Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Gaddafi speech - a footnote on the audience and venue

An interesting footnote to the Gaddafi speech today, for those who did not catch the end because many TV stations grew tired and moved on to talking heads. When he finished with his "Forward march! No going back!" and the right fist in the air, he walked down off the podium to his right along a pathway and there were some faint cheers of support off camera. At that point a man in military uniform came forward to kiss Gaddafi on both cheeks, then a man in civilian dress did likewise. The camera zoomed out further and a group of about 20 people came into view, apparently his audience. Gaddafi then got into a golf-cart/toktok vehicle similar to the one he was driving in the early hours in Green Square and drove off alone. For those reporters and viewers uncertain about the venue, I can assure them that this was the porch of the building in the Bab al-Aziziya barracks where Gaddafi was said to have been staying when the United States bombed the building in April 1986. The Libyan government often took foreign visitors there to remind them of the incident. Gaddafi's alleged bedroom, which contained a king-sized bed in red velvet, surrounded by large mirrors, was also on display (kitsch would be a polite description). Outside the building, the monumental giant fist crushing a US fighter-bomber has been a permanent feature for years. The venue would account for Gaddafi driving away alone: the extensive area is heavily guarded and not easily accessible to outsiders. But the small audience was puzzling, as was the poor quality of the audio and the video, which really did suggest an infrastructure on the  verge of collapse.
    Gaddafi's argument for the use of force against rebels was not one we often hear in polite circles. He cited the US assault on the Iraqi town of Falluja, the FBI's attack on the Branch Davidian centre in Waco, Texas, in 1993, and the attack on the Russian parliament under Boris Yeltsin, also in 1993. 
    It's striking how, under pressure, all three North African autocrats -- in Tunis, Egypt and now Libya -- have tried to portray their enemies as fanatical Islamists. Gaddafi went one step further, saying that al Qaeda had taken over the east of the country. 

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