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Libya: Observations & Questions
Sep 19, 2011 (110919)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
As was the case for Tunisia and Egypt, there has been no
shortage of day-to-day news coverage (often contradictory)
and impassioned international policy debate on the Libyan
component of the Arab Awakening. But there has been much
less solid analysis, as the popular overthrow of Libya's
dictator was complicated not only by the turn to armed
conflict but also by the decisive role played by NATO air
power and significant external assistance to the rebels,
primarily from France, Britain, and Qatar.
As the open military conflict appears to be in its final
stages, there is also no shortage of advice to the new
Libyan regime and speculation about its chances of success.
But there are still few systematic analyses of what
happened which carefully consider the internal dynamics of
Libya and the Arab world as well as the significance of
This series of AfricaFocus Bulletins on the significance of
recent events in Libya provides a selection of material
that I have found most useful, in three parts:
(1) a long commentary by historian and blogger PT Zeleza
(distributed by e-mail and on the web at
(2) shorter commentaries by Mahmood Mamdani and Juan Cole
(on the web at http://www.africafocus.org/docs11/lib1109b.php)
(3) a compilation of links and brief excerpts of additional
articles, with short annotations/observations/questions by
the AfricaFocus editor (this one, on the web at
Suggestions from readers are welcome for links to key
analytical articles that might be added to this page.
This last Bulletin is longer and includes links to far more
sources than most AfricaFocus Bulletins, much too long to
send out by e-mail. And it still doesn't come close to
adequately representing the full complexities of the Libyan
situation and the diverse viewpoints on different aspects.
I've also included some brief "observations & questions" of
my own. I've labeled them "observations & questions" rather
than "reflections" because they are fragmentary and
incomplete, rather than a systematic essay, and I don't
claim any special knowledge of Libya or the rest of North
Africa apart from following a wide range of news and
commentaries. But hopefully AfricaFocus readers may find
them useful as food for thought.
So feel free to browse and explore the links you find most
interesting. And if there is an article not included that
you think provides particularly keen insights, send me the
link so that I can take a look and, possibly, add it to the
list on this already fairly crowded page.
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Libya, including a
fundamental historical analysis by Fred Halliday and
several Bulletins on issues related to migrants from subSaharan
Africa, see http://www.africafocus.org/country/libya.php
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Observations and Questions on Events in Libya
To go directly to individual topics:
Opinion from Arab and Other Commentators
on Middle-East-Focused Blogs and Related Sites
Accounts by Revolt Planners
Counting the Casualties
Migrants in Libya, Xenophobia, and
* Among the factors decisive in this year's events in
Libya, which include the external factors of both the wider
Arab Awakening and the NATO intervention, the most
important and probably the most difficult to analyze and
predict are those internal to Libya.
The primary initiative for resistance to the Qaddafi regime
in Libya, as in parallel movements in other Arab countries,
came from popular opposition to an entrenched and
discredited system of privilege and repression. That
opposition, now in power, was and is diverse, often
disorganized, and reflective of multiple cleavages in
Libyan society, leaving its future uncertain. Observers may
overestimate the weaknesses and underestimate the
determination of Libyans to build a new democratic order,
as most underestimated their capacity to organize the
uprising in Tripoli. But there is no denying that the
uncertainties loom large.
These uncertainties include the widely discussed issues of
formation of a government, resumption of oil production,
restraining retaliatory violence (including that directed
at sub-Saharan African migrants) and military
uncertainties, such as the still undecided battles for the
remaining pro-Qaddafi-controlled towns and the possibility
of a guerrilla insurgency by Qaddafi forces.
But they also include structural issues on which there will
be strong pressures to reproduce rather than change the
patterns of the Qaddafi years. Whatever the nationality of
foreign oil companies involved (and that will be diverse,
as under Qaddafi), there will still be the question of
corruption in the oil industry and consequently in the
state itself, which depends on that revenue. On the issue
of migration, the issue is not only the currently
publicized issue of violence against sub-Saharan migrants,
but also the collaboration with Europe in "managing" that
migration established in previous agreements (see below).
* Among external factors, it is the NATO intervention which
has attracted most attention and debate, and which was
undoubtedly decisive in changing the military balance
between the Qaddafi regime and its opponents. At least as
important, however, have been the multiple influences from
changes elsewhere in the Arab world. The Libyan revolt
would not have happened without the precedents of Tunisia
and Libya, and without the low-profile cooperation with the
rebels from both those countries. Also indispensable were
the interlinked effects of social media and of Al Jazeera.
These not only connected and continue to connect opinion
formation throughout the Arab world, but had an indirect
impact on Western opinion as well. It would be a serious
mistake to underestimate this factor or to see Qatar's
role, whether in its sponsorship of Al Jazeera or its
financial and military support for the Libyan rebels, as a
surrogate for Western interests.
It was also important that even almost all the states that
criticized the NATO intervention were not unhappy to see
Qaddafi go. He had long ago alienated any supporters in the
Arab world. And foreign ministries elsewhere, including in
China, Russia, and sub-Saharan Africa, had mixed
experiences with and considerable doubts about the man who
called himself "king of kings."
