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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tribal fighting could turn Libya 'into another Somalia,' expert says

The Toronto Star

February 22, 2011

DUBAI -- Libya faces chaos and possible civil war as Moammar Gadhafi fights to maintain his 42-year grip on power in the face of a popular uprising.

Even if he flees - assuming he could find a refuge - Gadhafi would leave a nation with few normal structures for a peaceful transition, after four decades of his idiosyncratic rule.

"Any post-Gadhafi period is fraught with uncertainty," said Middle East analyst Philip McCrum. "There is no organized opposition, there are no civil institutions around which people could ordinarily gather.

"The opposition in exile is small and disparate. It will therefore take a long time for a new political order to establish itself and in the meantime, political tensions will run high as various competing groups, such as the tribes, the army, Islamists and liberals vie for power."

Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, one of the mercurial leader's sons, appeared on state TV overnight, mixing threats with appeals for calm, saying the army would enforce security at any price.

"We will keep fighting until the last man standing, even the last woman standing," he said, waving a finger at the camera.

McCrum said Saif al-Islam's speech had probably scotched any hopes among young Libyans that he could be a force for reform.

The uprising in Libya already looks set to be the bloodiest in a series of popular protests racing across the Middle East from Algeria to Yemen. Possibilities for compromise look slim.

"Libya is the most likely candidate for civil war because the government has lost control over part of its own territory," said Shadi Hamid, of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. "Benghazi was lost to the opposition and there are reports of other smaller cities going the same way. It is not something the Gadhafi regime is willing to tolerate."

Benghazi, a city in eastern Libya - the region that is home to most of the country's oilfields - is a traditional hotbed of anti-Gadhafi sentiment among tribes hostile to his rule.

As the protests have snowballed, Islamic leaders and once-loyal tribes have declared for the opposition.

Saad Djebbar, a London-based Algerian lawyer who defended Libya in the Lockerbie airline bombing case, said Gadhafi must go.

"I'm sure he has armed to the teeth his own tribesmen and those tribes linked to him. I'm sure he will be also giving them as much cash as possible," Djebbar said.

He said Gadhafi had narrowed the circle of his power to his close family and tribe in recent years, alienating allies and tribes who had backed him after he seized power in 1969.

"Gadhafi will go down fighting and Libyans will butcher each other. It's a fight to the bitter end. If he activates the tribal card, it will only turn Libya into another Somalia."

Djebbar said Western powers should consider protecting any rebel-held areas such as eastern Libya by using air power to bar Gadhafi from bombing his foes into submission - similar to the no-fly zone they set up in Iraqi Kurdistan after the 1991 Gulf War to deter Saddam Hussein from reasserting control there.

"Gadhafi is like a cornered animal - when threatened he attacks ferociously," said McCrum. "Throughout his rule, he has shown no qualms in brutally suppressing any opposition. He is highly unlikely to make any concessions and if he goes down, he will take as many people with him as possible," he added, predicting that events in Libya "will only get bloodier."

McCrum said he doubted the army would turn on Gadhafi.

"The army will not actually effect regime change as in Egypt. They will simply perpetuate the status quo to protect their own interests," he said, noting that main arms of the security services were controlled by sons of Gadhafi.

Analyst Geoff Porter said Gadhafi had "nowhere to go," unlike ousted Arab leaders such as Tunisia's Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who found refuge in Saudi Arabia, or Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, in internal exile in Sharm el-Sheik.

"Possibly the only place he can go is Zimbabwe," he said. "So there is no alternative. (If he is toppled), he will be like Saddam Hussein and end up hiding in a hole.".


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