Thursday, 29 September 2011

Libya in the throes of change

The situation in Libya has changed rapidly as the last redoubts of the Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi regime fall one by one. At Sirte it seems as if the end-game is at hand. The rebels only have a short distance left before they take over the centre of the town and there are desperate efforts being made to enable civilians to evacuate the area and move to Misrata. In addition to the current damage being inflicted, the political raison d'etre for Sirte will evaporate and its likely position in the near future will be as a garrison town for the revolutionaries.

At Bani Walid the situation is very different. Its tribal elders are seeking to avoid a bloodbath and many of the townspeople have already decamped towards Misrata for shelter. Bani Walid, with its considerable qualities as a centre of the very large and combative Warfalla tribe, will have its fate determined by the end of October, or before. Political objectives will be at stake for Bani Walid and it will perhaps be able to play off the revolutionaries by agreeing to join one of the provinces for its economic benefit and military safety. Much will depend on the actions of the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Benghazi and the criteria that are adopted within the new constitution.

It is very likely that, despite a past history of ill will towards the people of Misrata, the population of Bani Walid may, if there is a federal solution to the constitutional problem, wishes to be counted as part of Tripolitania rather than of Fezzan. If the elders opt for a fight it could come in the next few days because there is now a very large concentration of well-armed rebels surrounding the district ready to exert their authority.

The southern city of Sebha only has its size of population of approximately 100,000 as an asset and any direct army attack on the area would wreak a terrible toll in civilian deaths. So far there has been no sign so far that there will be any sustained resistance in this quarter. It is expected that Sebha's people will want to get back to the things in which they excel - agricultural trade and administration.

A final thrust to the south is also in hand with the interior oases of Um Araneb and the border towns with Algeria now or soon to be under command of the rebels. It is rumoured that Qadhafi is circulating in the desert of south western Libya and will become a target for the military in the very near future. The airport at Ghat, which is very close to the Algerian border, is disproportionally large for the volume of air-traffic and there are rumours that Qadhafi may be hiding in vast bunkers said to be built under the airport.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

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