Bahrainian Regime Declares State of Emergency; Protesters Energized by Saudis

by Matthew Shaffer


The monarchy is stepping up its efforts on multiple fronts to suppress the demonstrations in Bahrain. But the injection of thousands of Saudi Arabian mercenaries may only have energized the protesters. From the New York Times:

Hours after the king of Bahrain declared a three-month state of emergency, doctors at a central hospital on Tuesday said two protesters had been killed and some 200 wounded and injured in clashes with riot police in the suburban village of Sitra.

One man, Ahmed Farhan, 24, had dozens of shotgun pellet wounds on his back and a gaping head injury, while a second man had tire marks from having been run over by security forces, the doctors said. Grisly video from the hospital, including of Mr. Farhan, appeared online shortly after.

“The signs are that this is a coordinated attack,” said Dr. Ali al-Aradi, an administrator at Suleimaniya Hospital. “These were not skirmishes. This was an attack on the protesters. These are the kinds of wounds we are seeing — shotgun and head injuries.”

The Ministry of Information said a security officer had been also been killed in the nearby village of Ma’ameer.

The violence around Sitra, a stronghold of antigovernment activists six miles south of the capital, contrasted starkly with a large protest in downtown Manama, where more than 10,000 protesters marched peacefully on the Saudi Arabian Embassy to denounce a military intervention by Persian Gulf countries the day before.

The entrance of foreign forces, including Saudi troops and those from other Gulf nations, threatened to escalate a local political conflict into a regional showdown; on Tuesday, Tehran, which has long claimed that Bahrain is historically part of Iran, branded the move “unacceptable.”

The foreign troops did not appear to take up positions in the capital early on Tuesday, heading instead for the palace neighborhood of Riffa.

Nevertheless, the city took on the feel of a ghost town: businesses were shuttered, malls closed and the streets largely deserted as residents watched apprehensively to see what role the foreign military would play to quell widespread demonstrations.

Saudi Troops Enter Bahrain

by Matthew Shaffer

Shock headline from the New York Times this morning: “Saudi Troops Enter Bahrain…” But don’t worry: it’s cooperative. Or, at least it’s cooperative between the two royal families who head the neighboring Arab monarchies. Saudi Arabia sending troops to Bahrain makes sense: The intended demonstrations in Saudi Arabia last week didn’t pan out, leaving its monarchy with available resources to use in the more tumultuous, more extensive, and longer-lasting demonstrations in its tiny island neighbor just across the gulf of Bahrain. (Perhaps most importantly, the House of Saud may be interesting in protecting their fellow Sunnis, who, just across the gulf, are a dominant minority facing protests primarily from the Shiite majority). All of which is to say that this mercenary action could have been anticipated and is unlikely to precipitate a major international crisis — though it’s obviously bad news for Bahrain’s Shiites and democrats, and may escalate the conflict within Bahrain.

The Times has the full story

Troops from Saudi Arabia and police officers from the United Arab Emirates crossed into Bahrain on Monday under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council to help quell unrest there, a move Bahraini opposition groups denounced in a statement as an “occupation.”

The deployments were confirmed by the state-run Bahrain News Agency and the foreign minister of the Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan.

In Paris, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed, said on Monday that the government of Bahrain had asked its neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council “to look at ways to help them to defuse the tension in Bahrain.” Appearing briefly with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who did not mention the events in Bahrain, Sheik Abdullah said the U.A.E. had dispatched 500 police officers with the Saudi forces and that other Gulf states would also send troops. His remarks suggested an escalating intervention.

“There are other Gulf countries which are going to participate to support the Bahrain government, and to get calm and order in Bahrain — and to help both the Bahraini government and people to reach a solution,” he said.

Witnesses said a convoy of 150 armored troop carriers and about 50 other lightly armed vehicles carried about 1,000 troops across the bridge linking Saudi Arabia to the tiny island kingdom, and a Saudi security official told The Associated Press that the troops were there to protect critical buildings and installations like oil facilities. However, witnesses later said that the convoy seemed to be heading for Riffa, a Sunni area that is home to the royal family and a military hospital that is closed to the public, Reuters reported.

The opposition statement said it considered the arrival of any soldier or military vehicle “an overt occupation of the kingdom of Bahrain and a conspiracy against the unarmed people of Bahrain.”

