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LIBYA: Northwestern professor discusses protesters' impact

February 21, 2011 |  6:32 pm

Pearlman Wendy Pearlman, Crown Junior Professor in Middle East Studies at Northwestern University near Chicago, said this week's protests were likely to reshape the Libyan state.

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

She said protesters' fearlessness is a sign the regime has weakened.

"Despite the brutality, protesters still are going out on streets, and the protests are spreading throughout the country," she said. "Regimes can rarely rely on violence alone. Kadafi 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."

Pearlman said it was important to consider how Kadafi centralized power.


"When Kadafi 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 Kadafi, his family and his tribe," she said. "The regime is crumbling under the weight of these protests. If they continue, they are likely to bring about its ultimate demise."

Pearlman said protesters in Libya are motivated by many of the same things as protesters in neighboring Arab states, "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," she said. "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."

--  Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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