And it is useful to remember, by comparison, that Western
policies, in the form of the decision not to support
repression by supporters of Ben Ali or Mubarak, were also
decisive in Tunisia and Egypt.
* There were not a few reasonable grounds for opposing the
NATO decision to launch an air campaign to support the
Libyan revolt. The legal bases for the action, whether in
U.S. law or in interpretation of the UN mandate, were
undoubtedly questionable, and highly dubious precedents
for the future. Among the most convincing cases for
ambivalence was the "slippery slope" argument that
stalemate would lead to escalated Western involvement,
including "boots on the ground" engaged in combat. That argument has been
diminished, but not entirely eliminated, by the uprising in
Tripoli and the retreat of pro-Qaddafi forces to a few
Having close to zero or zero credibility, in my opinion,
are not only the critique from the right calling for more
aggressive Western military action but also that coming
from some commentators in Africa or the Western left who
still see Qaddafi and his supporters as a progressive
In addition, any argument against the intervention, however
valid for the general points raised, loses credibility if
it does not also acknowledge that the intervention was
called for by a popular movement having wide support within
Libya, or make a credible case that this is not true.
Seeing popular support for the revolt as an illusion
created by the "mainstream media" (now apparently including Al
Jazeera as well as Western meida) is just not credible.
The fact that Qaddafi's opponents appealed for Western support
does not make them surrogates of the West, nor does it mean
that their political future is any more or less ambivalent
than that of their neighbors in Tunisia or Egypt. This
limitation is apparent in many of the articles opposing the
intervention published in Pambazuka News
(http://www.pambazuka.org), including some by analysts
whose opinions on other topics I generally respect.
What such arguments ignore is the point emphasized by PT
Zeleza in his commentary (http://www.africafocus.org/docs11/lib1109a.php). "Our
peoples' struggles and fundamental interests for well-being
and freedom should be our only principled guide in
supporting struggles for change." Whether the greatest
threats to those interests may come from external powers
(including but not limited to Western countries) or
internal oppressors is not necessarily easy to discern in
any particular case, nor will the people in any country
be in full agreement. But it is surely a mistake simply to
look at what the West is supporting, and automatically
support the opposite.
* While supporters of the African Union's mediation efforts
have blamed its failure on the NATO intervention, I have
not seen any analysis which even tries to make a serious
argument that those efforts were seen, even by African
Union leaders themselves, as having any chance of
persuading Qaddafi to share power rather than simply
serving as a fig leaf while he reinforced his repressive
regime. Nor, for that matter, have I seen any comprehensive
analysis of why it was, as I think likely to have been the
case, doomed to fail regardless of what NATO did or did not
* Whether one approves or disapproves of NATO actions in
Libya, and with whatever degree of ambivalence, it would be
foolish to generalize any "lessons" as either desirable or
predictable replications of a "Libyan model." There is no
plausible argument and certainly no consensus sufficient
for a United Nations resolution, for emulating the Libyan
precedent in other conflicts in the Arab world (such as
Syria, Libya, or Bahrain), much less in any other African
country. Despite the fact that other regimes might be
identified as comparable to Qaddafi's in terms of their
abuses and alienation from their own people, internal
conditions, practical military realities, and regional
opinion are all unlikely to be comparable to those in the
Libyan case. Certainly such an extension would find
significant opposition within the ranks of Western military
as well as diplomatic circles.
Despite the potential for future abuse of the
Responsibility to Protect(views will undoubtedly differ on
whether this has already happened in Libya or not), it is
likely that the greater danger for escalation in Western
military intervention in Africa still lies in the "war on
terror," with many U.S. counter-terrorism officials
advocating more active intervention in Somalia, the Sahel,
and potentially in other countries. But that's a subject
for another discussion.
In the list below, the text after each article link
consists of a brief quotation from the article itself.
Comments by the AfricaFocus editor, if any, are in square
Opinion from Arab and Other Commentators on Middle-East-Focused
Blogs and Related Sites
[Like Issandr El Amrani, most of these commentators are
ambivalent about the NATO intervention, and recognize the
uncertainty about Libya's political future under the forces
whose unity lies primarily in opposition to Qaddafi rather
than a unified organization or ideology. But they also see
the victory of anti-Qaddafi forces as part of the wider
Arab Awakening, with its visceral opposition to
dictatorships whatever their ideological pretensions.]
Issandr El Amrani, "Libya after Qadhafi"
Arabist.net, Aug 22, 2011
Additional posts from Arabist.net, run by Issandr El Amrani
are at http://www.arabist.net/blog/tag/libya
Following the entry of Libya's rebels into Tripoli last
night was exhilarating. A civil war that had lasted much
longer than initially expected seems to be finally nearing
an end, even if Tripoli is still not fully controlled and
other parts of the country remain in the hands of Qadhafi
loyalists. Whether or not you supported NATO intervention
in Libya, it's a magnificent moment to see another dictator
fall, especially one like Qadhafi who for 42 years ran one
of the most brutal regimes in the region. Libyans have
never really had a chance at defining their own identity
and forging their own future -- not under the monarchy, and
certainly not under Qadhafi -- and like in Tunisia or Egypt,
the most amazing thing is that this is now more possible
than it ever was.
