Libyan Chaos and Its Regional Impact
Events in Libya are different from those in Tunisia and Egypt and could eventually lead to civil war there, according to global intelligence company Stratfor. This could in turn have a profound impact on other countries in the region and affect the political stability of the whole Middle East, warns Stratfor in a commentary.
"On Monday, it became very clear that the Libyan republic founded by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was fighting for its survival. The regime deployed army and air force assets to quell the unrest that had moved beyond the eastern parts of the country to its capital. Elsewhere, several senior Libyan diplomats resigned their posts and there were reports of military officers joining the protesters after refusing to follow orders to use force against the demonstrators.
The current situation is untenable and Gaddafi could be forced to step down. When that happens, the country is looking at a power vacuum. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, where the ousters of the sitting presidents didn't lead to the collapse of the state, Libya could very well be the first country in the largely Arab Middle East to undergo regime change.
The military establishments in Tunis and Cairo were robust enough to remove long-serving heads of state and maintain power. In Tripoli, however, the regime is centered on the family and friends of Gaddafi, with the armed forces in a subordinate role. Complicating matters is the fact that the modern Libyan republic has had only one ruler — Gaddafi.
In other words, there is no alternative force that can replace the current regime, which in turn means we are looking at a meltdown of the North African state. The weakness of the military and the tribal nature of society is such that the collapse of the regime could lead to a prolonged civil war. Civil war could also stem from a situation of Gaddafi not throwing in the towel and deciding to fight to the bitter end.
There are already signs that the eastern parts of the country are headed toward a de facto secession. Given the potential options, some people may view civil war between forces centered in Tripoli and Benghazi as a better option than utter anarchy. At least the country can avoid a Somalia-like situation in which multiple forces in different geographic areas run their own fiefdoms.
Libya spiralling out of control has implications for its immediate neighbours, especially Egypt, which is in the process of trying to manage a transition after the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government. The last thing the Egyptian generals want to see is their western neighbour becoming a safe haven for Islamist militants.
Likewise, the Tunisians and the Algerians (the latter more so than the former) have a lot to fear from a Libya without a central authority. And across the Mediterranean, the Italians are especially nervous, both due to their energy interests in Libya, and as they contemplate the prospects of a flood of illegal immigrants using a post-Gaddafi Libya as a launching pad into Europe.
The Libyan descent into chaos could have a profound impact on the unrest brewing in other countries of the region. Many opposition forces, which have been emboldened by the successful ousters of the Egyptian and Tunisian presidents, could be discouraged by the Libyan example. Opposition forces in countries like Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan and Syria would have to take into consideration that street agitation may not necessarily put them on the path toward democracy.
Thus, what happens in Libya will not just be critical for security in North Africa but for political stability in the largely Arab Middle East."
Libya Isolation Insulates Rulers from Outside Pressure
* Libya more diplomatically isolated than Egypt, Tunisia
* Gaddafi has more flexibility to mount brutal crackdown
* Analysts suspect tide turning against rulers
by Peter Apps
LONDON, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Like Iran and Myanmar before it, Libya's relative isolation gives its rulers much more diplomatic flexibility to mount a bloody crackdown than counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia or Bahrain -- but that may not be enough.
Early on Monday, one of the sons of Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi said his father would fight a popular revolt to the "last man standing".
Rights groups estimate the death toll in Libya in recent days far outstrips anything seen during protests elsewhere in North Africa, but reporting restrictions and blocked communications have kept most events out of sight
"The thing that makes Libya different is that it is much more relatively isolated," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. "It's almost a North Korea. There are no foreign journalists, very little civil society. It's much harder to get information out and to have influence."
Gaddafi has built up his ties to the West -- and to oil firms -- in recent years since giving up his nuclear weapons programme. But Western capitals still have much less leverage with him than longer-term allies such as Egypt's military, Tunisia's elite or Bahrain's royal family.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power earlier this month by a popular uprising that followed swiftly the ousting of Tunisia's president, and protests have rippled across the region, from Algeria to Bahrain to Yemen.
Countries heavily dependent on U.S. and other Western aid have found that ordering troops to fire into crowds may be diplomatically and politically impossible. But Libya is in a very different position.
LITTLE LEVERAGE, INFLUENCE
The European Union could suspend trade talks and encourage tourism and energy firms to pull out. But -- as after the crushing of Iran's 2009 "green revolution" or Myanmar's 2007 crackdown -- Western governments and rights campaigners find they have little real influence.
Libya's rulers survived decades in the wilderness before beginning to mend fences with the West in recent years.
"The Libyans are very self-confident," said Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to both Libya and Iran. "The state of its international relations is not much of a factor in their domestic decision-making and the European Union and others will not have much leverage or influence."
So far, news footage from Libya has been limited largely to snatches of jumpy material filmed on mobile phones. Foreign broadcasters have managed to grab occasional telephone interviews with those inside the country, but little more.
On Friday, wall-to-wall coverage of Bahraini troops firing at demonstrators prompted angry calls from Washington to local rulers, who pulled the army off the streets. In contrast, the start of the Libya crackdown was relegated to second place on many news bulletins.
"Newspapers have sent their entire teams to Bahrain because they can get visas," said Whitson at Human Rights Watch. "The front page ends up being all about Bahrain with barely any mention of Libya. But the use of force in Libya has been far out of proportion to anything used in Egypt, Tunisia or elsewhere."
Libya has less Western investment than its neighbours but much more than Myanmar or Iran. Ultimately Gaddafi, like other African leaders, will know he can turn elsewhere -- particularly China -- if western firms are put under pressure to drop him.
Sudan, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Iran have all benefited from trade, aid and diplomatic support from Beijing in the face of Western criticism and sometimes sanctions over alleged rights abuses. But few see an immediate exodus of Western investment from Libya given its lucrative oil reserves.
TURMOIL INTO TSUNAMI
Most outside financial commitment to Libya has been limited to resource-related foreign direct investment, difficult to suddenly withdraw without taking huge losses. In contrast, Egypt, Tunisia and to an extent Bahrain were heavily exposed to Western portfolio investment that could flee much faster.
Internet penetration is also much higher in those three countries -- and crucially, their economies have increasingly focused on services. That makes long-term Internet shutdowns hard to sustain without considerable economic damage.
Most experts say that how events play out in Libya will depend far more on domestic political factors than outside influence. The lesson of Egypt and Tunisia, they say, is that autocrats fall when they can no longer command the security forces to restore order.
"A major factor is the commitment of those prepared to carry out violent repression," said Nikolas Gvosdev, professor of national security studies at the US Naval War College. "In Egypt ... the rank and file military were not going to follow through with what needed to be done to secure Mubarak's political survival."
In contrast, Iran's Revolutionary Guard and militia, and Myanmar's military, have long proved much more willing to do whatever it takes to protect their masters. Most believe Libya's military will do the same, their fate seemingly tied to that of the Gaddafi family.
But that might not be enough. Libyan protesters may feel the tide of history is with them.
Nomura political analyst Alastair Newton said he believed regime collapse might be imminent, and warned that the rising tide of regional unrest had reached the stage of threatening global energy supplies.