Libya: dictatorship or chaos?




The ongoing events in Libya are not similar to those which happened in Tunisia in January and in Egypt a few weeks ago. Much more than a search of liberty and democracy – which were never experienced in Libyan history, main factors of the uprising are, here, Islamism and Tribalism.




1)    The nature of the Libyan Jamahiriya




Since forty years – he overthrew King Idriss in 1969 with some other officers – has established a kind of “pan-Arabic Islamic socialism” and, despite the fact that he proclaimed that he was not looking for a the power and that, with the Jamahiriya (“a neologism for “mass-state”) all the power was actually in the hands of the people, he rules Libya as his personal property, after having eliminated one by one, most all his comrades of the Revolution. 



Undoubtedly, Jamahiriya is everything but democratic. Libya is a cruel state with a terrifying record on human rights and civil liberties. Only the fact that the country has enormous gas and oil reserves and that Gaddafi renounced to a WMD program (which was absolutely impossible to achieve given the lack of scientists, skilled engineers and technicians and the isolation of Libya….) explains that he was able to reintegrate the “international community” by the beginning of the 2000’s.



Highly motivated by this success, Colonel Gaddafi never understood that his country needed modernization and reforms and continued his erratic policy, alternatively sending signals of openness and destroying all independent thinking.


Even his son, Seif al-Islam, more moderate and having a better understanding of the world and the needs of the Libyan society was unable to convince him that the time of change has come.



Very likely, the Libyan young people were watching very closely what was happening those last two months in two neighbouring countries, Tunisia and Egypt, and they were desperate by the political autism of the regime.



2)    The importance of Islamism and tribalism



But two factors played an enormous role in the beginning of the Libyan “revolution”: Islamism and tribalism.



2.a. Islamism



Due to the fact that Libyan “socialism” claims to be largely based on the Quran, Islamism is deeply rooted in the Libyan policy. In the seventies, Islamic clerics helped Gaddafi to legitimize his power, but in the eighties, he began to defend unorthodox views and to distance himself from the literal and classical Sunni interpretation of the texts.



Having sidelined the Ulemas and take control of the mosques, Gaddafi faced some troubles with the Muslim Brotherhood and, in the mid-nineties a real Islamist insurrection took place: Libyan “afghans “organized their own network and vowed to overthrow the regime. Dozens of Islamists were arrested in 1994, but in 1995, the militants were well organized and launched a deadly offensive against the Jamahiriya, attacking prisons and security officers and even plotting to guide the supreme Leader[1]. In September 1995, Benghazi and other eastern cities were the theatre of  an open uprising which let dozens killed on both side and a new organisation, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group ( LIFG, Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah fii-Libya) declared the regime “apostate”.



In the summer of 1996, all the eastern part of the country was closed to foreigners and army confronted heavy armed LIFG militants. In 1996 and 1997, using ground and air forces, gas and napalm, the regime took the control back but the hundreds if not thousands of LIFG militants and civilians were killed.



The LIFG leaders who survived and avoided capture leaved the country and most of them joined al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, like Abu Annas al-Libi, one of the planners of the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Dar-es-Salam and Nairobi.



The fact that the revolt began, a few days ago, in the same eastern areas as in 1996, and in the same cities (Benghazi, al-Bayda etc.) is not an accident and several sources told ESISC, this week-end that known Islamists militants are heading the uprising in the East.



On February 21, a group of religious scholars aid “it is a religious duty to revolt against Muammar Gaddafi”.



2.b Tribalism



The second “problem” of the regime, today, is tribalism.



Libya is a tribal society and Gaddafi was ever cautious to balance the influence of rival tribes in the high administration and in the army and the security services.


But the bloody repression of the five last days has revolted most of the “elders” of prominent tribes, not only in the East. Sunday, Muammar al-Qaddafi met some of those elders to “listen to their demands”[2] and negotiate.



But it is maybe too late: the regime, deeply shaken by the crisis and the dissensions between tribes seems to be crumbling.



3)    The state of the play and the possible evolution



This Monday evening, it is impossible to predict how the crisis will end.



Gaddafi and his followers could yet win the party, but it will be in a bloodbath.


On the other hand, the possibility of the end of Qaddafi is no more a pure hypothesis.


Reports say that all the eastern part of the country is under the control of the rebels and that heavy gunfire are ongoing in the capital. It seems that a part of the army joined the insurgents and it is said tha colonel Qaddafi just ordered the air force to open fire not only on the crows but also on military facilities.



Libyan diplomats are leaving their posts and the Libyan mission to the UN just asked for an “international intervention”.


Given the history of the regime, the old accounts to settle and the savagery of those last days repression, one thing, at least is quite sure: if Qaddafi falls, it is not democracy which will appear in Libya in the near future but more chaos, tears and blood.

[1]Colonel Gaddafi escaped an assassination attempt in February 1996. Several bodyguards were killed.

[2]Information of Asharq Al-Awsat, based on “sources close to Qaddafi”, February 21.

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