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Who Is Fighting Libya’s Civil War?

Beneath Gaddafi's theatrics, Libya struggles in a tangle of loyalties.

by
Khaled Nasir

Bio

April 27, 2011 - 12:00 am
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Family and tribal loyalties are coupled to oil revenue in a manner making it very hard for NATO to stop the advance of Gaddafi’s loyalists to Misrata or even to Benghazi. The vast revenue from the oil enabled the regime to hire loyalists and mercenaries alike, and motivate them to continue fighting for the annihilation of the opposition. The Gaddafi government has used mercenaries hired mainly from sub-Saharan Africa and the former Yugoslavia, drawing the attention of the African Union (with its Convention on the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa). Media reports have claimed that Gaddafi’s loyalists are paying Ghanaian mercenaries a colossal $2,500 per day. There are also claims that advertisements for mercenaries have appeared in the Nigerian newspapers. Ukrainian and Serbian mercenaries are reportedly fighting alongside Gaddafi loyalists, a charge reinforced by the fact that Libya used Serbian fighters to put down a civilian uprising in the 1990s.

Libya: Comparing with Other States

Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, where the militaries have a tradition of loyalty to the state and to the armed forces as an institution, the regular Libyan military has been kept deliberately weak and divided by Gaddafi, who seized power as a 28-year-old Army captain with a few hundred confederates in 1969.

The best-trained and equipped forces in the country are paramilitaries commanded by his friends and family members, who answer directly to him. At present, the generals in power can convince Gaddafi to negotiate with the rebels, but a majority of the military stands strongly behind him. In most cases, the forces are controlled by the three sons of Gaddafi — making it extraordinarily difficult for outsiders to penetrate into the command and control structure.

Current study pinpoints three groups believed to be instrumental in challenging authoritarian regimes in the Arab world: political parties, the Islamist movement, and human rights associations and other civil society organizations. The focus has been on highly institutionalized actors operating in the formal, public sphere. Opposition parties did not catalyze, organize, or lead the citizens’ movements that took to the streets in Egypt or Tunisia. They were almost missing from the scene at the outset. As for the human rights groups, their role in awakening citizens or mobilizing them into activism has been minimal, or almost nonexistent.

What, then, is to come? Amid the bloody struggle, as yet, neither the United States, Britain, France nor others are willing to send ground forces into Libya. Drones will not settle the matter. Libya’s fate is in the hands of Libyans themselves.

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Khaled Nasir lives in Bangladesh.
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