With the UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 requiring an international, assertive role in protecting the civilian population, the Libyan rebels should rethink their strategy to continue the militarization of the protests in order to oust the Gaddafi regime from power. The legitimacy of the popular uprising in the Arab world has successfully challenged the authoritarian regimes through peaceful means and forced Ben Ali and Mubarak to leave. It also highlighted a contrast with regimes that maintained their hold through force and repression.
While the Libyan protests followed in the footsteps of their sisters in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and other Arab countries, they were forced to militarize their uprising due to the harsh reprisal of the Gaddafi regime and the Libyan military support in Benghazi and in other cities of the country. It is normal and legitimate to be dragged into fighting back in order to survive and save your loved ones. But as things developed, it has become imperative for the Libyan rebels to reassess their strategy against a weakened regime looking for a way out, but still believing they might succeed in staying put.
Recent calls to hire private security companies (mercenaries) to train or fight alongside the rebels can prove a fatal blow to a legitimate revolt. It can provide the Gaddafi family the needed ammunition to continue making its argument of a Western conspiracy that might find some support in the region. It is also very dangerous to move a civilian population into a “fast food” sort of training that can lead to further complications and perhaps chaos in a post-Gaddafi regime by creating armed and trained militias.
This is the time for the rebels to revert back to their initial role of a popular uprising and force the regime to reassess its bloody attacks on the civilian population. By resorting back to a civilian uprising in Libya, the population will also force NATO and the international community to play their required role of protecting the civilian population and their legitimate rights against a violent regime that has lasted more than four decades through repressive measures, extra-judicial killings and corruption. Gaddafi governed Libya like the head of a mafia rather than a political leader and has been supported by an international community that knew of his direct involvement in brutal crimes, not only against his population, but on an international scale.
It is very important that the role that the Libyan army and police that seceded from the regime can play in contributing to protecting the civilian population and maintaining order to reassure the international community that they are the only armed party and show that the true intention of the revolt in Libya is to rebuild a state and provide the conditions conducive to a democracy in the country.
As equally important for Arab states - and especially, Egypt a close neighbor/big brother and considering its strong military establishment - is to help provide the missing regional leadership role, not only in pressuring the Gaddafi family to leave, but in making it clear that they will abide by the UN resolution 1973 calling for the protection of civilians and that any attack on the civilian population will force a military intervention to protect them. The time has come for Egypt to regain the forgotten regional leadership role that the Mubarak regime robbed for decades.
Abderrahim Sabir is the former Middle East Spokesperson for Human Rights Watch