Libyans will decide the fate of their country once the dust
settles. In the meantime, the wider debate about what role
outsiders should have in the Libyan civil war continues.
For those who opposed NATO intervention [for the record I
was and remain very ambivalent], the fall of Qadhafi can
still be celebrated, and I was aghast to still see some who
condemned what was happening last night, either defending
Qadhafi's record or muttering about oil interests. If the
rebels had succeeded in bringing down Qadhafi without
external intervention, would they still be saying the same
Yet, [that the victory] might not have taken place were it
not for NATO's air cover does not mean the critics were
"First Thoughts on the Fall of Qaddafi"
The Moor Next Door, Aug 25, 2011
It seems reasonable to assume that the Libyans have the
single greatest opportunity of all the Arabs who have risen
up thus far to build a wholly new political order. Not only
have the torn down an idiosyncratic and bizarre regime's
leadership, they have also broken the majority of its
coercive institutions -- its army, intelligence services,
and so on -- and gained the recognition of the most relevant
international actors in the Arab countries and the west.
The Libyans have plenty money and will have a reliable
source of more money (from oil and gas sales) once they get
on to setting up a unity government and re-establishing
order. They are fortunate for having so small a population,
too, which should be an economic and political advantage.
Qadhafi built a personalized state with few durable
institution and so Libya lacks Egypt's labyrinthine
bureaucracy and military infrastructure which have helped
slow change; the Libyans will have the advantage and the
obstacle of being able to fashion new state institutions
with hindsight and perspective.
Larbi Sadiki, "Libya's New Harvest: The Seeds of Democracy"
Al Jazeera, Sep 13, 2011
Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East
Politics at the University of Exeter.
Libyans triumphed through a war of liberation aided by
outside parties, and some observers have rushed to make
irrelevant comparisons to Iraq. However, unlike Iraq, Libya
has been spared the problem of having to deal with foreign
boots on its ground - luckily for them the war did not last
long enough for that to happen.
NATO's mission must be re-defined or even ended - and this
time the decision should be made with a wider debate that
includes voices outside of the National Transitional
Very often war introduces a whole new set of problems - and
Libya is no exception. Local agency must be reasserted,
giving way to an indigenous search for a smooth transition
along four paths: democratic transition, transitional
socio-economic reconstruction, transitional reconciliation,
and transitional justice.
Marwan Bishara, "A liberated Libya remains haunted"
Al Jazeera, Aug 29, 2011
Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera's senior political analyst.
In order for Libya to liberate itself from four decades of
the Gaddafi rule, it must also free itself from his
Gaddafi no longer presents a political or even a tribal
weight in the country. He's more of a nuisance, a security
challenge; a background noise that will go away sooner
rather than later.
A liberated Libya 2011 is no occupied Iraq 2003. Contrary
to certain sensationalist estimates, Gaddafi cannot
seriously fight back long-term with a gold- or dollarsfinanced
insurgency. The old man is finished, and neither
he nor his family will be able to mount any serious
challenge to reborn Libya.
Indeed, Gaddafi's fate is bound to take similar path to his
predecessors among the Arab dictators, whether exile,
death, or prison.
Libya's future, on the other hand, will be defined by more
than bricks and ballots.
Psychologically and politically bruised, it will need a
true reconciliation - including with its past - in order to
build a better future.
Most of the civilians and fighters leading the revolution
have either served under Gaddafi, served time in his
prisons, or been forced into exile because of him. They are
haunted by the image of the domineering and sadistic
paternal figure who continuously molested his nation.
Omar Benhalim, "Libya Can't Start Afresh by Sticking with
Guardian, Sep 11, 2011
The crumbling of the Gaddafi regime has intensified
discussion of the challenges that lie ahead for Libya.
Democracy, pluralism, national reconciliation and religion
are all critical issues that will need much work. In my own
opinion, though, re-establishment of the rule of law is the
most pressing of all issues. Corruption, left unchecked,
constitutes a threat to the future security of Libya.
A few years into its existence, the Gaddafi regime began to
morph into a criminal enterprise that siphoned off Libya's
wealth either for personal enrichment or to buy friends for
the regime both at home and abroad.
Naturally, the government controlled all revenues flowing
into the Libyan treasury and maintained a vice-like grip on
contracts. Over the years, the percentage "commission" on
any given contract grew exponentially and, in many cases,
was reported to exceed the actual value of the base
Much of the corruption in Libya is institutionalised in
long-term contracts signed by the Gaddafi regime with
companies all over the world, most notably in Russia,
China, Italy, Germany, the UK and the US.
