for my next trick, i will pull an imaginary army out of someone else’s arse

p>Oh, jeebus. Someone on CIF has just ordered the Egyptian army into Tripoli. It’s like some kind of pathological agony of distance. Running the scenarios is one thing; issuing imaginary orders to the Egyptian high command is another entirely. Gaddafi’s in his bunker but the further out in the fresh air you get the more people seem to be running around with cardboard boxes on their heads paging general Steiner.

Given the obvious proviso that these things are not tea parties, it seems to me that the Libyans are running their revolution quite nicely. They have most of the country, are putting provisional forms of governance in place, and large sections of the armed forces seem to have come over along with tribal irregulars. Gaddafi will be out of aviation fuel long before you can put a no-fly zone in place, and without the means to get more. The locals may be in need of certain goods which could be supplied from outside – I think a planeload of rpgs would be a handy way to stop Gaddafis loyalists/mercenaries hosing down the crowds with mobile anti-aircraft artillery, for instance – but aside from that, why not let the Libyans finish their own revolution?

not a fidgety person

As we wait for the final denouement in Libya, let’s revisit, courtesy of Chris Brooke and Fistful’s Charlie, this fantastic essay on Gaddafi the modernizer by New Labour intellectual godfather Anthony Giddens, who back in 2006 was ready to believe that Libya could be the new Norway and that it’s leader was a thoughtful chap with a strong affinity for “third way” thinking. Also:

He is not a fidgety person but has a calm, articulate manner

He looked pretty fucking twitchy to me last night.

straight to Qaddafi

Now that everyone is probably scrambling for deniability if not cover, let's revisit David Rose's piece on New Labour, New Libya. It's something worth a second reading into the record.

Libyan sources insist, however, that Blair has visited Libya half a dozen times since stepping down as P.M. (Doyle declines to comment on this assertion, but does say that Blair visited Libya once in the 18-month period ending November 2010.) But Blair’s employer, J.P. Morgan, does have commercial relationships with Libya. Three senior British officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say that Blair has made numerous trips to Libya since leaving Downing Street, at least partly on behalf of the bank. “The Blair magic still works with Qaddafi,” one of these officials observes. “Qaddafi will drop everything to see Blair.” Saif al-Islam, Qaddafi’s probable heir, said last summer that Blair was “a personal family friend” and added that Blair had visited Libya “many, many times” since leaving office.

One such visit took place in June 2010. “His plane landed at Mitiga airport”—a few miles east of Tripoli and used by V.I.P.’s—“and a car took him straight to a minister with whom he had private business,” according to a well-placed source. “Then he went straight to Qaddafi.” There he briefed the dictator about what to expect from the new British coalition government led by David Cameron. Afterward, he spent the night at the British ambassador’s residence.

Neither Blair nor the bank will say anything about what he does to justify his salary, either in Libya or elsewhere. Executives at other banks with Libyan interests say that J.P. Morgan now handles much of the Libyan Investment Authority’s cash, and some of the Libyan central bank’s reserves.

guns are business is democracy or something

Mr Cameron said Britain had "a range of strong defence relationships" with countries in the region and British lives had been lost defending Kuwait "so the idea that Britain should not have defence relationships with some of these countries I don't understand".

Uh, Dave. Shouldn’t the justification here that we’re arming Kuwait so that we don’t have to “lose British lives”?

But it’s nonsense anyway. The actual military weapons we sell to the the Middle East aren’t meant to be used, unlike the paramilitary ones. They’re there partly to provide manufacturers with opportunities for selling training and spares, partly as a kind of military Harrods – prestige goods for regimes that depend on such things – but mainly as a form of political insurance for the governments concerned, which are buying lobbying power. You buy the fancy goods so that you get a pass on using the pepper spray and water cannon…which of course we’ll also be very happy to provide you with at reasonable rates.

