Story transcripts

Gaddafi’s Last Stand

Friday, March 25, 2011
(nine images)

Reporter: Ray Martin
Producer: Stephen Taylor

It started with a single voice, a young fruit vendor in a small North African market who one day shouted: "Enough!" It became one of the largest demonstrations of people power ever seen in the Arab world.

The governments of Egypt and Tunisia have already fallen. And, for a while there it, seemed every dictatorship in the Middle East was going to be swept away.

Ray Martin has just spent a fortnight in the region, including a week in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, where Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the man known as The Mad Dog, is desperately clinging to power.

It's a chaotic and unpredictable place at the best of times. Right now, it's downright dangerous.

But that's what happens when you corner a mad dog.

Read Ray Martin's blog on this story and have your say

PHOTOS: Ray Martin's spectacular shots on assignment in Libya and Tunisia

Full transcript:

RAY MARTIN: Libya is under siege from the rest of the world. It's hard to believe that there's anything to celebrate. But this repressive police state wants to pretend that all 6 million Libyans are free and happy, so, on cue, they hit the streets of Tripoli. The roar of the bikes and the beat of the music - it's sort of Tripoli's big night out. Let me tell you, the security in this place is as tight as a drum, as tight as anything I've ever seen. My mobile phone's been turned off, there's no Internet. You try and talk to someone here discreetly and suddenly a police shadow arrives and they're questioned and intimidated. It's about as sinister as anything I've ever seen, but you talk to the Gaddafis and they say, "No problem." We read so much about your father. You know him very well. What's he like?

SAIF: Actually, he's very tough. And also he's very kind. He was very kind also with his opponents and enemies. And that's why those people who are working against us, who are working now with the French and the Americans and the British against their own country, they used to work for my father.

RAY MARTIN: But why, why have these men turned against him?

SAIF: I told you. It was a big - it was a big mistake, because he tried to be nice with everybody, even with everybody, so he said, "There is space for everybody in Libya here," and they took advantage of this and they managed this conspiracy.

RAY MARTIN: 38-year-old Saif is one of seven Gaddafi sons. With his designer stubble and deadly smile, he's become chief spokesman and rabble-rouser for the regime. Incredibly, Saif accuses the rebels of being the killers and the torturers of Libyan people, and not Colonel Gaddafi.

SAIF: They arrest you, take you to their own court, kill you, burn you and then they take the heart of the people, they burn the heart in front of people to frighten everybody.

RAY MARTIN: Who did this?

SAIF: Those terrorists.

RAY MARTIN: The rebels?

SAIF: It's on TV. We, we, we saw things beyond imagination in Libya. The - they are not just terrorists. They are not just criminals. They are - even the lions in the jungle, they have more mercy.

RAY MARTIN: So who are these people?

SAIF: They are terrorists.

RAY MARTIN: From overseas? From outside the country?

SAIF: No. No. No. No. Most of them are Libyans.

RAY MARTIN: In 1969, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi staged a military coup in Libya. He brought together the country's warring tribes under his iron fist. For his maniacal rants about Israel and about the West, and his acts of terror like the Lockerbie air disaster, President Ronald Reagan called him "the Mad Dog of Africa". Now the world awaits Colonel Gaddafi's next move, with the real fear of a human catastrophe.

DR ZIED MHIRSI: Right now, the question is what next? Are we going to have an influx of a million people coming from Libya? Are we going to have injured people? Or nothing's going to happen? What should we do?

RAY MARTIN: Dr Zied Mhirsi is a medical volunteer at this already-teeming refugee camp on the Libyan border, just a short drive from Tripoli. What does your head tell you?

DR ZIED MHIRSI: My head tells me we should have - we should be prepared for the worst.

RAY MARTIN: For the worst?


RAY MARTIN: Maybe a million?

DR ZIED MHIRSI: Yeah. Who knows?

RAY MARTIN: Why do you think that President Obama has accused your father of killing Libyans?

SAIF: This is his own opinion.

RAY MARTIN: Is that a lie? Is he lying?

SAIF: He's lying. Everything is based on false reports. It's very - it's simple.

RAY MARTIN: It's not just Libya that's in turmoil. It's right across North Africa and through the Middle East, from Morocco to Egypt and all the way down the Gulf to Yemen. There've been revolts and revolutions that have turned the Islamic world upside down, and, believe it or not, the trigger for all this bloodshed was across the Libyan border in ancient, forgotten Tunisia. Beyond the Roman ruins and the 'Star Wars' landscape lies the dusty, dirty market town of Sidi Bouzid. And here, it was the suicide of one poor peasant which sparked the collapse of the dictators. Mohamed Bouazizi sold oranges here just like that man. That's the way he survived. But he didn't have a licence. And last December, the town inspector came and moved him along once again, but for Bouazizi, it was one time too many. So he came down here to the provincial headquarters, but, again, nobody would listen to him. Angry and frustrated, he bought some petrol, stood in the middle of the road, poured it over himself and lit a match. Now, what happened to that simple fruit-vendor right there has helped change the whole Arab world.

DR ZIED MHIRSI: It's almost becoming a monument for a lot of visitors.