A senior administration official said the United States was “definitely concerned” by the deployment of troops, saying the protests in Bahrain needed “a political solution, not military.” The State Department dispatched Jeffrey D. Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, to Bahrain on Monday. He had been scheduled to join Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on her travels to Egypt and Tunisia this week.

Pro-government lawmakers, called the Independent Bloc, asked the government to enforce martial law for three months to ensure public safety and national stability threatened by what it called “extremist” elements, the Bahrain News Agency reported.

Anti-government protesters remained in the streets of Manama, the capital, on Monday, a day after thousands clashed with security forces in the most chaotic day of confrontation since demonstrations began a month ago. The protests are part of the regional turmoil against autocracy but are fed in Bahrain by tensions between the majority Shiite population and the Sunni royal family and elite.

Today, White House press sec Jay Carney threw some cold water on the more overheated fears the headlines induced by clarifying that “”We’ve seen the reports that you’re talking about. This is not an invasion of a country.”

Saudi Troops Enter Bahrain

Clinton Goes to Paris, as Qaddafi Presses On

by Matthew Shaffer

The Secretary of State arrived in Paris this morning, to discuss the situation in Libya with President Nicolas Sarkozy and other European leaders. So far, France has been among the most aggressive in pushing for recognition of the rebels and intervention against Qaddafi.

Meanwhile, Qaddafi loyalists are on the offensive, launching air strikes near Benghazi and offering amnesty to rebels who give up their weapons. 

Qaddafi Loyalists Closing in on Benghazi

by Matthew Shaffer

From the New York Times


AJDABIYA, Libya — Military forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi advanced Sunday on this anxious town, a strategic linchpin on the doorstep of the opposition capital Benghazi and within grasp of a highway crucial to recapturing the eastern border and encircling the rebellion with heavy armor and artillery.

After another day of headlong retreat, this time from the refinery and port at Brega, one town west of here, the rebels prepared for what some called a last stand at Ajdabiya, taking refuge in military barracks where they stacked ammunition boxes six deep, positioned a handful of tanks and tried to bring order to a jumble of small artillery and antiaircraft guns. Bulldozers built berms three feet high near a pair of green, metal arches that mark the town’s entrance.

The fate of Ajdabiya, an eastern town of 120,000 near the Mediterranean coast, may prove decisive in the most violent and chaotic of the uprisings that have upended the Arab world. Under a sky turned gray by a menacing sandstorm, the rebels valiantly vowed victory but acknowledged the deficit posed by their weapons and pleaded for a no-flight zone that seemed a metaphor for any kind of international help.

“Our retreat is a tactic,” said Said Zway, 29, a civil-engineer-turned-fighter, at Ajdabiya’s entrance. “We can wait until they impose a no-flight zone. If they don’t, what can we do, my friend? We fight and die. God is with us, God willing.”

From its ecstatic beginning, Libya’s uprising has taken a darker turn, as Colonel Qaddafi’s forces have recaptured Zawiyah, near Tripoli, and are now besieging Misurata, a commercial capital and an oasis of rebel control in the west. Officials in Tripoli talk with bluster, and a more sullen mood has settled over Benghazi, where reports of lawlessness grow.

Egypt to Vote on Constitutional Referenda

by Matthew Shaffer

The New York Times has a good summary of what’s at stake in the upcoming vote in Egypt on changes to the constitution. The Egyptian constitution is not in effect at the moment, as the country is essentially under martial law. The amendments include an automatic expiration of emergency laws (which Mubarak kept in place for decades) after six months, at which point they are put to a vote, and limiting the president to two four-year terms. In other words: before the Egyptians elect a new president, they’re trying to make sure whoever he is can’t become another Mubarak. The provisions have divided Egyptians: 


With the referendum over the constitutional amendments that will shape Egypt’s immediate political future just days away, the country’s nascent political forces were squaring off on Sunday, scrambling to influence a choice that leaves many confused.

 The Muslim Brotherhood and rump elements of the disbanded governing National Democratic Party, which both stand to gain the most from a rapid rebirth of electoral politics, support the amendments.

 Arrayed against them is much, but not all, of the remaining political spectrum, centered on the young organizers behind the Tahrir Square demonstrations who fear a yes vote would ultimately rob them of their revolution.

