As widely reported, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi is not only defiantly refusing to step down, but he is a tribute to defiance itself.
Qaddafi is so defiant, he refuses to even acknowledge that he’s ruled Libya at all.
These are not amateur levels of denial — like Hosni — “I am Egypt” — Mubarak. (And really, “l’etat, c’est moi” is so Louis XIV!)
Nope. Qaddafi’s just a revolutionary. “If I were President,” he said, “I would have thrown my resignation in your face.” But he’s got nothing to resign from - as if acting as if he didn’t run the place with an iron fist for 40 years will make all those protesters simply go away.
Dealing with this, of course, is Qaddafi’s loyal translator.
The translator, you see, is one of my favorite people. I think. I really don’t know. But I’ve been a fan of Qaddafi’s translator since September 2009 — when he screamed, “I can’t take it any more” and collapsed while translating Qaddafi’s speech before the UN General Assembly.
I’d like to think that it’s the same young-sounding man, Omar — I’ve named him Omar — who translated such recent pearls as the other day’s “[The protesters] are a group that are sick, taking hallucinatory drugs,” and “we won’t lose victory from these greasy rats and cats.”
But who is Omar, really? The coddled scion of the Libyan elite? A staunch defender of “Mad Dog” Qaddafi’s 40-year reign? A venal and self-serving lackey, the sinecurist heir to the translating throne?
I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that, in addition to being voice to the outside world, Omar is the voice of reason in Qaddafi’s inner circle. You know — a nice guy, in an impossible job. Someone who really has Libya’s best interests at heart, and knows that it’s time for the old man to go.
So if there were a conversation, before that speech, within Qaddafi’s inner circle — which at this point I imagine has been reduced to Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, and Omar - - it may have gone a little like this:
Omar approaches Qaddafi in a lavish room of the dictator’s home, the exterior of which was left dilapidated since Ronald Reagan’s 1986 air strike. Qaddafi’s 39 year-old son, Saif, is also there, admiring the protective shapes of some of his father’s 40 female bodyguards.
Qaddafi waves his hand at Omar, indicating he has permission to speak.
“Colonel, I think it’s important for you to know that the people have renamed our second city ‘Free’ Benghazi, and have raised the 1951 flag over the city.”
Qaddafi remains impassive.
“What’s more, the entire eastern part of the country has fallen to the revolutionaries, and they’re rapidly approaching Tripoli,” Omar says. “Maybe it’s time to start listening to their demands.”
Qaddafi exhales. “I don’t know how they think they can overthrow me when I don’t have any title. I am a revolutionary just like them!”
“That’s not how they see it, sir,” Omar says. “Just by pretending those 40 years didn’t take place isn’t going to make the protesters go away.”
A chill falls over the room. “Tell me again why I didn’t throw you in jail after how you humiliated me at the General Assembly?” Qaddafi asks. Even Saif looks up.
Omar pauses for a moment. He didn’t spend the first half of his life studying English so he could spend the second half a political prisoner.
“It’s just that they’ve been watching Egypt, sir, and they’re beginning to get ideas.”
“I am the Glory that is Libya,” says Qaddafi.
“Of course you are, sir — but Mubarak thought he was the-“
“Mubarak!” Qaddafi spits. “Don’t talk to me about the American stooge.”
Omar exhales. Time for a different tack. He tries again. “Maybe it’s time you start considering your revolutionary legacy, Colonel.”
He has Qaddafi’s attention.
“You see, the Interior Minister resigned the other day, to join the protesters. The Libyan delegation to the UN resigned for the same reason. And two Air Force pilots defected with their planes to Malta.”
“But since you are the Glory of Libya, the one true revolutionary, why should they be getting all the credit? You could, you know, join the protesters and uhh - leave the palace,” Omar says.
Qaddafi looks puzzled.
“I mean — let someone else sit in the palace, not enjoying the glories of the revolution for a while. You’ve been sacrificing for so long. “
Omar holds his breath while Qaddafi ponders.
“We could kill the Lockerbie bomber,” Seif suggests. “Everyone’s mad that he didn’t die as expected in 2009, so let’s execute him now.”
Qaddafi and Omar both ignore him.
“I will die a martyr in Egypt,” Qaddafi declares.
“Of course you will. But see — a lot of rulers talk a big game about martyrdom — I mean, look at Iran,” Omar says. “But how many of them really do it? You could be the one to set an example for the Yemenis, the Bahrainis - everyone who thinks they know a thing or two about glory.”
“What would I have to do?” asks Qaddafi.
“Leave the palace - that’s all, and you’re on your way toward glorious martyrdom,” Omar says.
Qaddafi looks lost in thought.
“Enough of this! I’m going to make a speech!” Qaddafi exclaims, heading out to the front of his palace. “You will translate! Come!”
Omar deflates. “I should have defected in New York when I had the chance,” he mumbles under his breath, following Qaddafi out the door.
(Doha, Qatar) – In the latest twist to the wave of protests spreading across the Middle East, demonstrators have overthrown the Al Jazeera television network.
“Really, we want to overthrow the Emir, but everyone knows you can’t stage a decent takeover without taking control of state-owned media,” said one protester. “So we’re doing this first.”
Setting fire to the Al Jazeera broadcast center in Doha, demonstrators chanted “We want democracy,” and “Down with the monarchy.” But compared with scenes on the streets of Cairo, Tehran and neighboring Bahrain, the protest seemed lackluster.
Many demonstrators said they were now at a loss as to which television network to watch. “Al Arabiya? That’s Saudi-owned propaganda!” fumed one demonstrator. “CNN? BBC? Nothing’s been as reliable and informative as Al Jaz!”
“That’s what makes democracy so hard,” he added.
Al Jazeera was established by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, the latest ruler in an absolute monarchy that dates back to 1850.
The network was seen, at first, as the best source of independent information as demonstrators took to the streets to bring down the governments of Tunisia, then Egypt.
Asked about the motive for their demonstration, one protester - carrying a jerry-can of gasoline - simply shrugged.
“By using an free and independent media to empower the ordinary people of the Middle East and urging them to fight for self-determination, Al Jazeera brought this on itself,” he said.
“We don’t want to do it,” said another demonstrator. “But democracy protests have been sweeping the region and we don’t want to be left out.”
Al Jazeera cameramen and reporters were seen covering the demonstration, only to find they had nowhere to file their reports, as looters made off with broadcast and editing equipment. Its website also went un-updated, as newsroom staff were seen boarding an evacuation flight organized by the British embassy.
“This wasn’t expected,” said a source within the broadcaster, who did not want to provide his name because of fears for his safety.
Protesters say they are wary of the emergence of a possible counter-demonstration, organized by conservative Islamic groups in Qatar, who point out that Al Jazeera’s Arabic broadcasts are the preferred outlet for senior members of al Qaeda to release video and audio statements.
“Using a series of couriers to carry tapes from, for example, Tora Bora or Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province to a local Al Jazeera bureau is the only way we’ll know what Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are urging to Muslims to do,” said one conservative cleric.
“At least until they learn how to podcast,” he mused.
Since the ouster of Egypt’s President Mubarak, anti-government protests have spread to Libya, Bahrain, Iran and Yemen – shaking the foundations of autocratic regimes that had enjoyed stability for decades.
“I wish I knew what was happening in Libya,” said one demonstrator, staring at and occasionally shaking his web-enabled cell phone in frustration. “But there’s nowhere to watch.”