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Why Qaddafi is losing parts of Libya

As Qaddafi's rule frays, so do some of the ties that bind Libya together. Geography is one force that could pull the country apart. But the promise of oil profits might help it stick together.

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This area includes Benghazi, which quickly slipped from Qaddafi’s grip once the revolt began to take hold.

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Libya’s third region is the Fezzan, to the southwest. Isolated from the cities of the coast, it traditionally looked for authority to the tribes that controlled the oases astride desert trade routes. It long maintained ties with sub-Saharan Africa, as well.

Over the centuries, the area that is Libya today was controlled by a string of empires, from the Phoenicians and the Greeks to the Ottoman Turks and the Italians.

The scene of intense desert warfare in World War II, Libya was occupied by British and French troops after the capitulation of Axis power Italy. Per a vote of the UN General Assembly, it gained independence as a constitutional monarchy in December 1951.

First phase of rule

Qaddafi seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1969, first in Benghazi and then Tripoli and the rest of the country. He and his fellow revolutionary council members were “pan-Arabist and socialist ideologues from rural and somewhat marginalized communities,” says a Congressional Research Service history of US-Libyan relations.

The US did not initially oppose the coup as Qaddafi and his fellow revolutionaries presented themselves as anti-Soviet reformers. Initially they made an attempt to create a diversified national economy fueled by oil revenues.

“The [Qaddafi] regime made the first real attempt to unify Libya’s diverse peoples and to create a distinct Libyan state and identity,” concludes the Library of Congress.

Decades of Qaddafi’s increasingly quixotic rule undid many of his attempts at forging a Libyan consciousness, however. Given the unifying effects of oil money, it remains likely that Libya still will hang together as a unitary entity, no matter what happens in days to come.

But if Qaddafi loses his grip on power – something that now seems likely to happen – it is also possible that Libya will follow the example, not of Egypt or Tunisia, but of the former nation of Yugoslavia, a modern conglomerate state that broke into Balkan regions following the death of strongman Josip Tito.

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