 Yet everyone agrees on two things. The referendum, which is scheduled for Saturday, will be a milestone and the first one not  rigged outright in about 60 years. “Whether we accept the amendments or we reject them, either situation means a page in our history will turn,” said Amr Shubaki, a political analyst at the state-financed Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

 Also, and far more important, is that the referendum floats in a sea of confusion: the military has suspended the Constitution to rule, yet is asking the public to approve the reworking of bits of it.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is running Egypt, announced a simple up or down vote on about 10 amendments. Many of them, unveiled on Feb. 25 by a special 11-member constitutional committee, come across as a reaction to the long  years under President Hosni Mubarak.

Nobody knows what voter turnout will be like — whether the revolution has inspired more political consciousness, or whether the esoteric nature of the amendments will drive voters away. The success of this vote could indicate what to expect from the parliamentary elections in June and the presidential election scheduled for August. 


by Matthew Shaffer

Updates and commentary on everything in the arc of unrest: 

ElBaredei declared his candidacy. Would he make a good president?

In Bahrain protesters face down tear gas and rubber bullets, and seal off the financial district of Manama, the capital. 

Myths about Qaddafi.

Libya looks increasingly anarchic. 

If things don’t change soon, Qaddafi might win. What then?

Mrs. Clinton Heads to MENA

by Matthew Shaffer

The Secretary of State goes overseas today to address the instability in the Middle East — both to meet with the Libyan opposition and debate with Europeans the requested no-fly zone, and to survey the transition efforts in Egypt. The Associated Press reports: 

Clinton heads Sunday to Europe and then to the first Cabinet-level U.S. talks with the Libyan opposition and discussions on democratic reform with transitional leaders in post-revolt Egypt and Tunisia…


With Libya embroiled in near civil war and Washington and its NATO allies divided on military intervention, Clinton will discuss options with European officials on Monday in Paris, where she also plans to see foes of Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi to assess their capabilities and intentions.

It was not entirely clear which Libyan opposition leaders Clinton would be seeing in Paris or if she would hold further meetings with Qadhafi opponents in Cairo or Tunis. U.S. ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, who has been in Washington since early January, has been leading the administration’s effort to reach out to the opposition but his contacts have not yet produced a clear picture of Libya’s anti-Qadhafi interim governing council, or the extent of its backing.


Read more:

Yemen’s President Promises No Bloodshed; But Four Dead

by Matthew Shaffer

Laura Kasinof reports from Sana, Yemen: 


At least three people were killed here in the capital, and a 14-year-old boy was killed in a protest in the south, witnesses said.

The American ambassador here, Gerald M. Feierstein, warned that the situation had become “dangerous” and urged both sides to pursue negotiations.

The confrontations came a day after the largest protest yet in the three-week uprising, when an estimated 100,000 people staged a sit-in in Sana demanding the ouster of Mr. Saleh, who has ruled for more than three decades.

The numbers had dwindled to about 10,000 by early Saturday morning, when the police moved in with water cannons to try to demolish tents set up by protesters outside Sana University. Then the shooting started.

“We finished our morning prayers, and then they rushed at us with a water cannon and then live bullets and tear gas,” said Sadeq al-Haijazy, an unemployed protester, his head bandaged after he was hit by a thrown rock. “But we are staying here until we die.”

Plainclothes pro-government forces with Kalashnikovs fired from the rooftops and upper floors of nearby apartment buildings. At least some of the shooting appeared to be with rubber bullets.

Some protesters retaliated by throwing rocks toward the security forces, which included about 200 soldiers and plainclothes forces, breaking pieces of stone from a barrier that soldiers had previously used to block the protests.

“They wanted to push us back off this street,” said Abdel Kader al-Mamari, an engineer standing in a puddle left over from the water cannon barrage. “They don’t understand that what we want is to change the regime.”

Libyan Rebels Continue to Lose More Ground; Believe No-Flight Zone Could Help Regain Losses

by Matthew Shaffer

From the Times

Abdul Hafidh Ghoga, the vice chairman of the rebels’ shadow government, the Libyan National Council, said a no-flight zone would give his fighters a chance to reverse the losses they have suffered over the last few days.


In Libya, Colonel Qaddafi’s forces retook oil installations near Ras Lanuf, about 400 miles to the east of the capital. The rebels seized Ras Lanuf a week ago, but witnesses said Saturday that the main body of pro-Qaddafi forces had pushed opposition fighters well past the refinery checkpoints on the east side of the city.

Government forces also carried out an attack on Saturday on the town of Misurata, the last rebel holdout in the west.

The rebel defeat in Ras Lanuf moved the front to the east. By nightfall, the rebels had fallen back to Brega, about 60 miles from Ras Lanuf, and had begun a retreat to the next strategic town, Ajdabiya, about an hour away. The road was full of ambulances, cars and military trucks.

In Brega, the mood was grim. Several trucks filled with antiaircraft guns were parked near a checkpoint at the city’s edge as the fighters prepared to make another stand. Men in binoculars peered into the darkening horizon for signs of government warplanes.

Other fighters formed a line to carry ammunition out of a makeshift depot along the road, loading boxes onto a flatbed truck that was headed to Ajdabiya.

Arab League Endorses No-Fly Zone

by Matthew Shaffer

Evidently led by their secretary general (and Egyptian presidential candidate) Amr Moussa, the Arab League has come out in favor of a no-flight zone over Libya. Peculiarly, the White House has said it honors the statement from the Arab League, but seems to have no intentions to respect it: 


The Arab League asked the United Nations Security Council on Saturday to impose a no-flight zone over Libya in hopes of halting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s attacks on his own people, as his forces pushed rebels east in the three-week-old civil war.

The unexpected move by the 22-nation bloc increased pressure on Western powers, which have said they will not take military action unless it is endorsed by Libya’s neighbors.

Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, said at a news conference that a no-flight zone would protect ordinary people, and that it should be ended as soon as the crisis in Libya was over.

“Our one goal is to protect the civilian population in Libya after what has been reported of attacks and casualties in a very bloody situation,” he said.

In Libya, forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi pushed the rebels east and strengthened their hold around Tripoli, the capital, intensifying pleas from the rebels for Western military support.

Abdul Hafidh Ghoga, the vice chairman of the rebels’ shadow government, the Libyan National Council, said a no-flight zone would give his fighters a chance to reverse the losses they have suffered over the last few days.

“If the international community chooses to play the role of bystander,” he said, “we will have to defend ourselves.”

Despite the Arab League’s request, which was a major victory for supporters of a no-flight zone, the prospects that it would be carried out were far from assured.

A no-flight zone would require military aircraft — with many of them almost certain to come from Western countries — and the Obama administration has been hesitant to support it.

In a statement on Saturday, the White House said it welcomed the Arab League decision, “which strengthens the international pressure on Gaddafi and support for the Libyan people.”

But the Arab League’s resolution put President Obama and several of his allies in the unaccustomed position of appearing to be more reluctant to intervene than Libya’s Arab neighbors.

The Obama administration expressed doubts that the no-flight zone would prove effective, and has insisted that it must be preceded by a United Nations Security Council resolution, which China and Russia are likely to oppose.

Why Did Saudi Arabia Manage So Little Rage?

by Matthew Shaffer

I was asking myself this question. Reports elsewhere gave the impression that demonstrations were mostly allowed to go on peacefully where they were, and that elsewhere the Saudi Arabian people weren’t all that eager to demonstrate. Eman Al Nafjan at the Guardian has a very different take. Her explanations: 1) a Saudi intimidation campaign worked and 2) there was confusion among reformists and anti-monarchists. 


The protests in the east, where the Saudi Shia minority is concentrated, were mostly to call for the release of political prisoners. However, across the country there was silence. Many were expecting it to be so, but some wonder why.

Two main factors played a role in this silence. The first was the government’s preparation, with the interior ministry’s warning and the senior clerics’ religious decree prohibiting demonstrations and petitions.

During the week there was also a huge campaign to discourage demonstrations. Saudis were bombarded on TV, in SMS messages and online with rumours that the demonstrations were an Iranian conspiracy, and that those who went out in the streets would be punished with five years’ prison and fines in the thousands of riyals.

Finally, on Friday itself, there was an intimidating security presence all over the major cities, with checkpoints on the roads and helicopters flying above.

The second and more important factor discouraging protests was a huge question mark regarding who was calling for them. What started on a Facebook page as a call for the creation of a civil society with a list of demands including a constitutional monarchy and a call for public freedoms and respect for human rights eventually turned into a page where sectarianism was openly practised and Islamists were praised.

