The success of a large-scale popular uprising is usually determined not just by the hot bodies in the square, but also by those closest to the embattled leader. EDSA was one of the best examples of this, as it was only when People Power “heroes” (ahem) Enrile and Ramos captured the moment that Marcos realized he was out of the game. More recently, it was almost certainly his ebbing support among his many close friends in the Egyptian military that persuaded Mubarak to flee.
The critical importance of those immediately around the leader, the people he sees every day, makes me worry about the outcome of the Libyan revolution. Here is the excellent Kate Adie:
Farce mingled with fear. That is how the country ran. At the very heart of the mysterious administration was a clutch of men loyal to – but still very scared of – the Colonel himself.
There are few times when any of us experience total fear. To tremble with fear is a cliche. However, on two occasions I noticed officials in his presence start to shake. I wondered if they were ill, then realised that they were unable to control their fear, sweating and twitching and trying to edge out of his direct gaze. I once asked one of his inner circle – we were not in Libya – why his close colleagues behaved that way. He thought and then said that the Colonel's rages were occasionally so terrible that many thought he might kill. "It's terrible," he said. "But what can we do? He has the power. There are no alternatives in this kind of world. I'd rather not talk about it."
Sure the Libyan ambassador to the UN may desert Gaddafi, but he is thousands of miles away. How many of the “sweating and twitching” men still around the Colonel in his tent are willing to do an Enrile and Ramos? I can’t see Gadaffi uttering “Et tu Brute?” in Tripoli any time soon.
In addition to terrorizing the inner circle the embattled leader has to be willing to be utterly ruthless in the outer circle. Gaddafi will have no problem with this at all. The Communist Party’s successful crushing of the Tiananmen Square uprising is the best recent example of this approach.
I truly hope Gaddafi goes. I have never bought the idea that he is a relatively harmless eccentric, there to provide the rest of the world with a few laughs from time to time. He is a vicious and sadistic bully, one of the very worst leaders in the world. I hope the extraordinarily brave Libyans in Benghazi, Tripoli, and elsewhere can get rid of the mad clown of Tripoli but I wonder …