From the perspective of Al-Qaeda, Libya would serve as a key strategic front on the Mediterranean for both operational execution and logistical influx of personnel, facilities, and equipment. The geography of Libya with its tremendous coastal access to the Mediterranean, unsecured international borders, vast expanses of virtually uninhabited desert and mountain regions, and densely populated urban centers present an ideal locale for the billeting, training, smuggling, and transporting activities that drive terrorist operations. A climate of revolution combined with current economic stagnation and recession is the environment that Islamic extremism has been most successful in consolidating political power and influence. Libya’s relatively small population of roughly 6.5 million and high percentage of young people (half of the population is under age 15) is of an ideal size and demographic mix for manipulation by Al-Qaeda cells operating with limited numbers and financial resources.
Conversely, a vibrant new democratic state emerging from the ashes of the Gaddafi regime with the help of the United States would serve as a beacon for cooperation and mutual benefit with the Western World. With the 10th largest proven oil reserve in the world and a developed production infrastructure virtually unscathed during the revolution, Libya’s new government has a sturdy base for its economy. Libya is also endowed with an exceptionally high level of human capital, possessing one of the best educated populations in Africa and the highest literacy rate in North Africa. Furthermore a homogenous religious profile (approximately 90-95% of the population is Sunni Muslim) diminishes the prevalence of sectarian conflict that has stalemated the progress of many other middle eastern countries.
Al-Qaeda is focusing on destabilizing the new government by attempting to induce a frost upon the Libyan/American diplomatic relationship through the recent acts of terrorism committed upon the American embassy in Benghazi. Any reduction in American support in Libya plays directly into the hand of Al-Qaeda. Rather, the U.S. must implement a policy that enhances security in Libya supporting the ultimate goal of reviving the flagging economy which will likely be the most significant factor for Libyan vulnerability to Islamic extremism and disillusionment with building a long-term partnership with the Western World.