The National Transitional Council has been under tremendous
pressure from these countries to publicly state that these
contracts will be honoured -- which it has done, perhaps
because of its dependence on the goodwill of the
international community. It seems to have done so without
placing any condition or reservation. To renew contracts
without removing the embedded fraud, where it exists, is a
Marc Lynch, "Libya Inspires the Arabs"
Abu Aardvark, Aug 22, 2011
The scenes of the joyous reception for Libyan "Freedom
Fighters" entering Tripoli with little resistance yesterday
sent an electric shock through the Arab public. The
Jordanian blogger Naseem Tarawnah beautifully captured this
regional effect: "Staying up last night to watch the events
unfold on the streets of Tripoli, I cannot help but feel
the sense of confidence that swept across the region last
night; radiating from TV, computer and mobile screens." My
Twitter feed could barely keep up with the rush of excited
declarations that Assad must be watching Tripoli on TV and
seeing his own future.
The reactions yesterday once again show the potent and real
demonstration effects which characterize today's highly
unified Arab political space. I don't see how anybody
watching al-Jazeera, following Arab social media networks,
or talking to people in the region could fail to appreciate
the interconnected nature of Arab struggles. It's the same
sense of shared fate and urgency that those who follow the
Arab public sphere could feel in February and March. I
supported the NATO intervention in Libya in large part
because of that powerful Arab popular demand and the likely
impact of the outcome in Libya across the region.
A significant portion of American and Western commentators
were quick to assume that Arabs would view the Libya
intervention through the lens of Iraq. I assumed that too,
at first. But the debate that I saw unfold in the actual
Arab public sphere was entirely different and forced me to
change my mind. While there were certainly Arab voices
warning of imperialism and oil seizures and Israeli
conspiracies, the overwhelming majority actively demanded
Western intervention to protect the Libyan people and their
revolution. The urgency of preventing the coming massacre
mattered more to them, and despite all the legacies of Iraq
they demanded that the United States and the international
community take on that responsibility.
Nobody would claim that the intervention went smoothly or
according to some master plan, but on the whole it has thus
far avoided most of the worst case scenarios and now has
the chance -- still only a chance -- for a positive
I hope that people do pause for at least a moment to
acknowledge all of these points before they leap from "it's
a quagmire" to "now comes the hard part." Nobody is under
any illusions that post-Qaddafi Libya will have an easy
path; I would say that the ratio of people warning against
declaring "mission accomplished" to those actually doing so
is extremely high if I could find a single one making the
latter case. The dictator's fall does not bring a
resolution to all of the problems. The NTC has major
challenges ahead of it, and the international community has
to do what it can to help Libya make the transition to a
democratic and tolerant regime. That help, by the way,
absolutely should not include any U.S. military presence --
no peacekeepers, transitional stability forces, or anything
Nicolas Pelham, "Libya, The Colonel's Yoke Lifted"
Middle East Research and Information Project, Sep. 7,2011
The sense of local ownership of the revolution is
important: No one has stripped the electricity cables from
pylons for their copper, as Iraqis did after the US invaded
their country and toppled Saddam Hussein. Libyans, who
before the uprising depended on an army of foreign labor,
farm their own allotments, run their own shops, sweep the
streets and volunteer as hospital nurses. Homeowners with
private wells open their doors to those with none. On their
own initiative, policemen in Fashloum, a working-class
district in the center of town, met in the mosque on the
first Friday after the colonel's flight and agreed to
reestablish a local force. By midday the following day, a
score of its hundred policemen had reported for duty.
Residents of housing estates who rarely spoke to each other
under Qaddafi have created neighborhood councils, merging
elders from the traditional conflict resolution mechanisms,
the lijan al-sulh (reconciliation committees), with the
underground leadership that planned the revolt, as well as
respected men from the mosque. Within a week, their
subcommittees were supplying better services than the
city's five-star hotels. The mosque in Hadaba's Haddad
quarter, a poor district of rural migrants, offered air
conditioning and so much water it spilled into the streets.
Ironically, in the colonel's absence, Tripolitanians
created the very social system he had taught but never
realized -- a jamahiriyya, a decentralized network of
grassroots, non-partisan people's committees.
Yet now that the mission of ousting the colonel is
accomplished, the composite forces that combined to unseat
him are starting to judder. The official narrative of a
synchronized three-pronged campaign, called Operation
Mermaid, in which locals launched their own intifada while
NATO bombed a path for rebel brigades sweeping down from
the mountains no longer sounds as smooth in the retelling.
Tensions are manifest in the competing accounts of how the
capital shook off its shackles. Both rebel fighters and
local mutineers agree that NATO took a back seat -- in the
face of evidence of an upswing in NATO bombardments -- but
that is about all.
Accounts by Revolt Planners
[Those who have followed the events of the last seven
months on Al Jazeera or even in the Western press have more
than enough detail of the fighting on different fronts.
These articles are exceptional in giving a glimpse of the
less visible aspects of strategic planning and clandestine
operations, particularly those involved in preparation of
the final rebel uprising and advance on Tripoli.]
Eileen Byrne, "Revolutionary Road - On the Nafusa Highway"
The Moor Next Door, Sep 9, 2011
Waheed Burshan had driven along the same highway the
previous day, heading for his family's hometown of Gharyan,
south of Tripoli.
