The Gadhafi Regime: Isolated and Under Pressure

February 26th, 2011 - by admin

STRATFOR Global Intelligence – 2011-02-26 01:00:43


As Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s hold on power appears increasingly tenuous, the role the country has carved out for itself during his decades of rule — a secular, nationalist Arab government willing to challenge Arab monarchies as well as Western countries through violence — has left it with few allies and numerous enemies during its time of need.

The regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi continues to be rocked by protests, with reports of anti-government militias taking control of entire cities in the country’s restive eastern region.

The Gadhafi regime’s unique ideological position in the Middle East — one of the last proponents of Nasserist secular Arab nationalism — has put it at odds with a number of its neighbors. Though it has moderated in recent years, over the decades Gadhafi has challenged the power of the Saudi and other Gulf monarchies along with Western powers. As his grip on power is shaken as never before since he took power in 1969, only Libya’s neighbor to the east, Egypt, and its former colonial master, Italy, are thus far demonstrating a real interest in seeing the regime preserved.

Italy, whose former colonial relationship with the country translated into close relations with the Gadhafi regime, has been the most vocal in expressing its support for the regime. Italy lobbied the European Union to lift sanctions on Libya in 2004 and is heavily invested in the Libyan energy sector. Fundamentally, Libya (along with Tunisia) is within Italy’s Mediterranean sphere of influence, and has been for millennia.

The Italian Foreign Ministry has been in discussions with the Libyan Interior Ministry since the beginning of the crisis, urging the government to make promises of reforms in hopes of containing it. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Feb. 21 that he is “extremely concerned about the self-proclamation of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Benghazi,” adding that such a regime on the borders of Europe would be a serious threat.

Notably, Frattini’s talk of an Islamic Emirate of Benghazi echoes comments made by Seif al-Islam Gadhafi in a Feb. 20 speech, in which he blamed the unrest on seditious elements and warned that the fall of the regime would lead to the country breaking up into Islamic emirates, which in turn, Seif al-Islam said, would lead to a Western military occupation of Libya.

The Islamist threat raised by Seif al Islam may be unlikely for a largely secular country like Libya, but is something that captures the attention of Western governments, and perhaps assistance as well, or so the regime hopes. In addition to its concerns over Islamist militancy, Italy is also greatly concerned at the prospect of Libyan refugees fleeing en masse in search of sanctuary in Italy.

While Libya is providing diplomatic support to the Gadhafi regime, STRATFOR has also received an unconfirmed report claiming that Italian mafia elements are taking part in trying to help the regime put down unrest. At the same time, Italy is not taking any chances, and has already arranged to repatriate Italians living in Libya beginning Feb. 22.

The Gadhafi regime also appears to have support in the Egyptian military, now running state affairs in Cairo. According to a STRATFOR diplomatic source in the region, the Egyptian military’s preference is to keep Gadhafi in power. The same source claimed that the Egyptian army prevented a convoy of trucks carrying aid to Libyan protesters from crossing the border. The Egyptian military does not wish to see the Libyan military fracture and chaos spread in North Africa.

Like Italy, Cairo fears a refugee crisis that could further threaten Egypt’s current precarious state. Egypt and Libya have long maintained cordial relations, bound together by the Nasserite, secularist challenge to the traditional Arab monarchies of the region. When Nasser died, Gadhafi took it upon himself to continue Nasserism and presented himself as the only Arab leader with the will and capability to counter Saudi Arabia’s dominant role among the Arab states.

Gadhafi’s self-promotion in this regard also has earned him enemies, many of whom may be concerned about emboldened protesters spreading unrest in the wider region but would not mind seeing the end of Gadhafi’s rule. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has long viewed the Gadhafi regime as a major irritant.

In November 2003, a plot was uncovered in which Saudi officials claimed the Gadhafi regime had hired a team to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, then the de-facto ruler of the kingdom before he took the throne in 2005. The Libyan regime allegedly intended to cloak the assassination as an al Qaeda attack. The Saudi royals have long been at odds with the Gadhafi regime.

Libya’s southern neighbor, Chad, backed by colonial patron France, would also have an interest in seeing the Gadhafi regime fall. Chad has long dealt with Libyan-backed separatists and has fought off four interventions by Libyan forces between 1978 and 1987, as Libya has sought to annex the resource-rich Aouzou Strip in northern Chad.

