Libya’s future is uncertain, but some situations prove more likely than others
After two weeks of brutal conflicts between Muammar Gaddafi’s armed forces and a number of allied opposition groups, it appears as if Libya may become the next North African nation to see its disgruntled population overthrow its authoritarian regime.
The leader of Libya, since taking control of the country in a bloodless coup in 1969, Gaddafi has long ruled his nation with an iron fist – and has vowed to fight until the end to extend his tenure as Libya’s head of state.
Throughout his 40-year run as Libya’s leader, Gaddafi has been notorious for wide-spread human rights abuses in both Libya and abroad.
Known as much for his disdain for the notion of human rights as he is for his often-outlandish behaviour, Gaddafi has long been viewed as a somewhat cartoon-like character to many outside observers, despite the fact that he has maintained strict authoritative control over Libya, a nation with incredible amounts of oil reserves, for more than 40 years.
In response to nearly half a century of Gaddafi’s often-erratic rule, and the series of successful uprisings in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, on Feb. 15, thousands of inspired Libyans took to the streets in protest. Initially, these protests were centred in the nation’s two largest cities, Tripoli in the west and Benghazi in the east. By Feb. 18 widespread demonstrations had spread to several smaller cities across Libya.
Within 48 hours, anti-Gaddafi demonstrators, aided by a number of defected armed forces officers, had gained control of Benghazi. In response to this, Gaddafi sent elite army officers and a number of alleged Chadian mercenaries to the opposition-controlled city. After two days of conflict, more than 200 had been killed.
On Feb. 22, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel insisted, “The protest movement is no longer a protest movement; it’s a war. It’s an open revolt.”
At press time, Libyan rebels had both taken control of several cities across the country and established a national council to coordinate administration in areas seized from the Gaddafi regime.
Still, Gaddafi has shown no willingness to leave office, even after receiving strong condemnation for his acts of violence and pleas to resign from a number of outside observers.
On Feb. 25, Dr. Omar Ashour, a Canadian-born Middle Eastern analyst for the British Broadcasting Corporation, offered a number of potential future scenarios for Libya – a nation that boasts a population of 6.5 million citizens and vast petroleum reserves.
The first scenario Dr. Ashour presented was that of Gaddafi using chemical weapons against his opposition – a tactic used both by Saddam Hussein in 1988 and by Hafez al-Assad in 1982.
Dr. Ashour insisted that this option, albeit extreme, is still possible. In 2004, inspectors from the Chemical Weapons Convention verified that Libya had over 23 metric tonnes of mustard gas and an additional 1,300 metric tonnes of precursor chemicals at their disposal.
In his second version, Dr. Ashour offered the notion that dissent among factions of Libya’s armed forces could lead to an attempted coup against their embattled head of state, similar to the effort that Gaddafi spearheaded to take the reins of the North African nation in the late 1960s.
Dr. Ashour said that, although a coup could be carried out by disgruntled Libyan officers, it is nevertheless unlikely to occur. Since the onset of the conflict, Libya’s armed forces have failed to act as a cohesive unit and would likely not have sufficient manpower to carry out such a bold move.
Another scenario presented by Dr. Ashour was the prospect of international intervention.
Although this seems like a plausible scenario, Dr. Ashour suggested that if the Western world’s reactions to past Gaddafi indiscretions are any indication of how they will react to Libya’s current conflict, then it is unclear what they may – or may not – do to help remedy the country’s worsening situation.
“The West has known about crimes against humanity and terrorist plots committed by Col. Gaddafi’s regime for decades now. Most notably, the June 1996 Abu Salim massacre in which more than 1,200 political prisoners were gunned down after protesting against prison condition,” wrote Dr. Ashour. “Still there was no international inquiry, mainly due to oil interests.”
On Feb. 19, in an article in the New York Times by Anthony Shadid, a Benghazi resident and demonstrator unofficially spoke on behalf of anti-Gaddafi protesters.
“It is too late for dialogue now. Too much blood has been shed. The more brutal the crackdown will be, the more determined the protesters will become. We don’t trust the regime anymore.”
Although it is unclear exactly what the future will hold for Libya, their uprising, as was recently seen with the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, could very well inspire disgruntled citizens of other nations around the world to also demand change in their country’s oppressive regime. With that, 2011 could become known as the year of the social revolution.