Crossing over from Tunisia at Dehiba, he had looked like an
American soccer dad on a family outing, with supplies of
mineral water in the back of the car. He hadn't been back
to Gharyan -- liberated from pro-Qadhafi forces the previous
week -- for 16 years. And he hadn't been lived in Libya for
more than 30.
As a teenager he had been active in the students' union,
and with military service looming, his father packed him
off to Italy. There had been reprisals against the family --
travel restrictions and an uncle in prison -- and threats
against himself, but his activism continued through studies
in the US (telecom engineering), raising a family in
Chicago, and project management in the Qatari state sector.
Since April, he explained, he had been "project managing"
the rebel push from the Nafusa mountain area for the
Transitional National Council (TNC), working between
Benghazi and Tunis. Once the Americans and others had been
won over to the plan, senior Libyan military figures who
had defected to the TNC in Benghazi had to be persuaded to
let the grassroots take the initiative, in what was a
genuine popular uprising, he said.
"A lot of the youth here in the Nafusa are very, very
smart. They had no military experience, they're not very
rugged and some of them were not very strong," said
Burshan. "But they learn quick and adapt. And their heart
is in the right place. They really wanted to be do
something about this regime."
Something between 5,000 and 10,000 were trained in the
area, and "sometimes we inflated the numbers just to scare
the heck out of [the pro-Qadhafi loyalists]". Women and
children from the region's towns and villages were sent
over the border into Tunisia to let the men focus on their
With NATO, in the air, "taking out" the Grad missile
launchers and other armaments used by pro-Qadhafi forces,
and with weapons flown in from Benghazi to an airstrip
improvised on a widened section of the highway, the rebels
gradually found themselves on the offensive. The cost was
maybe some hundreds of deaths among their own ranks, more
on the pro-Qadhafi side, said Burshan. By May, "the TNC in
Benghazi was recognising the Nafusa as part of the new
He is not very polite about the old-school military in
Benghazi who felt they had "ownership" of the revolution:
they were out of touch with the thuwar (revoluntiony) way
of doing things and were best given offices, a salary, and
consigned to "an advisory role". Nor is he overly
respectful of the few British ex-commandos who arrived as
trainers. There were also a few Qatari instructors who
arrived along with sophisticated weaponry sent by their
government, he adds.
Nicolas Pelham, "Libya: How They Did It"
New York Review of Books, September 29, 2011
"Hatched in capitals across Europe and the Arab world, as
well as in rebel operation rooms secretly organized in
Libya itself, the military campaign took four months of
planning. In May, exiled opposition leaders abandoned their
jobs as lecturers in American colleges and established an
intelligence-gathering bureau on Djerba, the Tunisian
island across the border from Libya. Led by Abdel Majid
Biuk, an urbane mathematics teacher from Tampa, Florida,
the team interviewed four hundred Qaddafi security officers
who defected following the loyalist defeat in Misrata;
using Google Earth, they analyzed the colonel's defenses.
"We went through the whole city building by building to
ascertain its fortifications," Biuk told me on his arrival
He passed the data on to a military operations room
elsewhere on Djerba whose staff included representatives of
NATO and Gulf allies as well as Libyan army veterans who
had defected to the US and formed the National Front for
the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), an opposition group that led
a series of aborted coups in the 1980s and 1990s, before
branching into website campaigns. Under the eyes of
Tunisian customs officials, they smuggled satellite phones,
which are banned in Tunisia, in ambulances across the
border into Libya, and set about supplying the rebels.
Chevrons were daubed on a straight stretch of road at
Rahebat in the Nafusa Mountains, turning it into a landing
strip. Military supplies began arriving by the planeload,
including 23-caliber tank-piercing bullets.
Tunisia provided a conduit for fighters as well as arms.
With Qaddafi's continued control of the center of the
country blocking access over land, Benghazi volunteers took
a circuitous route, flying from Egypt to Tunis, before
crossing the border at the Tunisian town of Dehiba into the
Nafusa Mountains. By mid-August they had established five
brigades each with its own mountain training base, and
together formed a two-thousand-man battalion under Hisham
Buhajiar's command as well as that of Abdel Karim Bel Haj,
a Libyan veteran of the Afghan jihad. Trainers included
NFSL veterans. Younger Libyans raised in the US, including
the son of a Muslim Brotherhood activist from a US-based
company, provided close protection. As they prepared the
final stages of their assault, a host of Berber irregulars
drawn from towns across the mountains jumped on board.
Meanwhile, a collection of local traders, engineers,
students, and the jobless from Misrata, battle-hardened by
their seventy-day defense of their city, reassembled their
brigades and prepared to join the attack on Tripoli from
the east, by both road and sea.
