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In scenes reminiscent of the jubilation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, cheering Libyans, firing gunshots into the air, filled Tripoli’s Green Square on Sunday August 21st to celebrate what they believed to be the downfall of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime. While the dictator himself remained elusive, the rebels claimed that they had two of his sons in custody.
What a difference a day makes. Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam, thought to be under arrest, made a triumphant appearance instead at a hotel with foreign journalists. And the loyalists are fighting back.
For more than five months, NATO forces have been pounding the Libyan regime’s military forces, weaponry and facilities from the air. It has also been reported that, in contravention of the United Nations Security Council resolutions banning arms shipments to anyone in Libya and authorizing only air attacks to protect civilians, France has been supplying the rebels with arms while French and British special ops forces have been on the ground to clear out resistance to the rebels’ final march into Tripoli.
Yet the Qaddafi regime – while pummeled and teetering – is not yet dead. But even assuming that the last chapter of the Qaddafi regime is very near its conclusion and Qaddafi does go down, the epilogue is not likely to be a happy one.
The problem in Libya is the same as we see unfolding in Egypt, if not worse. Post-Mubarak Egypt is an economic basket case and a lawless mess, with the most organized forces that are positioning themselves to shape Egypt’s future belonging to, or allied with, the radical Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
Libya is even less prepared for a peaceful post-revolutionary period than Egypt was, because it lacks basic institutional foundations on which to build a representative form of government. Libya itself is little more than an amalgam of tribes and clans. It is torn by ethnic and regional conflicts, historical grudges and religious versus secular differences, with little vision of a united nation-state of free and equal Libyan citizens.
A power vacuum is being created that may well be filled by Islamist forces, who will not permit true democracy to take hold. In a sign of what may be coming, Part 1, Article 1 of the draft constitutional charter for the transitional state reads as follows: “Islam is the Religion of the State, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia).”
If the Islamists prevail and set up an Iranian-style theocracy, they will pose a far greater danger to the strategic interests of the West than Qaddafi has posed in recent years.
Alternatively, after the euphoria over Qaddafi’s downfall fades, competing tribes vying for power may descend into civil war.
In order to try and prevent a chaotic aftermath to Qaddafi’s overthrow, consideration is being given to sending NATO ground forces into Libya under UN auspices to maintain stability. That would require a new UN Security Council resolution, which is unlikely to pass over Russian and Chinese objections. In any event, such an open-ended commitment of ground forces would look like Iraq all over again, where Saddam Hussein’s quick overthrow was followed by years of war against insurgent forces. NATO ground forces stationed in Libya will appear like “occupation” forces to the Muslim world, providing yet another recruiting tool for jihad against the West.
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