Is Libya in a civil war?

March 11, 2011

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(Getty Images/John Moore)
Rebels burn a Libyan government flag in Ras Lanuf.

Yesterday, the president of the International Red Cross declared Libya as “engaged in civil war.” Last week, media hedged their bets, referring to escalating violence between pro- and anti-Qaddafi forces as the “brink of civil war.” More and more, headline writers drop those qualifiers. Media institutions like the New York Times use the terms “insurgents” and “rebels” interchangeably to describe Libyans in direct combat with pro-Qaddafi militias.

But what makes a conflict a civil war? And do insurgents engage in them? Do rebels - or both? To help with these questions, we talk with Clive Jones, chair of Middle East Studies at the University of Leeds and former co-editor of the journal "Civil Wars".