Thursday, March 10, 2011

Understanding Libya

Everything I know about Libya I know second hand from an ex-pat petroleum engineer who lived in Libya for almost 20 years. This is what he tells me:

The Libyans are considered to be the hillbillies of the Arab world; in general the Libyans aren’t well educated, they still live in a tribal culture and generally behave like spoiled children when traveling abroad in other Arab countries. They are not well liked. What is well liked is Libyan money and they have a lot of it. So much that it attracted petroleum engineers from around the world more than willing to violate their own government’s embargoes to go work there. A Texan once said, “Oh yeah, the US government is going to tell me where I can and can’t work. Right! Can they tell me where I’m going to find a job in Dallas? No!”

There is no native Middle Class in Libya. The professional classes are imported from other Arab countries as guest workers or are members of the now permanent Palestinian Diaspora. It’s these last that form the bulk of the Libyan professional infrastructure. Having no place to go home to so these Palestinians have taken root in Libya and form the bulk of middle management in both industry and the Libyan military. Indeed while the majority of the officers in the Libyan army are members of the tribes loyal to Kaddafi it is also true that the bulk of the non-commissioned officer ranks, the sergeants, are well trained and disciplined Palestinian mercenaries. Their loyalties are clear; their well being is, for the present, tied to Kaddafi. Change that and you change the outcome of the civil war in Libya.

When the revolt began there were reports of large numbers of military units defecting to the opposition only to turn into the undisciplined rabble being reported in the media today. There should be little wonder why this happened when most of the officers as well as all the NCO up and left leaving a hollow core of undisciplined recruits.

So why hasn’t Kaddafi crushed the revolt? I suspect the revolution is as much a palace revolt as it is a genuine uprising and Kaddafi is reluctant to let any large army assemble so he is content, for the moment, to use his mostly mercenary air force on obvious targets while allowing small units of his Army to prove their loyalty by local butchery. If I’m right then Libya will descend into the kind of lawless chaos we see in Somalia. I think one of Kaddafi’s sons said as much.