Many of the hundreds killed so far in the pro-democracy uprisings in Libya must have known their death was imminent. And yet, their power and the numbers of their supporters have created the greatest unrest in the country in the four decades of Moammar Gadhafi's rule. They are enduring the ultimate assault - strafing by bullets and bombs, launched from land and air by their own leader - and, with unfathomable bravery, exposing the inherent weakness of the regime.
On the surface, Mr. Gadhafi is no ordinary leader. He is not the formal ruler of Libya, but rather positions himself simply as the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution." The country is nominally run as the "state of the masses," a socialist, decentralized system of Mr. Gadhafi's own devising known as a jamahiriya, where local committees have wide leeway.
Mr. Gadhafi had proven to be a masterful politician, shuffling officials, reconciling with or distancing himself from the West, playing local tribes off against each other, and making occasional imperial adventures into sub-Saharan Africa. But because any opposition was officially disavowed, and because Mr. Gadhafi has perpetuated an explicit ideology, violence against any opposition was going to be more likely, and more lethal.
That was made clear last week, during funeral marches conducted to mark the deaths of those killed the day before. A numbing cycle - mourn, march, be shot at, collect the dead - replicated itself for five days. And yesterday, Mr. Gadhafi proved conclusively that his is a terror state, with hundreds reported dead in Tripoli.
The West, especially Europe, has been constrained, by its dalliances with Mr. Gadhafi after its apparent renunciation of international terrorism and by its import of Libyan oil (about 80 per cent of all Libyan oil exports go to Europe). Mr. Gadhafi's constant re-positioning and Libya's oil wealth, meanwhile, have helped to make the country an enigma, coiled in favours and treachery, and with opportunistic enemies and friends from every corner on the planet.
What is clear is that for many, whether they are driven by a desire for justice or some more nebulous prospect, Mr. Gadhafi's story has gotten stale. And little, including the denial of Internet access, the threats of Mr. Gadhafi's son, and even a near-certain death, is stopping many Libyans from saying they have had enough of their strongman.