Unleash the Egyptian Army

In his 80 minute speech on Monday, January 21st Moammar Qadafi vowed to die a martyr rather than relinquish his 42 year rule of Libya. As described in the STRATFOR report appended below, Qadafi’s words were backed by machine gun fire by the mercenaries brought in to quell the protesters in Tripoli and directed at any gathering of civilians. Understandably this drove most of the population inside. He then vowed to go house to house to find and exterminate all opponents to his regime. The Colonel has proved he is capable of ordering genocide against his own people, including air strikes against massed protesters.

While the opposition has apparently won control of most of Eastern Libya, in order to force the removal of Qadafi they will have to control Tripoli, the capital city and base of Qadafi’s support, either through the defection of these supporters or through military action. The strategy of non-violent protests that was successful in Tunisia and Egypt will not work in Tripoli.

However, the opponents of the regime have only been able to win battles in Eastern Libya with weapons confiscated from police and militia barracks, and they do not have the weapons, logistical support or training to overcome professional soldiers. It appears that Qadafi still controls the Libyan Air Force.

Thus far the response of the Western governments to the Libyan situation has been to strongly condemn any action against peaceful protestors. Although the United Nations has convened an emergency meeting of the Security Council, we believe it is unlikely that it will issue anything more than a mild condemnation as it would be perceived to be interfering in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation, which is definitely not in the interest of the 120 or so totalitarian governments in that organization. Military analysts have stated that neither the US or NATO has neither the desire nor the available assets to launch a ground war in Libya. Therefore, what are the options?

What about the Egyptian Army? As we have often heard over the past several weeks, the Egyptian Army is a modern force equipped and trained by the US. It is regarded as an effective and secular organization that is the primary force for stability in that country. With the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the Army is now running the country until replaced by a new civilian government. These are not strictly military functions.

The Army certainly has the capability of deploying an Expeditionary Force on the western border of Egypt. From this position if would be able to offer assistance to Egyptian citizens now fleeing Libya and if called upon called upon by the protestors to assist them in repelling any effort by pro-Qadafi force to retake Eastern Libya. Presumably, it would also have the capability to make a rapid deployment of the 1614 kilometers (1,002 miles) to Tripoli to confront the mercenaries and militias still supporting Moammar Qadafi and his sons. The mere presence of a significant anti-Qadafi force on the Egyptian/Libyan border should create a disincentive to those still supporting his regime.

I expect that a telephone call from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army could accomplish this action, as it would simply require the re-positioning of forces within their own country. This action would be comparable to the deployment of a US aircraft carrier near a war zone or the Russians stationing troops on their border with Georgia.. The net effect would be to increase our available options, which is always a positive position.

In the event that Qadafi proceeds with his plans crush the opposition in Tripoli through a systematic cleansing operation, presumably the Western countries could recognize an opposition group as the new legitimate government of Libya and respond to a call for military assistance with a combined air and ground campaign. It is likely that such a fight would be over quickly but the outcome thereafter could be messy. Although this could be described as just a new quagmire ala Iraq, there would be one major difference…it would be an Arab neighbor coming to the assistance of another Arab neighbor.

Certainly, the other autocratic regimes in the region would not like to see this outcome, but it might be an additional incentive to accelerate the process of freedom for their citizens as well.

Byron K. Varme
Executive Director


February 23, 2011

On Monday, it became very clear that the Libyan republic founded by Col. Moammar Gadhafi was fighting for its survival. The regime deployed army and air force assets to quell the unrest that had moved beyond the eastern parts of the country to its capital. Elsewhere, several senior Libyan diplomats resigned their posts and there were reports of military officers joining the protesters after refusing to follow orders to use force against the demonstrators.

The current situation is untenable and Gadhafi could be forced to step down. When that happens, the country is looking at a power vacuum. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, where the ousters of the sitting presidents didn’t lead to the collapse of the state, Libya could very well be the first country in the largely Arab Middle East to undergo regime change.

The military establishments in Tunis and Cairo were robust enough to remove long-serving head of states and maintain power. In Tripoli, however, the regime is centered on the family and friends of Gadhafi, with the armed forces in a subordinate role. Complicating matters is the fact that the modern Libyan republic has had only one ruler — Gadhafi.

“The Libyan descent into chaos could have a profound impact on the unrest brewing in other countries of the region.”

In other words, there is no alternative force that can replace the current regime, which in turn means we are looking at a meltdown of the North African state. The weakness of the military and the tribal nature of society are such that the collapse of the regime could lead to a prolonged civil war. Civil war could also stem from a situation of Gadhafi not throwing in the towel and deciding to fight to the bitter end.

There are already signs that the eastern parts of the country are headed toward a de facto secession. Given the potential options, some people may view civil war between forces centered in Tripoli and Benghazi as a better option than utter anarchy. At least the country can avoid a Somalia-like situation in which multiple forces in different geographic areas run their own fiefdoms.

Libya spiraling out of control has implications for its immediate neighbors, especially Egypt, which is in the process of trying to manage a transition after the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government. The last thing the Egyptian generals want to see is their western neighbor becoming a safe haven for Islamist militants. Likewise, the Tunisians and the Algerians (the latter more so than the former), have a lot to fear from a Libya without a central authority. And across the Mediterranean, the Italians are especially nervous, both due to their energy interests in Libya, and as they contemplate the prospects of a flood of illegal immigrants using a post-Gadhafi Libya as a launching pad into Europe.

The Libyan descent into chaos could have a profound impact on the unrest brewing in other countries of the region. Many opposition forces, which have been emboldened by the successful ousters of the Egyptian and Tunisian presidents, could be discouraged by the Libyan example. Opposition forces in countries like Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan and Syria would have to take into consideration that street agitation may not necessarily put them on the path toward democracy.

Thus, what happens in Libya will not just be critical for security in North Africa but for political stability in the largely Arab Middle East.

Copyright 2011 STRATFOR.