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Monday
Feb212011

Important Differences Between Libya and Egypt

Photo Courtesy - Getty ImagesREPORTER'S NOTEBOOK by CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- As we watch protests and violent crackdowns unfold in Libya, it is important to keep in mind key differences between Egypt and Libya, and that we should not expect an identical course to unfold there.

One important distinction is how very difficult it is to get information out of Libya about what is really going on. Few journalists are in the country reporting on the events at the moment. And so we must rely on information from Human Rights Watch and other human rights activist groups, along with what we've heard in radio reports from doctors at various hospitals.

Sunday we saw Libyan leader Col. Moammar al-Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, go on television to say his father was still in power. His son threatened that there could be a civil war if the protests continued. And this speech followed the same pattern that we have seen from the leadership of several countries in the face of these protests. They say this is a foreign conspiracy, this is an international conspiracy to get rid of them, that it is being coordinated by Islamists.

But this speech was particularly incoherent and detached. Seif-al-Islam seemed completely out of touch as to what was going on -- at one point threatening to unleash civil war, saying hundreds of thousands could be killed -- and on the other hand, saying we'll have massive across-the-board reforms within 48 hours.

Clearly, they are rattled. This is the most significant threat to Gadhafi's regime ever.

Another element to keep in mind is the very different relationship that Libya and Egypt have historically had with the United States. Certainly, both countries have had longtime leaders in power whom the U.S. has learned to work with. The now-resigned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was in power for 30 years, and Gadhafi has held power in Libya for more than 40 years.

But there is an important distinction. While Egypt was a critical regional ally of the United States, Gadhafi has not been a reliable partner by any stretch of the imagination. All diplomatic ties were cut between the United States and Libya for more than 20 years.

The rift initially started in the 1970s, when a mob set fire to the American Embassy in Tripoli, severely straining relations for many years after that, most notably when Libya was held responsible for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

But after the invasion of Iraq, Gadhafi chose to come back to the diplomatic table and hand over any plans for weapons of mass destruction, and in 2006, diplomatic relations between the two countries were officially restored -- Libya does have heavy oil supplies, which has made the country an important place for business in the region.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio