Is Libya on the brink of civil war?

Moammar Gadhafi's son promised a "fierce civil war" if Libya's unrest isn't quelled soon. Is that a real possibility, or an empty threat from an imperiled regime?

Qaddafi could be forced out of Libya in a matter of days, says on international analyst. Anti-government protesters rally outside the Libyan embassy in London
(Image credit: Getty)

Libya has followed bordering nations Egypt and Tunisia into popular revolt, but by most accounts, the government of Moammar Gadhafi has reacted much more violently. Reports that Libyan air force jets and heavy artillery were used on protesters have leaked out despite Libya's media blackout, and several diplomats and military units have defected from the North African nation. Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, conceded on television that "mistakes" have been made, but warned that unless civilians "stand all together for the sake of Libya," there "will be a fierce civil war." Is he bluffing, or is civil war a real threat? (Watch a discussion about Libya's unrest)

Civil war is a real possibility: Seif's "bizarre, apparently off-the-cuff speech" may have been full of delusions and lies, says Blake Hounshell in Foreign Policy, but he was "right about one thing: There is a nasty internecine conflict on the way in Libya." Gadhafi has shown he will do anything to stay in power, and "after four decades of unspeakable tyranny, Libyans will be out for vengeance."

"Libya on the brink"

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The Gadhafis have already lost: The "massacre" of protesters in Tripoli Monday could be the regime's "death knell," says Juan Cole in Informed Comment. Gadhafi ripped a page out of Saddam Hussein's playbook by trying to quash uprisings with brutal force. But he lost. Without Hussein's Sunni officer–Shia civilian split to exploit, Gadhafi's massacres just created a dangerous "split in the Libyan elite."

"The Gates of Hell have opened in Tripoli"

Libya could tip either way: This conflict is far from resolved, says Daniel Byman in Slate. There is still some hope that Libya will "follow Egypt and Tunisia." But "Libya already seems to be descending into a civil war," and the opposition doesn't have the unity or common interests to bring a quick end to the regime. And if Seif — the supposedly reform-minded Gadhafi, in other words, "the nice one" — is "warning of hell to come, believe that the regime means it."

"The end of Qaddafi?"

What would replace Gadhafi's regime? So far, the Libyan leader's "desperate" brutality has backfired, says Andrew Solomon in The New Yorker. But if Gadhafi falls, "Libya could easily be roiled in internal battles," and the largely "artificial" country might end up splitting "into several smaller countries, each dominated by local tribes." So Seif's "warnings of chaos are real," but "chaos may look more attractive" to Libyans than "oppression and corruption."

"How Qaddafi lost Libya"

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