Guest blog - Reflections on the situation in Libya

Tisdag, 8. Mars 2011     0 kommentti(a)
Barbara Zanchetta
forskare - forskningsprogrammet Global säkerhet

FIIA hosts a guest blog by Dr. Massimiliano Cricco, Lecturer at the University of Urbino (Italy) and scholar at the Machiavelli Center for Cold War Studies (CIMA) in Florence (Italy)

Reflections on the situation in Libya

After the widespread popular unrest demanding Mr. Qaddafi resignation, the Libyan leader decided to launch air attacks on the protesters and to fight "until his death."

Consequently, the situation in Libya is rapidly deteriorating. Qaddafi's regime can no longer keep the country under control. The Libyan people seem to have finally realized that their country is ruled by a family clan, detached from the needs of citizens.

Previously, Qaddafi had been more cautious. Between the 1970s and 1990s, he had implemented some positive reforms: he distributed oil revenues among the people and realized a number of major projects aimed at improving the people's lives, such as housing facilities and fresh water distribution.

However, since 2000, the Colonel has focused more on the international scene, trying to build personal relations with major powers. He also accumulated his own personal economic empire, deemed to worth more than 100 billion USD.

In spite of his background – he was a soldier and came to power with the help of the army – Gaddafi at some point decided to radically change the structure of the country, which came to be identified as his personal property. So, he alienated the people and the army which, as we have seen, now hesitates in antagonizing the people.

In Tunisia, Ben Ali built up a dictatorship which lasted for years, but there the living conditions of the people were extremely poor. Ben Ali had created his own "court," a small group of privileged people – politicians, military officers, intellectuals, representatives of the business elite – while the rest of the population lived on the brink of poverty. The situation in Libya is very different. Until 10 years ago, oil revenues were distributed among the population, creating social consensus necessary for the regime. But recently the regime has gradually moved away far from the heart of the people.

Today, Libya seems on the brink of a new revolution. Two or three years ago none of us could have imagined that Qaddafi's authority could have been questioned. Analysts underlined that Libya was different from the other countries in the region. Qaddafi had managed to enlist the support of the population, which is wealthier than in other African countries. But Libyans lacked freedom. Gaddafi was a model of a self-made man, who came to power himself through a revolution, overthrowing the monarchy with the support of the people. But when Qaddafi's regime started to resemble to the vituperated court of the deposed King Idris – the Colonel wanted to appoint his son Saif as his successor – the people grew disillusioned. From the leader of a sovereign nation, he became the head of a clan. Consequently, one can assume that the Gaddafi “clan” may face the same fate as the clan of King Idris I.

Still, one must be cautious: Gaddafi survived five assassination attempts, as well as the American bombing decided by Ronald Reagan. Qaddafi survived, like a cat, who is said to have seven lives.

However, if he is overthrown and forced to flee the country, the scenarios could be multiple. Libya could become a divided country, because it was originally created by unifying the three regions of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan. The capital of Cyrenaica, Benghazi, was the homeland of the clan Senussi and gave Libya its royal dynasty. It is possible that, after an eventual fall of Qaddafi, the descendants of King Idris may be called back. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Tripolitania, which is the most advanced part of the country, would accept a return of the monarchy.

Another scenario might be the creation of an Islamic republic - either in the whole of Libya, or in some part of it. Today's Libya, after 42 years of Qaddafi's secular rule, is not a deeply religious country. So, this option does not seem particularly likely.

The third scenario would see the preservation of the secular Libyan state, an Arab Democratic Republic. However, in the presence of so many centrifugal forces, it will take time and, possibly, international aid in a transition phase.

Definitely, in the period between the current unrest and the building of a new form of government, the country will be unstable. This means that Europe must be prepared to receive a large number of refugees leaving from the shores of Libya. Moreover, there will be repercussions on the energy sector, depending on who will take over the oil plants during the transition. It is probable that spontaneous popular committees will be created to manage the emergency, and these might be difficult to engage in dialogue.

Massimiliano Cricco (University of Urbino); author of the book on Libya: Il Petrolio dei Senussi: Stati Uniti e Gran Bretagna in Libia dall'indipendenza a Gheddafi (1949-1973), Firenze, Polistampa, 2002.

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