Why Qaddafi Is Losing Parts of Libya

By Grier, Peter | The Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2011 | Go to article overview

Why Qaddafi Is Losing Parts of Libya


Grier, Peter, The Christian Science Monitor


As Qaddafi's rule frays, so do some of the ties that bind Libya together. Geography is one force that could pull the country apart. But the promise of oil profits might help it stick together.

Libya seems to be falling apart. The regime of Col. Muammar Qaddafi remains in control of the capital of Tripoli, but much of the eastern part of the country, including the city of Benghazi, has fallen to a fast-moving rebellion. On Wednesday opposition leaders said they had seized control of the western city of Misratah, as well.

The suddenness of this collapse underscores how decades of Colonel Qaddafi's misrule have undermined support for his regime. But it may also reflect the fact that Libya is composed of three distinct areas that in essence were stapled together in the 20th century to make a modern nation.

Despite the ancient history of some of its cities, Libya is not Egypt - a country with a proud past that speaks to virtually all its people. It is a new political entity that is still developing a national consciousness, according to a US Library of Congress profile.

"Until Libya achieved independence in 1951, its history was essentially that of tribes, regions, and cities, and of the empires of which it was a part," concludes the study.

Geography's role in Libyan history

Geography is the dominant factor in Libya's political history. Its regions are separated by vast deserts that kept them isolated from one another until only a few years before Qaddafi seized power in a 1969 coup.

Tripolitania, the region in Libya's northwest, is home to Tripoli and much of what passes for Qaddafi's regime infrastructure. For centuries it was oriented to the Maghreb, the western Islamic world of northern Africa, which also includes Morocco and Algeria. Tripoli, a port, was a haven for pirates and slave traders for centuries.

The northeast region of Cyrenaica, by contrast, historically has been oriented toward neighboring Egypt. With the exception of some its coastal towns, this area for centuries remained largely beyond the writ of regimes based to the west.

"Many Cyrenaicans demonstrated a determination to retain their regional autonomy even after Libyan independence and unification," notes the Library of Congress. …

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