Finally, the planners on Djerba divided Tripoli into
thirty-seven sectors, and appointed local security
coordinators to recruit, train, and arm local cells, using
Muslim Brotherhood leaders to bless an armed uprising. "Our
first slogan was 'no' to the militarization of the
intifada," says Ali al-Salabi, a Muslim Brotherhood
politician in exile who worked with the planners, and who
was among the first to arrive in Tripoli after Qaddafi's
inner sanctum fell. "But after protesters were gunned down,
we realized armed revolution was the only way."
Samia Nakhoul, "The Secret Plan to take Tripoli"
Reuters, Sep 6, 2011
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime was delivered by a
caterer, on a memory stick.
Abdel Majid Mlegta ran the companies that supplied meals to
Libyan government departments including the interior
ministry. The job was "easy," he told Reuters last week. "I
built good relations with officers. I wanted to serve my
But in the first few weeks of the uprising, he secretly
began to work for the rebels. He recruited sympathizers at
the nerve center of the Gaddafi government, pinpointed its
weak links and its command-and-control strength in Tripoli,
and passed that information onto the rebel leadership on a
series of flash memory cards.
The first was handed to him, he says, by Gaddafi military
intelligence and security officers. It contained
information about seven key operations rooms in the
capital, including internal security, the Gaddafi
revolutionary committees, the popular guards -- as
Gaddafi's voluntary armed militia was known -- and military
The data included names of the commanders of those units,
how many people worked in each center and how they worked,
as well as crucial details like the number plates of their
cars, and how each unit communicated with the central
command led by intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi and
Gaddafi's second son Saif al-Islam.
Planning began in April, two months into the uprising.
Rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril and three other senior
insurgents met in the Tunisian city of Djerba, according to
both Mlegta and another senior official from the National
Transitional Council (NTC), as the alternative rebel
government calls itself.
The three were Mlegta, who by then had fled Tripoli and
joined the rebels as the head of a brigade; Ahmed Mustafa
al-Majbary, who was head of logistics and supplies; and
Othman Abdel-Jalil, a scientist who became coordinator of
the Tripoli plan.
Before he fled, Mlegta had spent just under two months
working inside the regime, building up a network of
sympathizers. At first, 14 of Gaddafi's officers were
prepared to help. By the end there were 72, Mlegta says.
"We used to meet at my house and sometimes at the houses of
two other officers... We preserved the secrecy of our work
and it was in coordination with the NTC executive
Counting the Casualties
[The Qaddafi regime press spokesman Moussa Ibrahim was
particularly notorious for unverified claims of large
casualties from NATO air attacks. But all parties in the
conflict were inclined to exaggerated and unverified claims
for the number of casualties. In fact, no one really knows
the numbers killed by whom in these seven months. It is
likely that civilians killed by air attacks, although
certainly more than a few, were in fact far less those in
operations such as those in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The
documented cases by human rights groups to date (see links
below) make it clear that the largest number of systematic
killings of civilians were by pro-Qaddafi forces. But they
also show that those by rebels, including arbitrary
executions of prisoners and suspects (including sub-Saharan
African migrants targeted on the basis of stereotypes) were
and still are significant.
The articles in links below include both verified reports
and comments on the need for attention to verified reports
on casualties, both for the families of the victims and for
the future of Libya]
Rod Nordland, "Libya Counts Its Martyrs, But the Bodies
don't Add Up"
New York Times, Sep 17, 2011
Officially, according to Libya's new leaders, their martyrs
in the struggle against the government of Col. Muammar elQaddafi
should number 30,000 to 50,000, not even counting
their enemies who have fallen.
Yet in the country's morgues, the war dead registered from
both sides in each area so far are mostly in the hundreds,
not the thousands. And those who are still missing total as
few as 1,000, according to the International Committee of
the Red Cross. Those figures may be incomplete, but even if
the missing number proves to be three times as high, and
all are dead, the toll would be far short of official
Jonathan Steele, "After Libya, Let Us Learn to Count Every
Casualty of War"
Guardian, Sep 15, 2011
States who claim to fight to protect civilians must surely
agree to register the names and fates of all victims of
It is good if civil society in a particular country starts
to record and keep alive the fate of victims, but the main
duty must rest with governments. They are accustomed to
keeping lists of dead soldiers and erecting war memorials.
Do civilian victims deserve less?
More than any other recent western military intervention,
the Libyan campaign was explicitly based on the need to
protect civilians. While the true purpose was regime
change, the mission the UN security council approved cannot
be passed over now that change has been achieved. Many of
the civilians that Nato came to protect are dead, as are
hundreds of combatants, some killed in detention.
An Amnesty report on Libya published this week shows that
beside the atrocities committed by Gaddafi's forces, scores
of pro-Gaddafi supporters were rounded up and killed after
the fall of Tripoli. Dozens of sub-Saharan Africans were
wrongly accused by rebel forces of being mercenaries and
then detained, tortured or murdered.
Amnesty International, "The Battle for Libya: Killings,
Disappearances and Torture"
Sep 12, 2011
The 107-page report The Battle for Libya: Killings,
Disappearances and Torture reveals that while al-Gaddafi
forces committed widespread crimes under international law
during the conflict, forces loyal to the NTC have also
committed abuses that in some cases amounted to war crimes.
