command, but it has enormous political authority and enormous ethical authority. And so, I think they will ride on that until they firm up their ability to run the country, which they will need to do quite soon. But they lack some skills, but they seem to have learned quite quickly.

AMY GOODMAN : Professor Juan Cole, this is a piece from Reuters that begins: "Libyan rebel Husam Najjair seems more concerned about the [possibility] of [rebels] turning on each other when they try to take control of the capital Tripoli than the threat posed by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi." Do you think this is a real concern?

JUAN COLE : In a post-revolutionary situation, there is always danger of faction fighting. The long knives come out to settle disputes. But I don't think that there's so far signs for extreme concern in this regard. The Transitional National Council in Benghazi clearly has liaised with the rebel forces, the dissident forces, in Tripoli. It is said that the uprising was in part planned in Benghazi. There seems to be good coordination with the rebels from the--or the revolutionary army from the Berber areas, in the Western Mountain regions. There is a great deal of goodwill, desire, for Libya now to go forward into more transparent government. The plan is to move to parliamentary elections within six to eight months. A constitution is being drafted. And I think there is every reason to think, from someone--as someone who's followed this very closely, that there will be buy-in to this new national project of transparent and democratic government.

AMY GOODMAN : As Libyan rebels celebrated across Libya, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, condemned the NATO bombing raids on Tripoli, saying they were destroying the Libyan capital.

PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] Today, we are seeing images of how the democratic European governments--well, some of them are democratic, we know who they are--are practically demolishing Tripoli with their bombs, and the supposedly democratic government of the United States, because they feel like it. Today they dropped I don't know how many bombs, and they are dropping them indiscriminately and openly--and they are not explaining anything--over schools, hospitals, houses, businesses, factories, farms. This is happening right now.

AMY GOODMAN : Khaled Mattawa, can you respond to President Hugo Chávez? Venezuela is one of the countries that's been talked about possibly being a place of exile for Muammar Gaddafi, though it's not clear what is happening right now, even where Gaddafi is.

KHALED MATTAWA : Well, it was talked about, and I had hoped that he would actually take Gaddafi, and they could have a fun time together in Venezuela, but it didn't happen. One significant aspect of Hugo Chávez is, in Libya, there used to be a stadium named Hugo Chávez Stadium in Benghazi. As soon as the revolution started and he had shown that he had sided with Gaddafi--and he had been somewhat popular--that stadium was changed to another name. So, Hugo Chávez, please stick to your cancer treatment, that I hope you recover soon. And leave the Libyan people alone. Please try to take care of your country, and leave us alone, and just shut up.

AMY GOODMAN : Fred Abrahams, the issue of what happens now with the supporters of Gaddafi versus those who have taken him on--and of course a number of supporters, high-level administration officials in the Libyan government, have switched, as late as probably today, but certainly yesterday and the day before--the issue of revenge?

FRED ABRAHAMS : It's a real concern. Look, 42 years of dictatorship. People have legitimate grievances against their leaders and on a local level--the corner informant who was spying on your family for decades. So we believe that the National Transitional Council now has to step up and show it's able to lead the country in this transitional period. And that means speaking forcefully against revenge and taking steps to stop it. That means guarding installations, police stations, courthouses, other facilities that could be targeted by people with their legitimate rage, and basically showing that a new Libya will turn its back on these abusive practices of the past. We've seen good signs so far. The NTC has issued very strong statements condemning revenge, calling on their fighters to behave. But, you know, that has to continue, because after six months of conflict, four decades of dictatorship, the threat is very real.

AMY GOODMAN : You talked in your report, just having been back from Libya, about NATO forces' abuses, about the Gaddafi regime abuses. What about rebels?

FRED ABRAHAMS : Yes, we have documented some abuses by the rebels, particularly in areas they captured with government control, some attacks against government supporters, some looting, some arson. It is not on the scale of the government abuses, but it's not to be dismissed in any way. And thankfully, the reaction has been good. The NTC leadership has condemned these violations. They have pledged to investigate. They've called for calm. And, you know, let's see if that plays out. There's no doubt the emotions are running high. And what happens these days in Libya will set the tone for the years to come.

AMY GOODMAN : Khaled Mattawa, the response of President Obama and the West, in general--France, Britain? What would you like to see now, in these last seconds we have you on satellite from Cairo?

KHALED MATTAWA : I would like the U.N. and the countries that have supported the Libyan revolution to keep an eye on Libya. I think the potential, as our colleague was saying, is very high for an actual democratic country arising in the country. But what will happen next, which is to try to limit the violence, and this is the national council's responsibility, to try to keep this as peaceful a transition as possible is very important. But the media and the countries that have supported the revolution, they need to also send these messages to try to support the national police force, in tactical means and in every possible way, to make sure that peace is kept in the country. Peace now, in this time, will guarantee a peace and transparency that we're seeking in the future. So, we're grateful. I think the Libyan experience has been a kind of antidote to the Iraq experience, in many ways, and it shows that international intervention, when it's fully justified, when it's done under duress and not under strategic planning, may be the best way to go about this. And I'm hopeful that the world will keep its eye on Libya, and Libya will reward that attention.

AMY GOODMAN : And while you have been in Cairo, where we're speaking to you now, just back from Libya, the response in Cairo? Tunisia, Egypt has been such an inspiration for the people of Libya.

KHALED MATTAWA : It has been great being here to watch that and to see the revolution ongoing. But also, you can see threads of the tensions that exist in Arab societies, in general. There is a large force out there. There are some institutions that may not wish for transparency. In Libya, we have no institution whatsoever, so that strategy may not be there. But just the kind of security apparatus that had been there, that may wish to sort of coexist--re-exist in another fashion, that's something we need to be aware of.

The other tensions, of course, is on the shape of the nation. There are no different sectarian divisions in Libya. There are no sectarian divisions, in general. But there are ethnic divisions, some tribal divisions. And these have taken--have affected Egypt, in a way, the divisions that are within the nation. In Libya, it's a smaller country. It's easier to pull together. But the desire for one unified nation may be under some stress. And also, the issue of the role of Islam and to what extent it should play in the country may be a test of some tension. People in Libya are generally conservative and moderate, moderately conservative Muslims. They like to live and let live, within a conservative culture. But others may be asking for more Islamic stricture, Islamic rule. And I personally hope that that wouldn't be the case in the end. But the nation's identity and the role of religion in it is going to be a part of the discussion. And I hope it happens peacefully, because we've had a religious rebellion in the '90s, and some of those forces still exist. Some of them contributed to the revolution. But we want to make sure that what we come up with is a moderate, tolerant, democratic society, where Islam is a guiding spiritual force, but not necessarily a political force.

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