The British government has come out strongly against the Libyan regime’s willingness to crack down. British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking from Egypt on Feb. 21, strongly condemned the use of lethal force against demonstrators as London summoned the Libyan ambassador to explain the regime’s actions.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had information that suggested Gadhafi was on his way to Venezuela (reports that were later denied) and called on world leaders to condemn Gadhafi’s “dreadful” and “horrifying” response to the protests.

Since its arduous return to the Libyan energy market in 2007, British energy giant BP has run into a series of problems with the Gadhafi regime. BP and the British government then got caught up in a major controversy over London’s decision to release Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi in 2010, a decision that was widely believed to have been made as a way to facilitate a number of major energy deals BP had pending with the Libyan regime.

That controversy could explain why the British government is now going out of its way to condemn the Gadhafi regime, perhaps as a face-saving measure. At the end of the day, the British government may see the removal of the Gadhafi regime as a potential positive development, but only if the country avoids descending into civil war.

The Russians, who, like Italy, share a close relationship with the Libyan regime, are largely keeping quiet on the issue and waiting to see who emerges in the Libyan power struggle. Before significant protests had broken out, Libya’s defense minister led a delegation to Moscow the previous week, during which Libyan defense officials attempted to solidify Russian backing.

STRATFOR sources in Moscow say they are picking up on rifts between Gadhafi and the military elite and within the military itself. Given the uncertainty of the situation, Russia does not want to be seen as taking sides, but appears confident that it will be able to maintain its growing energy ties in the country regardless of who emerges on top.

The United States, which has had a long, antagonistic relationship with the Libyan regime, is likely taking the same approach. A great deal of progress has been made in the U.S.-Libya relationship since Libya agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program in 2004 and to share intelligence on the al Qaeda threat.

Still, the United States lacks strong levers with Libya, and even if Washington favored regime stability in Tripoli, events on the ground suggest that governments the world over are considering a post-Gadhafi scenario.

Copyright 2011 STRATFOR.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.


Moammar Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, raised the specter of Islamism in a Feb. 20 speech. It is difficult to say at present whether Islamists have been able to establish any strongholds in Libya due to the ongoing unrest. However, if the demonstrations result in anarchy, they would create the kind of chaotic environment in which jihadist movement thrives. Jihadists could take root in a Libya with no clear governmental authority, though this prospect represents a possibility rather than an eventuality.

In his Feb. 20 speech, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s more prominent and reform-minded son, Seif al-Islam, blamed Islamists (among other actors) for the unrest that has brought his father’s regime to the brink of collapse. Seif al-Islam said efforts were under way to create small Islamic emirates in various parts of the country, such as al-Bayda and Darna.

Since then, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini was quoted as saying, “I’m extremely concerned about the self-proclamation of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Benghazi. Would you imagine having an Islamic Arab emirate at the borders of Europe? This would be a really serious threat.”

Amid the chaos that has engulfed Libya, it is difficult to determine whether certain Islamist elements have been able to establish their authority in enclaves in the country’s east. Given the conditions, the possibility cannot be ruled out. After all, there are reports that Benghazi is no longer under the control of the Gadhafi regime.

Since the opposition is not a coherent force — it is more a coalition of actors waging an insurrection inspired by their counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere — unlikely are the prospects that disparate groups of Islamists have been able to take advantage of the power/security vacuum in some parts of the country, albeit temporarily.

But this is very different from the idea that Libya will be divided into small fiefdoms, which Seif al-Islam mentioned in his speech. He is trying to use the Islamist threat to deflate the unrest, which could grow into an insurgency (given that the opposition is reportedly armed), and to dissuade regional and international players from supporting the opposition against Tripoli. In the past, the United States received much-needed support from Libya on al Qaeda, and Washington would not want to deal with another jihadist breeding ground.

Historically, the Gadhafi regime has had a zero-tolerance policy for Islamists at home, suppressing a number of Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb al-Tahrir, Salafists and, more recently, armed groups like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Given the general suppression of political dissent (even in secular forms), social and political Islamist groups do not appear to be in a position to take advantage of the current uprising, which appears to be a general popular uprising.

In sharp contrast with Tunisia and Egypt, the Libyan state is more vulnerable to collapse. The situations in Tunis and Cairo are such that the military is the state, and the fall of sitting presidents has not resulted in regime change. Tripoli, on the other hand, could descend into anarchy because the military does not seem to be in a position to oust the Gadhafis and impose its own order. Regime changes assume that there are coherent alternative forces that can replace the old regime, which is not the case in Libya.

