This brief analysis examines the current situation in Libya and the North African region and addresses the potential repercussions that the chute of the Qadhâfi regime may have on the uprisings in Yemen, Syria and the Gulf. It also traces resemblances and differences among those upheavals and stresses the importance of the international community’s reaction at the beginning of the crisis and its current posture, as the National Transitional Council is all the more being recognized as Libya’s transitional ruling body.
Of Libya’s complex tribal map, a lot has been said recently, though its influence in politics and more specifically in sustaining the Qadhâfi rule for 42 years remain underestimated. The tribal system has been the guarantee of social cohesion in a state where national cohesion has always been structurally weak. It was weakened since the 1969 Revolution whose stated goal was the abolition of the tribal system and its replacement by Popular Congresses and Committees as well as the Revolutionary Committees, but never lost the leverage within the society. However, by the time he proclaimed the Jamahiriya –literally “State of the Masses” - in 1977, Muammar Qadhâfi had already given more room for the tribes into politics. Tribal networks were thus manipulated to back the regime, granting them an important role for its survival.
In countries where democratic institutions quasi-exist –if they do at all- the support of allegiance groups (be it tribal, ethnic or religious) is the backbone of a given regime. Allegiances help maintain a rule, however autocratic and repressive one might be. Those who profit from a certain order are not keen to let it down overnight. In the Syrian case for example, it is the small Alawite sect rather than a tribal system that helped maintain the al Assad regime for more than 40 years now. It is also the damascene merchant classes and those who have profited from gaining key-positions within the regime that are still capable of keeping Bashar on the lead today. In such cases, the stronghold –most usually the capital- is crucial to the regime’s survival; as long as the capital holds, the regime holds. It is no mistake that the Libyan rebellion began in Benghazi, a city that had long suffered the rivalry of the regime whose bastion was the western city of Tripoli. And there is no doubt that the crucial moment came when the capital fell to the control of the rebels.
The same can be said in the case of Yemen, where president Saleh’s clan controls the security apparatus and the capital Sanaa. The prolonged political stalemate in Yemen dates back to the unification of the country and the civil war thereafter and it is closely linked to the presence of powerful tribes and Islamist groups –more or less united under the ‘brand’ Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)- that oppose President al Saleh’s regime. The President’s recent refusal of the GCC initiative, calling him to step down with immunity and organize early elections within three months, only aggravated the country’s instability and the Yemenite people’s dire conditions.
The role of allegiance groups in such societies has endured through centuries and it is at least naive for someone to expect a democratic wave to sweep off a tradition of centuries, once a regime is brought down. It is already seen in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan and was quite obviously one of the factors that helped Qadhâfi maintain his forces and persist on the fighting against the rebels. With regards to this situation, the main question concerns the National Transitional Council’s ability to remain united once the battles are over, as ‘the new leaders are likely to face stiff resistance from individuals and groups that benefited under the former regime’. In other words, when the time comes for it to literally become a transitional ruling body in control of the entire Libyan territory, will it fulfill its stated goal of unifying the country? As Scott Stewart reminds, “history is replete with examples of coalition fronts that united to overthrow an oppressive regime but then splintered and fell into internal fighting once the regime they fought against was toppled”. Apart from creating viable institutions from scratch, the new Libyan leaders will have to address the concerns and perceptions of various groups that fought in different fronts during the civil war and avoid frictions within the NTC’s umbrella group.
That has already been the case in mid-September, when the talks within the NTC for the formation of a new government failed, amidst disagreement over the formation of an interim government before or after the ‘liberation of the entire country’. Elamin Belhaj, a senior member of the NTC, when asked to comment on charges that the ranks of the NTC are divided by regional rivalries, said there is no division in the NTC. Islamists and secularists are "all together" during this stage of revolution, he said. More specifically, moderate Islamists fought along with the rebels and now participate in the NTC, whereas former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group members are reportedly aligned with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The current power vacuum in Libya raises fear of an emerging Islamist threat in North Africa, with which Algeria and Egypt are mostly concerned.
This raises another burning question with which the NTC needs to deal immediately. It is no secret that col. Qadhâfi greatly relied on his stash of weapons and recruited African mercenaries in order to maintain his strongholds and resist the rebel attacks. Moreover, since the regime lost control of eastern Libya, analysts are alarmed by the massive amount and circulation of weapons beyond the Libyan territory and the presence of Islamist armed groups, which could have an easy access to these weapons depots.
Operating in the Sahara desert, these groups have become increasingly effective with ransoms from kidnappings, smuggling of weapons, drugs and cigarettes and seek to attack ‘hostile’ regimes -the Algerian and Moroccan being first on the list. The authorities have every reason to be on high alert, as the Libyan war becomes inextricably tied up with the situation in the Sahel region, already well-known for its enduring instability. Officials from four Saharan countries “sharing” the Sahel (Algeria, Niger, Mali and Mauritania) met in early September in Algiers, in a two-day conference focusing on the fight against terrorism and on plans to develop impoverished communities in this vast Sahara region. In close coordination with delegations from France and the US, they pledged to continue working together through their joint military body, based in Tamanrasset, Algeria. Although voices are reported criticizing the ineffective action undertaken by this force, the necessity of coordination is more pressing than ever: “Just as there can be no development without security, there can be no stability without prosperity. The difficulty is that development activities are long term, while we are in a hurry”, said Andre Parant, France’s representative in the conference.