And if the Iraqis ever have another stab at reuniting the Ottoman Basra governorate, making judicious arms purchases is also a pretty good guarantee that British lives will be lost in getting it back for the Sheikhs. The money goes to BAE. The British public provides the squaddies.

In fairness I should add something about Douglas Alexander’s weaselly contribution, but that’s the point where words fail me. I will say that the idea that “Labour made us do it” is generally the founding big lie of the current government, but in foreign policy – Middle eastern policy especially – Cameron and co were dropped right in it

a couple of cheers for pocket Bismark

When I said the other day that I wondered how Britain would respond to the situation in Libya, I was referring to the fact that the last government committed the UK to a one way bet on Ghaddafi as the means of securing oil and arms concessions – also, of course, support in the “war on terror”. Should the revolution succeed it’s hard to see those contracts being fulfilled, at least on anything like the same terms as present. So some credit to pocket Bismarck here.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on global leaders on Sunday to speak out against Libya's crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.

"The world should not hesitate to condemn those actions," Hague told Sky News. "What Colonel Gaddafi should be doing is respecting basic human rights and there is no sign of that in the dreadful response, the horrifying response, of the Libyan authorities to these protests."

See also. You obviously can’t be too naïve about this. He may be in the process of walking back New Labour’s commitments in the hope of preserving British commercial interests should the rebels win, though in the process he’s just radically reduced the chances of preserving them if Ghaddaffi hangs on.

But can you imagine the festival of squirming equivocation we'd be getting if Blair was still in office?

Anyway, if Hague has made a spread bet, it may be a good one. Latest reports have the rebels in control of Benghazi and the Eastern half of the country. Good luck to them, though it does make me think of the 518.

velvet revolution now officially over


The Czech Repblic has also warned against speaking out in favour of human rights in Libya.

Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg said the EU should not "get involved too much" and that high-minded EU appeals would only serve to "prove our own importance".

"If Gaddafi falls, then there will be bigger catastrophes in the world," he told journalists in the EU capital on Sunday. "It's no use for anyone if we intervene there loudly, just to prove our own importance."

And Gustav Husak lies gobsmacked in his grave.

death struggle with rumours

No I don't have a clue either, except that the waves seem to be rolling over Atlantis. Anyway, here's a gripping and possibly useful composite twitter feed.

Apparently Ghaddafi junior mentioned Manchester as one of the centres of the plot to overthrow his dad in his bunker speech last night. You wouldn't believe how pleased local TV stations are to get a namecheck in these world-historical events. Bet the scousers are livid.

Anyway, there's five hundred or so Libyans on Oxford Road right now, giving Muammar seven kinds of bollocking.

techniques of the counter-revolution

It looks like the Empire is striking back on multiple fronts. So far as I can see, these seem to have been the lessons learned by regional authoritarians from Egypt.

Never mind the martyrs. Given that ‘martyrdom’ had a catalytic effect on protest in Egypt and Tunisia, you’d have thought that other regimes would have taken care to handle demonstrators more gently. Not so, as events today in Bahrain have demonstrated and as shown in Yemen over the weekend. The issue instead appears to be control of the streets. Once the demonstrators in Egypt and Tunisia had it, they couldn’t be dislodged. So go in fast, early and hard.

Deny the revolution its focal point. That appears to have been the purpose of the raid on the Pearl roundabout in Manama. There have been reports of sporadic clashes in the city since then, but it’s hard either for reporters to get a handle on where or for demonstrators to find a place to assemble.

Get the countergangs in early. The protests in Egypt rapidly reached such a critical mass that the baltagiya lost their ability to intimidate. Indeed, they were defeated by physical force from the demonstrators. So they need to be used before that point is reached, as they are in Iran, Yemen and Libya.

Hijack the agenda. Issandr El Amrani on the forthcoming protests in Morocco:

…a confusion has been deliberately created that the February 20 protests are about overthrowing King Muhammad VI, which they are absolutely not about: they are largely about socio-economic grievances and the need for the reforms that the regime has pretended to undertake to actually be implemented, starting with constitutional reform to make Morocco into a genuine constitutional monarchy rather than an absolute one that disguises what it is by calling itself an "executive monarchy".