This means energy-rich Libya could spiral into chaos — the ideal environment for jihadists to flourish. Jihadists have never been able to topple a sitting government in the Muslim world. They have risen in places where state collapse led to anarchy, such as Afghanistan (1992); Iraq (2003) and Somalia (1991). In Libya, two different types of jihadists could try to exploit chaos to their advantage.

First is the LIFG, with which the Gadhafi regime has been trying to strike a deal in recent years. LIFG prisoners have been released in exchange for the group’s disavowing violence and pledging allegiance to the state, with the most recent batch of prisoners being released Feb. 18, an initiative very publicly backed by Seif al-Islam. But now that the state is crumbling, there are no means by which it can ensure the LIFG’s compliance with its prior agreement. In fact, the current chaos is an opportunity for the group to revive itself as a force to contend with.

Furthermore, the LIFG could link up with the North African jihadist node, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, with which it has prior ties. A power vacuum in Libya presents a significant opening to jihadists, who have thus far been non-players in the unrest that has spread across the Arab world.

To a large degree, the jihadists have not been involved in the protests because the opposition forces are pursuing goals that run counter to jihadists’ objectives, and because jihadists are not geared toward mass uprisings. The Libyan situation creates a potential — but not inevitable — opening that al Qaeda and its allies would want to exploit, especially since the overall regional momentum has not been in the jihadists’ favor.

Copyright 2011 STRATFOR.


Over the years, the regime of Moammar Gadhafi has tried to keep the Libyan military divided in order to prevent a coup. But doing so can reduce a military’s effectiveness by putting people into leadership roles whose primary qualifications are loyalty to the regime, not military expertise. It also can entail playing personalities off of one another, both within the military and between the military and other security forces.

While this can help keep a regime secure, it can also create deep rifts that can quickly widen when the regime begins to weaken.

If the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is to survive the current crisis and prevent civil war, it must maintain cohesion and loyalty within the army, but early signs of army splits suggest the possibility that the regime may not survive. Feb. 20 reports of army defections in the eastern cities of Benghazi and Al Bayda were followed by unconfirmed reports Feb. 21 of military units firing on other military units. Libya’s army chief, Abu Bakr Yunis Jabir, also reportedly has been placed under house arrest.

Army politics in Libya intersect not only with tribal linkages but also with a long-standing power struggle within the regime between Gadhafi’s two sons, the reform-minded Seif al-Islam, who has long been at odds with the military elite and is now trying to take charge of the situation, and Motasem Gadhafi, the national security adviser who has close ties to many within the army elite.

As government buildings come under attack in Tripoli, security forces loyal to the Libyan leader are reportedly guarding only the most critical locations in the city, including the presidential palace. If the army is being put on the defensive in the capital, where Gadhafi’s strength is concentrated, the loyalty of the Libyan armed forces toward the regime — and the survivability of the regime — may well be in doubt.

Libya has long operated a significant military and internal security apparatus that has closely managed internal dissent. While Libya’s military capability is quite limited, the country has internal security forces that are considered robust and capable.

Overall, the total number of military troops and security personnel combined could be as high as 150,000, which would amount to a sizable force, given the country’s population (less than 6.5 million). This would make Libya’s total armed force roughly consistent with the 50:1 ratio considered desirable for manpower-intensive counterinsurgency work.

In addition, the majority of the country’s population is concentrated along the coast, which means that an effective application of force could be concentrated in these core areas.

Two-thirds of the military’s strength resides in the army, which numbers 50,000, including 25,000 conscripts. Also included in this figure is a roughly 3,000-strong elite Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for regime security and a 2,500-strong Islamic Pan-African Legion, both of which include armored elements. The navy, air force and air defense force bring the total of active uniformed personnel to slightly more than 75,000.

A 40,000-strong “People’s Militia,” a paramilitary entity, effectively constitutes the army’s only reserve force. It has been supplemented in the past by members of the youth corps, though neither force is considered particularly capable, organized or well-drilled. However, such militias can complicate coup attempts by standing ready to rally in support of the regime. (It is unclear how prepared the People’s Militia is for this purpose.)

