ANALYSTS across the Arab world are wondering whether Col. Muammar Qaddafi is trying to save his regime by suddenly leaning toward the West.
Official Libyan publications have printed rare critiques of Colonel Qaddafi's policies since Tuesday, causing great surprise among Arab observers because open criticism of the Libyan leader has seemed impossible. Some suggest that the unpredictable colonel is seeking a way out of his current conflict with the West over the prosecution of Libyan suspects in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. Others posit a power struggle within the upper hierarchy of the Libyan regime.
But the prevailing assessment is that the criticism of Qaddafi's pan-Arab policies signals a capitulation to the West.
"Qaddafi apparently concluded that he could not maintain his position [as Libya's leader] with dignity, now he is trying to maintain it by sacrificing his dignity," comments Egyptian author and political analyst Fehmi Howeidi.
If Qaddafi has orchestrated a campaign of criticism to justify a planned shift to the West in an attempt to save his regime, the theory goes, the colonel may have decided to hand over the two Libyan suspects. His refusal so far to relinquish the two has prompted a United Nations international air embargo and economic sanctions against Libya.
Another scenario is that the apparent media attack is meant to test waters at home, in the Arab world, and in the West. If there were reciprocal signals from the West, Qaddafi might embark on a pro-Western line, but if the West decides to ignore him, as seems to be the case, he would revert to his radical, Arab-unity policies.
But analysts in Amman and Cairo believe that Qaddafi's maneuvers could backfire, as it is now too late to appease the West and he is losing what is left of whatever pan-Arab credentials he has accumulated in the Arab world.
"This [what Qaddafi is doing] signals a complete breakdown. It is very alarming because such a shift will undermine any other Arab government's position vis-a-vis the West," argues Fakhri Kawar, a leftist member of the Jordanian parliament.
Qaddafi's fiery revolutionary rhetoric has always been viewed with skepticism by Arab activists, even in Jordan, which witnessd some of the biggest demonstrations and fundraising campaigns for Iraq during the Gulf war. Similar activities in support of Libya have not attracted real interest, despite Qaddafi's frequent hosting of "nationalist and progressive" conferences for Jordanian and other Arab political groups in Tripoli.
"People here do not support the sanctions against Libya. But they are not ready to get involved in pro-Libyan campaigns, mainly because they do not take Qaddafi seriously," says a politician who has tried to organize demonstrations in Jordan in support of Libya.
A Jordanian journalist recently in Libya says: "There was talk [a month ago] about effecting changes within the power structure that will set the stage for a policy shift" toward the West.
According to this account, supported by other reports of Jordanians who have recently been in Libya, there is a division in the Libyan leadership between Qaddafi and his deputy Abdul Salam Jalloud. Jalloud reportedly favors an anti-Western, hardline stance on the Lockerbie matter, to appease public opinion at home. Qaddafi, however, may be more interested in preserving his position. But observers caution that the leaders may be dividing opinion in a calculated manner.
The gist of the media attack against Qaddafi is that the Libyans will no longer support his pan-Arab policies so he should give priority to his country's interests.
"You are chasing a mirage," said an article in al-Jamihiriyah newspaper on Tuesday that began the campaign. "Go where you like. We will not follow ... the Arabs are laughing at us because of you."