Decision Workshops

Why was there a war in Libya, but not in Egypt?

In early 2011 the Arab spring started with a series of demonstrations across the Arab world against their governments.  This led to a war in Libya, but not in Egypt.  Why?


The way to understand this is to examine the sequence of events that led to the fall of President Mubarak of Egypt.  


The initial situation was as follows:

*  The people said that they would protest until Mubarak stood down,  

*  Mubarak disagreed, saying if the people continued to protest he would set the police on them.  

At first thought the confrontation looks like this:


But that isn't quite right.  Mubarak can order all the repression he likes, but somebody has to obey his wishes.  


In this case the paramilitary Central Security Forces (CSF) is the instrument of his will.  So the above card table should expand to include the CSF.  They are willing to suppress the protestors if Mubarak so wishes.

The police will suppress the rioters if ordered (that is their job).  They make no statement on whether Mubarak should go or not, or if the people are right to protest.  The people do not care if Mubarak’s card “order suppression” is played or not - what matters is if anyone obeys, so I have turned this to a neutral “no position” card.



This statement by the army gave the CSF a dilemma.  Should they continue to support Mubarak and risk fighting the army? (In which case they would lose as the army had bigger guns) The threatened future looked bad for the CSF.  


Under pressure from the army the CSF changed their minds; they too would not suppress the protestors. Note the three things that change.  In the threatened future nobody had any dilemmas except Mubarak and the people.

Look at the threat column now (the left hand column). Mubarak is now powerless against the rioters. As he has no means of stopping the protests, Mubarak resigned.


It is interesting that this communication (the army not allowing protesters to be fired on), did not happen in Libya, and as a result, Libya degenerated into civil war.  


This illustrates the way in which careful handling of dilemmas can make a crucial difference to outcomes.  In this case we have an almost identical situation in two countries, an aged dictator faced with protests from his people.  So we have an unnamed Egyptian army officer to thank that his country did not slide into civil war, thanks to a single clear, undoubted message.

The next stage was vital.  The army issued a statement saying it would not suppress the protesters, and that they did not believe anyone else should.  This statement contained a hidden threat that if the CSF continued to suppress the protesters, the army would move against them. So the table became as follows:


Egyptian Central Security Forces

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