"The new authorities must make a complete break with the
abuses of the past four decades and set new standards by
putting human rights at the centre of their agenda" said
Claudio Cordone, Senior Director at Amnesty International.
"The onus now is on the NTC to do things differently, end
abuses and initiate the human rights reforms that are
"A top priority must be to assess the state of the justice
sector and start its reform, to ensure due process and
deliver access to justice and reparation for victims."
Amnesty International found evidence that during the
conflict al-Gaddafi forces committed war crimes and abuses
which may amount to crimes against humanity, including
indiscriminate attacks, mass killing of prisoners, torture,
enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests. In most
cases it was civilians who bore the brunt of these
But the organization also documented a brutal "settling of
scores" by some anti-Gaddafi forces when al-Gaddafi forces
were ejected from eastern Libya, including lynchings of alGaddafi
soldiers after capture.
Human Rights Watch, "Mass Grave Yields 34 Bodies"
Sep 14, 2011
Thirty-four bodies exhumed from a mass grave near the town
of al-Qawalish in western Libya seem to be those of men
detained by pro-Gaddafi forces in early June 2011, Human
Rights Watch said today.
The evidence strongly suggests the detainees were executed
at that time, before the pro-Gaddafi forces fled from the
area, in the Nafusa mountains. The bodies of another three
who seem to have been executed by the same perpetrators
have also been discovered nearby. Witnesses told Human
Rights Watch the victims hadbeen detained from or near
their homes or at a major checkpoint in the area, and
included at least nine men aged over 60, including an 89year
-old man. The majority were from the nearby town of alQal'
"The mass grave at al-Qawalish contains further evidence
strongly suggesting that Gaddafi loyalists carried out mass
executions of detainees as they struggled to suppress the
uprising," said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at
Human Rights Watch.
"New Report on War Crimes in Libya Details Use of Civilians
as Human Shields and Other Violations"
Physicians for Human Rights, August 30, 2011
The report, Witness to War Crimes, sheds light on Qaddafi's
brutal two-month siege of Misrata, whose residents
reportedly suffered some of the most egregious abuses of
the civil war. Witness to War Crimes includes reports of
civilians being used as human shields to guard military
munitions from NATO attacks and documentary evidence of
torture and the disappearances of elderly civilians.
"The evidence of war crimes that we documented is not only
for the historical record, but it is essential for securing
justice and accountability for all Libyans. For its future
government to succeed, Libya must confront the legacy of
severe human rights violations committed by Qaddafi's
tyrannical regime and the reports of human rights
violations committed by rebel forces and NATO."
Migrants in Libya, Xenophobia, and Migration Policy
[This is a topic that AfricaFocus has covered in previous
Bulletins, in 2006 and 2010 as well as this year (see
http://www.africafocus.org/country/libya.php, as well as on
the AfricaFocus Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/AfricaFocus/101867576407).
Although coverage of this issues has been sporadic in the
media, this is also one of the key issues on which the new
Libyan rulers will be judged not only by African but also
by world opinion. Nevertheless, systematic information
rather than isolated reports is still lacking. No one in
fact knows how many migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were
in the Qaddafi security forces, how many of them were
naturalized Libyans, how many forcibly recruited this year,
and how many may actually have been trained mercenaries
similar to the Serbians and Croatians whose presence has
also been documented. What is certain is that the vast
majority of sub-Saharan Africans in Libya were simply
migrant workers, and that xenophobia against them was
already a structural feature of Libyan society and
government under the Qaddafi regime.]
Human Rights Watch, "Stop Arbitrary Arrests of Black
Sep 4, 2011
The de facto authorities in Tripoli, the National
Transitional Council (NTC), should stop the arbitrary
arrests and abuse of African migrant workers and black
Libyans assumed to be mercenaries, Human Rights Watch said
today. They should release those detained as mercenaries
solely due to their dark skin color, Human Rights Watch
said, and provide prompt judicial review to any for whom
there is evidence of criminal activity.
Both the NTC and those who are supporting it need to
prioritize setting up a justice system capable of providing
such review of detainees as quickly as possible.
The NTC should also implement its stated commitment to
human rights by ensuring the security of tens of thousands
of migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa, who face
harassment and violence from both armed rebel fighters and
Libyan citizens who accuse them of having fought as
mercenaries for Gaddafi, Human Rights Watch said.
Martin Chulov and David Smith, "Gaddafi's Army of
Mercenaries Face Backlast"
Guardian, Sep 2, 2011
Many black Africans have been arrested and accused of
fighting for dictator, but claim they were press-ganged.
Hundreds of thousands of Africans fled Libya to their home
countries, mainly Chad, Mali, Niger, Sudan and Somalia in
the early days of the revolution in late-February and
Yet there is evidence that as they left, small numbers of
men from the same countries were travelling in the other
direction. Late last week at Abu Selim hospital, Dr Sami, a
trauma surgeon, walked the Guardian around the grounds.
