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Experts Talk About Libya

Middle East expert and international law specialist talk about protests in Libya

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February 21, 2011 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Wendy Pearlman, the Crown Junior Professor in Middle East Studies at Northwestern University, and Ian Hurd, an associate professor of political science who specializes in international law and norms, comment below on the protests, brutality and fate of Libya.

Wendy Pearlman specializes in comparative politics of the Middle East, with a particular interest in political dynamics in weak states and non-state entities. Her quotes follow:

"The Qaddafi regime’s days are numbered,” Pearlman said. “Its brutality is a sign of institutional weakness and desperation. It has little legitimacy and institutional strength. Qaddafi’s only hope to hold on to power is by causing bloodshed.

“Despite the brutality, protestors still are going out on streets, and the protests are spreading throughout the country.

“Regimes can rarely rely on violence alone. Qaddafi doesn’t have a cohesive elite who supports him or cohesive institutions on which he can rely, and the military is not a strong, unified institution.

“When Qaddafi took power in 1969 he did so with a new philosophy of government, in which he wanted to have basically a state without state institutions. He wanted to do away with ministries, with bureaucracies. The government basically is Qaddafi, his family and his tribe.

“The regime is crumbling under the weight of these protests. If they continue, they are likely to bring about its ultimate demise.

“The motivations of the protesters in Libya are similar to the responses in the other Arab countries, all of them suffering many of the same grievances in terms of poverty, lack of employment and oppressive corrupt regimes. But the responses of the governments are quite different, and they are becoming increasingly brutal.

“Nobody knows how many actually are being killed in Libya because of the media blackout. Yet the people in Libya are no longer afraid, even as they face down guns and are being bombed from helicopters.”

Ian Hurd, who is writing a book that examines how and why states use international law and norms in strategic ways, says the United Nations Security Council should be doing the following today:

• decide that the Libyan regime and its actions against its people constitute a threat to international peace and security, a technical designation under the U.N. Charter which makes possible more forceful measures;

• announce that the military and paramilitary actions against protesters may qualify as crimes against humanity and that the council will consider asking the International Criminal Court to investigate for prosecution, which would follow the model used with al Bashir in Sudan; 

• institute a no-fly zone over Libya, as was done with Iraq in the 1990s, which could be policed by NATO, the United States or other air forces to prevent the use of air power against civilians;

• and direct member countries to freeze bank accounts and assets belonging to the regime, to Qaddafi personally and to the Libyan state until it is clear they were legally obtained and are not being used for illegal purposes.