Thursday, 27 January 2011

Riots in Tunisia prompt changes in the Libyan army

The riots in Tunisia appear to have had the effect of bringing forward plans in Libya for changes in the army. In a move that was first rumoured in 2010, around 800 senior officers could be retired from the army, including four generals: Khalifah Henaish, Abdel Salam Massoud, Belqassem Hodairi and Khalifah al-Derzi.

The army is poorly equipped and has previously been consistently and deliberately weakened by the regime in order to ensure that it no longer poses a serious threat to the Leader. Nothing has ever happened in so deliberate a way, however, as during the current changes. It is expected that the numbers in the army will stabilise at 150,000.

Libyan reaction to the news of the purge is that it represents a direct response to the army's role in Tunisia as an independent instrument that arbitrated during the riots between ruler and the Tunisian people in an even handed basis. In Libya, this position, though not impossible, is unlikely because there is a separate heavily armed and carefully monitored Security Brigade in which the officer class is drawn mainly from the Qadhadhfah clan or its affiliates.

An alternative interpretation of the outcome of the changes is that the army will be stung into traditional subversive activities against the regime. Overall, the history of failure of attempted coups d'état is not very encouraging to the opposition.

The Foreign Ministry is denying that Libya has any plans to intervene in Tunisia. This is despite claims by the opposition that some arms have already been moved to the border region in preparation for any action that might be needed in order to provide better control of the long land border where friction was in evidence some months ago, albeit for commercial reasons. Relations between the two countries are fairly stable but there has been a history of disruptions over the alignment of the border offshore which ended in a very favourable settlement for Libya at the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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