Jamal Adel, in a report in the Libya Herald dated 7th February 2014 writes; ‘A meeting at a Tripoli hotel of elders and tribal leaders from across the country descended into chaos yesterday when remarks by one of them provoked a backlash forcing the delegates to quit for an early lunch.
While the members had gathered in Tripoli to discuss the possibility of a more prominent national role, the meeting was disrupted by raucous heckling when a delegate from the Al-Awageer tribe, the largest tribe in Benghazi, accused his colleagues of various inadequacies.
The attack elicited a strong sense of dissatisfaction among most members and tempers flared to the point that lunch had to be called early. By the time talks resumed at 4:00 it was too late to make any formal decisions.
Beforehand, the head of Tripoli Local Council, Sadat Elbadri, had made opening statements greeting delegates, followed by an announcement of the meeting’s support for the army and police.
The delegate for the south, Abdisslam Ali Khalifa also expressed, at length and without reserve, his gratitude to Zintani and Misratan revolutionaries for restoring peace to Sebha after recent tribal violence.’
It might be interesting to use this excellent report to look briefly at the influence tribes exert in the struggle for power in post Gaddafi Libya. Before embarking on a discussion of the points raised I offer this as a working hypothesis. ‘Whilst 80% or more Libyans now live in towns and cites the influence of its historic Arab tribes is still significant but tends to be divisive.’ Secondly I suggest that the security of Libya and her near neighbours is threatened by the minority rights issues raised by indigenous Tebu, Tuareg and Berber people. Thirdly I argue that the Eastern (Cyrenaican) cites of Benghazi and Derna are the intellectual centres of militant religiosity supported by forces outside Libya and fourthly I would note that Southern Libya, long known as the Fezzan, is now perilously out of control. The consequence of this is that the trans-Saharan routes through the Libyan oasis staging posts and hubs, such as Sebha and Kufra, attract illegal trade in arms, drugs and people. The battle for control of Sebha and Kufra and the illegal trade they attract is largely between the Tebu people and Arab tribes – the Sway in Kufra and the Awlad Suleiman and its allies in Sebha.
The aristocratic Arab tribes of Libya are perceived to have descended from the Beni Hillal and Beni Sulaim, two tribes from the Nejd, now part of Saudi Arabia, which migrated through Egypt into Libya in the 11th Century. Anyone who can successfully claim descent from them is a nobleman or Hurr by birth. These pure Arab Bedouin tribes displaced the indigenous Berbers and settled mainly, though not solely, in Eastern Libya and founded the nine Saadi tribes one of which is the Awaqir. They pressed onwards and some of their descendants can be found in Sothern Libya. The Awlad Sulieman is one such tribe which has its homeland (wattan) in the Fezzan (Southern Libya) and in neighbouring Chad.
BENGHAZI – TRIBES AND JIHADISTS
The delegate from the Awaqir tribe mentioned in Jamal Adel’s report appears to have torpedoed the conference of tribal leaders and elders by expressing his frustration at considerable length. I and my family owe a great deal to one of the leading families of the Awaqir and I can empathise with the delegate’s anger whilst feeling somewhat embarrassed by his efforts. The Awaqir tribe is one of the nine aristocratic Saadi tribes which were influential during the reign of King Idris but stripped of their power by Gaddafi. It holds extensive lands to the south and west of Benghazi. It is a complex and multiethnic tribe, some braches of which were semi nomadic pastoralists and some more sedentary.
When the oil boom began in the 1950s Awaqir tribe members migrated from their homelands into Benghazi to find employment, living at first in makeshift huts on the outskirts. As employment increased the rough huts were improved with corrugated iron and Benghazi’s ‘Tin Towns’ came onto being. Gradually the tin huts were replaced by permanent buildings but tribal and sub-tribal ties were maintained in the new neighbourhoods of Gaddafi’s Benghazi, a city he disliked intensely.
This movement from the traditionally tribal hinterland into the burgeoning cites accelerated as Libya developed a society which derived most of its wealth from oil. Nowadays at least 80% of the population lives in the coastal cities supplied with abundant water from the fossil aquifers below the Libyan Desert and the Sahara via the Great Man Made River.
Benghazi presents us with an interesting case study. The fall of Gaddafi has been followed by a severe breakdown in security in Benghazi and by the rise therein of Jihadist and Salafist militias. Benghazi and Derna, the coastal city to its north east, are said to be the intellectual centres of the fiercely religious Islamist factions with Al Qaeda contacts and deriving much of their support from external sources. It is said that these two cities draw aspiring jihadists from Libya’s neighbours for indoctrination and motivation. It is this militant religiosity, long suppressed by Gaddafi, which is now one of the major wrecking factors in Libya today. Killings and abductions are now commonplace in the Benghazi. It will be recalled that a US ambassador was killed there and the culprits appear to remain above the law. In the present climate of discord in Benghazi no judge would hazard his life to preside over the trail of the ambassador’s killers
No doubt the raucous Awaqir leader described by Jamal Adel was voicing his frustration with the central government which has, so far, been unable to restore order and the rule of law. He may have also harboured some anger because the Awaqir has not been included in the higher reaches of the post Gaddafi government despite intensive lobbying.
MISRATA AND ZINTAN – TWO POWERFUL TRIBES AND THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER IN LIBYA.
From Jamal Adel’s piece above we read of Abdisslam Ali Khalifa’s profuse thanks to the revolutionaries (Thuwars) of Zintan and Misrata. This highlights the fact that tribal and clan allegiances are very strong in both cities. Firstly the cities and tribes bear the same name and have developed formidable armed forces which are largely independent of the state. In Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, fierce independence, a mercantile and martial spirit and civic cohesion have long been characteristic. The battle between Gaddafi’s forces and the rebels in Misrata was brutal. The battle hardened Misratan revolutionary militias are relatively well organised and disciplined. They have recently been called into Tripoli to forestall a coup and have been involved in the taming the powerful Warfella tribe, their traditional enemy to the south, which was said to harbour Gaddafi loyalists – and may still do so. The Misratan militias are said to favour the Moslem Brotherhood’s somewhat theocratic Justice and Construction Party in the current Libyan General National Congress (GNC).
The city of Zintan has a long tribal tradition. There are, in fact, two tribes in Zintan, one of which is Arab and the other Berber. Long practice of cooperation in the ‘Shura’ (the council of tribal elders) has assured strong local government and strengthened the Zintani’s. They have acquired large quantities of Gaddafi’s abandoned arms and developed considerable military clout. Gaddafi’s second son, Saif al Islam Gaddafi, remains in prison in Zintan awaiting trial, officially until the rule of law and the judiciary are restored in Libya, but more likely as a ‘hostage of influence’. The Zintani’s also maintain a strong military presence in Tripoli in order to safeguard their influence over the shaky coalition currently struggling to govern Libya. Whilst stable local government exists in Zintan there have been armed clashes with the neighbouring Mashasha tribe over a land rights dispute which has its origins in Gaddafi’s arbitrary redistribution of tribal land. The Zintani militias are said to favour Mahmoud Jibril al Warfelli’s more pragmatic National Forces Alliance in the GNC.
