David Blackburn

When will mass protest come to Libya?

When will mass protest come to Libya?
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As several seemingly permanent Middle Eastern autocracies tremble, Colonel Gadaffi’s Libya rolls on. So far, there have been reports of minor protests in the localities about housing shortages, nothing more.

With unemployment standing at 30 percent, the Libyan people are just as impoverished as those in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt. Gadaffi’s dictatorship is scarcely benevolent, and, as for liberalisation, Libya remains one of the few completely dry countries on Earth. The secret of Gadaffi’s success then would appear to be expressing aggressive anti-American sentiment, whilst suppressing Islamism and democratic opposition at home. And all the while he entices rich Western powers (Britain) with the allure of Libya’s virginal natural resources.

On cue, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is back in the news and remarkably he’s still alive. Wikileaks and the Telegraph have found traces of the previous government’s oleaginous fingers on some documents relating to al-Megrahi’s release. Former Foreign Office minister Bill Ramell wrote to Libyan officials outlining how the Lockerbie bomber could be freed by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds.

In fact, Ramell’s letter has been in the public domain since September 2009, but the conspiratorial tone collides with the Brown government’s chaste denials of involvement in the release. And it should be recalled that the Libyans have always maintained that al-Megrahi’s release was a precondition of Anglo-Libyan trade agreements, an analysis with which Jack Straw eventually agreed.

But this is all by-the-way. The latest reappearance of the ectoplasmic al-Megrahi, the Greatest Living Libyan, reminded me of these scenes. Perhaps they explain why Mubarak is being pursued by the likes of John Simpson, and why, for the moment, Gadaffi isn’t.