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Sanctions and unrest are familiar turf for Gaddafi

Sanctions and unrest are familiar turf for Gaddafi

Defeat of rebels would ensure short-term survival; After that, Libya faces sanctions, possible insurgency; Gaddafi dealt with both of these in the past; Insurgency now likely to be on a bigger scale.

March 15, 2011 4:07 by


Sanctions may not really bite unless they extend to an oil embargo, depriving Libya of its principal source of revenue.

The sanctions of the 1990s froze Libya’s foreign assets and limited its ability to improve its oil infrastructure but, significantly, allowed it to continue to sell oil.

Today’s governments, fearful that high oil prices will stifle halting economic recoveries, will be feeling huge domestic pressure to keep the oil flowing.

“I think we have seen over the last few days there was a lack of consensus over economic sanctions,” said El-Katiri.

“Economic interests would like to have a resumption of production and exportation as soon as possible … and that will give him (Gaddafi) access to funds.”

Even if an oil embargo is imposed, former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein demonstrated that this can be circumvented through smuggling and lax policing.

Nearly all of Libya’s oil is exported via its Mediterranean ports, making it easy in theory for nearby European states to detect any embargo-busting from the coast.

However, Libya could find harder-to-police export routes — overland via its southern border with fellow oil exporter Sudan, for example — that might allow it to sell just enough to sustain Gaddafi’s rule.


Just as he is familiar with sanctions, Gaddafi also has experience of containing domestic unrest.

In the 1990s, Islamist militants launched an armed insurgency in the east of Libya.

Gaddafi responded by arresting thousands. Many never came out of prison alive, including more than 1,000 prisoners shot dead in clashes at Abu Salim prison, near Tripoli, in June 1996.

Rights groups say Libyan authorities are again using their tried and tested methods of intimidation. They say there has been a wave of arrests and disappearances in the past few weeks in the capital, Tripoli, designed to quash protests.

But Benghazi, Libya’s second city, is now a very different proposition.

Before this revolt there was widespread antipathy in the city towards Gaddafi. Now many residents say they despise him. If his forces kill more people fighting to retake the city, passions will run even higher.

“(The 1990s insurgency) wasn’t as serious as this one … This uprising is clearly more of a threat. That makes re-establishing control much more difficult,” said IHS Global Insight’s Hartwell.

“Even if he does beat the opposition militarily — by that I mean in the … campaign we’re in at the moment — … one still assumes he is going to be faced with a pretty prolonged and major insurgency.”

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Giles Elgood)

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