At least some of the branches are thought to be suffering from manpower shortages, and some units may not be at full strength. Until U.N. sanctions were recently lifted, the military had to make do with large stockpiles of Soviet military hardware — far in excess of Libya’s ability to maintain or man. While these stockpiles afford an abundance of spare parts that were often cannibalized during the years of sanctions, much of the hardware is still in storage.

The Gadhafi regime has also tried to keep the military divided in order to prevent a coup. This can often have the effect of stripping the military of much of its core expertise while leaving those whose primary qualification is loyalty to the regime in leadership roles.

Internal Security Force
The status of Libya’s internal security force is more opaque. What is clear is that the regime has used this force to ruthlessly repress dissent and the growth of opposition groups. Internal security units include a series of “committees” — Revolutionary Committees, People’s Committees and Purification Committees.

These units serve in part as a tool for mediation and provide a semblance of representation for the various tribes. Gadhafi’s personal guard is also thought to be multilayered, with the Revolutionary Guard Corps being only one component of the force.

It is generally the police and Ministry of Interior forces that are primarily responsible for managing internal security and that are best equipped for riot control. (There are also rumors that Gadhafi has employed mercenaries in his crackdowns.) Recent reports have suggested that live ammunition has been regularly used to disperse protesters, but it is unclear whether the units involved were military or internal security personnel. There have been reports of military units deploying to Tripoli and Benghazi.

Loyalty and Dissent
Keeping a military incapable of executing a coup often entails playing personalities off of one another, both within the military and between the military and internal security forces.

While this can help keep a regime secure, it can also create deep rifts that can quickly widen when the regime begins to weaken. While Libya has long proved itself capable of crushing internal dissent, such power has been possible only through a unified command loyal to Gadhafi.

One of the most telling features of the recent unrest has been reports of military units defecting to the opposition. If true, this could involve poorly led troops merely abandoning their posts or it could reflect more serious breaks within the military’s leadership at a higher level.

Because Libya is largely split between two coastal zones centered on Tripoli and Benghazi, a geographic division within the military and security forces could leave Tripoli unable to enforce its writ in the east; rioting thus far has reportedly been the heaviest, and the most heavily repressed, in Benghazi. But with the prospect of higher-level divisions, there could also be infighting between factions that control significant military and interior security units.

Any one of these scenarios could have a profound impact on the security situation in Libya and on Gadhafi’s ability to manage dissent.

Copyright 2011 STRATFOR.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.


The current unrest in Libya may begin to affect the country’s energy sector. This would have consequences for the international market, as firms from other countries — especially Italy — have stakes in Libyan energy projects.

Protests continued in Libya Feb. 21, including demonstrations and reports of violence in the capital city. The ongoing unrest has not yet affected the country’s energy sector, but as tensions mount foreign firms involved in Libyan energy projects have begun evacuating staff.

Libya is a mid-tier oil producer with production of approximately 1.8 million barrels of crude oil per day, more than 90 percent of which is exported, with roughly 90 percent of that going to Europe. Energy production accounts for around 95 percent of export revenue and 80 percent of government fiscal revenue.

Libyan crude is of relatively high quality, which allows it to be used as feedstock in nearly all of the world’s refineries. This is both good and bad. It is good because the refineries that can run Libyan crude can run most of the world’s crude streams (the global crude stream is declining in quality, but for now most of the world’s oil production remains relatively high quality). It is bad because it is the sort of crude that is in high demand globally, so the loss of Libyan exports would most likely affect crude oil prices disproportionately.

Geographically, Libya’s energy industry is bifurcated between its eastern and western basins, with a thin majority of the total being produced in the east where protests have been most vigorous. However, to balance that, nearly all of the country’s natural gas exports originate in the west where Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s power base lies. (There is very little offshore production.) Italy is Libya’s top consumer for both types of energy; it absorbs all of Libya’s piped natural gas exports and one-third of its oil exports.

No energy output has been adversely affected by the protests yet, and the two cities that have experienced the most protests — Benghazi and Al Bayda — contain limited energy infrastructure. Two different Libyan tribes have threatened to halt oil exports if the army does not cease firing on protesters.

Most notable was the threat issued by a leader of the Zuwayya tribe, which has members living all across the country. In a Feb. 20 interview with Al Jazeera, Sheikh Faraj al-Zuway issued a “warning from the Zuwayya tribe” that they would halt the flow of oil in certain areas within 24 hours.