SABHA – TRIBAL AND RACIAL DISCORD
The modern town of Sebha has developed from the three oasis settlements of Jedid, Quatar and Hejer and now houses a population of around 200,000. It is the seat of the Saif al Nasr family, the most prominent and revered leaders of the Awlad Sulieman tribe and its historic allies and clients. The Saif al Nasr family gained heroic status in its wars with their Ottoman Turk overlords in the early 19th century and with the Italian colonists in the early 20th Century.
Gaddafi’s father migrated from Sirte to Sebha to take menial employment with the Saif al Nasr family, something which his son was said to resent. Gaddafi attended secondary school in Sebha and staged his first anti government demonstration as a school boy in the city. He also held a demonstration in the lobby of a hotel owned by the Saif al Nasr family, thus ensuring his expulsion from school. The relationship between Sebha and Gaddafi was ambiguous!
The Saif al Nasr family and the Awlad Suleiman tribe they led were the dominate force in Sebha and in much of the Fezzan throughout the Ottoman Turkish regency (1551 – 1911), the Italian colonial period (1911 – 1943), the short period (1943 – 1951) of French military government after WWII and the Kingdom of Libya (1951 -1969). During the forty or so years of the Gaddafi era the dominance in the Fezzan of the Awlad Suleiman was reversed in favour of his own tribe, the Gaddadfa and that of his closest supporters, the Maqarha tribe. This process has been dubbed ‘tribal inversion’ by Jason Pack and his colleges writing in their book ‘The 2011 Libyan Uprisings and the Struggle for the Post-Qadhafi Future’. This book is essential reading but somewhat expensive.
Apart from a number of so called al Ahali, the name given to long time town dwellers, Sebha offers a home to people from other tribes such as the Gaddadfa, Muammar Gaddafi’s tribe, which is based near Sirte but ranges south towards Sebha. There are also colonies of the Maqarha from the Wadi Sahti to the north, the Awlad Abu Seif and the Hasawna tribe who, in the past, were the true nomads of the south and allies of the Awlad Suleiman.
There is one district of Sebha which has been a source of discord for some time. It is the Tauri district which is colonised by some Tuareg and many Tebu. The Tebu people are part of a wider ethnic group called the Teda, desert warriors living in the eastern and central Sahara and, effectively, a black people without nationality. The majority of them can be found in the Tibesti Mountains on the Libyan-Chad border. Their harsh environment, extreme poverty, and remote location make them a very tough people. They have often clashed with the neighboring tribes and with the Tuareg and, like the gypsies in Great Britain, are despised by the dominant communities who see them as petty thieves and liars.
Traditionally, the Teda controlled the caravan trade routes that passed through their territory. They were widely known in the past for plundering and salve trading. Their language is Tebu and their basic social unit is the nuclear family, organized into clans. They live by a combination of pastoralism, farming, subsistence smuggling and date cultivation.
Since the fall of Gaddafi, Tebu militias have come to dominate the South and Libya’s borders with Chad and Niger. They are perceived by the majority of the inhabitants of Sebha to be non Libyans trying to control the city. In particular they now dominate the majority of the trade (legal and illicit) routes between Sebha and the Chad basin. Thus they have a firm grip on the regional arms and drug trade and on people trafficking. The Awlad Suleiman tribesman may still have their own trade routes in this area but perceive the Tebu to be a foreign and ethnically inferior threat to their historic dominance of the region.
There is a great deal of racism in Libya where the white Arab majority dispise black Africans. This may well stem from the trans-Saharan slave trading era which was still active in Benghazi until 1911. There are now thousands of black Africans incarcerated in Libya’s prisons and brutal reprisals were taken by some rebel militia against black Africans who may or may not have been Gaddafi’s mercenaries during the 2011 rebellion.
The Tebu make common cause with the Tuareg and the Berbers of the Jebel Nefusa in efforts to have their rights enshrined in the new Libya constitution currently under consideration.
The Libya Herald report quoted above tells us that Zintani and Misratan Militias were largely responsible for restoring a fragile peace in the Sothern city of Sebha. This from the Libya Herald datelined Tripoli, 12 January 2014 gives us some insight into events there;
‘Fighting eased today in Sebha, but not sufficiently for a newly-arrived team of mediators to begin the process of defusing the conflict between Tebu tribesmen and members of the Awlad Sulieman clan.
According to Ayoub Alzaroug of Sebha local council, 21 people have now died and 45 have been wounded, some of them seriously, in four days of fighting. Alzaroug told the Libya Herald that today the situation was “relatively calm” compared with the past three days.
According to one local resident, Tebu fighters now control some strategic areas within the city and around the airport, as well as occupying several compounds used by the Awlad Sulieman clan .
Members of the Western region mediation committee, which includes representative from Tripoli, Misrata, Zintan and the Jebel Nafusa reached the city this morning, but could not begin their work because of concerns for their safety.’
This and other reports make it clear that the mediators were called in by Ali Zeidan, the Libyan prime minister, to settle a bitter and lethal series of inter-tribal and inter-racial skirmishes which have left many dead and wounded in Sebha. The armed clashes had become so intense that Gaddafist forces drawn, I believe, from the Gaddadfa and Maqarha tribes, took the opportunity to take control of an important air base close to Sebha and spark off Gaddafist hopes of a restoration of the dread regime under the leadership of Gaddafi’s playboy son Al Saadi Gaddafi who, as I write, has arrived in Tripoli having been extradited from Niger.
GADDAFIST ‘ALGAE’ MAKE A FLEETING APPERNCE
The Gaddafist hopes were raised further by a sympathetic uprising of factions of the Warsifana tribe in the immediate neighbourhood of Tripoli. The uprising was quelled by militias who, with typical Libyan irony, refer to the Warsifana tribe as ‘algae’ because of their long allegiance to Gaddafi and his Green Flag.
The Small Arms Survey ‘Dispatch No 3’ dated February tells us of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s support from the tribes of Sothern Libya. Unless the Libya government is able to project civil and military power into the region very soon it will face losing control completely. A key paragraph is quoted here:
‘The Qaddafi era’s legacies weigh heavily on southern Libya, which had been the regime’s main stronghold along with Sirte, Bani Walid, and Tarhuna. The communities in the region were among the main recruitment bases for the regime’s security battalions and intelligence services. Key units were based on particular tribal constituencies:
• The Maghawir Brigade, based in Ubari, was made up exclusively of recruits from Tuareg tribes of Malian and Nigerien origin.
• The Tariq bin Ziyad Brigade, also based in Ubari, was dominated by Qadhadhfa and Awlad Suleiman.
• The Faris Brigade, based in Sabha, was recruited from Qadhadhfa, Warfalla, Awlad Suleiman, and Tubu.
• The Sahban Brigade, based in Gharyan, was led by Maqarha.’
