Civil War in the Middle East

Categorised as GENERAL.

ED MH: In the last few hours a no-fly zone has been implemented over Libya after it’s backing by the UN security council. Soon after this Libya’s government ordered a ceasefire.

Since February of this year, the Middle East has been undergoing dramatic changes as the power of several regimes in the region has been threatened by revolts.  The people of these countries have managed to organise themselves as rebel forces against the dictators and repressive leaders that they have been forced to suffer for decades.

In Egypt, there was success; after a few weeks of protests and marches against the continued rule of long-time leader Hosni Mubarak, the infamous President was forced to concede defeat.  Other countries have not been so successful.  Struggles still continue in several states including Libya, Bahrain and Yemen.

Nevertheless, these recent events have gone further than any other uprisings in the region ever have.  So what has changed this time around?

One could argue that the culmination of repressions suffered over all these years has finally come full circle and has, at length, brought people together in a way never before seen.  Media coverage in the region has never been greater and the presence of networks such has Al Jazeera has been invaluable, it offers a ‘safety net’ to protestors; knowledge that their plight will be reported worldwide.

One may also argue that America has a role to play in all this.  For the first time in decades the US’s foreign policy in the region seems to have begun to favour democracy over stability in the region, at least in terms of its diminishing lack of involvement in the region, and concentration instead, on domestic policy.

One thing that has not changed, however, is Western leaders’ reluctance to support revolutionary change outright.  Obama continued to refer to Egyptian Mubarak as a ‘friend’ and responses could not be more indistinct, as quiet mutterings of ‘reform’ and ‘need for change’ were uttered.  If the West were too quick to support the uprisings then they could potentially lose one of their strongest Arab allies should ‘order’ be restored.  There was also, of course, the fear that whoever should take power next would be worse than who was in power now.  As news of massacres began to pour out of Libya the international community was finally forced to take a stance.

It is important to remember that Libya is not Egypt and that the realities on the ground have been extremely different in both cases.  Detrimental to the outcome is the fact that the leadership in Egypt lacked strong military support, something that Libya has managed to maintain and reinforce by soliciting the services of mercenaries from other African states.

Gaddafi’s retaliation tactics have been both ruthless and cunning.  The initial reactions seemed sporadic and without any real tactical aim.  As opposition forces continued to push forward and march against government buildings, managing to secure a stronghold in Benghazi, it seemed that the opposition may yet secure the upper hand.  However, fighters were met with heavy violence from the government, which has intensified its attacks.  The situation on the ground has now been classified as a full scale non-international war by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

As the country has spiraled into a vicious war that sees government and mercenary soldiers targeting both armed and non-armed civilians, a clear violation of international law, the international community has delayed its response.  As violence erupted, the UN increased the pressure for countries to commit to the imposition of sanctions against the Libyan leader.  Although the economic sanctions were the fastest ever imposed, the delay in securing a no-fly zone may have cost the rebels in Libya what they have gained in the bloody weeks since the uprising began.

A no-fly zone would have not only abetted the entry of mercenary soldiers into Libya, but could have also helped put an end to the aerial attacks which are currently pushing the rebel forces back, threatening their hold on Benghazi.  As discussions continue as to the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone, Gaddafi supporters have begun to close in on the rebel forces by bombing the city of Ajdabiya, 90 miles from Benghazi.  According to Reuters, one rebel believed they had already been defeated, exclaiming, “The battle is lost. Gaddafi is throwing everything against us”.

That Gaddafi would fight back with everything he has comes as no surprise, sadly neither does the delayed response by the international community.  Although military intervention was ruled out from the beginning by both sides, a no-fly zone early on could have greatly assisted the rebels, especially now as they begin to lose their stronghold in their revolution attempt.

The US has finally joined Britain and France at UN discussions of imposing a no-fly zone and a vote is expected next week.  It may, however, already be too late for Libya, and one can only begin to imagine what may happen next.

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