Nevertheless, the next day in Libya and the future of Middle Eastern upheavals becomes a headache for the international community too. While David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy received a “rock star’s” welcome in Tripoli, the “Friends of Libya Conference” held in Paris on September 1st reminded that in the post-Qadhâfi-post-war Libya, reconstruction will be something more than a ‘friendly’ international gesture. As major powers rush to sign oil contracts with the new Libyan government, the international community’s initial reaction to the Libyan crisis provides a rich ground of analysis about the actual power struggle and balance of power. French specialist on International Relations Louis Gautier argues that, by their abstention, emerging economic giants as the BRIC block, remain political –yet autonomous- dwarves when it comes to collective security and Human Rights. More specifically, China and Russia abstained from the vote of Res.1973 in the Security Council, respecting their longtime sacred principle of ‘non-interference’, for fear of being next in line. Yet both recognized in early September the NTC as the ruling body of Libya. Germany’s hesitations and final abstention as well as its withdrawal of any practical support for NATO’s mission, reflects more of internal political calculations rather than alienation from its European partners. Regardless the motives of these diplomatic moves, the vote of Res.1973 clearly showed the limits of installing a new directoire on the UN level, as countries that claim a permanent seat in the Security Council were found in a contradictory position.
If the vote of Res.1973 went rather easy in the UN, that precedent will certainly not be the case with Syria or Yemen. Apart from major players’ unwillingness to open a new front, it is also local circumstances that impose a much more careful consideration. Deep sectarian divisions and concerns of regional stability raise fears concerning Syria without Assad; whereas in Yemen, the sensitive balances and security concerns of the Gulf, the US endeavour on cooperation with President al Saleh in the war on terror and the realistic threat of Islamist reinforcement, make it less probable to witness a new vote in the UN anytime soon. However similar some aspects of the Libyan and the Middle eastern cases may be, each one bares its own geopolitical considerations and any generalisation would have perilous repercussions in the region.
All links accessed on September 22, 2011
 Stocker ,Valerie, “Libya at a crossroads: Al Fâteh Abadan or Lîbyâ Al Ghad. The Libyan Uprising”, Revue Averroès, no.4-5, Spécial “Printemps Arabe” (2011)
 Bhalla, Reva, “Dispatch: Yemen’s Prolonged Political Crisis”, Stratfor, (September 14, 2011) http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20110914-dispatch-yemens-prolonged-political-crisis
 Albawaba news, “GCC suspends initiative to Yemen as President Saleh clings to power”, (May 23, 2011) http://www.albawaba.com/main-headlines/gcc-suspends-initiative-yemen-president-saleh-clings-power
 Achy, Lahcen, “Libya: Seven Keys to Post-Revolution Resurgence”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, (September 13, 2011) http://www.carnegieendowment.org/2011/09/13/libya-seven-keys-to-post-revolution-resurgence/54l1
 Stewart, Scott, “Libya after Gadhafi: Transitioning from Rebellion to Rule”, Stratfor Security Weekly, (August 14, 2011) www.stratfor.com/weekly/20110824-libya-after-gadhafi-transitioning-rebellion-rule
 Dougherty, Jill and Tawfeeq, Mohammed, “NTC lays out the timeline to form new government” CNN, (September 22, 2011) http://edition.cnn.com/2011/09/21/world/meast/libya-government-formation/index.html?hpt=iaf_c2
 Stratfor document, “Intelligence Guidance: The Islamist Opening in Libya”, (August 31, 2011) http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20110830-intelligence-guidance-islamist-opening-libya
 Rawnsley, Adam, “Gadhafi’s Loose Weapons Could Number a ‘Thousand Times’ Saddam’s”, (August 25, 2011) http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/08/gadhafis-loose-weapons-could-be-1000-times-worse-than-saddams
 Reuters Africa, “Al Qaeda bolstering presence in Libya, Algeria says” , (April 6, 2011) http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFJOE73504520110406
 France24, “L’arrivée des combatants kadhafistes renforce l’instabilité du Sahel”, “La Libye a fait du Sahel une poudrière”, (September 7 and 8, 2011), (accessible only in France)
 Schemm, Paul, “Report: Niger official doubts anti- terror efforts”, Associated Press, (September 8, 2011) http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700177288/Report-Niger-official-doubts-anti-terror-efforts.html
 For a brief analysis on various countries’ posture during the conference, see France24, “’Friends’ gather in Paris to plan future of oil-rich Libya”, (September 1st , 2011) http://www.france24.com/en/20110901-friends-of-libya-uk-france-ntc-paris-conference-gaddafi-nato-sarkozy
 Gautier, Louis, “Libye: Quelques enjeux des manoeuvres diplomatiques et stratégiques” (interview), Diplomatie, Affaires stratégiques et Relations Internationales, no.50, (2011), p.23
 Diplomatie, op.cit.