Q&A: What next for Gaddafi – and his oppressed people?

As the beleaguered &ndash; and increasingly deranged &ndash; dictator plans his next move, <i>The Independent on Sunday</i> examines and explains the rapidly changing situation
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What forces are at Gaddafi's disposal?

Libya's entire security forces are believed to number between 115,000 and 120,000. The vast majority are thought to have deserted the regime, leaving about 10 per cent loyal to Gaddafi. There is no single, unifying voice, meaning decision-making is slow and inefficient, potentially opening the floodgates to a prolonged civil war. The main faction seen as loyal to Gaddafi's regime is the Revolutionary Guard – believed to number somewhere between 7,000 and 25,000. Mercenaries are reportedly supporting the regime as well and originate from countries such as Chad and Ethiopia. The effectiveness of these forces, given that Gaddafi yesterday started arming Tripoli civilians and paying them to patrol streets, has almost certainly been exaggerated. But surrounding the leader at all times is a hardcore praetorian guard which, unless they decide to turn on Gaddafi, will stand between him and the people's revenge.

Is he mad?

Clinical psychiatrists may differ in their diagnoses, but by the standards of the rest of us, he is undoubtedly deranged. His speeches of the past few days are ample evidence. On Thursday he blamed the uprising on a combination of Osama bin Laden and teenagers maddened by hallucinogenic pills dropped into their coffee "like Nescafe". On Friday, he told a crowd in Tripoli: "Do as you please. You are free to dance, sing and celebrate in all squares throughout the night. Muammar Gaddafi is one of you. Dance, sing, rejoice!"

Can the United Nations do anything meaningful?

The UN could, in theory, take action. In 2006 its Security Council even endorsed the doctrine of its "responsibility to protect" people from their own governments. In practice, the council has explicitly authorised the use of military force only twice (Korea, 1950, when the Russians made the tactical error of boycotting it, and Kuwait, 1990). In the short term, expect words only.

Will Gaddafi survive?

Unless he has more forces in reserve than he has so far deployed, and is prepared to kill on an even more grotesque scale, the answer is ultimately no. And, much as some wish him to stand trial, the chances of him getting out alive are low. He eventually will die by his own hand, that of rebels, or of his own praetorian guard which finally turns against him. But the denouement may not come soon. Professor David Anderson of Oxford University told us: "If he were to have two or three army units that supported him, and he wanted to retreat to the south, he could hold out for quite some time."

Where could he go and where is his money?

With President Hugo Chavez practically the only ally he has left among world leaders, Gaddafi is most likely to seek sanctuary in Venezuela. Closer to home, he might make a visit to his old friend Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Despite attempts being stepped up to freeze billions in Libyan assets worldwide, Gaddafi secretly deposited £3bn with a London-based private wealth manager last week.

Who – or what – will replace him?

In rebel-controlled areas, some sort of authority is being exercised by citizen committees, largely composed of lawyers, doctors, tribal elders and army officers. Nationally, opposition has been stifled for so long that there is no obvious grouping or individual in the wings. But many leading officials and diplomats have defected to the rebels in the past few days, and one or more of these could return to join an interim authority, and eventually run for office. Islamic conservatives are not – so far – much in evidence. Professor Anderson said: "It is not clear that there is a political opposition that can come in and take over. It is not clear the army has the wherewithal to do so either. So there is a power vacuum here, and I think there could well be a period of quite difficult attrition with different army units seeking to get control, and it could be quite destructive."

Which will be the next regime to fall?

Yemen, Algeria, Sudan and Djibouti all look very vulnerable at the moment. Widespread demonstrations have been taking place in Yemen and Algeria over the past three weeks, with tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets to demand regime change. Years of civil strife in Sudan culminated in a referendum last month resulting in a decision to partition the country in July. There is some speculation as to whether Sudan's President, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, will hold on to power until then. Djibouti has seen similar unrest in the past few weeks, with demonstrations in city centres.

What about Saudi Arabia?

Its oil wealth meant ageing King Abdullah could sign a near $36bn social benefits package last week. Those subjects who can't be bought will stage their own "Day of Rage" on 11 March. Never say never.

Just how badly hit are oil suppliers?

Most oil companies have shut down or suspended their operations. Libyan industry relies heavily on black, immigrant labourers who have deserted the country in their thousands and are unlikely to return until a stable government is formed. Many major firms, including BP, are at very early stages of drilling, so much production has been delayed indefinitely rather than stopped.

So, Mr Megrahi, do you wish you'd stayed in Scotland?

A decade after Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted for the 1998 Lockerbie bombing, the 58-year-old's hero status in Libya continues. Released from a Scottish jail in August 2009 on "compassionate grounds" with supposedly just three months to live, he returned to Tripoli to a hero's welcome and Gaddafi's warm embrace. Last week, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, Libya's former justice minister, claimed to have proof Gaddafi ordered the bombing. Tensions remain high between the Gaddafi regime and Megrahi's Magariha tribe, which was angered by the original decision to hand him over for prosecution. On the whole, he'd be safer in Greenock.

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