Analyst Reva Bhalla examines Libya’s spreading unrest and the threat of civil war.
Libya is facing its biggest internal crisis to date with reports trickling out of the country indicating that unrest is now spreading to the capital of Tripoli. Government buildings are being attacked, prisons are being broken into and energy firms like BP are evacuating their personnel.
The ability of the Libyan regime to hold itself together depends on two key factors: the loyalty of the tribes and the loyalty the army to the regime. Now those are the two factors that are the most in flux and the threat of civil war is thus very real.
Late last night, one of Gadhafi’s sons Seif al-Islam gave a long, rambling and impromptu speech in which he said that Libya is not another Egypt or Tunisia and that his father Moammar Gadhafi, who has ruled the country for more than four decades, is not another Ben Ali or Mubarak. In other words, Seif al-Islam was saying that the military is not about to drop the regime’s leader and Gadhafi was not about to flee the country. But Seif al-Islam has long been at odds with the military old guard of the regime and thus he can’t be seen as the one to necessarily hold the army together. Saif al-Islam has long avoided the political spotlight preferring to use his charity organization to push for ideas on political, social and economic reforms, which he saw as the key to the long-term survivability of the regime.
For a long time, however, Seif al-Islam and his allies like the National Oil Company Chairman Shokri Ghanem have been pushed against a wall by the military old guard, which is led by his brother Mutassim, the national security advisor who has the trust of many within the army elite. Now with the country in crisis, Seif al-Islam is trying to present himself as the untarnished face of the regime, but with reports of unrest now spreading to the capital of Tripoli, it seems as though many Libyans just view Seif al-Islam as another Gadhafi that needs to be ousted.
The problem with that scenario is that there is no real alternative to the Gadhafi regime that has ruled for more than four decades. This is not a situation like Egypt or even Tunisia where the Army as an institution is in a position to step in and seize control of the situation. In fact, there are already signs of the Army splitting, with reports of army defections in the East, where the regime has had a lot of trouble holding onto support in the past and with reports of even the army chief being placed under house arrest. If the regime can not pull the loyalty the army, then power in the country falls to the tribes, many of which have already reportedly been turning on the regime in the past couple days. Seif al-Islam specifically warned in his speech that the fall of the regime could lead to civil war. Given how serious the situation has become and given the signs of the army splitting, that is a threat should be taken very seriously.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.