How will the ongoing conflicts shape the future of Libya and what will it mean for the country’s neighbours, their allies, and the West?
Here are my views as published in The Mark
More than any of the other uprisings sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, the one unfolding in Libya holds the gravest consequences for the region.
Libya is in the grasp of a more virulent autocracy – even by Middle Eastern standards. Moammar Gadhafi has made it clear that Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt, and that he will fight to the last man to maintain power. Given his antecedents, this comes as no surprise. Gadhafi would rather bring his country down with him than leave quietly. To make matters worse, no country in the region or the West has the kind of influence over Gadhafi that the U.S. had over Mubarak’s Egypt, or that the Europeans had over Ben Ali’s Tunisia. In dealing with Gadhafi, the international community’s options are much more limited. The unfortunate result is that – as is already becoming apparent – the Libyan uprising will be nothing like the relatively peaceful regime changes we have seen elsewhere.
The situation in Libya is also more precarious because of the damage that it threatens to unleash beyond the country’s shores. Already, EU leaders have begun scrambling to prepare for what the Italian foreign minister has described as “an exodus of biblical proportions.” There are also concerns about the implications for the global economy – particularly regarding the price of oil, which has seen a major spike since the crisis began.
But an even more disturbing concern – which has received very little attention in the media – is the impact that the Libyan crisis could have on the rest of Africa. During his 40 years in power, Gadhafi has thrown his influence and money across the continent to prop up or bring down governments. He has done this more than any other African leader. His fingerprints can be found on armed conflict from Chad to Sudan to the Central African Republic. He has also cultivated a loyal band of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa that he now uses to terrorize his own people.
But apparently his influence reaches even farther than this. The African Union’s response to the crisis has been feeble and belated. The union’s Peace and Security Council made a statement condemning the Libyan government’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, but this statement was much weaker than the reaction from the EU and even from the Arab League, which took the additional step of suspending Libya.
If Gadhafi remains intransigent and the crisis in Libya spirals into war, the fallout will not only be the upsurge in the price of oil and the masses of people fleeing towards the shores of Europe; it will also be the political instability and conflict that is likely to engulf fragile African states in which Gadhafi has been pulling the strings for so long.