In the interview, al-Zuway emphasized the vulnerability of “southern oil fields” to an attack by his tribe, presumably a reference to the Elephant field in southwest Libya. Foreign firms have been trying to re-enter Libya en masse since U.S. and U.N. sanctions were lifted several years ago, but contract negotiations have become bogged down in seemingly endless renegotiations. As such, energy output has only increased by about 15 percent in the past six years.

Nonetheless, the Libyan national oil company is neither large nor in possession of deep technical expertise, and as instability mounts several foreign firms have begun evacuating staff. Libyan energy output obviously will be severely affected by their absence. However, there is one energy firm that is likely willing to stomach a lot more violence than most.

Italian energy giant ENI — Italy’s largest industrial conglomerate, which is approximately 30 percent state-owned — stands to lose the most in the unrest in Libya. ENI produces around 250,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in Libya, approximately 15 percent of ENI’s total global output. It has also recently agreed to invest a further $14 billion in the country. ENI also operates jointly with the Libyan National Oil Corporation the $6.6 billion Greenstream natural gas pipeline and plans to increase the line’s capacity from 11 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year to 12 bcm by the end of 2012.

The relationship between ENI and the Libyan government is close. The Libyan sovereign wealth fund owns a 2 percent stake in ENI and has, over the past two years, considered raising its stake to 10 percent. The Libyan sovereign wealth fund also owns around 5 percent of the largest Italian bank — and one of the largest European banks — UniCredit and 2 percent of the Italian defense-aerospace industrial conglomerate Finmeccanica, which is the second-largest Italian industrial conglomerate.

ENI is known for doing business with unsavory regimes that other European energy firms eschew. It was one of the first European energy companies to begin doing business with the Soviet Union. This relationship has served it well, as it is still one of the closest European companies with Gazprom.

ENI started doing business with Libya in 1959 and never looked back, not even when the rest of the world avoided Gadhafi’s regime due to his outspoken support for various Palestinian militant organizations in the 1970s and 1980s. This relationship largely followed from Rome’s relationship with Tripoli, which included Italy’s 30-year direct colonial rule of Libya that ended in 1943.

Relationships with Moscow and Tripoli are a core part of ENI’s company strategy. Italian domestic production of natural gas, which peaked at 18.4 bcm in 1994, is falling fast and was at around 8 bcm in 2008. Meanwhile, natural gas consumption crossed 20 bcm in the 1970s and kept growing, hitting 77.7 bcm in 2008.

An upstart domestic rival, Edison, is attempting to bring in gas from Azerbaijan and the Middle East via its trans-Adriatic sea pipeline Poseidon. Thus, ENI’s strategy is to monopolize sources of natural gas in Russia and Libya via its close links to their governments — a strategy supported by ENI’s strong ties with the Italian government.

A change in Libya’s regime could put this strategy — and the billions spent on Libyan energy infrastructure — at risk. This explains why the Italian government has thus far not condemned the events in Libya, unlike many of its fellow European governments. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Feb. 21 that, “Europe shouldn’t intervene, Europe shouldn’t interfere, Europe shouldn’t export [democracy].”

Frattini also specifically said that he was concerned with the possibility that Libya could be split into two, specifically saying that Rome was concerned about the “self-proclamation of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Benghazi.”

Copyright 2011 STRATFOR.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.


Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has ordered the Libyan air force to fire on military installations in Libya, according to what the BBC has characterized as a reliable source. Al Jazeera has suggested that air force fighters have opened fire on crowds of protesters.?

Though the latter would be particularly draconian, the more important question is whether these signs reflect a split within the regime and Gadhafi using military force to crush opposition to his regime emerging from the military or other security forces. Similar reports the Libyan navy firing on targets onshore also are emerging, as well as reports that Gadhafi has given execution orders to soldiers who have refused to fire on Libyan protesters.

The application of conventional weaponry is noteworthy and will warrant scrutiny — particularly in terms of the targets of the attacks and the rationale behind them. The use of these weapons is more appropriate for other armed entities rather than unarmed protesters. Libyan troops are good at instilling fear, but not good at stabilizing a situation, so the military may not be able to get in on the ground due to lost capability.

The situation remains opaque, but these latest developments combined with recent reports of defections of military units to the demonstrators’ side continue to draw STRATFOR’s attention to the possibility that the regime is fracturing.

Copyright 2011 STRATFOR.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.