Libya: First Regime Change of the Arab Spring
Conflicting reports emerged from Libya Monday regarding the position of the rebel forces that had entered Tripoli on Sunday. A key development occurred when Moammar Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, held a press conference with several foreign journalists at the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, essentially disproving widespread reports that rebel forces had captured him. A great deal of fog of war appears to be in play, but the fact that rebel forces are in the capital means that the situation for the Gadhafi regime does not look good.
At the moment, the issue is not if but when the Gadhafi regime will fall from power. When it does happen, Libya will become the first case of regime change since the start of the popular unrest that broke out in the Arab world this past January and February. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the ousting of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak did not result in regime change.
The regimes in Tunisia and Egypt were led by the military, which survived by distancing itself from the ruling parties and heads of state dominated by presidential friends and family. The civilian political elite in both cases did not govern for decades due to any intrinsic power; instead both Mubarak and Ben Ali governed at the pleasure of the army-led security establishment. Both men ceased to be in power once the military withdrew its support.
In sharp contrast, Libya's regime has been led by the Gadhafi family. Despite the fact that Gadhafi took power via a military coup, he did not allow a robust and autonomous military institution that could pose a threat to his authority to develop. This practice, however, seems to have resulted in sizeable defections from the Libyan army, sparking a civil war that now appears close to consuming the regime.
The fall of the Gadhafi regime, however, will likely leave the process of regime change incomplete. The regime will collapse, but that does not mean it will be replaced by a new state any time soon. Once Gadhafi's forces are fully defeated, the rebels - being as fragmented as they are - will likely not be able to establish a new republic. A fractious rebel community obviously complicates any efforts at arriving at a power-sharing agreement.
In all likelihood though, not only will the rebels face serious obstacles in establishing a new state, the Gadhafi state will be reduced to a non-state actor, one that will likely retain a lot of firepower. This arrangement will aggravate the various rebel factions, which will already be struggling with one another for power. Therefore, it is only reasonable to consider the possibility that a new state will not be established in the foreseeable future, and that Libya should brace itself for long-term instability.
The crisis in Libya will likely play itself out over a long period of time The countrys geopolitical reality is one where the crisis within the country can continue to evolve without seriously impacting the region or beyond. Given that Libya's small population is spread across a large country located in the center of the North African desert, its conflict is more or less a self-contained crisis. This isolation is especially true when compared to other Arab countries in similar situations such as Syria, Yemen and Bahrain where the geopolitical stakes are much higher.