Sunday [August 21st 2011] the news from Libya was of fierce fighting outside the capital Tripoli. By Monday morning local time, troops had advanced into Tripoli with only light resistance. An announcement was made that the Transitional National Council (TNC) would move within days to Tripoli to form a transitional government.
A Tipping Point?
President Obama was reported as describing the events as a tipping point for Gaddafi’s regime. The term was repeated by other commentators. Perhaps it was. But it shows how much easier it is to recognise a tipping point in hindsight than in advance.
Fooling some of the people …
The tipping point also showed how Gaddafi had created a belief that his support in Tripoli was deep-rooted. It fooled many people including all the commentaries I had read. It was a view even held by the advancing forces according to one of their spokesmen. On one hand, Gaddafi’s statements had become more violent and irrational. Yet on the other hand he preserved the one big myth, of the strong support for his regime in Tripoli.
‘Reading and testing” leadership messages
When a leader speaks, you will always have a chance to test their message. It is easy to dismiss a public speech as ‘just rhetoric’, or ‘only propaganda’. But taking such a bleak view blocks off any deeper reflection. The point always to be remembered is that the most convincing message contains a grain of truth. Most of us swallowed as truth the wrong grain. It was hard to believe his statement that he was successfully overcoming ‘NATO aggression’. But maybe, just maybe, the displays of public support were not entirely orchestrated…
overnight there was a different sort of tipping point. The evidence before our eyes was that the oppositional forces had swept into Tripoli. Far from meeting whole-hearted resistance there appeared to be minimum support for the regime. Now the belief swung in the opposite direction. Gaddafi had no support whatsoever.
The tipping point (again in hindsight) was in the perceptions of ‘wide support’ to ‘no support’.
The fragile euphoria of liberation
Against a visible background on continuing fighting, one joyful young woman told the BBC that ’100% of people now opposed Gaddafi’. Her joy was unfeigned. Within hours other realities became clearer. There is a fragile euphoria to a yearning for liberation.
What happened next
What happened next has been widely recorded, as President Obama’s tipping point did indeed have some predictive accuracy. For a while, ‘the fog of war’ further confused matters, as his son Saif al-Islam stood triumphantly outside the compound [Pictured above, Tuesday 23rd August] to demonstrate as false the rumours was of his own arrest. But within days the evidence was of a regime damaged beyond any immediate fight back. Gaddafi’s central fortress was quickly overwhelmed.
The next symbolic act
The next important symbolic act is considered to be the capture of Colonel Gaddafi. Until then, the information available remains in need of serious testing as the world remakes its maps of Libya’s future.