A couple of notes on the situation in Libya.
When judging the international response, particularly in the West, what it comes down to is what it always comes down to, oil
The UN lifted sanctions on Libya in 2003, the US lifted sanctions in 2004, and Western oil companies poured into the country to reclaim their holdings, led by ConocoPhillips & Marathon Oil & Amerada Hess, which used to operate in Libya decades ago as the Oasis group. And what must be kept in mind, what is the unstated assumption that drives much of Western policy in the Middle East, is that it is almost always easier to negotiate oil rights with dictators and monarchs than it is with democracies.You can find a complete list of oil and gas companies in Libya here
. The last I heard, Gadhafi had already attracted tens of billions of dollars in foreign investments (with Blair and Sarkozy and Berlusconi and Bush, among many others, personally hand delivering some of those investments). This is the main thing that Western companies and governments are worried about, as well as the spill-over effects of a revolution to neighboring oil-rich countries. From an Al Jazeera article: "The best case scenario, from the oil market’s stand point, would be for unrest to calm," Jones added. "That might be at odds with the populace." The analyst would not comment on what would happen to energy markets if unrest spread to Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer.
So, right now. Oil prices are surging, stocks are sinking
, the oil companies are desperately trying to PR their way out of this by saying that they won't be affected, even as they are pulling out personnel and the head of the al-Zuwayya tribe is threatening a halt to petroleum exports
Sheikh Faraj al-Zuwayy, leader of the powerful Zuwayya tribe in
the western and southern parts of the country [they're in the east; this reporter seems to have little clue about geography], said that the message to Qadhafi was to "stop the bloodshed this evening or else our tribe will be forced to stop the oil flow within 24 hours because the blood of Libyans is more precious than oil."
"This is what we demand from Muammar al-Qadhafi, the European countries, and the United States. We reiterate that we will have to stop the oil flow tomorrow. We will do it."
No doubt the Western oil companies are appalled at just how impractical and unbusinesslike the Sheikh is being, issuing a statement like this. (Though, despite what the article claims, the Zuwayya tribe is not all that powerful; the region counts for only a fraction of the Libya's oil exports. The Warfallah, on the other hand, are a different matter.)
Also, a note on Gadhafi. The dude was 28 years old when he came into power, a military officer who headed a coup that toppled the king. The eastern region didn't support this coup, a fact which Gadhafi never forgot. In the last forty years, most of the country's oil revenues have gone to the western regions (which is also where the bulk of the oil is located, if I'm not mistaken). The majority of the opposition and resistance to Gadhafi has originated in the East, particularly the city of Benghazi.
Benghazi is the city in which the protests once again began on the 15th, and whose citizens were first massacred
. (And what is with the BBC putting massacre in quotes?
) The Zuwayya tribe, who declared that they would stop the oil flow in their region, live just south of this city.
Libya's largest tribe is the Warfallah tribe, located in the West, in the oil rich Tripolitana region. In 1993, they rebelled unsuccessfully against Gadhafi, which led to the sham trials and executions.
On the night of Feb 20th, once protesters had taken over most of Benghazi, they joined them in calling for a revolution.
The Taureg tribe, at 500,000 strong Libya's second largest tribe (from the southern and western parts of the country), joined this revolt, and the situation turned from an Eastern uprising to a national revolution.
ETA: Vijay Prashad has an article on CounterPunch, The Libyan Labryinth
, that gives additional background.