The many facets of this series of armed disputes are not easy to resolve unless we understand that the tribes which were dominant in Libya during the reign of King Idris (1951 – 1969) were superseded by Gaddafi’s own tribe, the Gaddadfa, which was considered to by many to be Marabtin, that is a client tribe and thus inferior. Some call the Gaddadfa an Arabized Berber tribe but I suspect that it may have originated as a faction which broke off from the greater Warfella tribe at some time in the distant past. In any event it is clear that the Awlad Suleiman are attempting to reassert their historic dominance though the suspicion lingers that they are also vying for control of the lucrative illegal trade routes with the Tebu.
TRIPOLI AND THE FALL OF ALI ZEIDAN
We might legitimately ask why Prime Minister Ali Zeidan called upon Zintani and Misratan forces to intervene in this dispute rather than the National Army. There may be two answers to the question. The first is disconcertingly significant. The army Chief of Staff Jadallah Al-Obaidi refuses to take orders from Ali Zeidan. He may also feel that the still ‘embryonic’ National Army is not yet capable of deploying sufficient force 476 road miles to the south and lacks the training to intervene in civil disputes.There are disturbing signs today (10th March 2014) of a rift between the Chief of Staff and the government. Second, the General National Congress has today sacked Ali Zeidan from his post as Prime Minster and replaced him temporarily with Defence Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, whose reputation for dealing with the troubles in the South is encouraging. We will see.
11th March 2014
‘Speaking in Brussels, Michael Mann, the spokesman for EU High Representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, said on Friday that the EU was concerned about the use of force by armed groups against [Libyan] state institutions, including the illegal seizure of energy facilities. He said that the EU had noted the declaration of a Cyrenaican government. It hoped that these issues could be resolved peacefully.’ (Libya Herald Tripoli 12 January 2014)
As I write these words (11th January 2014) Libya’s oil production is rising for the first time in 10 months. The oil fields in the vicinity of Obari in south west Libya are now reported to be on stream again and feeding crude oil to the Zawiya refinery and oil terminal 50 kilometres west of Tripoli.
The Obari/al-Sharara oil fields have been closed for since 28th October 2013 by more than 1,500 protesters. It has been difficult at this distance to work out what was their main grievance but it seems likely that the old, and unelected, Obari local council had refused to give way to allow a properly elected body to take over. I also believe the old council may have retained its allegiance to Gaddafi for too long. There has been an additional problem. Obari is a Tuareg town and there are about 14,000 Kel Ajjer Tuareg families who live there with no Libyan ID numbers and thus with no access to state benefits. The Kel Ajjer Tuaregs believe themselves to be the genuine inhabitants of the district and complain of racial discrimination. Some of them appear to have added their weight to the protest and helped to shut down the oil fields in the hope of redressing this anomaly.
The problem of ‘federalism’ is growing in Libya’s remote South West. This was the old province of The Fezzan, one of the three historic Libyan provinces, which existed until the government of King Idris passed the constitutional amendment of 1963 abolishing the federal system in favour of a unified government. Dissatisfaction with the post Gaddafi government resulted in the appearance in September 2013 of a putative National Council of the Fezzan chaired by one Aboazom Al Lafi.
The blockade of oil facilities is more acute, and still continues, in the old province of Cyrenaica, known now as Eastern Libya. It is here that three major oil terminals have been paralysed by the very persons employed to guard them. This strange but disconcerting business is summed up in the words of Libya’s prime minster, Dr. Zeidan, when in December 2013 he stated; ‘We are producing oil at perhaps a fifth of our capacity and are carrying out some limited exporting operations. The issue is that the guards [the Petroleum Facilities Guard] who were assigned to protect the oil facilities betrayed their homeland and seized control of the facilities.’
Dr. Zeidan is here referring to the increasingly powerful figure, Ibrahim Jedhran, sometime eastern commander of Petroleum Facilities Guard. Jedhran has become the leader of the self-styled Political Bureau of Cyrenaica base in Ajdabia. He has assembled and sworn in a cabinet of 24 members and threatened to recruit and train a Cyrenaican Defence Force, similar to that which maintained King Idris in power during the 1950’s I presume.
For those readers coming anew to this story it should be said that the Petroleum Facilities Guard is recruited from armed militias or Thuwars initially formed to fight the Gaddafi regime and so far not yet disbanded. They are not regular soldiers or policemen and they owe their loyalty to their leader not, as do regular police or soldiers, to the state. That is why Dr. Zeidan calls them militiamen.
To further his aims Jedhran and his people have gained control of the three oil terminals in the Gulf of Sirte (aka Gulf of Sidra), namely Al-Sidra, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina and formed his own company, the Libyan Oil and Gas Corporation. In a recent TV address he said that this new organisation would have a temporary home in Tobruk, before moving to Benghazi at a later date.
To counter this, the Libyan government has declared force majeure and stated that it will use force to stop any ship intending to trade with Jedhran’s company. On Monday 6th January 2014 the Libya navy fired on a Maltese flagged vessel presumed to be on its way to take on crude oil from one of the ports under Jedhran’s control. The vessel escaped but the use of force by Dr. Zeidan’s government marked a step change in his policy of persuasion and negotiation and may mark the beginning of the end to the oil port blockades.
This by Ahmed Elumami which appeared in the Libya Herald on 24th October 2013 is worth reading in this context:
‘Federalists announced a government for Cyrenaica today. Consisting of a prime minister, deputy prime minister and 24 other ministers, it is viewed as largely the creation of Ibrahim Jadhran, the former Petroleum Facilities Guard commander who is leading the eastern oil terminals blockade and who was elected as head of the self-proclaimed Cyrenaica Council’s Political Bureau on 17 August.
It was Jedhran who named Abdraba Abdulhameed Al-Barasi to be Cyrenaica’s “prime minister” three weeks ago and who today said that the announcement of the government was two days late but that “we fulfilled our promise of a new regional government”.
Barasi [who was a Libyan Air Force officer] said that the reason for the move was because the central authorities “have failed and have shown incompetence and corruption”. They were not to be trusted anymore, he said. Also, Cyrenaica had suffered systematic negligence. His “government”, he declared, took its legitimacy and legal status from the 1951 Kingdom of Libya constitution ¬(which, in fact was amended in 1963, and the three-state federal makeup was replaced by a United Kingdom of Libya with 10 regions.’
So far Dr. Zeidan’s government has been unable to exploit the possible discord between the two powerful figures in the federalist movement in East Libya, Ibrahim al Jedhran and Libya’s oldest political prisoner and a cousin of the former King Idris, Ahmed al Zubair al Senussi, who are divided over the vision for the future of the federalist movement. Mr Senussi was the figure-head of the ‘Barqa Conference’, a largely tribal gathering, which met on 6th March 2012 and declared regional autonomy for Cyrenaica. The initiative failed but al-Senussi has reportedly condemned the recourse to arms by Jedhran. There does not seem to be much unanimity amongst federalists.
There Marsa Hariga oil terminal in Tobruk, near the Egyptian border in Eastern Libya, has also been blockaded for some time and there are signs that it may be reopening very soon. I suspect that the notables of Tobruk are less enamoured of Jedhran and his cronies and are likely to take their own line in this dispute. There does not appear to be a single focus of discontent in Tobruk.
