Signs To Look For In Libyan Unrest

Social unrest has come to Libya after street revolts in its neighbors Tunisia and Egypt.

The wealthiest North African country had began to dig deeper into its pockets to address social grievances, but rioting broke out in the city of Benghazi in mid-February.

Despite its vast oil and gas wealth and a relatively small population of 6.5 million, Libya has both the highest demographic growth and unemployment rates in North Africa.

While he has sent mixed signals about the Tunisian revolt, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the longest-serving Arab ruler, did not say if he would be prepared to embrace reforms advocated by some close members of his entourage.

Media close to his reform-minded son Seif al-Islam have been more vocal about sensitive issues such as the army, the absence of a constitution and public governance.

In the meantime, the fate of succession, suspicion of foreign influence, diplomatic rows and policy uncertainty remain potential risks for investors in Libya.

Here are some risk factors to watch:

Social Unrest and the Islamist Threat
In rare unrest, hundreds of people clashed with police and government supporters in Benghazi in mid-February, according to a witness and local media. The protesters were angry about the arrest of a human rights campaigner.

And coinciding with Tunisia’s popular revolt, Libyan citizens earlier this month occupied hundreds of homes that were still under construction.

Egypt and Tunisia have each seen entrenched heads of state forced out by popular uprisings. That has inspired attempts by exiled members of the Libyan opposition to organize protests via online social networking sites. The government has taken pre-emptive measures, including reducing food prices.

But most analysts say Libya is unlikely to see an uprising along the lines of Tunisia or Egypt. The government has huge amounts of oil cash which it can use to placate unhappy citizens. Libyan society and public life is built around family and tribal ties, so if there is any challenge to Gaddafi’s rule, it is likely to happen behind the scenes and not in the streets.

Benghazi, with its history of distrust of Gaddafi’s rule is not typical of Libya. The test for Gaddafi now is whether the unrest spreads to the capital and the west of the country.

The population has grown fast and pressure for better living standards has risen. The pardon and release from prison of hundreds of Islamist militants in March shows the government is confident that it has neutralized the threat from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) that once tried to kill Gaddafi.

What to watch:
– More incidents of people taking their grievances about social conditions on to the streets.
– Any sign that LIFG splinter groups based abroad are attempting to revive the movement’s activity within Libya or join with al Qaeda’s Maghreb wing based in neighboring Algeria.

Complete article via Reuters

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