The Gaddafi regime in Libya seems to believe that if a government crackdown is murderous enough, demonstrations will stop.
In Egypt, the relatively short-lived military crackdown by the hated security agencies and pro-regime thugs actually strengthened the opposition, reminding the millions in the streets exactly what they were protesting against. In Libya, the Gaddafi regime seems to have turned that lesson on its head, apparently believing that if their response is violent enough, brutal enough, murderous enough, the opposition will stop.
So far, it hasn’t worked. With earlier attacks from helicopter gunships and jet bombers, and with reports of machine gun fire in and around Tripoli continuing at least through February 24, the estimates of Libyans killed range from 300 to more than 1,000 people—but the popular resistance has continued unabated.
What is different in Libya from the earlier iterations of the Arab world’s great democratic revolution of 2011 is that the anti-regime, pro-democracy side that has succeeded in ousting the regime from major cities and most of eastern Libya, is now seeing huge sectors of the Libyan military defect directly to the opposition. Libyan civil society democracy activists in Benghazi and elsewhere are apparently taking up arms with and alongside the military units now on their side, both to defend their cities and, reportedly, to prepare to help the people of Tripoli and the west, still under Gaddafi’s contested control, finally to overthrow the regime. Libya, unlike Egypt and Tunisia or states where revolutionary upheavals are underway, is moving towards a military confrontation closer to a civil war.