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Libya Has Storied History Of Armed Conflict

LYNN NEARY, host:

This is not the first large-scale rebel uprising in Libya. The country has a history of armed protest movements.

We're joined now by Professor Ali Ahmida, chairman of the Political Science Department at the University of New England. Professor Ahmida was born in Libya and has studied the history of resistance movements in his native country. He's speaking to us from Portland, Maine.

Welcome to the program, Professor.

Professor ALI AHMIDA (Chairman, Political Science Department, University of New England): Good morning, Lynn.

NEARY: Now, I wanted to ask you, the uprising in Libya has quite different from that of its neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt. The crackdown on protesters by Moammar Gadhafi has been much more violent. But also, the protesters reacted differently - they moved much more quickly to armed resistance. What makes the situation in Libya so different?

Prof. AHMIDA: Libya has a different history. Libya had, in the 19th century and even during the colonial period, a very, very strong society and weaker central state in Tripoli. So that traditions of contesting the state has always been strong. And the Italian invaded Libya in 1911 and they could not really conquer the rest of the country, due to a very, very well-organized volunteer armies that resisted the central invasion in the north until 1931.

So we could say that Libya had this very strong societal forces that are keen about keeping their autonomy, about keeping their communities and not to let the central government determine everything in their affairs.

NEARY: Does that history then affect the way Libyans are viewing the struggle now?

Prof. AHMIDA: Absolutely. This is very, very much the case. Libyans are very proud of their grandfathers and their grandmothers who fought Italian colonialism and lost half a million people during that struggle. I think now, it's a display because this government that came to power in 1969 - led by junior officers, including Gadhafi - they tried to centralize the state. But the sense of really resisting the central state was there all the time.

NEARY: You know, just this weekend, Gadhafi forces launched a fierce attack on the city of Zawiyah. Will civilian casualties strengthen the opposition's resolve or will it weaken it?

Prof. AHMIDA: Well, I think it will strengthen the resistance because the state - in a foolish, brutal, bloody way - is crushing its own people.

NEARY: Well, I wanted to ask you about the possibility of foreign intervention. Because, you know, given the history that youve talked about, one would think that many Libyans would be opposed to international intervention. And yet there have been calls for intervention in the form of airstrikes or a no-fly zone. So how do you explain that?

Prof. AHMIDA: The one thing I would say will be a really bad idea is to intervene militarily in Libya. That would be a big, big mistake. And that will even empower this dying, bankrupt regime.

But on the other hand, I think it might be very good idea to provide humanitarian aid to support the new provincial leadership in Benghazi, and pressure African governments and North Africa governments not to send more mercenaries, aid and arms to the bankrupt regime.

NEARY: Ali Ahmida is the chair of the University of New England's Political Science Department. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Prof. AHMIDA: Thank you very much, Lynn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.