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In a do-or-die situation, where would Gadhafi go?

By Moni Basu, CNN
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Libyan opposition leader opens up
  • There has been speculation about Gadhafi making an exit deal
  • But the strongman appears as defiant as ever
  • If he were to flee, he would have few options on where to go
  • Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Sudan could take him in

(CNN) -- Conflicting reports hit the international media this week about whether Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was negotiating a deal with the opposition for a guaranteed safe exit if he relinquished power.

Speculation percolated again Wednesday after few details were available about a private Libyan aircraft that landed in Cairo, Egypt.

But two questions remain: Will Gadhafi ever step down, and if he did, where would he go?

Gadhafi is sure not to go down easily. He has defiantly vowed to die a martyr on Libyan soil and declared on state television, "I am Libya."

At the moment, he has leverage, said David Pollock, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Those who have studied the strongman's megalomanic ways agree that he would probably not retreat from his revolution or his country without a fight to the end. Analysts have raised the grim prospect of a protracted, bloody war in the vein of Somalia.

"The tipping point wasn't reached quickly enough," Pollock said. "Now, this has turned into something that got stuck. It's grim. Very grim."

But if it came to a do-or-die scenario, Gadhafi, despite his bravado, would look for a way out, Pollock said.

There is no possibility of power-sharing, so if the opposition were to oust him, Gadhafi would have to leave the country, as U.S. President Barack Obama and others have already urged him to do.

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But few would be willing to welcome a man with such a tarnished reputation, reinforced in recent weeks by the bloody crackdown on unarmed protesters, analysts said.

Saudi Arabia's name pops up in discussions of this nature; after all, Tunisia's ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile in the Gulf kingdom. And there were rumors at one time that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would do the same.

But Gadhafi is another matter. His relationship with Saudi King Abdullah is, to put it mildly, strained, especially after the Saudis accused Libyans of an assassination attempt on the king several years back.

"I would be extremely surprised if he went to Saudi Arabia," said Christopher Boucek, a Saudi Arabia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Boucek suggested that Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe might be more amenable to taking in Gadhafi.

The Libyan leader's adoption of pan-African solidarity drew him closer to the Zimbabwean dictator. The relationship between the two nations blossomed also from the leaders' shared anti-colonial fervor and a realpolitik bond of being isolated nations, according to Boucek.

Others have suggested that Gadhafi could find a home in Cuba or Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is considered Gadhafi's main ally in Latin America, a love born, again, from a mutual distaste for Western "imperialism."

When the uprising began to escalate in Libya last month, rumors surfaced that Gadhafi had already fled to Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.

Pollock listed one more possible future home for the Libyan strongman: Sudan.

Reva Bhalla, an analyst with the global intelligence company Stratfor, said Gadhafi has reportedly sought friendship from Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and tried to shore up that alliance. But even the Syrians, said Bhalla, are less than enthused.

European nations, Bhalla said, would suit Gadhafi's sons just fine but not the eccentric leader, who has been famously known to travel with female bodyguards and sleep under a tent, even when he came to New York to address the United Nations.

After all, she said, Gadhafi remains a hardcore Bedouin.

And for the moment, it seems, he will remain in his Bedouin homeland, unwilling to let go of 40 years of power.

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