As the rebellion in Libya intensifies, Bríd Doherty examines the reasons behind the conflict and the possible outcomes
“Our blood, our tears from more than 40 years”, and “From the desert to the sea, Libya, Libya will be free”. These were the words belted out by a crowd of over a hundred people calling for Libyan freedom on O’Connell Street in Dublin on March 19th. Libya is the third major Arab state to rise up against its despotic leader and call for freedom and democracy.
Thus far, it has without doubt been the most violent of all the revolts. It has been defined by the brutal manner in which Gaddafi has viciously murdered his own citizens. In order to fully comprehend the events in the North African state and contemplate the outcome, it is necessary to look at the composition of the opposition and Gaddafi himself.
The composition of opposition to Gaddafi is, as in all other revolts sweeping the region, very diverse. What unites all involved in these rebellions is the rejection of a dictatorial regime and a lust for freedom and respect for rights. Beyond that, there are many differing outlooks. In Libya, there is a mixture of human rights activists, democracy advocates, intellectuals, tribal elements and Islamic forces – a very broad accumulation.
The most notable political influence in the Libyan uprising is the “Youth of the 17th of February Revolution”, which has a democratic platform and calls for the rule of law, political freedoms, and free elections. The Libyan movement also includes sections of the government and the armed forces that have split from Gaddafi and joined the opposition.
The Gaddafi regime is constructed around the invulnerability and security of Gaddafi himself. Every aspect of Libyans’ lives rotates around him and no one has the courage to question his orders. Gaddafi has been the leader of Libya since a military coup on September 1st 1969. His 42 years in power make him one of the longest-serving leaders since the inception of government.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Gaddafi’s government was considered an undesirable state by the West, denounced for acts of state-sponsored terrorism, oppressing internal dissidence, assassinations of expatriate opposition leaders and unashamed nepotism which garnered a multi-billion dollar fortune for himself and his family.
In 1979, he stood down as prime minister, and was subsequently named “The Brother Leader” or “The Guide” in Libya’s Socialist Revolution. Gaddafi steadily sought more benevolent relations with the west, resulting in the raising of UN sanctions in 2003. Gaddafi vowed to “die a martyr” if required to in his fight against the rebels and external forces that are currently insisting on freedom.
Gaddafi is willing to deploy any means to buy himself time and try to curb the opposition, principally in the western areas of Libya. He is undoubtedly prepared to manipulate whatever collateral damage might occur at the hands of coalition forces to gain sympathy both from Libyans and from the Arab world.
The likelihood of him using civilians in harm’s way to ensure such tragedies take place must not be ruled out. He and his son have tried to stoke the flames of civil war but have not succeeded thus far.
It is difficult to predict what will now happen in Libya. The UN did not call for regime change outright, it called instead for the protection of civilians. The future of the Gaddafi regime is undetermined.
The key question is whether the uprising will resume in western Libya, including Tripoli, giving rise to a fragmentation of the regime’s armed forces. If that occurs, then Gaddafi may be overthrown soon. But if Gaddafi manages to remain rigidly in control in the west, then there will be a schism in the country. This may be what the regime had decided to choose as it announced its compliance with a recent UN resolution and proclaimed a ceasefire.
What might result from this is a drawn-out standoff, with Gaddafi controlling the west and the opposition the east. It will undoubtedly take time before the opposition can amass the weapons it is receiving from and through Egypt to the point of becoming able to conquer Gaddafi’s forces.
Airstrikes by NATO commenced last week, but Gaddafi and his allies show no signs of relinquishing power. However, this will undoubtedly strengthen the position of the opposition and weaken the despotic hold that Gaddafi has over Libya.
The priority is that we should support the victory of the Libyan democratic uprising. Its defeat at the hands of Gaddafi would have a severely negative affect on the revolutionary wave that is currently shaking the Middle East and North Africa. One can only hope that the fight for freedom will not have been in vain and that freedom of Libya will be the end result of the turmoil that currently enraptures the entire world.