Cornered Gaddafi promises ‘martyrdom'

Isolated in his capital, Tripoli, the Libyan dictator has his back to the wall. International condemnation may not be enough to stop a bloody final act.

To the world looking on, the Libyans who have defied their dictator Colonel Gaddafi, are brave patriots. Their protests and the armed resistance to a violent crackdown by security forces and African mercenaries, have shown inspiring determination to end the repression which they've endured since Gaddafi took power in 1969.

But to the tyrant himself, they are 'rats' and 'cockroaches,' the traitorous puppets of foreign infiltrators. And in what seem certain to be his final few days of power, the Colonel has lived up to his nickname 'the Mad Dog of the Middle East,' - given to him in the 1980s, when he instigated and funded terrorist attacks across the world.

When the first groups of demonstrators ventured onto the streets of Benghazi, Libya's second city, on February 17th, their bravery seemed almost foolhardy. The Gaddafi regime is well-armed and rich, due to its oil reserves. Libya is the tenth largest oil power in the world and number one in Africa.

But in spite of attacks by helicopter gunships, which left hundreds dead, the rebels gained control and pushed out government forces within days.

Commentators warned of a civil war, but the regime's power base continued to contract to the area directly around the capital city, Tripoli and the oil-fields in the desert.

The dictator's response was a long speech on state television, in which he insulted his people and promised to die a martyr rather than leave Libyan soil.

His son Saif al-Islam, once seen as a moderniser who might take over from his father, has become the public face of the embattled regime. He insists, against all the evidence, that Libya is peaceful and the regime still in control.

'If you hear fireworks, don't mistake it for shooting,' Saif told western journalists.

Endgame approaches
The posturing of Colonel Gaddafi and his son would be comical if the reality of the situation in Libya was not so frightening: as the end of his rule approaches, Gaddafi becomes more dangerous.

A deal with western governments in 2004 ensured he stopped developing his early-stage nuclear weapons programme and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But he is rumoured to have mustard gas stores and shows no qualms about killing his own people.

The international community has called on Gaddafi to leave immediately. Henchmen who have defected to the rebels suggest he might commit suicide. But the path to freedom could still be littered with more martyrs than the Colonel himself.

You Decide

  1. In what circumstances should the outside world intervene in a country's politics: only when it threatens a neighbouring country or also if a ruler abuses and kills their own population?
  2. Read this profile of Colonel Gaddafi's son and heir: is he any better?


  1. Have a look at this competition to write the last-minute speech that might save a doomed dictator.
  2. Can you find the right words and deliver the speech to your class?
  3. Libya is an important oil-producing country. Research the main sources of oil in the world and write a short description of each main oil-exporting nation. Can you see any common features?

Some People Say...

“We're only interested because there's oil in Libya.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why have the Libyan people taken to the streets?
After living without and freedom or human rights for 41 years, the Libyans have been inspired by the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, which successfully caused repressive regimes to fall. Rumbling discontent throughout the Middle East and North African has been dubbed, in hope, an 'Arab Spring.'
Hope for what?
Democracy. The whole region has been blighted by ruling elites who deny their subjects political power and basic freedoms, and keep the often-considerable oil wealth for themselves. Now even the ruling royal families of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been forced to offer some concessions to restless populations.
Why doesn't somebody do something?
The United Nations has unanimously condemned Gaddafi and the US and other major powers have imposed trade and other sanctions. But after the Iraq War, intervening directly in a country's internal problems has become more controversial and difficult.


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