The historical background to the ‘federalist’ movement may not be readily available Libya so I have taken the liberty of offering the following notes as a quick guide. They are taken from those I made when writing my book ‘Libya’ published in 2011 by the History press in UK.
BACKGOUND NOTES ON THE FEDRALIST MOVEMENT IN POST GADDAFI LIBYA
Libya is rich in the ruins of ancient Roman and Greek cities. In the south there are signs of an ancient African civilisation which the Romans called the Garamantes.
Even when these civilizations were at the height of their powers they were mostly separated by geographical barriers. The west was Roman, the east was Greek and the south African. The three Libyan provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and the Fezzan, which arose amongst the remains of these civilisations, were influenced by their ancient predecessors.
In 643 the Muslim general Amir ibn el ‘As invaded Cyrenaica and soon afterwards, Tripolitania. Uqba bin Nafi moved towards Fezzan in 663AD and took Germa. Afterwards, Libya was no longer part of the Dar al Harb – the House of War – but part of the Islamic world, the Dar al Islam.
After 1050 AD two true Arab Bedouin tribes from the Nejd migrated belligerently into Libya and largely pushed the Berber inhabitants into the Jebel Nefusa. They were the Beni Sulaim and the Beni Hilal. Their descendants followed their customs and way of life in Libya until recently and they still exert great influence.
The descendants of the Beni Sulaim are still spread over a large area in Egypt and Tunisia. There are two tribes which claim descent from them in Tripolitania. However, those occupying modern Cyrenaica founded nine famous aristocratic Bedouin tribes. These nine, the so called Sa’adi tribes, are divided into two branches, the Jibarna and the Harabi.
The Jibarna tribes are the ‘Awaquir, the Magharba, the Abid and the Arafa. The Harabi are the Abaidat, the Hasa, the Fayid, the Bara’asa and the Darsa. These nine tribes have pushed out a number of other Beni Sulaim, such as the Aulad Ali, who now occupy much of the Western Desert of Egypt.
The Sa’adi tribe were favoured by King Idris between 1951 and 1969 when Gaddafi’s coup thrust his own tribe, the Gaddadafa and the neighbouring tribes, the Magarha and the Warfella into predominance. The loss of power has been a festering source of discontent amongst the Sa’adi tribes. As John Wright pointed out in a kindly review of my book some time ago the Sa’adi tribes look down on the Gaddadfa as an Arabised Berber tribe.
By the end of the sixteenth century much of the Islamic world was under Ottoman Turkish domination. Tripoli fell to the corsair Dragut in 1551 and remained in Turkish hands, along with the rest of Libya, until 1911. Tripoli has always tended to be a city state and though its influence, and sometimes rule, extended to other coastal towns, it was rarely able to dominate the interior.
The Italians colonised Libya from 1911 to 23rd January 1943 when the British General Bernard Montgomery, at the head of the victorious 8th Army, entered the undefended city of Tripoli. For the Libyans this day marked the beginning of the end of a foreign occupation of notable brutality.
Despite losing the war, the Italians remained the lawful colonial power in Libya. At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, Britain, the USA and the USSR decided that the Italian colonies captured during the war would not be returned to her. What to do with Libya became a problem which was not solved until independence in 1951.
As the Great Powers wrangled about what to do, the cold war began to dictate the outcome. To Britain, France and Italy, countries with an early interest in Libya, were now added the USA and USSR. Unanimity was difficult to achieve between them. The Libyan people of the three provinces were of different minds about their aims. In the end they settled for a compromise because the alternatives on offer were undesirable. This meant that there was no sense of national identity in the newly independent Libya to catch the imagination of the people and drive them forward.
The compromise was this. Libya was to be a federal, constitutional, hereditary monarchy. The sometime Amir of Cyrenaica, El Sayyid Muhammad Idris bin Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi, was chosen as King. There was to be a bi-cameral parliament. The House of Representatives was to be wholly elected, one deputy for every 20,000 male inhabitants, and the upper house, the Senate, was to be partially elected and partially appointed by the King. However, both parliament and the King could initiate legislation.
Parliament was to supply and appoint federal government ministers, who were to be responsible for foreign affairs and defence. The King was empowered to dismiss them. As a compromise, reached after fierce arguments, there were to be two capitals, Tripoli and Benghazi.
The three provinces were each to be governed by a Wali (governor) appointed by the King and answerable to an elected Legislative Council based in their respective capitals, Tripoli, Benghazi and Sebha. In each province there was also to be an Executive Council, appointed by the King on the advice of the Walis.
This arrangement led to a proliferation of bureaucracy and to endless disputes between provincial governments. The federal government was also hamstrung. It was forced to work from two capitals and with three provincial governments widely separated by geography and temperament and bedevilled by intermittent telephone services. There were no telephone services at all with the towns in the Fezzan. The two capitals were more than five hundred miles apart – a long way even in a powerful motor car as I was to find out for myself.
On 12th April 1959 Esso made a major strike in the Zelten field, a hundred miles or so south of the coast of the Gulf of Sirte. The company built a pipeline through the desert and a big oil port at Marsa Brega. In the autumn of 1961 the company started pumping good oil into the Esso Canterbury, the first of their large oil tankers to load in Libya. Others were queuing up behind her in the Gulf of Sirte. There was a huge quantity of oil under the desert. The oil terminal at Es Sidra was opened in 1962 and at Ras Lanuf in 1964.
King Idris had been under pressure for a long time to ditch the federal system in favour of a unitary government. The advent of oil made it impetrative but difficult to achieve in practice. Most of the oil was found in Cyrenaica and this evened up the balance of power between the provinces. The King was finally persuaded that the government, under pressure to spend the oil revenues effectively would work better if Libya abandoned the federal system. Consequently a constitutional amendment of 1963 abolished the federal formula and brought in a unified state apparatus. The power of the national government was enhanced and the provincial legislative assemblies, bureaucracies and judicial systems were disbanded.
On 1st September 1969 Gaddafi seized power in Libya. He was soon to abolish the old provincial names. Cyrenaica became East Libya, Tripolitania West Libya and the Fezzan South Libya.
For more than 40 years Gaddafi’s neglect of Benghazi in particular and East Libya as a whole was almost vindictive. That is one of the main reasons why Benghazi was the cradle of the revolution in February 2011. There are other reasons of course such as his withdrawal of patronage from the Sa’adi tribes in favour of his own Gaddadfa and its allies and also the rise of militant Islam which still is still a debilitating factor in Benghazi and Derna.
It is also significant that the old province of Cyrenaica largely aligned itself with the anti Gaddafi forces in February 2011 and was mostly untouched by the vicious fighting which devastated the towns around the Gulf of Sirte.
The weakness of the transitional government in Tripoli has led to frustration in the old provinces and the rise of federalism which has gained some tribal support.
CAN THE GOVERNMENT OF ALI ZEIDAN ASSERT CONTROL OVER THE AL SIDRA, RAS LANUF AND ZUEITINA OIL TERMINALS?
