Libyan chaos and its regional impact

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Events in Libya are different from those in Tunisia and Egypt and could eventually lead to civil war there, according to global intelligence company Stratfor. This could in turn have a profound impact on other countries in the region and affect the political stability of the whole Middle East, warns Stratfor in a commentary.

This analysis was produced by global intelligence company Stratfor.

"On Monday, it became very clear that the Libyan republic founded by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was fighting for its survival. The regime deployed army and air force assets to quell the unrest that had moved beyond the eastern parts of the country to its capital. Elsewhere, several senior Libyan diplomats resigned their posts and there were reports of military officers joining the protesters after refusing to follow orders to use force against the demonstrators.

The current situation is untenable and Gaddafi could be forced to step down. When that happens, the country is looking at a power vacuum. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, where the ousters of the sitting presidents didn't lead to the collapse of the state, Libya could very well be the first country in the largely Arab Middle East to undergo regime change.

The military establishments in Tunis and Cairo were robust enough to remove long-serving heads of state and maintain power. In Tripoli, however, the regime is centered on the family and friends of Gaddafi, with the armed forces in a subordinate role. Complicating matters is the fact that the modern Libyan republic has had only one ruler — Gaddafi.

In other words, there is no alternative force that can replace the current regime, which in turn means we are looking at a meltdown of the North African state. The weakness of the military and the tribal nature of society is such that the collapse of the regime could lead to a prolonged civil war. Civil war could also stem from a situation of Gaddafi not throwing in the towel and deciding to fight to the bitter end.

There are already signs that the eastern parts of the country are headed toward a de facto secession. Given the potential options, some people may view civil war between forces centered in Tripoli and Benghazi as a better option than utter anarchy. At least the country can avoid a Somalia-like situation in which multiple forces in different geographic areas run their own fiefdoms.

Libya spiralling out of control has implications for its immediate neighbours, especially Egypt, which is in the process of trying to manage a transition after the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government. The last thing the Egyptian generals want to see is their western neighbour becoming a safe haven for Islamist militants.

Likewise, the Tunisians and the Algerians (the latter more so than the former) have a lot to fear from a Libya without a central authority. And across the Mediterranean, the Italians are especially nervous, both due to their energy interests in Libya, and as they contemplate the prospects of a flood of illegal immigrants using a post-Gaddafi Libya as a launching pad into Europe.

The Libyan descent into chaos could have a profound impact on the unrest brewing in other countries of the region. Many opposition forces, which have been emboldened by the successful ousters of the Egyptian and Tunisian presidents, could be discouraged by the Libyan example. Opposition forces in countries like Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan and Syria would have to take into consideration that street agitation may not necessarily put them on the path toward democracy.

Thus, what happens in Libya will not just be critical for security in North Africa but for political stability in the largely Arab Middle East."

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