“Why cause another disaster?” one resident said, explaining why fellow opponents of the government had not taken to the streets. “The Gaddafi people were very angry. They would have just shot everyone.”
Around Tripoli this week, opposition to Gaddafi and his government has appeared to be slowly finding its voice again. Residents are quicker to express dissent, and some shopkeepers commit open heresy by watching al-Jazeera on television. The government accuses the Qatar-based network of siding with its opponents.
Scattered protests have broken out in the past two weeks, but activists say they are still watching for the spark that will light the fire that they hope will soon force Gaddafi out.
“People are really just waiting,” said one activist, interviewed on a shady side street in the middle-class Ben Ashur neighborhood. “No one wants to make the first move. There will be a lot of killing.”
With the Internet cut off and phone calls monitored, it is all but impossible to organize, the activist said, while claiming, as many people here do, that the writing is on the wall. “Everyone wants Gaddafi to go, even in the regime. They just can’t say it because they don’t trust each other.”
On Wednesday, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that Western powers need to start planning for a Libya without Gaddafi, adding that the leader is “history.”
His departure “may take weeks, but it could happen tomorrow, and when he goes, the international community has to be ready,” Rasmussen said at a news conference after meeting in Brussels with defense ministers from the countries involved in the operation. “Gaddafi’s reign of terror is coming to an end, and we must be prepared for when it is over.”
The path to that goal remains unclear, however. NATO said Tuesday’s bombardment was an attempt to increase the pressure on Gaddafi and further degrade his military command-and-control structure.
But almost three months into the campaign, much of that apparatus had already been hit, and analysts say the Libyan army has largely adapted by decentralizing decision-making.
On Wednesday, thousands of troops launched a renewed assault on the rebel-held city of Misurata, shelling it from three sides in attacks that killed at least 12 rebels, a rebel spokesman said, marking the largest death toll in the city in weeks.
On Tuesday, as scores of bombs fell on Tripoli, analysts wondered about the strategic thinking behind the rare daytime attack, a riskier strategy both for NATO warplanes and for civilians.