Growing efforts to find a negotiated settlement to Libya's civil war got a boost of attention Wednesday, when French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that Muammar Qaddafi could stay indefinitely in his home country as long as he steps down from power.
"One of the scenarios effectively envisaged is that he stays in Libya on one condition ... that he very clearly steps aside from Libyan political life," Mr. Juppe told French LCI TV. "A cease-fire depends on Qaddafi committing clearly and formally to surrender his military and civilian roles."
Qaddafi and his powerful son Saif al-Islam have insisted they won't leave the country under any circumstances, so Juppe's comments would appear to be reaching for an acceptable compromise conclusion to an increasingly bloody war (a rebel offensive on the tiny eastern oil town of Brega, for instance, has been stalled for days, with dozens of casualties on both sides). The problem is, of all the outcomes one could imagine in Libya, Qaddafi relinquishing power and living out his days as a free man in Tripoli is the least likely.
The reason why has to do with the depth of hatred for the man among the rebels. There are no similarities between the case of Qaddafi and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, for instance. While corruption flourished under Mubarak and torture was routinely used, executions weren't carried out on the industrial scale of Qaddafi's Libya.
While many young Egyptian protesters would like Mr. Mubarak put on trial, he also has a fair degree of sympathy from the Egyptian public – and the protection of the officer corps, whose military institution is intact and in control. Though there's some momentum for a trial, it's looking like Mubarak will successfully push it off with claims of ill health. That will disappoint many Egyptians and infuriate some, but Mubarak living out his days in Sharm el-Sheikh is something that Egypt by and large is willing to accept.
But Qaddafi? He's a terrifying figure to his subjects after decades of haphazard executions and massacres. Even many of the gleeful political cartoons that erupted on walls across the east within days of his downfall often depicted him as a figure of fear – a vampire, or a ghoul, or the devil.
And Qaddafi has no institution behind him – just patronage networks that will be figuratively decapitated the moment he's gone from power. He's spent much of the past few months barking that his political opponents are cockroaches, drug addicts, and foreign spies who will be hunted "house to house, alley to alley." The belief is passionately held in Benghazi that there would have been a bloodbath if Qaddafi's troops had overrun the city. This is not a man to be left alone to be good on his own recognizance.
So whatever promises France might make in public (or perhaps a crafty emissary from Qaddafi's rebellious east might whisper in his ear), as a practical matter, a Qaddafi out of power in Libya is going to be either dead or in jail. A dictator doesn't hold power for 40 years by being a fool. Qaddafi knows he must find a way to win his battle or quit the country.
Among them are a video of the public execution of Sadiq Shwehdi in 1984 at the Benghazi basketball stadium. Shwehdi had studied in the US and met with Libyan exile groups critical of Qaddafi. When he came home to Benghazi in 1984, he was quickly arrested in a crackdown on political dissidents following a failed assassination attempt on Qaddafi.
A "revolutionary court" was assembled (the sole membership qualification being rabid fealty to Qaddafi), the stadium packed with jeering Qaddafi supporters and busloads of schoolchildren. The events that culminated in the murder of Shwehdi and others were beamed live on state television. In Benghazi, most of those old enough to remember have vivid memories of the horror of that day. Spreading that horror around was Qaddafi's point.
Though the video at The Guardian is better quality, I found this grainy old network news report on Shwehdi's execution far more interesting. It captures the way Qaddafi has used mob violence and state terror, while telling Shwehdi's story.
It is graphic in parts, so be warned (after the 2-minute mark, it shows the hanging of Shwehdi).
France's Juppe should watch it to understand why his proposal isn't likely to fly.