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Protest Season’s Latest Recruit: Libya

by Kaitlin Travers | Marist College

F Posted in: News and Politics P Posted on: February 23, 2011
libya Image courtesy of Flickr, user Thizzelle_Washington.

Protest season continues to rage on in Northern Africa, with Libya most recently taking the global spotlight.  Turmoil and unrest runs rampant as Libyan protesters clash with military police in what is certainly the most violent protest thus far.  The popular revolt in the oil-rich desert state is fueled by anti-government sentiment in which demands include reform, development, and change in the closed, restricted country.  Ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi, who ascended to power in 1969 via a coup d’état, gave a defiant televised speech yesterday, pounding his fists and vowing not to leave power until “the last drop of blood” or he will “die a martyr in the land of my ancestors.”

In the context of the recent protests, the situation in Libya differs from others in the region such as Egypt and Tunisia due to the excessive employment of extreme brutality mandated by Gaddafi himself.   The government’s use of brute force, including opening fire on protesters and shootings from war planes, has resulted in approximately 300 civilian deaths and thousands of injuries. Drawing a parallel to the events that took place in Egypt and Tunisia, Libyans have endured years of dissatisfaction with the autocratic dictatorial rule of al-Gaddafi.  Inspired by the success of recent protests, the people seek liberation from restrictions of the current despotic government, chanting “down with Gaddafi,” while the leader they seek to topple says there will be “rivers of blood” before he admits defeat.

Gaddafi has reportedly paid gangs of thugs to attack protesters, and in his latest speech, he insisted his supporters to attack any homes or protesters who threaten his rule. While the State Department has condemned the violence, their reaction to the Libyan situation has been more apathetic than responsive, with Secretary Clinton calling the government’s violence “completely unacceptable,” with U.S. participation limited thus far.  UN and Amnesty International officials have issued statements of outrage at the gross violation of international humanitarian law, and have urged the use of peaceful dialogue rather than lethal force.

Global economic anxiety has also been mounting as protests continue, seeing as Libya is the third biggest African exporter of oil.  Prices of oil have reached a 2 ½ year high, and according to Reuters Online, at least three international oil companies have halted production in the nation.  The uncertainty in the region has many fearful of the potential this could have on the global economy, but rest assured: Saudi Arabia, the top manufacturer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) addressed the concern of the weary investor and worried market.  The Saudi Arabian oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, told the New York Times that “OPEC is ready to meet any shortage in supply when it happens.  There is concern and fear, but there is no shortage.”

But what will happen if protesters are victorious and Gaddafi is ousted from power?  Experts predict that such an occurrence will cause tribal warfare, civil war, and ultimate chaos in the nation.  With a historical legacy of tribal divisions, the national and regional security of the region will be immediately threatened if anarchy were to erupt.  Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, there is no major force which could assume power if Gaddafi is rooted out.  While Gaddafi has pledged “radical” programs of reforms, his son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, also warned the Libyan people: “forget about democracy, forget about reform … It will be a fierce civil war.”  Al-Islam Gaddafi’s threatening messages could be seen as a threat to scare the Libyan people to quit their protesting; but the citizens show no signs of giving up.  While no one can predict what the future holds for Libya, the frightening realities of possible tribal wars, extreme Islamist takeover, and total chaos certainly are all possibilities looming in this time of uncertainty and revolution.

Kaitlin Travers Kaitlin Travers is the Global Correspondent for NGJ. Kaitlin is studying political science at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, where she is a Resident Assistant and Admissions Office Ambassador. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/kaitlintravs.

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