The Chances for Revolution in Libya
The transformation of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt into effective revolutions hinged on the decisions of the military. After a brief initial period in which they supported the government with force, the Tunisian military refused to actively participate in the fray of the protests, limiting their engagement to the deployment of nonlethal weaponry. With the world’s eyes upon them and the expiration date on Mubarak’s regime come increasingly clear, the Egyptians followed suit.
Libya is a different story. With a reported death toll already in the hundreds and eyewitnesses accounts speaking of soldiers aiming to kill, as well as direct statements from Libyan dictator Gaddafi to the effect that he will not back down no matter the cost, the military has not been able to play the same role. Much of the reason behind this is because the Libyan military is nothing like the entrenched and powerful institutions that the Tunisian and Egyptian militaries were.
As if aware of the possibility for events like this, Gaddafi has, throughout his 40 plus year rule, deliberately kept the military relatively powerless and organized along largely tribal lines. The most effective brigades, including all of the Air Force, are controlled by Gaddafi’s own tribe, with many led by members of his own family. In addition, he has created mercenary brigades composed of sub-Saharan African soldiers that are loyal only to him. It is these mercenary forces that seem to be responsible for the majority of the egregious violence we are currently witnessing.
On the other hand, the volatility of the army also explains how the regime so quickly lost control of Eastern Libya. The army in Benghazi, the only important urban center in the region, was composed of tribes less favored by the regime, and hence without incentive for continued loyalty. This sort of fracturing would have been unthinkable in the rigid, American supported military of Egypt.
Where does this leave the prospects for revolution in Libya? Without any reliable system for maintaining control, Gaddafi has all but insured his downfall. Yet this same absence ensures that the change will not be easy or bloodless and makes it very difficult indeed to imagine the shape of what’s to come.
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