The pro-democracy demonstrations that continue to rattle the Arab world have landed in Libya.
In a country where government dissent is dealt with by an iron fist, anti-government activists are demanding change. Since seizing power in 1969, President Muammar Qadhafi is one of the most unpopular and authoritarian tyrants in the Middle East. After holding on to power through repeated coup attempts, Qadhafi has repressed Libya’s secular opposition and crushed the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.
While Tunisia and Egypt experienced rising food prices and a decline in living conditions, thereby contributing to public outrage, Libya’s oil wealth has cushioned its people against such effects. However, corruption and waste are rampant, and these problems—combined with severe limitations on civil liberties—are contributing factors in recent demonstrations.
On Wednesday, the regime quickly attempted to disperse activists. Reports of snipers firing upon crowds as well as numerous arrests and beatings have surfaced. Despite this, protestors continued their demonstrations through today. But, according to one Libyan official “there’s nothing serious here. … These are just young people fighting each other.” Clearly, the regime has not noticed the effects of “young people” instituting change across the Middle East.
As seen by recent events across the region, the more oppressive governments attempt to suppress opposition movements, the stronger that opposition becomes. Qadhafi is the longest ruling dictator in the Arab world, and it’s time for a change. The United States has emphasized that countries experiencing public unrest should “take specific actions that address the aspirations and the needs and hopes of their people. … Libya would certainly be in that same category.” After 40 years of authoritarian rule, it’s time for Libya to take much-needed steps toward democracy.