The city of Tobruk evokes memories of epic battles between the forces of utter totalitarianism and freedom from the previous century. Perhaps with some luck and fortitude, especially by younger Libyans, it might represent the same kind of victory for freedom in this century as well. Fox News correspondent David Lee Miller speaks with the young man who directed the liberation of Tobruk from forces loyal to dictator Moammar Gaddafi yesterday, Mahtoub Hussein Mahtoub:
Miller reports that the military has begun to desert in Tobruk, casting off their uniforms and joining Mahtoub and his fighters instead to oppose Gaddafi. Mahtoub himself appears to have been educated in the UK, and speaks of liberation and freedom. He also understands the stakes involved, telling Miller that “it’s either us or Gaddafi,” and describing horrendous war crimes by Gaddafi’s forces.
Mahtoub isn’t alone in that assessment, as CNN reports:
But the capital, Tripoli, was a different story. Sounds of gunfire erupted at dawn Thursday as chanting crowds fled. Government security forces tightened their grip on the Libyan capital, according to sources. In one of the neighborhoods, no one was allowed in or out.
“There’s nobody walking in the street, nobody is trying to get out, even to look through the window,” a resident who did not want to be identified for security reasons told AC360. “It’s a little scary.”
While Gaddafi controls Tripoli, at least for the moment, he has lost the other major cities:
Misrata — also spelled as Misurata — is now in the hands of the opposition, who have driven out the mercenaries, according to witnesses and multiple media reports.
Witnesses and multiple reports also said that the town of Az Zintan was under opposition control.
The opposition also controls Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi, where crowds cheered as international journalists drove through the city. The only shooting that could be heard was celebratory gunfire.
Will Mahtoub and his Western influence herald a democracy movement in Libya, or will the country end up in either Islamist control or fall into tribal disunity, creating another failed state in Africa? We can certainly hope for the former, but it will bear close watch. In armed insurrections, the odds of liberal democracy arising from the ashes are long, but not non-existent. It would be nice to see Tobruk be a symbol of real and lasting freedom for the people of Libya as it was for the people of Europe seven decades ago.
Update: Miller and his colleagues had better take care, as Gaddafi moves to silence the rebels:
Senior Libyan officials are warning foreign journalists who have entered Libya without proper government accreditation to cover the violent unrest sweeping the country that they will be considered Al Qaeda collaborators and subject to immediate arrest, the State Department said Thursday.
In meetings with U.S. diplomats, Libyan officials said their government would not be responsible for the safety of those journalists, the department said in a statement. The officials said all journalists now in the country must be part of government approved teams and will be prosecuted on immigration charges if they are working independently, according to the department.
“Be advised, entering Libya to report on the events unfolding there is additionally hazardous with the government labeling unauthorized media as terrorist collaborators and claiming they will be arrested if caught,” the department said in a notice to news organizations.
In other words, cover the rebels and we’ll kill you.