Mar 222011
Authors: McClatchy-Tribune

TRIPOLI, Libya — He woke up in a fright as the air raids and the anti-aircraft guns opened up over Tripoli early Sunday morning. But when Abdul-Momen climbed to his rooftop to watch the tracer fire streaking the sky, it was not fear that filled his heart. It was hope.

Across the expanse of his neighborhood, the young doctor could see others holding up their cellphones to record history. And while they were too afraid of their neighbors to publicly cheer, neither were they cursing the West nor chanting pro-government slogans.

“For the first time we finally have hope that our nightmare of 40 years will soon be over,” Abdul-Momen said a few days into the bombing campaign. “I’m looking forward to seeing a free Libya without Moammar Gadhafi.”

With control of the broadcast media and the streets, Gadhafi loyalists have for weeks intimidated their opponents, allowing only a message of almost giddy support for the leader and the nation to fill the public space. Even news of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami was ignored.

But since the start of the Western-led bombing campaign against Libya’s armed forces, the edifice of control has begun to crack. Except for a few spokespeople, Libyan officials have slipped away. Gadhafi and his outspoken son, Seif Islam, who had been giving interviews nonstop to international media, have largely disappeared.

Gadhafi may still be able to hang on. He did take to the airwaves just before midnight Tuesday in what was described as a live appearance before supporters at his Bab Azizya compound. He vowed to be victorious. “The most powerful air defense is the people,” he said. “Here are the people.”

The regime’s attempts at propaganda have fallen flat, however. The street value of the country’s currency, equal to the official rate before the bombing started, has fallen 25 percent. Lines are forming at rationing centers distributing rice, tea, oil and barley, and at gas stations. Commercial activity, which had perked up after weeks of political unrest, has fallen off dramatically.

Most important, the regime’s opponents in the capital have been emboldened despite Gadhafi’s vow on Sunday to arm all his supporters. Many perceived that as a tactic to further cow a nascent protest movement, which his security forces crushed with brute force last month.

“It’s a joke; he will never arm the people,” said one university professor, who asked that his last name not be published for security reasons. “He knows that half of the people at least will immediately turn their guns against him.”

Fueling the resentment is repressed anger over those killed and missing since the unrest began. For the first time in weeks, people are speaking up about atrocities committed during protests that began just before the five-year anniversary of Feb. 17, 2006, protests in Benghazi in which security forces killed 16 people and injured 62.

One opposition activist said nearly two dozen members of his Farjan tribe were killed in the Gadhafi stronghold of Sirte.

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