There appears to be a series of mixed messages coming out of the conflict in Libya. One is that a possible negotiation may be in the cards with an outcome that would permit Gaddafi to leave, but leave some of his structure and people still in place. But a newspaper report indicates that the African Union’s aims are simply hope for a cease fire, access by humanitarian help and “starting of a dialogue between the rebels and the government” that could leave Gaddafi or his people in place.
The other possibility is a stalemate in the war, with the country divided, and with a possible cease-fire which could solidify Gaddafi’s power in Tripoli and the East with the rebels remaining in power in the West, based in Benghazi.
But the reality of the conflict on the ground did not make the effort by the African Union delegation auspicious for peace given some advances Gaddafi’s forces are making, while there are some success rebels seen in the East. Gaddafi’s forces still have the advantage in terms of numbers, training and firepower. NATO air strikes have further destroyed some of his military but the ravage on rebels and civilians alike in some areas has had its costs.
The Financial Times today reports tensions in NATO over Washington’s decision to pull its jet fighters and bombers out of Libya and concerns over the effectiveness of the military mission without U.S. “in the lead.”
The war on the ground appears mixed. Rebel forces with some NATO help are holding out at Ajdabiya in the East. The other key city where fighting has been fierce was Misurata, where NATO has still been unable to completely stop the destruction and killing by Gaddafi’s forces. In both cities the situation was described by the Canadian NATO commander as “desperate.” While some reports have indicated that NATO air strikes have had an effect on the direction of the conflict there is no clear picture of what the end will look like.
One problem of the discussions with Gaddafi with the African Union leaders aimed at a cease-fire could give the loyalist forces time to recoup and enforce their rule over the areas they still control. Today the AU plans to meet with the rebels in Benghazi. One fear is that Gaddafi would leave, but leave his followers would remain in power in Tripoli, keeping the country divided.
The question at hand is what are the implications of a stalemate in Libya for the rest of the region? Already, there are mixed signals in some of the counties also undergoing change or turmoil. There are high levels of uncertainty in places like Yemen, Syria, and even some unease over the final direction of Egypt. Countries will be watching the Libya outcome to see if real democracy and change will be the final result, or simply a return of the old regimes in the guise of “reform.” There is a desire in some of the old Arab states to seek “stability” over “change,” while the Arab Street clearly desires outcomes that will change their life and give real expression to their goals. They will be watching with care what the Arab League, the Africa Union and the Western powers will do, and what side in the end they will take. Both opportunity for change and for disappointment and later unrest remain possibilities.