In an often rambling speech late Sunday night, the Western-educated son of Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, previously seen as a force for reform, warned of "rivers of blood" and potential civil war if the protests against his father's regime do not cease.
Saif al-Islam el-Qaddafi appeared on state television and admitted "mistakes by the army" but warned that "Libya is not Egypt or Tunisia. Muammar Qaddafi is not Mubarak." Instead, he promised reforms and a revision of the constitution (not to mention a new flag and national anthem) if protesters agreed to end their demonstrations. During the rambling speech, he asserted that "drunk [protesters] are driving tanks in central Benghazi" and referred several times to the protesters crowding the streets of Benghazi as drug addicts. He also claimed that thugs would recklessly burn the country's vast oil supplies, and that "millionaire businessmen" had brought in "tens of Arabs and Africans, poor people" to foment rebellion. His remarks came after the worst day of violence yet in the tide of protests that have swept the Middle East. Several hundred protesters were reportedly killed by security forces, including many deaths by machine gun fire.
Many were surprised to see the eldest Qaddafi son take on the role of spokesperson and defender of his father's regime. Cosmopolitan, well-dressed and British-educated, Saif had until today been seen as a potential bridge between Libya and the West.
The threat of civil war doesn't seem to have deterred protesters, who view civil unrest as not particularly different than normal life under Qaddafi's regime. "Even if there is any truth to what he said, I don't think it's any better than what the people of Libya have already been living with for the past 40 years," said Libyan dissident Najla Abdurahman. "He promised that the country would spiral into civil war for the next 30 to 40 years, that the country's infrastructure would be ruined, hospitals and schools would no longer be functioning -- but schools are already terrible, hospitals are already in bad condition."
It's unclear what support the elder Qaddafi still has. During his speech Saif Qaddafi claimed the military was standing behind his father, but several witnesses in the Libyan city of Benghazi—where the largest protests have occurred—reported that some military special forces have helped protesters take over local army barracks.
And the speech isn't going over well abroad. Al Jazeera's senior analyst Marwan Bishara: "It sounded like a desperate speech by a desperate the son of a dictator who's trying to use blackmail on the Libyan people by threatening that he could turn the country into a bloodbath," he said.