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Qaddafi speech: More Saddam Hussein than Mubarak

Muammar Qaddafi's Libya may be autocratic like Tunisia and Egypt. But unlike the leaders of those regimes, Qaddafi seems willing to plunge his country into war to preserve power.

By Staff writer / February 22, 2011

Libya's leader, Muammar Qaddafi, holds his speech as he talks on national television from Tripoli in this Feb. 22 still image taken from video.

Libyan State Television/Reuters

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Cairo

Embattled Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi turned in a stunning television harangue this evening that repeatedly called for democracy protesters to be executed, describing them as “rats” and “cockroaches” in the service of foreign agents.

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In rambling, almost rabid, tones he highlighted the differences between his regime and those just ousted in Egypt and Tunisia.

It's true: Qaddafi’s Libya is something else again – a state in which everyone answers to the caprices and whims of the “Leader and Guide of the Revolution,” as he styles himself. The only real regional analogue in recent memory is Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, but even there the megalomania and cult of personality didn’t run as deep.

IN PICTURES: Libya protests

Egypt and Tunisia, Libya's immediate neighbors, may have been ruled by autocrats. They may have stifled political dissent with arrests and torture. But they also had public institutions that acted separately from those autocrats, a tradition of rhetorical respect for the rule of law (if not always in practice), and military establishments that decided to push out their leaders rather than plunge their nation into chaos.

Unlike those leaders, Qaddafi seems perfectly willing to plunge his country into a brutal war to preserve his power. The key test will be whether his military, an institution where direct loyalty to him is paramount, will stick with him. If he plunges Libya – an OPEC member with Africa's largest proven oil reserves – further into conflict, oil prices are likely to skyrocket, something he's probably hoping will prevent outside powers from fully assisting the protesters.

Qaddafi's threats

Now Qaddafi, who spoke from what appeared to be the ruins of a Tripoli barracks bombed by the United States in 1986 in retaliation for a terrorist attack, is promising violence. As the United Nations Security Council meets to decide whether to take action, Libyans and much of the world are holding their breath.

He called several times for the death or execution of protesters in places like the eastern city of Benghazi, where disgruntled citizens have already wrested control from him.

He repeatedly referred to the protesters – whom he termed “gangs” – as serving, variously, Satan, Britain, the United States, and Al Qaeda.

“This is a small number of terrorists trying to turn us into an emirate for Bin Laden and Zawahiri so the US can come take control,” he said, referring to the group's chief ideologue Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian living in exile.

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