Al Zeidan has very few options open him at the moment. He is hamstrung by the constant threat of a vote of no confidence in the General National Assembly which has not yet materialised but rumbles on like indigestion.
The Libyan Army is, as yet, untrained and untested and I doubt its ability to make a successful raid on the three ports to remove Jedhran’s men.
Even if the army was capable of mounting a raid the political climate may not be favourable. A meeting of tribal chiefs and federalists was held in Benghazi on 21st December 2013. The Libya Herald carried this on 22nd December;
‘Tribal chiefs and supporters of federalism have warned the government, Congress and the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) that they will not stand aside if force is used to end the closure of the eastern oil terminals. They also insisted that Cyrenaica would export oil independently of the NOC
At a meeting in Benghazi yesterday, Cyrenaica tribal elders and federalism activists said that any action or threat of action against the region or those who were “protecting” its ports and oil fields would be considered an assault on the people of Cyrenaica as a whole.’
Dr. Zeidan can deny trade to Jedhran’s oil company as we have seen when the Libyan Navy turned a Maltese registered ship away by force. However, Jedhran can continue to blockade the ports as long as he retains the loyalty of his armed militiamen. In this regard Dr. Zeidan has an ally in the form of the elders of Jedhran’s own tribe, the Moghrabi.
On 12th December 2013 the Libyan Embassy in London posted this news;
‘Tribal leaders have brokered a deal with the head of the Political Bureau of Cyrenaica, Ibrahim Jedhran, bringing to an end the federalist movement’s blockade of three eastern oil terminals.
Elders from the Moghrabi tribe entered into talks with figures from the federalist movement ten days ago in efforts to bring to a close the deadlock over the oil export terminals. Many of the tribe’s members have supported Jedhran, although they have been seen to be doing so for their own purposes.
The leader of the eastern tribe, Saleh Lataiwish, said that its members had responded to calls for the necessary reopening of the terminals. He said that the tribe had held meetings to discuss with “their sons” an end to the actions at Sidra, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina ports. The blockade is set to be lifted this weekend’
The initiative failed but it may be possible to starve Jedhran of support from the Moghrabi tribe whose homeland forms the hinterland to the three ports.
11th to 15th January 2014
UPDATE 17TH JANUARY 2014
These two pieces in the Libya Herald show clearly the problems faced by the Libyan government;
UPDATE 2nd March 2014
Whilst this report from the Libya Herald does not seem, at first sight, to fit into piece about Libya Federalism I have placed it here for a good reason. It concerns the early moves by a Libyan Army General, Haftar, to emulate Field Marshal Sisi in Egypt and take control of the country. He come from Ajdabia and has some support in Cyrenaica where the people are becoming oppressed by Jihadist militias. It is a story worth following, especially in that he has some support from National Army officers.
A LINK TO A KEYNOTE INTERVIEW WITH THE LIBYAN PRIME MINISTER, ALI ZEIDAN, ON THE STATE OF THE NATION AS OF 10TH DECEMBER 2013.
A report from Cairo carried by Asharq Al-Awsat dated 16th November 2013 states—‘At least 40 people have been killed and more than 400 injured in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after militiamen opened fire on protesters [in the Gharghur district] calling for their disbandment on Friday……The militia blamed for last week’s violence, which allegedly included the use of heavy weapons against unarmed civilian protesters, are based in the city of Misrata. In response to their expulsion from the capital, the Misratan governing council announced the suspension of the membership of the city’s representatives at the GNC, as well as members of the government. It also announced the withdrawal of all “revolutionaries” from Tripoli within 72 hours’.
Later the casualty figures were revised. It is believed that 47 people were killed and 508 injured. Sixty of the injured have been sent abroad for treatment. Other casualties are receiving treatment at private and public medical centers, 20 of whom are in very critical conditions and cannot be moved.
Ashraq Al-Awsat, in a report date Sunday 17th November 2013 stated – Residents of the Libyan capital launched a general strike Sunday over a militia violence that killed nearly 50 people this weekend.
The streets of Tripoli were deserted as the vast majority of the city’s businesses and schools were closed. Bakeries, pharmacies, hospitals and gas stations remained open. Sadat Al-Badri, who is head of Tripoli’s city council, said the strike is to last three days.
Armed residents set up checkpoints throughout the city to protect their neighborhoods, fearing renewed violence.
Libya’s state news agency LANA also said Sunday the Misrata militia accused of being responsible for Friday’s killing of 43 people at a protest abandoned its headquarters in the southern Tripoli neighborhood of Gharghur.
Late Saturday, a government-affiliated militia, the Libya Shield-Central Command, said it was in control of Gharghur. In a statement read on Libya’s private Al-Ahrar television channel, the militia declared it a military zone and vowed to turn it over to the government. The majority of Libya Shield’s militiamen also hail from Misrata
(It is worth noting here that at the end of June 2013 the General National Council passed Law 27 which states that ‘armed groups’ must leave Tripoli by the end of 2013. The law was passed because of constant armed clashes between rival militias.)
News of the terrible events in Tripoli on ‘Black Friday’ 15h November 2013 was carried on BBC TV. It is hard for those who do not live in Libya to understand the difficulties arising from the fall of the Gaddafi regime which bedevil ordinary Libyans. The major problem is the 1,700 or so militias which occupy the cities and towns throughout Libya in the absence of an effective police force or army. In this regard I wrote the following on 13th August 2013 and it may prove useful here:
“SOME NOTES ON THE ‘LIBYA SHIELD’ AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO THE LIBYAN NATIONAL ARMY
The 17th February Revolution which finally toppled Gaddafi from power started as an escalating street protest in Libya’s second city Benghazi. Gradually various street fighting groups acquired weapons and leadership and gelled into revolutionary brigades. In Benghazi some of the leadership was supplied by Islamists long suppressed by Gaddafi. A similar pattern emerged in the other centers where fighting was at its most intense, namely Zintan and Misrata., though in these last two Islamist influence was not as strong.
The fighting brigades managed to gain control over the large quantities of arms which Gaddafi had accumulated over the years. These included an especially large number of tanks which they learned to operate effectively. Thus the majority of weaponry is in their hands. To date the revolutionary brigades have not disbanded nor have they relinquished their weaponry despite a number of arms amnesties.
The brigades do not see themselves as militias but as Revolutionary Brigades of Thwars. Between them they control 80 percent of the battle hardened troops in Libya and around 80 percent of the weaponry. As do the British Army regiments, they have developed strong loyalties to their leadership and there peer-bonding is notably strong despite their varied backgrounds as students, workers, academics and professionals. They resemble the Boer Commandoes in the South African War and follow the ancient Libyan tribal ways in that their decision making processes is consensual.
The majority of Revolutionary Brigades are coordinated by local military councils. However, some brigades have broken from the majority in one way or another and operate lawlessly. They remain the main obstacle to peace in the country and are responsible for the majority of human rights violations.
In the aftermath of the revolution a security vacuum developed. Largely as a result a number of ‘Post Revolutionary’ brigades formed. They are often engaged in local violent conflicts.