The Monday before, in a weekly meeting of a group of reformists, it was noted that for the overwhelming majority of them, there were no plans to be part of the “Hunain Revolution”. Even Saudis who considered participating said they would sit out the first day, just to gauge whether those coming out were reformists or anti-monarchists, so as to not be associated with the latter.

As to how Saudis feel now that the day of no rage has come and gone, a hashtag on Twitter, #After11March, was created to discuss just that. There, most Saudis expressed their surprise at the extent to which the government took any threat of demonstrations seriously. Also, many wrote that they had not expected any large-scale protests to happen. As Soumz, a fellow blogger and medical student, tweeted:

“Things i learned on #Mar11: the gov listens to you (though chooses to ignore you) AND the gov is afraid of you.”


Fouad al-Farhan created a poll asking how people felt about the non-event. While it may not be scientific, it’s still telling. Four hundred took part and 37% felt relieved that nothing happened because they are opposed to any form of demonstrations; 30% felt disappointed that nothing happened because they believed demonstrations would push reforms forward; only 2% were disappointed because they were expecting a revolution on the same scale as Tunisia and Egypt; and finally 32% were optimistic that reforms are going to happen regardless of whether or not protests materialise.

U.S. Appoints Envoy to Libyan Rebels

by Matthew Shaffer

Last week France formally recognized the Libyan National Council (the loosely organized head of the rebel forces) as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people. The U.S. hasn’t gone that far, but it’s taking a step in that direction by planning to appoint an envoy to the rebels, to be appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promptly. Talk of a no-fly zone has died down in the U.S., but this, combined with recent and more severe sanctions on the Qaddafi family, indicate a few steps in the rebels’ direction. 


President Obama said Friday that he would appoint a special representative to Libya’s rebel leaders and that the Treasury Department had placed sanctions on nine more family members and friends of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in an effort to force the Libyan leader to resign.

Mr. Obama said the representative, who White House officials said would probably be chosen by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the next few days, would determine how the United States could help the Libyan opposition.

The move is significant because although the United States has not formally recognized the rebels as legitimate representatives of the Libyan people, the appointment of a special representative is bound to be interpreted as a move toward de facto recognition.

France was the first country to recognize the Libyan National Council, the rebels’ shadow government, as the representative of the Libyan people on Thursday, after a meeting between President Nicolas Sarkozy and two representatives of the movement, which has its headquarters in Benghazi, Libya.

Libya’s Teenage Rebels

by Matthew Shaffer

A fascinating story: apparently a significant portion of the anti-Qaddafi fighters in Libya are merely teenagers. 

European Union “Examines All Options”; Britain and France Urge No-Fly Zone

by Matthew Shaffer

A good rundown of the European Union debate about what to do about Libya is here. While the E.U. has pledged to consider all options, it appears it is mostly only Britain and France pushing for a no-fly zone, while others, especially Germany, are more skeptical:


European leaders on Friday agreed to examine “all necessary options” — including armed intervention — to protect civilians should the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, escalate attacks on rebel-held territories.

The statement, from an emergency European Union summit meeting, made no specific reference to calls led by France and supported by Britain for a no-flight zone. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said she was “fundamentally skeptical” of military action.

“The only countries that want a no-fly zone are Britain and France,” said a European diplomat, insisting on anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. “Germany is against.”

Still, Friday’s statement called on Colonel Qaddafi to quit, did not rule out military intervention by Europeans, and reiterated suggestions from American and European diplomats that such a move would require a clear legal basis, regional support and a clear motive.

Those conditions are not close to being met, but Europe is trying to ready itself if Colonel Qaddafi unleashes such violence that both the United Nations Security Council and theArab League believe they must step in.

“This is about planning for any eventuality,” said another European diplomat. “Such that, if the situation deteriorates further, we would not be waiting three weeks or more to respond.”


Saudi Arabia Barely RAges

by Matthew Shaffer

Yesterday’s planned protests in Saudi Arabia weren’t as big as expected, and were much more peaceful than we might have anticipated: 

Michael Birnbaum reports from Qatif:


A “Day of Rage” planned by critics of the Saudi Arabian government proved relatively calm Friday, with peaceful demonstrations in and around the eastern city of Qatif, a day after police fired on protesters there, and elsewhere in oil-rich Eastern province.

