Just another day in Libya. More protests and more violence. Unofficially tallies has put the death toll at about 200 so far. And unfortunately, it is hard to obtain good, verifiable information. Rumors are spreading that Muammar al-Gaddafi has fled the country to Venezuela (another OPEC country led by another autocratic strongman, Hugo Chavez). And there are fissures developing within the state. It seems that some of the Libyan security forces are aghast at the violence against their fellow citizens, and are vowing not to harm them. Additionally, members of the Gaddafi’s cabinet are reported to have resigned in protest at the crackdown.
Meanwhile, in the last hour, Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, took to the airwaves to explain the situation. And as Mubarak did in his last speech, it appears that Seif has only made the situation worse, arguing that civil war is imminent if the protests do not cease. He has blamed the unrest not on Libyan authorities, of course. Instead, he blamed the unrest on a motley crew of Muslim agitators aiming to split the country into several small Islamic states; opportunistic foreign states; and the youth who are under the influence of drugs.
Libya, as some of you may know, is an extremely closed state, far more closed than Egypt. Strict controls are placed on freedoms of speech and organization. Libyan journalists are subject to censorship, and worse, if their reports do not closely parrot state propaganda. And it is difficult for foreign journalists even to enter the country. Internet activities and phone conversations are monitored. And right now, because of the uprising, almost all forms of communication have been halted. Despite these efforts, Libyans are remarkably finding ways to get information to the outside world. Certainly, this must unnerve other closed states like China and Saudi Arabia with restive populations. These states have to see that no matter how hard they try to disrupt the flow of sensitive information, citizens will do their best to work around these restrictions. And as citizens become more adept at these efforts, uncovering and disseminating facts about the state of their country, they manage to undermine the authority and legitimacy of repressive regimes.