There are a number of criminal groups which pose as Thwars. There are also extremist groups with Salfaist/Wahabi/Jihadist links which are gaining in importance in the post Gaddafi security vacuum. They are prominent in Benghazi and Derna. They may derive support from external sources but have little popular support.
So far the Revolutionary Brigades have steadfastly refused to amalgamate with the National Army the leadership of which they distrust and do not, by and large, respect. They have, therefore, formed a second Libyan Army called the Libya Shield. The control of the Libya Shield is ceded directly to the Chief of Staff of the Libya Army.
This means that, at the time of writing, the Chief of Staff has to try to lead two separate armies, the National Army and the Libya Shield.The later are still receiving pay from the government for services rendered. The Shield Brigades received a very large sum (900,000Libya Dinars) in back pay recently.”
The presence of Misratan Brigades in Tripoli needs some explanation. In early August this year there was a serious threat of an armed coup. In order to secure the government of Ali Zeidan it was decided to bring a number of militia brigades to aid of the civil powers. It was thus that Colonel Muhamed Musa commanding the Misratan Brigades of the Libyan Shield Force and others entered Tripoli on 11th August to forestall armed attempts to influence the democratic process of the General National Congress. According to the Libya Herald dated 11th August 2013 ‘More than a thousand vehicles belonging to the Libya Shield forces for Central and Western Regions are reported to have arrived in Tripoli over the past four days. The troops have been deployed to various military locations in and around the capital. The move is to defend it from forces causing instability or planning a move to impose their will on Congress and the government by force…………’
The Libyan government has promised a full report on the events of ‘Black Friday’. Some sources are suggesting that the protest was properly authorized but only for the al Aqsa Mosque/Abu Harida square. It appears to have moved from there to the Ghargur district without authorization or police protection. The Misuratans are complaining that some protesters were armed and opened fire on their militiaman. We will see.
26TH NOVEMBER 2013
For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
Read reports of events in Tripoli in Ashraq Al-Awsat.
Late in September 2013 rumours began to emerge that members of the Justice and Construction Party (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya) were attempting to gather the necessary 120 votes in the Libyan General National Council to dismiss Prime Minister Ali Zedan from office. It became increasingly clear early in October that their efforts were to be in vain.
On 5th October 2013 the US ‘Delta Force’ captured the Al Qaeda operative Nazih Abdul-Hamed Nabih al-Ruqai’i, whose nom de guerre is Abu Anas al-Libi, as he walked home from Friday prayers in the Nufleen district of Tripoli and smuggled him aboard a US Navy vessel from whence he was transported to the USA to stand trial for terrorist activities. I believe the Nufleen district of Tripoli is under the control of the Zintan militia brigade, the strongest in the city. The Libyan Prime Minister states that he was unaware that the US was to capture al Libi.
Whilst this daring operation allowed the Obama administration to claim some much needed kudos at home it implied that the Zeidan government had lost control of state security and at the same time that it may have been in the ‘pocket’ of the USA. The combined effect will have further diminished the authority of Ali Zeidan’s government in some quarters and given his enemies a propaganda coup.
Early on the 10th October 2013 the Libya Herald carried this startling report: ‘Dr. Zeidan, the Libyan Prime Minister, was abducted by two gunmen from his room in a Tripoli hotel at around 03.30 this morning. It seems that his bodyguard failed to resist being under the impression that the abduction was official.’
Later that day the same paper published this:
‘The Prime Minister was not released by his captors following negotiations with them, according to government spokesman Mohamed Yahya Kaabar: he was rescued after the headquarters in Fornaj of the Counter Crime Agency was stormed. This version of events was confirmed by Haitham Tajouri, the Commander of the First Support Brigade who had been involved in trying to negotiate Ali Zeidan’s freedom. He has said that Ali Zeidan was freed after thuwar from Fornaj and elsewhere in Tripoli had stormed the place where he was held.’
It is clear now that local residents of the Fornaj district joined the two ‘thuwars’, the First Support Brigade and the 106 Brigade, in storming the building in which the Prime Minster was incarcerated. Ali Zeidan was still, it seems, in his night attire when he was rescued. It is also reported that the powerful Zintan Brigade made it clear that they would ‘flatten’ the armed groups involved in the kidnap if the Prime Minister was not released; a not inconsiderable threat.
The Egyptian ‘Ashraq Al-Awsat’ reported:‘The audacious abduction of the Libyan premier by some 150 gunmen on Thursday points to a dangerous state of security instability in the North African country.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, head of Tripoli’s Supreme Security Committee, Hashim Bishr, said that a group affiliated with the Operations Room of Libya’s Revolutionaries (ORLR) appeared at the Corinthia Hotel where Zeidan was staying, informing the prime minister’s security guards they had orders from the Public Prosecutor to arrest Zeidan. But Bishr said that Zeidan’s guards “did not see any arrest order.”Tasked with providing security for the Libyan capital, the ORLR “told him [Zeidan] that he was wanted for questioning and he went with them, although his guards wanted to resist.”
The ORLR is a thuwar or militia which is contracted to the Interior Ministry to provide security in Tripoli. It has no training in police or security work. Its militiamen owe their loyalty to their commanders, not to the state. On the morning of the 10th October it stated on its Facebook page that it had been under orders from the Libyan Public Prosecutor when it arrested Ali Zeidan. It later removed this post and began to claim that it had arrested Ali Zeidan on charges of corruption and incompetence and for colluding with the USA in the capture of al Libi.
Sometime later Mohamed Sawan, the leader in the General National Congress of the Justice and Construction Party, told the AP that Ali Zeidan should resign and that Congress was seeking a replacement for him. This sounds like a defensive statement. The armed kidnap and intimidation of the lawful Prime Minster of Libya was focusing international condemnation and his determined refusal to be coerced by force into resigning was strengthening his mandate with the general public.
On 11th October Ali Zeidan delivered a long speech on national TV. He made some key remarks which were rendered into English by journalists from the Libya Herald. I believe the following to be the most significant:
“The GNC is being intimidated by a dangerous loud minority,” said Zeidan, “who stop at nothing to pass their agendas…. Since the day I assumed office a group within the GNC has been doing nothing but work to oust me on no real grounds. This group wants to rule Libya on its own”
“My abduction is a huge crime with so many sides to it, from lying to falsifying government documents and abducting the head of the government”.
“This number of armed men and vehicles would never happen without being pre-organised. This was nothing less than a coup. The armed group claimed to have an arrest warrant and terrorised hotel staff and guests. Armed men forced their way into my room and demanded that I go with them. They stole all my personal belongings, including my clothes”.
He appears to have made it clear that ‘his political opponents had been behind his abduction, intent on forcing him to resign after they had failed to unseat him by forcing a vote of confidence in the GNC’.
He promised to name the members of the GNC who were the instigators of the failed coup. It is not difficult to infer that he was referring to Mohamed Sawan’s Justice and Construction Party, though he may not be in a position to deal with them as a number of his coalition government belong to that party.
