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A Nation at the Periphery: Libyan Regionalism Revisited

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This article places the current Libyan conflict in historical perspective by focusing on the dynamics between the country s two main regions Tripolitania and Cyrenaica during key moments of the 20th century. Particular attention is given to the different way each of the two regions approached the early period of Italian colonialism, from 1911 to 1923. The paper shows that historical relations between the two regions are characterized by both independence and interdependence and that this pattern is reemerging as the country transitions to a new era. When protests first broke out in Libya in mid-February it seemed longtime leader Muammar Qaddafi might follow in the footsteps of his Tunisian and Egyptian counterparts and be forced to resign 1 by the power of peaceful popular opposition. Yet there were reasons to think otherwise. Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt, Qaddafi s son Saif al-Islam quipped in the early days of the protests, explaining that unlike its neighbors Libya was heavily armed and tribal.2 Chaos would ensue, he warned, unless the protests stopped immediately. Within a couple days, rebels in Benghazi had overrun Qaddafi s main military base in the city and the protests quickly spiraled into armed conflict. The Libyan uprising was focused on getting rid of Qaddafi by force rather than numbers. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, where overthrowing the ruler was the first step toward achieving a more representative political system, in Libya the focus has remained primarily in forcing out the brother leader. Assuming this can be achieved, the country faces a future even more uncertain than its neighbors. As Lisa Anderson notes, The challenge for Libya is both simpler and more vexing than those facing Tunisia and Egypt Libya confronts the complexity not of democratization but of state formation. 3 Qaddafi has remained in power for over 40 years by keeping tight control of the country s purse strings and ruthlessly going after anyone who questioned this policy.

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  • Government and Political Science

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