The American Kafir


The Gadhafi Regime, Isolated and Under Pressure

Filed under: Libya — Tags: , — - @ 11:21 pm
The Gadhafi Regime, Isolated and Under Pressure
Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi (L) with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome on Aug. 30, 2010


As Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s hold on power appears increasingly tenuous, the role the country has carved out for itself during his decades of rule — a secular, nationalist Arab government willing to challenge Arab monarchies as well as Western countries through violence — has left it with few allies and numerous enemies during its time of need.


The regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi continues to be rocked by protests, with reports of anti-government militias taking control of entire cities in the country’s restive eastern region.

The Gadhafi regime’s unique ideological position in the Middle East — one of the last proponents of Nasserist secular Arab nationalism — has put it at odds with a number of its neighbors. Though it has moderated in recent years, over the decades Gadhafi has challenged the power of the Saudi and other Gulf monarchies along with Western powers. As his grip on power is shaken as never before since he took power in 1969, only Libya’s neighbor to the east, Egypt, and its former colonial master, Italy, are thus far demonstrating a real interest in seeing the regime preserved.

Italy, whose former colonial relationship with the country translated into close relations with the Gadhafi regime, has been the most vocal in expressing its support for the regime. Italy lobbied the European Union to lift sanctions on Libya in 2004 and is heavily invested in the Libyan energy sector. Fundamentally, Libya (along with Tunisia) is within Italy’s Mediterranean sphere of influence, and has been for millennia. The Italian Foreign Ministry has been in discussions with the Libyan Interior Ministry since the beginning of the crisis, urging the government to make promises of reforms in hopes of containing it. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Feb. 21 that he is “extremely concerned about the self-proclamation of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Benghazi,” adding that such a regime on the borders of Europe would be a serious threat. Notably, Frattini’s talk of an Islamic Emirate of Benghazi echoes comments made by Seif al-Islam Gadhafi in a Feb. 20 speech, in which he blamed the unrest on seditious elements and warned that the fall of the regime would lead to the country breaking up into Islamic emirates, which in turn, Seif al-Islam said, would lead to a Western military occupation of Libya.

The Islamist threat raised by Seif al Islam may be unlikely for a largely secular country like Libya, but is something that captures the attention of Western governments, and perhaps assistance as well, or so the regime hopes. In addition to its concerns over Islamist militancy, Italy is also greatly concerned at the prospect of Libyan refugees fleeing en masse in search of sanctuary in Italy. While Libya is providing diplomatic support to the Gadhafi regime, STRATFOR has also received an unconfirmed report claiming that Italian mafia elements are taking part in trying to help the regime put down unrest. At the same time, Italy is not taking any chances, and has already arranged to repatriate Italians living in Libya beginning Feb. 22.

The Gadhafi regime also appears to have support in the Egyptian military, now running state affairs in Cairo. According to a STRATFOR diplomatic source in the region, the Egyptian military’s preference is to keep Gadhafi in power. The same source claimed that the Egyptian army prevented a convoy of trucks carrying aid to Libyan protesters from crossing the border. The Egyptian military does not wish to see the Libyan military fracture and chaos spread in North Africa. Like Italy, Cairo fears a refugee crisis that could further threaten Egypt’s current precarious state. Egypt and Libya have long maintained cordial relations, bound together by the Nasserite, secularist challenge to the traditional Arab monarchies of the region. When Nasser died, Gadhafi took it upon himself to continue Nasserism and presented himself as the only Arab leader with the will and capability to counter Saudi Arabia’s dominant role among the Arab states.

Gadhafi’s self-promotion in this regard also has earned him enemies, many of whom may be concerned about emboldened protesters spreading unrest in the wider region but would not mind seeing the end of Gadhafi’s rule. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has long viewed the Gadhafi regime as a major irritant. In November 2003, a plot was uncovered in which Saudi officials claimed the Gadhafi regime had hired a team to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, then the de-facto ruler of the kingdom before he took the throne in 2005. The Libyan regime allegedly intended to cloak the assassination as an al Qaeda attack. The Saudi royals have long been at odds with the Gadhafi regime.

Libya’s southern neighbor, Chad, backed by colonial patron France, would also have an interest in seeing the Gadhafi regime fall. Chad has long dealt with Libyan-backed separatists and has fought off four interventions by Libyan forces between 1978 and 1987, as Libya has sought to annex the resource-rich Aouzou Strip in northern Chad.

The British government has come out strongly against the Libyan regime’s willingness to crack down. British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking from Egypt on Feb. 21, strongly condemned the use of lethal force against demonstrators as London summoned the Libyan ambassador to explain the regime’s actions. Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had information that suggested Gadhafi was on his way to Venezuela (reports that were later denied) and called on world leaders to condemn Gadhafi’s “dreadful” and “horrifying” response to the protests. Since its arduous return to the Libyan energy market in 2007, British energy giant BP has run into a series of problems with the Gadhafi regime. BP and the British government then got caught up in a major controversy over London’s decision to release Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi in 2010, a decision that was widely believed to have been made as a way to facilitate a number of major energy deals BP had pending with the Libyan regime. That controversy could explain why the British government is now going out of its way to condemn the Gadhafi regime, perhaps as a face-saving measure. At the end of the day, the British government may see the removal of the Gadhafi regime as a potential positive development, but only if the country avoids descending into civil war.

The Russians, who, like Italy, share a close relationship with the Libyan regime, are largely keeping quiet on the issue and waiting to see who emerges in the Libyan power struggle. Before significant protests had broken out, Libya’s defense minister led a delegation to Moscow the previous week, during which Libyan defense officials attempted to solidify Russian backing. STRATFOR sources in Moscow say they are picking up on rifts between Gadhafi and the military elite and within the military itself. Given the uncertainty of the situation, Russia does not want to be seen as taking sides, but appears confident that it will be able to maintain its growing energy ties in the country regardless of who emerges on top.

The United States, which has had a long, antagonistic relationship with the Libyan regime, is likely taking the same approach. A great deal of progress has been made in the U.S.-Libya relationship since Libya agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program in 2004 and to share intelligence on the al Qaeda threat. Still, the United States lacks strong levers with Libya, and even if Washington favored regime stability in Tripoli, events on the ground suggest that governments the world over are considering a post-Gadhafi scenario.

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