For the moment the balance of power has shifted towards Ali Zeidan and it is easy to agree with the notable Egyptian journalist and commentator Abdul Rahman al Rashed who suggests that …‘the responsibility of Zeidan’s government is to abolish and disarm the militias. What happened made him a hero in the eyes of the majority of Libyans, who saw in him a brave figure, refusing to bargain in the face of threats or to be blackmailed.’
15th October 2013
Update 21st October 2013
According to Reuters this morning the Libyan government has accused two members of the General National Congress, Mustafa al-Tariki and Muhammed al-Kilani, of involvement in the kidnap of Ali Zeidan. Both congressmen deny the charges but it as well to remember that they have immunity from arrest. The Libya Herald is carrying a long report giving more details.
Update 28th October 2013
The two GNC members named by Ali Zeidan as the leaders of the kidnap debacle, Mustafa al-Tariki and Mohammed al-Kilani represent Zawia. It seems that the Zawia town council is run by the Muslim Brotherhood and there have been protests in the town by ordinary citizens who wish o register their dissatisfaction with its performance.
Anyone interested in the future of Libya should read this interview with the highly respected Mustapha Abdul Jalil, sometime Chairman of the National Transition Council formed on 5th March 2011:
A FIRST POST IN AN OCCASIONAL SERIES ABOUT THE FATE OF GADDAFI’S ENOURMOUS STOCKPILE OF ARMS
Gaddafi’s appetite for arms was extraordinary and his arms depots have been systematically looted since his downfall. Libyan has become a major source of illegal arms exported eastwards into Egypt and Syria, westwards to arm the al Qaeda franchise fighting in the Chaambi Mountains in Tunisia and southwards into the Sahel countries and Nigeria
We are well into the third year of the post Gaddafi era in Libya. The process of reconstruction and reformation has not, so far, been markedly successful. The level of international support has declined and the loose alliance which is attempting to run the country is under severe strain.
At a London investment conference on 17th August 2013 the Libyan Prime Minister Dr Ali Zeidan stated; “I say frankly that if the international community does not help us collect arms and ammunition, then the return of security is going to take a long time. The (Libyan) government can only do so much”. Amongst the major threats to Libya and her neighbours is the lack of control over the vast amount of weaponry and military hardware which the Gaddafi regime left in its wake. Because of the fractured nature of the rebellion and the chaotic logistic systems employed by both the Gaddafi loyalists and the rebel militias substantial quantities of arms and munitions are unaccounted for to this day.
When it became clear that the NATO and Qatari forces aligned against him had achieved air superiority Gaddafi dispersed vast quantities of mines, mortars, artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, tanks and ammunition into abandoned buildings and private properties. These caches were drawn on by both Gaddafi loyalists and rebel militias during the fluid and chaotic civil war.
Few people know how much there was or where it is now. Many are still guessing, including MI6 which the London Sunday Times has quoted as its source for the statement that ‘there is a million tons of weaponry in Libya – more than the entire arsenal of the British Army – most of it unsecured’.
Following Gaddafi’s demise much of the weaponry was seized by revolutionary and post revolutionary militias which are now using it to control regions where the rule of law is weak or absent.
The mercenary army which Gaddafi recruited from neighbouring countries to bolster the defence of his regime dispersed homewards after the fall of Tripoli carrying looted weapons and ammunition. In particular, the exodus of his battle hardened Tuareg warriors with their considerable armoury caused instability in Mali and unrest in the other Sahel.
The remote and climatically unfavourable southern regions of Libya have been declared a military zone and are thus opaque to Libya watchers. This means that the areas around Ghadamis, Ghat, Awbari, Al-Shati, Sebha, Murzuq and Kufra as closed zones of military operations. The long border between Libya and her southern neighbours – Darfur, Chad and Niger – have always been porous and are now more so. The looted arms may be cached in large quantities in this area and moved out by convoy when the opportunity arises or smuggled in small quantities by what is known as ant smugglers, individuals or small groups who make frequent to a fro journeys carrying arms, drugs and migrants.
The near lawless south of Libya has attracted the attention of the Al Qaeda ‘Emir’ Mukhtar Belmukhtar who may have established training base there and who is a notorious trafficker in arms, cigarettes and people. Mukhtar Belmukhtar is believed to have mounted the attack in January 2013 on the BP gas facility in Southern Algeria from Libya and has been seen recently in an Al Qaeda video posing with a anti-aircraft rocket launcher (MANPAD) which may have been looted from Libya. Chad, Niger and Algeria have protested to Libya about the growing security threat posed by the lawlessness in the region.
There are a number of bloggers and some US legislators who are claiming that CIA operatives at the time when US Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in Benghazi were running arms from Gaddafi’s looted stockpiles in Libya to rebel forces in Syria. Amongst them is Phil Greaves to whose blog is found here http://notthemsmdotcom.wordpress.com/.
There is growing and persistent evidence that ships containing arms and ammunition are plying between the Libyan ports of Misurata and Benghazi and ports in Turkey adjacent to Syria. These shipments are either made with the tacit agreement or the acquiescence of the Libyan Government. It seems to those of us who watch events that both Benghazi and Misurata, Libya’s second and third largest cities, are largely bereft of government control. Misurata is in the hands of well organised militias or ‘Thwars’ and Benghazi has been hijacked by militias with powerful salafist/wahabi/jihadist supporters but little popular appeal.
Arms are also moving illegally towards the escalating rebellion in the Sinai where the Egyptian army is waging a war which is likely to attract Al Qaeda franchises and to destabilise the border with Israel. Hezbollah in the Gaza strip has been seen to display arms which have their origin in Libya and which it may be using in its activities in Syria. The Egyptian military is disconcerted about the distribution of Libyan arms amongst discontented groups west of Suez.
For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
Update 27th September 2013
At a meeting on 26th September with five of the G8 foreign ministers in New York, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan repeated his call for international help to stop the plundering of stock piles of Qaddafi-era arms and ammunition.
Update 2nd March 2014
Dr. Ali Zeidan is a decent man and, as he has recently been forced to proclaim, a true Libyan. In the early Gaddafi era he was a Libyan diplomat, working in the embassy in India with Ambassador Mohamed Magarief. Both these men were to defect from the Gaddafi dictatorship and help to form the influential ‘National Front for the Salvation of Libya.’ They were to spend long years in exile, Zeidan in Germany and Magarief in the USA.
Ali Zeidan, as the representative in Europe of the National Transition Council, was said to have been partly instrumental in persuading President Sarkosy to intervene when the 17th February Revolutionaries were threatened with annihilation by Gaddafi’s superior forces in Benghazi.
He has, therefore, good revolutionary credentials. He came to power as Prime Minister on 14th November 2012 with the support in the General National Congress of Mohamed Jebril’s National Force Alliance, amongst others. His administration is opposed by The Moslem Brotherhoods’ Group in the GNC, the Justice and Construction Party (JCP), which has the second-biggest number of seats in Libya’s legislature, and has been growing in influence.
Prime Minister Zedan has much to contend with. Let me examine briefly the case of Benghazi.
