Molly Tarhuni: Libyans are tired of living in fear – tired of corruption

Monday 21 February 2011 01:00

It is surprising to think that when Gaddafi came to power in 1969, the coup was "bloodless" – a stark comparison with what's going on today, with reports of up to 200 dead in scenes of bloodshed and chaos.

But when people took to the streets last week, they were fully aware of the consequences, having been used to the brutality which the rest of the world is only now noticing.

Frustrations in Libya that have been bubbling away for years have finally come to a head. Much of the fighting is taking place in the east, but it would be wrong to assume that the rest of the country is immune – the regime simply has a tighter hold on the capital.

While inevitably inspired by recent events in the region, analysts are right to point to the intrinsic differences each country faces. But Libyans share many of the region's grievances: they are tired of living in fear, tired of corruption, tired of unemployment, and tired of being ignored. The money and foreign investment that has flowed into Tripoli over the past years has helped to remake the image of the regime for foreign eyes, but the rest of the country has been ignored, with corruption endemic.

The irony is that when Gaddafi's Revolutionary Command Council came to power, it was based on heartfelt conviction of the need to fight corruption, and desire to get rid of a government that was not serving the needs of its people.

The first serious attempt at overthrowing Gaddafi took place just several months after he came to power. There have been numerous attempts since, some funded in part by foreign governments and the CIA at the height of the Cold War. The past few days, however, represent the biggest open revolt against Gaddafi in the 42 years he's been in power.

But there is a significant difference: in the past, Gaddafi's attempted overthrows were supported by former members of the regime and any sense of support by figures of that level has not yet emerged. And the question for Libyan opposition groups is whether or not they will be able to overcome the differences which have plagued them in the past.

No one can predict what will happen over the coming days – whether the rest of the country will continue in fear and watch as their fellow countrymen continue to die, or whether – spurred by some form of leadership that has yet to emerge – they will join the struggle. What the situation in Libya, and rest of the region is making clear is that economic reform alone is not enough.

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