Witnesses reported a heavy police presence in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, but no protests.

In Saudi Arabia, hundreds marched in Ahsa, an oasis town in the country’s largely Shiite Eastern province, and several protesters were arrested, but there was no violence, said Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb, president of the country’s Human Rights First Society. Another witness said that marches were held in three small towns outside Qatif and that hundreds of people marched in Qatif itself late in the evening. All the protests took place without incident.

Protesters have called for increased democracy in the country that has been ruled by the Saud family since they united it by conquest almost 80 years ago. The royal family and the majority of the country’s population are Sunni Muslims, and Shiite Muslims in Eastern province – home to the bulk of the nation’s oil reserves – have urged an end to what they say are discriminatory government measures that prevent them from holding many public positions and that restrict their public services.


Other parts of the Middle East, however, were quite different: 


In other countries in the region, protests led to violence. Demonstrators in Bahrain who have been on the streets for almost a month calling for democratic reforms were attacked by government supporters brandishing sticks and knives, witnesses said. Police fired tear gas on the protesters as they attempted to march to a royal complex on the outskirts of Manama, the capital.

In Yemen, security forces opened fire on protesters near Aden, injuring at least six, the Associated Press reported. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people gathered in the capital, Sanaa, to demand the immediate ouster of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh and to mourn the death of a protester killed by security forces at a rally Tuesday.

Also Friday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates flew to Bahrain to meet with officials there, in a sign of the United States’ continued concern about the events unfolding in the region.


“Jubilant Pro-Qaddafi Forces”

Mood Changes in Benghazi.

by Matthew Shaffer


More evidence that Qaddafi has regained the momentum. Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel Hamid reports from Benghazi: 

Last week, the rebels were saying: ‘We will take Sirte, we will take Tripoli.’ This week, they are much more cautious. They are saying: ‘We will defend our city. If they come, we will be ready.’The proof of the pudding is that they have had to retreat fromtheir earlier positions. They are showing me their weapons, and saying: ‘Look, this is all we have.’


by Matthew Shaffer

The West ups its response to Qaddafi.

Qaddafi rebounds using a secret horde of cash.

The Secretary of State plans to meet with Libyan rebel leaders.

NATO hedges on a no-flight zone and military intervention in Libya.

Qaddafi regains momentum, yesterday and today. 

France recognizes the Libyan rebels, and their preliminary government, the Libyan National Council.

Libyan rebels struggle to unite, to be something more than anti-Qaddafi forces. 

The Times exposes Qaddafi’s arms bazaars. 


In Egypt, Mohammed ElBaredei announces his intention to run for president. 

Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh rolls out a few more concessions.

Europeans fret over an influx of refugees from the MENA-region instability.

Clapper: Qaddafi Will Win

by Matthew Shaffer

The intelligence chief confirms and extrapolates reports coming from Libya today that pro-Qaddafi forces have been routing the rebels. The New York Times has the wrap on Clapper’s testimony: 


One week after President Obama demanded that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi cede power in Libya, the president’s top intelligence official predicted on Thursday that “over the longer term, that the regime will prevail” in Libya’s civil war, an assessment that cast significant doubt on efforts so far by the NATO allies to drive him from power.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Colonel Qaddafi has a potentially decisive advantage in arms and equipment that would make itself felt as the conflict wore on.

The statements by Mr. Clapper, a retired Air Force general who oversees America’s 16 intelligence services, could limit the Obama administration’s options. So far, only France has recognized the provisional government set up by the rebels, called the Libyan National Council. Mr. Clapper’s assessment that the Libyan leader is unlikely to be dislodged by the rebels — which presumably reflects the briefings Mr. Obama and his top national security advisers have been receiving in recent days — would appear to diminish the chances that that the United States and other NATO allies would follow suit.

While Mr. Obama and his aides have spoken of military options, including imposing a no-flight zone over Libya, they have so far limited their concrete actions to imposing new sanctions, freezing assets and monitoring Libyan military communications traffic. They have stopped short of direct military action, even the jamming of communications lines, and Mr. Clapper’s assessment may push both American officials and some allies to the conclusion that efforts to terminate Col. Qaddafi’s 41-year rule in Libya are futile.