Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Libya's Leadership Crossroads

It's unclear whether Muammar Qaddafi's regime will survive after a failed, but brutal, crackdown on protesters in Libya. But if Qaddafi goes, Libya lacks the elements needed for a smooth and peaceful transition of power.
Should Qaddafi's regime survive--a questionable proposition given the violence and popular outrage expressed on its streets--Libya will return to the pariah status it knew after bombing an American civilian airliner and its 270 passengers nearly twenty-five years ago. The brutal killing of over two hundred demonstrators in Libya so far has brought about harsh condemnations from around the world, with even terrorist group Hezbollah, responsible for murdering American and French diplomats in Lebanon, condemned the "crimes committed by the Qaddafi regime."
Yet a return to Qaddafi's absolute rule does not appear imminent or likely. Some forty years of political suppression, economic privation, and societal sclerosis have finally caught up with the flamboyant author of the Green Book. Qaddafi has proven himself to be out of touch, with key tribes having broken with him in recent days. Libya's top diplomats in many parts of the world--Britain, the EU, the Arab League, China, the UN, to name just a few--have already resigned in protest against Qaddafi's repression. Several pilots have voted with their aircraft and defected to neighboring Malta.
Qaddafi's response has been brutality coupled with laughable offers of reform, including a changed flag and a new national anthem, not political rights and freedoms. Meanwhile, his son has vowed to fight "to the last bullet." Remarkably, even though Qaddafi has largely succeeded in cutting Libya off from international communications--foreign journalists are barred, Internet access has been severed, and al-Jazeera is off the air--this has not forestalled the regional contagion from sweeping through this country of six and a half million.
With over two hundred civilians dead and a brutal crackdown being waged in its capital, absent from Libya today are the elements that would allow for a smooth and peaceful transition of power.
Libya today faces a dark future in the short term. While Qaddafi's departure from the scene would be mourned by few, it would also create an enormous power vacuum. Entirely unclear is what glue will hold together this largely decentralized country, in which nationalist identification is low, and tribal and clan affinity paramount. Unlike in neighboring Egypt, the military lacks the cohesion or unity needed to hold together the country. How events unfold over the next few days in Benghazi and elsewhere in eastern Libya may be key indicators of Libya's future.


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