As I write (17.05 GMT 23rd August 2013)Al Jazeera is reporting unrest in Benghazi where ‘hundreds took to the streets overnight to Saturday the 17th to denounce the killing of a prominent political activist and critic of the Brotherhood, Abdelsalam al-Mosmary, who was shot dead after leaving a mosque following Friday prayers.
Mosmary was an outspoken opponent of the Brotherhood, whose political wing is the second biggest party in the General National Congress, and regularly appeared on television criticising the presence of armed militias on Libya’s streets. Two military officials were also killed in Benghazi on Friday 16th.’
In Benghazi, Libya’s second city, senior police and military personnel are being summarily executed by persons unknown. Some sources are suggesting that around 50 people have been killed in this way. The British Ambassador’s motorcade was attacked in broad daylight and still unresolved is the killing of US Ambassador Stephens, an event which upset the American people and which left a blemish on the career of Secretary Hillary Clinton.
An attempt by citizens to rid Benghazi of overweening armed militias took place recently with disastrous results. This report dated 9th June 2013 appeared in the Libya Herald: ‘The Chief of Staff, Major-General Yousef Mangoush, has quit. He submitted his resignation to Congress this afternoon (Sunday 9th June 2013) following yesterday’s bloody incident in Benghazi in which 31 people died in clashes between members of the First Brigade of the Libya Shield Forces (Deraa 1) and protesters who were demonstrating outside the brigade’s headquarters, demanding the force be disbanded.’
Benghazi is not alone with its troubles. The eastern town of Derna is a hotbed of Islamist activity. It harbours the largest number of Jihadist training camps in Libya and, it is reported, that here also assassinations of prominent persons who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood are taking place. Again some sources put the number as high as 50. Derna is an isolated town approached by a steep road from the fertile heights of the Jebel Akhdar. It is easily defended and it is likely that the Libyan government has written it off, though it has positioned a large naval craft there on a permanent basis.
Long ago I sometimes stopped in Derna when driving from Benghazi to the port of Tobruk. This latter town surrounds a fine deep water harbour and boasts an oil port of some significance. Reports from Tobruk suggest that it is plagued by arms smugglers trading across the nearby Egyptian border and by illegal migrants attempting to find boats to carry them across the Mediterranean to Malta and Italy.
Recent events in Tripoli have added the alarming prospect of a possible coup. On 13th August 2013 I wrote this; ‘Colonel Muhamed Musa commands the Misratan Brigades of the Libyan Shield Force and others which entered Tripoli on 11th August to forestall armed attempts to influence the democratic process of the General National Congress.
According to the Libya Herald dated 11th August 2013 ‘More than a thousand vehicles belonging to the Libya Shield forces for Central and Western Regions are reported to have arrived in Tripoli over the past four days. The troops have been deployed to various military locations in and around the capital. The move is to defend it from forces causing instability or planning a move to impose their will on Congress and the government by force…………’ The Executive officer of Supreme Revolutionary Council, Muhammed Shaaban, told the Libya Herald….. ‘It was timely to authorise the Libya Shield movement. The threat of a coup was very real and those informed know about its repercussions .’ There has clearly been a threat to undermine the democratic process in Libya.
This event was followed by a further blow to Ali Zeidan’s government. The Interior Minister Mohamed Al-Sheikh resigned on the 18th August, saying that the Prime Minister Ali Zeidan had withdrawn all powers from him and he could not do his job properly. Sheikh has been in his job for just four months. According to Asharq Al Awsat on 20th August he described the government as “weak, incoherent, and dependent on the agendas of political entities and regional powers, and it relies on their feedback and flattery and added: “the cabinet is tantamount to staff that carry out administrative tasks that are issued to them through instructions—without having any authority.
That alone would seem to be enough. However back in the trouble-ridden East Libya there are renewed calls for a return of a Federal Government overseeing the largely autonomous Provincial Governments of the ancient provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and The Fezzan. The call for a federal system received renewed impetus last week.
On Saturday, supporters of this system issued a third declaration proclaiming Cyrenaica a fully autonomous federal region. They declared that Islamic Sharia would be the source of legislation and all legislation that violates the principles of Islamic Sharia would be regarded as null and void. They also called for the recreation of the historic Cyrenaica Defence Force.
The majority of Libya’s oil is found in the old Province of Cyrenaica and this group has threatened to interfere with the production and shipping of major quantities of Libyan oil.
This alone would focus the attention of any government. There are further problems, however. The Southern region of Libya has been declared a Military Zone. This is because there are frequent clashes between Libyan tribes and the Tebu and Tuareg minorities. Trafficking in arms, drugs and people is endemic in this remote and dangerous region which border Darfur, Chad, Niger and Algeria.
The governments of Chad, Niger and Algeria are protesting to the Libyan Government that notorious Al Qaeda Emir Mokhtar Belmokhtar and his gang known as al Mua’qi’oon Biddam, or the Those Who Sign in Blood Brigade, are holed up in the badlands of south-west Libya for whence they were said to have launched the raid on the BP natural gas facility in South West Algeria in January 2103.
In the meantime the minority Tebu, Tuareg and Berber people are restive. They argue that they and their precious languages are not receiving due recognition in the process of drawing up a new constitution. A recent protest by a group representing these several minorities outside the General National Congress turned ugly and some protesters invaded and damaged the building.
To add to the general discord Libya’s oil production is being severely reduced by strikes and armed occupations of refineries and oil port facilities.
So it was not surprising that Dr Ali Zeidan was summoned on 20th August by the General National Congress, together with a number of his Ministers, to defend the performance of his government. Zeidan refused to hand in his resignation, saying that it was up to Congress to withdraw confidence from his government if it wanted to remove him.
We will see.
For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
Update 24th August 2013
This interesting article in Asharq Al Awsat corroborates some of the assertions I have made in the above post and adds another dimension with regard to US ‘drone’ operations;
And this indicates that there is a crackdown on political activity within the military at last:
Update 25th August 2013
The Moslem Brotherhood is beginning to show it’s hand in the GNC through its front, the Justice and Construction Party.
Update 29th August 2013
Tunisian PM labels Ansar Sharia a terrorist group which receives money from Libya amongst other sources.
Update 8th September 2013
Dr. Zeidan is facing some difficulties with the Moslem Brotherhood since his recent visit to Egypt. Libya’s Grand Mufti has called for his removal from office.
Update 11th August 2013
Further manoeuvring by the Moslem Brotherhood and calls for Dr. Zeidan to resign:
Update 12th August 2013
The crippling armed occupation of key oil ports and facilities has driven Dr. Zeidan to take drastic action. It is clear from this report that as a true democrat he deplores the use of force to settle the argument but is left with little alternative.
Update 22nd September 2013
Dr Zeidan appears to have survived the crisis. The expected street demonstrations against his government were a flop.
Update 10th October 2013
Dr. Zeidan was abducted from his room in a Tripoli hotel at 03.30 this militiamenhttp://www.libyaherald.com/2013/10/10/breaking-news-zeidan-kidnapped/#axzz2hIiJto7Z