Libyan Officials Defect After Crackdown On Protesters

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Libyan government officials at home and abroad say they can't support attacks on unarmed civilians. Mahmud Shamman, the editor-in-chief of the Arabic edition of Foreign Policy magazine, has been tracking events in his native Libya from his base in Doha, Qatar. He talks with Renee Montagne about what's he's learned.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Libya remains in turmoil this morning, but many of the details of what's happening are still sketchy. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has hit back against protesters demanding his ouster with air strikes in the capital. After a day of heavy bloodshed yesterday, the security forces appear to be in control of the capital, Tripoli. But Libyans fleeing the eastern part of the country to neighboring Egypt say that the demonstrators have taken control in many areas.

Mahmoud Shamem, the editor-in-chief of the Arabic edition of Foreign Policy magazine, has been tracking events in his native Libya from his base in Doha, Qatar. Good morning.

Mr. MAHMOUD SHAMEM (Editor-in-Chief, Foreign Policy, Arabic Edition): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: There has been, in these last hours, and days, a wave of defections from Moammar Gadhafi's ranks. Nearly all of Libya's delegation to the U.N. has resigned. The ambassador to the U.S. formally broke with the regime in protest at this brutal crackdown. Also, Libya's ambassadors in Indonesia, Poland, Bangladesh, India.

This is a wave of diplomatic people leaving the government. What impact might that have, if any, on what Gadhafi does?

Mr. SHAMEM: I think we should talk about political psychology. We have a mad man, really mad man. He's a sick person. We never see such a dictator. He is ready to burn Libya to stay in power. And matter of fact, some of the cities in Libya - especially in the eastern part of Libya - are controlling by minister who resigned from the government and joined the intifada. For example, Mustafa Abu al-Jeleil, he is the minister of justice in Libya. He's now controlling the city of Al-Bayda.

But the security forces can manage to work, because Libya, the state, always is weak and is always controlling by him (unintelligible) and they don't give a damn about any pressure from anywhere in the world.

MONTAGNE: In Tunisia and Egypt, the leaders and the militaries in those countries, in the end, were unwilling to unleash major force against civilians. Why is it different in Libya?

Mr. SHAMEM: Because the traditional army in Libya is not really in control. What he did over the years, he completely disabled the ability of the army to be effective. He was scared that some officers will take over the country. And instead of that, he had what we call it, the Security Forces, which is in each city, he has what we called a small army led by his sons most of the time.

Last night I heard that some officers around Tripoli are joining the intifada. But up to now, the security forces are fighting for him.

MONTAGNE: Gadhafi has completely dominated Libya for four decades. And the way he's done that is by controlling powerful tribal groups - having them each have control of their areas. Is it of concern, if Gadhafi were to go, that there would be a civil war? You know, and one might think less of what's happening in Egypt and more of what's had been happening for years in, say, like Somalia? Is it possible Libya will end up without a government?

Mr. SHAMEM: Not at all. A matter of fact, he was trying to play the card that the eastern parts were going to separate and get its own independence from Libya and et cetera, et cetera. But when you look to Libya today, you will see all the towns, all the people in the towns, all the tribes are very united.

In a few days, Libya will be stabilized because there is a social organization. No Libyan is worried about what he is claiming that will happen to Libya.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. SHAMEM: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Mahmoud Shamem is editor-in-chief of the Arabic edition of "Foreign Policy" magazine. We spoke to him in Doha, Qatar.

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