Most of the main population centers in northeast Libya are under control of rebels as are some cities in the west. They are fighting against the suppression of basic democratic rights, including freedom of speech, press, and assembly. Gadhafi is still in control of Tripoli, the largest city, although antigovernment protesters have organized demonstrations there in face of fierce repression.
Washington, London, and the European Union have frozen billions of dollars of Libyan assets. The French government said February 28 that it was sending two planes with humanitarian support to Benghazi, Libyas second largest city, and was studying military options. U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates announced March 1 that he was sending two warships and 400 marines to the Mediterranean Sea near Libya.
While some in the bourgeois leadership of the opposition forces initially said they opposed foreign intervention, a growing number by early March were advocating U.S. and NATO action and a no-fly zone.
We are probably going to call for foreign help, probably air strikes at strategic locations that will put the nail in [Gadhafis] coffin, stated Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the February 17th Coalition, which says it is governing Benghazi.
Gadhafi was often in conflict with Washington and other imperialist powers after heading a coup by the army officer corps that overthrew King Idris in 1969. He closed down U.S. and British military bases the next year. In 1977 he declared Libya was a peoples revolution, set up so-called revolutionary committees, and changed the countrys name to the Great Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah.
The anti-imperialist and socialist rhetoric masked Gadhafis autocratic rule and appropriation of a large part of oil profits to accumulate a fortune for himself and his family.
Especially after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Gadhafi cultivated friendlier relations with Washington. He agreed to end a nuclear weapons program, handing over more than 4,000 centrifuges and other bomb-making technology, and began collaborating with U.S. spy agencies against alleged Islamist militants. U.S. and British oil companies returned to Libya.
Libya historically divided
Prior to gaining its independence in 1951, Libya was divided into three provincesTripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzanthat did not function as a single country.
After ousting Italian colonial rule during World War II, the French imperialists ruled Fezzan and the British controlled Cyrenaicawith Benghazi as its capitaland Tripolitania.
Before independence there was not a single university in Libya. Most of the population was illiterate, and some 80 percent were nomadic herdsmen or farmers. Tribal ties played a key role.
After the discovery of oil in 1959 this began to change. In 1970, just 50 percent of Libyans lived in cities. By 1985 more than 75 percent did.
In a country three times the size of Texas, less than 2 percent of the land is suitable for agriculture. There is little industry outside of oil. Libyas reserves are estimated at 30 billion barrels, including what oil companies consider some of the best crude in the world. Oil accounts for more than 90 percent of the countrys income.
Gadhafi used tribes to keep control
Gadhafi used the tribal ties and divisions to bolster his control and never built a strong centralized army. Some 45,000 poorly equipped soldiers, half of them draftees, were organized in part along tribal lines. Gadhafi relies on better equipped paramilitary forces, some of them commanded by his sons.
Gadhafi created a council that brought together 32 of the major tribal leaders, but prohibited the formation of any opposition political parties, much less any national structure that could be an alternative to the personal power of himself and his family.
Many army and air force officers, rank-and-file soldiers, and high-ranking government officials have joined the rebel forces.
Gadhafi, desperately seeking to shore up his support in Tripoli, announced he was giving $400 to every family in the city and promised interest-free housing loans of up to $49,000. Meanwhile, the price of rice has gone up 500 percent to $4 a pound, most butcher shops are closed, and bakeries are limited to selling five loaves of bread per family.
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