Evelyn Leopold and Eliza Griswold on the Protests in Libya

As last week’s headlines on the popular revolution in Egypt are replaced by the violent protests taking place across Libya, comparisons drawn between the two countries are constant.

In her piece Libya Protests: Muammar Gaddafi’s Leadership Vacuum, Eliza Griswold of the Daily Beast argues the importance of recognizing that the two countries are fundamentally different.

“When it comes to a functioning civil society, Libya is a near total vacuum. It is home to six million people, not Egypt’s 80 million, who have lived in almost total isolation for 41 years. Internet access is limited. So are opportunities for study abroad for anyone whose last name isn’t Gaddafi. Unlike Egypt, the country is filthy rich, but that money is meaningless for those outside of the regime.”

According to Griswold, this “vacuum,” means that, global forces have held, and will continue to hold a limited sway over the events taking place in Libya. “Unlike Egypt, there are not millions of tourists arriving every year. There are only a small handful of international visitors, many of whom (including me) have received direct invitations from the Gaddafi regime to come watch their petro-dollar Potemkin village function as an “opening” state.”

Now that Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam has adopted his father’s violent rhetoric, warning that “rivers of blood” would flow if the protests did not stop, it seems there is very little hope for alternative leadership in Libya. Unable to appeal to powers in the West, popular calls for reform have no audience within or beyond the borders of their nation.

Evelyn Leopold, a veteran reporter at the United Nations, offers insight into another difference in the case of Libya: the oil factor.  In her column in the Huffington Post, Libya at UN: A Bridge Too Far. Leopold argues that although the the UN Security Council condemned the violence in Libya, “many analysts believe there is little the Council or anyone else could do to convince Gadhafi to step down unless his generals revolt.”

Estimates from human rights groups put the death toll at about 300 people, many in eastern regions, which are now controlled by the opposition in the sparsely-populated country of 6.4 million people, and the Libyan Envoy has now deemed it genocide. In the face of such widespread suffering, it seems there must be universal agreement that the massacre must be stopped.

Yet, according to Leopold, the UN will most likely not move to take action beyond condemning words. Why is there such reluctance to take action? According to Leopold, the West’s appetite for oil is largely to blame.

“Europeans, especially Italy, depend on Libyan oil. World prices soared to a 2 ½ year high and the Dow Jones Industrial Index dropped because of the chaos in Libya.Since since the US invasion of Iraq, any sanctions face a difficult time in the Security Council. Actions by the United States and Europeans on oil and the use of technology to make sure Libyans get information, are more realistic.”

In contrast to the flurry of optimistic commentary that heralded the uprising in Egypt, both Leopold and Griswold present a dismal future for reform and civil society in Libya. If you are frustrated by the UN’s response, or if you have some insight to the future of Gadhafi’s regime, please take this opportunity to voice it.


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