Special Commentary: Will Libya Be the Next Tunisia or Egypt?

Libyan President Colonel Qaddafi must be feeling the heat of the recent upheavals taking place around him. He has just seen the regime of President Bin Ali in Tunisia, a country that borders Libya to the west, overthrown by a popular uprising, followed by another uprising in Egypt, on Libya’s eastern border, where the regime of President Mubarak is hanging by a thread.

What are the chances of a similar uprising in Libya itself, and can Qaddafi survive it?

According to several internet postings, Libyans are being urged to participate in mass demonstrations against the regime on February 17. This date has been chosen because it marks the fourth anniversary of an incident that took place in Benghazi (the capital of eastern Libya) during which at least ten demonstrators were killed in clashes with the security forces in protests over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4726204.stm). This chosen date also seems to be an attempt to replicate the way in which the “Egyptian Uprising” started on January 25. Egyptians took to the streets after calls for a “day of rage” were posted on internet sites, calling for demonstrations on the first anniversary of the death of a young Egyptian man, Khaled Said, at the hands of two policemen in Alexandria (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Khaled-Said/100792786638349).  This call for a “day of rage” was first posted by a small Egyptian organization calling itself “6 April” group, but it was soon endorsed by various well-known opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood which has a wide following in Egypt despite being banned.

As for Libya, the calls for demonstrations on February 17 were also posted by unknown groups on different internet websites, but were soon supported by well-known opposition groups, such as the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) (http://www.libyanfsl.com/). This group was the main threat to Qaddafi’s regime in the 1980s and early 1990s, but was later replaced by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) which started a failed campaign to overthrow the regime in 1995. The main leaders of the LIFG, who were caught inside Libya or handed over to the regime during the global war on terror, have recently expressed a clear wish to reconcile with Colonel Qaddafi’s government. They announced a revision of their ideology (the Corrective Studies) in the summer of 2009, in which they renounced the use of violence to overthrow the regime. Qaddafi and his administration, therefore, might feel assured that these Jihadists, many of whom have been pardoned and freed from prison during the past few years, will not side with those calling for an uprising against the government. Some members of the LIFG, however, have been voicing their rejection to the leadership’s approach, and have recently issued independent statements in support of protests against the Libyan regime. One of those LIFG leaders, with whom this author met in London and who has asked to remain anonymous, explained that “many” members of the LIFG, especially those living in exile, are preparing to form a breakaway faction from the group. The source went on to say that the “armed struggle” of the 1990s clearly failed and “we learned the lesson” from it. He added that the uprisings in both Tunisia and Egypt have shown that it is the people, not the political parties or Jihadi groups, who are the “real leaders” of these “revolutions.” Therefore, he said, “we do not want to dictate on the Libyan people what they want. We are aware that we represent only a part of the Libyan population, and we will only do what the people seem to be demanding: political freedoms, better conditions of life, stopping the corruption and ending the dictatorship (of Colonel Qaddafi).” At this point, this separate faction of the LIFG has issued two statements, the latest of which, released on January 17, threatened the regime of Colonel Qaddafi with an uprising similar to the one that overthrew the Tunisian president (http://www.muslm.net/vb/showthread.php?t=415836).

What gave these calls for an uprising in Libya more urgency was the press release issued this week by the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in which it added its support for the calls for the regime to start urgent reforms “before it is too late” (http://international.daralhayat.com/internationalarticle/231281).

The Libyan regime has, until now, been quiet, ignoring the calls for demonstrations. However, reports have indicated that activists who are thought to have been behind the internet postings against the regime, have indeed been apprehended (http://almanaramedia.blogspot.com/2011/02/blog-post_3763.html and http://www.facebook.com/pages/alhryt-lsfy-aldyn-hlal-alshryf/126116000789942?v=wall#!/pages/alhryt-lsfy-aldyn-hlal-alshryf/126116000789942?v=app_2309869772). Other reports have also indicated that the regime may be stepping up its security presence in anticipation for the planned demonstrations, and is preparing for various measures to stop the protests, including reshuffling the government (http://www.libya-alyoum.com/news/index.php?id=2&catid=1).

Camille Tawil is a journalist for al-Hayat newspaper in London where he has worked for the past seventeen years. He is also a frequent contributor to the Jamestown publication Terrorism Monitor and the author of the occasional paper "The al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb: Expansion in the Sahel and Challenges from Within Jihadist Circles."