AP100323018968

Liz Sly provides more context:

Libya’s role as a sparsely populated, oil-rich state may go some way toward explaining why Gaddafi has been able to retain the support he has. Libya is nearly twice as big as Egypt, yet contains less than one-tenth as many people. Per capita incomes are more than double those in Egypt, where a successful revolt last month inspired Libyans to take to the streets. The government funds generous social welfare programs that include free education and health care, helping keep at bay the poverty that has fueled discontent elsewhere.

Moreover, he said, the powerful tribal structure that forms the backbone of the government has remained behind Gaddafi, despite initial reports in the early days of the uprising that powerful tribal leaders had defected. Gaddafi has apparently been helped in this regard by making good on a pledge to distribute weapons.

(Photo: In this image taken during an organized trip by the Libyan authorities, Libyan supporters of Moammar Gadhafi are seen with their new weapons in Ban-Waled, home of the Warfallah tribe, 160kms (100 miles) south east of Tripoli, Libya, Wednesday March 23, 2011. International airstrikes forced Moammar Gadhafi's tanks to roll back from the western city of Misrata on Wednesday, giving respite to civilians who have endured more than a week of attacks and a punishing blockade. By Jerome Delay/AP)

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.