Sami took us to a hut near the hospital entrance, where
cleaners had kept a memento -- a wallet-sized card issued to
a man from Chad. On one side it said in Arabic and English:
"Carry this with you at all times and you will be safe." On
the other side it said: "I am here to protect the king of
Sami said: "This is what was given to the mercenaries.
There were dozens like this. We had many, many of them in
this hospital in the past few days. Most couldn't speak
Arabic, or English. They would just point at their
injuries. They didn't want to be admitted even if they were
in agonising pain. Most of the bodies we had here were
black Africans. And most of them were not claimed by
[These accounts have] been supported by interviews with
many other officials over the past week who suggest an
unknown number of non-military men took up arms to support
Gaddafi in the dying days of his regime. Some were
compelled to do so. Others apparently volunteered.
In a police station in Tripoli, where 34 alleged soldiers
of fortune are being held, Abdalla Beid, 31, from Niger,
said he had been living in Libya for seven years and
working as a cleaner. He claimed he was recently deceived
into joining Gaddafi's army with the promise of a job as a
security guard for 400 dinars a month.
"A Libyan man came to Sabha and said there is a job in
Tripoli providing security for a house but he needs five
people," he said. "He took us to Tripoli and put us in a
house. Then he said, 'This job is not a security job. Now
we are fighting for Libya. We need people to fight the
"He tried to give us guns. He tried to force us to do the
job. He said, 'I brought you here to do this job and you
have to do it, whether you like the job or not.' I tried to
refuse. He said, 'If you refuse, I will kill you.' One man,
who was from Chad, agreed to fight but the rest of us
refused. He locked us in a room for six days. Then he drove
us outside and, on the same day, I was caught."
Mohammed Abbas, "African Workers Live in Fear after Qaddafi
Reuters, Aug 31, 2011
Tens of thousands of foreign workers have fled Libya since
the armed revolt against Gaddafi's 42-year-rule began in
February, with Africans afraid they have become targets for
fighters who accuse them of being mercenaries for Gaddafi.
This antipathy appears to have spread to all Africans,
leaving them vulnerable to attacks, robbery and other abuse
by the gun-toting, mostly young, fighters who ousted
Identity cards of nationals from Chad, Niger, Mali, Sudan
and other African states have been found on the bodies of
gunmen who anti-Gaddafi fighters say were paid to confront
Reporters saw the bodies of 22 men of apparent African
origin at a Tripoli beach Saturday, people who locals said
were mercenaries killed by anti-Gaddafi fighters.
Polly Pallister-Wilkins, "Criticism of EU-Libya Migration
Policy is Too Little, Too Late"
Open Democracy, Aug 29, 2011
An EU-Libya framework agreement signed in 2010 is only the
tip of the iceberg of shameful EU extraterritorialised
migration-management, argues Polly Pallister-Wilkins
The agreement reached between the EU and Libya in October
2010 is nothing new within the history of EU-North African
collaboration over issues of migration. The use of Libya is
part of the extraterritoriality of EU migration-management
that has been established over the last decade. Libyan
detention centres are used for the incarceration,
processing and removal of third country nationals, while
its security forces are used for patrolling the
Mediterranean for migrant boats.
All of these policies have been undertaken with the full
knowledge of the European Commission and funded through
financial assistance packages from the EU and individual
member states. Thus, the Commissioner should answer
questions on the accountability and transparency of the
Commission's foreign relations, as the EU is predicated on
the ideas and practice of good governance. We as citizens
have a right to know how, with whom and for what the EU is
spending our money. And yet for all of this, why are these
concerns being raised now?
This concern over transparency and accountability in the
policies of migration-management in Libya seems to be a
reaction to the presence of Libya in the media and the
final collapse of the Gaddafi regime. If we really cared
these questions should have been asked years ago when the
EU first began bilateral relations in 2004, after Gaddafi's
miraculous reinvention as a partner for peace. As it stands
the EU has been spending money in Libya since 2004 with no
transparency or accountability.
This money, as seen above, has been used principally for
policies and practices that fall under the umbrella of
security, including the prevention of terrorism, organised
crime and migration-management. Meaning Libya has been
effectively drafted in as the EU's policeman to carry out
its security work in the southern Mediterranean in return
for financial reward. A situation that has been exploited
by Libya and the Gaddafi regime, time and time again, with
Gaddafi playing the EU and individual member states such as
Italy off against each other for increased financial gain.
In 2008 Libya and Italy signed a "Friendship Pact"
ostensibly built around the idea that Libya would become
Italy's bouncer in the southern-Mediterranean, keeping out
migrants and 'dealing' with organised crime. All in
exchange for $5 billion (to be spent over 25 years) and an
apology from Silvio Berlusconi for Italy's colonial past.
How Libya deals with organised crime, terrorism and
migration-management -- something that 'greatly troubled'
Commissioner Malmstrom -- is best kept in Libya and out of
sight of European liberals, human rights groups and NGOs.
Thus, transparency and accountability is really not what
the EU wants because its fancy liberal rhetoric concerning
human rights, democracy and good governance would be shown
up for the shell that it is. A shell containing cold, hard
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