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Why Qaddafi is losing parts of Libya

As Qaddafi's rule frays, so do some of the ties that bind Libya together. Geography is one force that could pull the country apart. But the promise of oil profits might help it stick together.

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A traffic policeman directs vehicles in Benghazi, Libya, Wednesday, Feb. 23. Militiamen loyal to Muammar Qaddafi clamped down in Tripoli Wednesday, but cracks in his regime spread elsewhere across the nation, as the protest-fueled rebellion controlling much of eastern Libya claimed new gains closer to the capital.

Alaguri/AP

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Libya seems to be falling apart. The regime of Col. Muammar Qaddafi remains in control of the capital of Tripoli, but much of the eastern part of the country, including the city of Benghazi, has fallen to a fast-moving rebellion. On Wednesday opposition leaders said they had seized control of the western city of Misratah, as well.

The suddenness of this collapse underscores how decades of Colonel Qaddafi’s misrule have undermined support for his regime. But it may also reflect the fact that Libya is composed of three distinct areas that in essence were stapled together in the 20th century to make a modern nation.

Despite the ancient history of some of its cities, Libya is not Egypt – a country with a proud past that speaks to virtually all its people. It is a new political entity that is still developing a national consciousness, according to a US Library of Congress profile.

“Until Libya achieved independence in 1951, its history was essentially that of tribes, regions, and cities, and of the empires of which it was a part,” concludes the study.

Geography's role in Libyan history

Geography is the dominant factor in Libya’s political history. Its regions are separated by vast deserts that kept them isolated from one another until only a few years before Qaddafi seized power in a 1969 coup.

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