For the past two weeks, the regime propaganda machine has created an outpouring of affection from Muhammad VI. Much of it is based on genuine respect for the institution of the monarchy as well as the man himself, but it is dangerous to play with the king's image in this way. One possible backlash is that on February 20 the protestors will get attacked as traitors. Street violence can get pretty savage in Morocco — I dread to think what might happen

Handle this right and you get yourself a genuine loyalist mob.

Be a social dictatorship. Evgeny Morozev got a lot of stick over the past week or so for his scepticism about the role of social media in democratization. His proposition is that new and social media can be a force multiplier for dictatorships which take the trouble to understand its potential and use it effectively. This is the proposition under test now across the region. So far we’ve had Libyan terror messaging, facebook phishing exercises by Sudanese security forces and Iranian wumaodang twitter accounts. No doubt we'll get more along similar lines.

Use it or lose it. It’s difficult to say how effective all of this is. Protests don’t seem to be reaching critical numbers. On the other hand, demonstrators are persisting in the face of constant and occasionally lethal state violence (every day for the past week in Yemen).

One thing that’s going to be prominent in regime calculations is the response of Western and particularly American policy to the Egyptian uprising, which made it clear that a) western powers want their local policies to remain as they are, but aren’t betting everything on maintaining any given government and b) if protests get too big, then there’s nothing your western friends can do for you. So the way to respond is to use every repressive resource in your arsenal to stop them getting too big. Current signals coming from Washington – welcoming the Iranian protests, ignoring the ones elsewhere – seem to indicate that this strategy is generally acceptable.

Libya’s the country to watch here. Ghaddafi’s new friends would drop him like a hot brick if if only for someone less embarrassing given half an excuse, and he’s still on bad terms with the Saudis and the GCC states, so no prospect of exile there. He’s the one actually at risk of ending his rule swinging from a palm tree, and that possibility is going to dictate his response to the local uprising. Given our role in the Megrahi affair, it’ll be interesting to see what Britain’s response to that will be.

The most useful article you’ll read on Egypt this week

Is here. How did we get to the position where the red flag and the desert eagle were suddenly back ahead of the star and crescent? How do the Muslim Brothers and other Islamists interact with the Left? Where did those people come from?

As a Revolutionary Socialist member who was active in the 1990s recalls: “We were a kind of leftist the Muslim Brothers hadn’t met before. They couldn’t quite figure us out at the beginning. Anyway, we were still too marginal for them to bother with. We were only a few individuals.” This began to change in 1999. On a few occasions in that year, as one socialist remembers, the Muslim Brotherhood students at Cairo University allowed the Revolutionary Socialist students to speak at rallies held on campus against the US airstrikes on Iraq. The socialist students took this unprecedented opportunity as a sign of the Muslim Brothers’ recognition that they were a force that had to be given a place on the political stage. It was a step in a long, slow process of building trust.

the smart money got out years ago

In 2006, 2007 and 2008, Egypt’s GDP jumped into the hundred billion range annually. As this growth occurred, illicit flows peaked at US$13.0 bil, US$13.6 bil, and US$ 7.4 bil; respectively. Those engaging in corrupt and criminal activity were certainly getting their cut of the country’s growth.

The dip down to US$7.4 in 2008 was due in part to a sharp outflow of licit capital late in the year, when according to the IMF foreign investors pulled out of equity and government debt markets reflecting diminished confidence in Egypt and a lowered appetite for risk. “The rapid capital outflow in late 2008 was met mostly with a drawdown in official reserves and the Central Bank of Egypt’s (CBE’s) foreign currency deposits with commercial banks.” As the economy and financial markets contracted, so did the volume of money corrupt officials and criminals could break off for themselves.