RAY MARTIN: Is that right? Dr Zied walked me to the little house where 26-year-old Bouazizi lived with his mum. Could you please tell Madam how sad we feel for her and give her our condolences? Now, three months after his death, Madam Bouazizi consoles herself knowing that her son has become the martyr who ended the brutal 23-year dictatorship of Tunisian President Ben Ali.

TRANSLATION: I am very proud that my son has become the symbol of this revolution. He now belongs to the world.

RAY MARTIN: Inspired by Bouazizi's death, angry young Tunisians took to the streets. And for the first time anywhere, they used Facebook, YouTube and blogs to organise the rallies and the bloody demonstrations that kicked President Ben Ali out. Do you see it as a young person's revolution?

MAN: Yeah, yeah. By young people.

RAY MARTIN: You can't stop smiling. I keep looking at you and you're smiling.

WOMAN: Yeah, because I can't believe that this happened, really.


WOMAN: Yeah.

CRISTINA MEDIOUNI: I just think, you know, I'm in a place where history is being made and, um, just amazed really at how fast things were happening.

RAY MARTIN: But you hadn't been in a revolution before?

CRISTINA MEDIOUNI: No. At all! I come from Melbourne! No, not at all. So, no, I was just - basically just watching and, and seeing what people were doing and it was just incredible.

RAY MARTIN: Cristina Mediouni is a Greek Australian who's lived here for the past 15 years, with her husband Moez, a Tunisian professor. With their two girls, they watched and lived this revolution via Facebook.

CRISTINA MEDIOUNI: Families, ladies, yeah, you name it. Everybody was out.

RAY MARTIN: Was there blood in the streets? And was it dead people? Did you see that?

CRISTINA MEDIOUNI: There was, yeah. There was a lot of violence. There was things that were very hard, hard to see, especially in Tunisia. Tunisia is a great country. Tunisians are peace-making people. They're not violent people and to see this was, was just really distressing.

RAY MARTIN: President Ben Ali's extravagance knew no limits. Apart from this grand palace, his family had real estate scattered across the country, which became a target for the revolutionaries' anger.

MOEZ MEDIOUNI: People they were very, very happy. They were ready to pay any cost. And now they will never go back. They can starve, they can eat - as we said, you know, bread and water and no Ben Ali, you know.

RAY MARTIN: You're sure of that, are you?

MOEZ MEDIOUNI: Yeah. Bread and water and no dictatorship regime anymore.

RAY MARTIN: It seems that Cristina and Moez's future is now bright, but they fear for Libya just next door.

MOEZ MEDIOUNI: I mean Gaddafi is a criminal. He did lots of bad things to his people. He's killing his people. And I don't think that's going to lead him towards a good end.

RAY MARTIN: Cristina?

MOEZ MEDIOUNI: People will never stop, will never go back.

CRISTINA MEDIOUNI: I'm devastated for the Libyan people and I would hope that this would end, that Gaddafi would be able to leave and let his people live in freedom, or at least pass power on to somebody in a more democratic way.

RAY MARTIN: After 42 years, two generations of a ruthless dictatorship based on terror and total repression, Colonel Gaddafi's second son, Saif, is now, for the first time, talking to us about democracy. Libyans have never heard such talk. And quite frankly, it sounds like heresy.

SAIF: The events prove that it's about time to, to build and to start building as soon as possible the new Libya, the modern Libya.

RAY MARTIN: Why should people believe you now when your father's been in charge for 40 years and done none of this?

SAIF: The old Libya is gone forever. Gone forever. The old guys, old guards, old ministers, old ambassadors - finished, gone. Finished. It's time for young people, new blood, come on.

RAY MARTIN: Is that the end of the dictatorship?

SAIF: The old Libya is gone because who are - where are they? The old guys? They jumped from the ship.

RAY MARTIN: But your father's still there.

SAIF: He's the leader. He's the captain.

RAY MARTIN: Maybe young Gaddafi has seen the writing on the wall. Maybe he's seen what's happened in neighbouring Arab countries. But then again, maybe talk is cheap. At the grandly misnamed Tripoli International Airport, the brutality of Colonel Gaddafi's regime is on display. It's become a human garbage dump, with 8,000 abandoned foreign workers and their sad-eyed children. They wait for planes that never come. Are you getting food?

MEN: No. There is no food.

RAY MARTIN: No food?

MEN: No food. No food.

RAY MARTIN: Are there any doctors?

MEN: No doctors. No nothing.

RAY MARTIN: None at all?

MEN: No.

RAY MARTIN: It's a strange place. You can wander the streets of Tripoli, but you don't walk freely. There's always a sense of being watched, and a sense of menace. In an outdoor coffee shop, I came across an old man named Salahdin, a retired teacher, who told me more about this oil-rich scary place by saying nothing. So where has all that money gone?

SALAHDIN: (Laughs) Corruption, as known worldwide. Corruption. In the pockets of the VIP persons, as they call it.

RAY MARTIN: What advice would you give to Colonel Gaddafi? What should he do?

SALAHDIN: Ooh... Very difficult to say, but I leave it. I answer two words - no comment for that. Sorry about that, yeah? Use your imagination. Yes. I hope you understand me.

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