Yesterday, so it is reported, 630,000 Libyans went to the polling booths, despite a fierce heat wave, in an election which many hope will bring a strong House of Representatives into being. Voting was slow according to Reuters and there are still enough obstacles in the way of free and fair elections to worry Libya’s friends. Given the circumstances this was a courageous effort but it may well be the last chance for Libyans to establish a democracy.
The new House of Representatives is to replace the old and now largely discredited General National Congress which was brought into being in July 2012 by means of the first democratic election in Libya for over 40 years. Like the GNC, the House of Representatives will have 200 seats of which only 17 are reserved for women. It seems that something of the order of 1,600 candidates stood for election but no political parties were allowed, openly at least, to endorse candidates.
The serious security breakdown in the country hampered the voter registration process and only around 1.5 million were on the electoral rolls as compared to 2.8 million who were eligible to vote for the old GNC in July 2012.This means that there was a 45% turnout in this crucial election.
The High National Elections Commission has reserved 15 seats until elections can be held in Derna, Kufra, Murzuk and al-Jamial where security breakdowns stopped the democratic process.
Sources are reporting that voting in Kufra, the southern oasis city, has been held up because of a protest by the majority Sway tribesmen who are attempting to ensure that their favoured candidate wins the poll. The Tebu minority however turned out in force in their neighbourhoods. This means that 10 out of the 15 polling stations in the city did not open on the 25th June.
In Sebha, the old capital of the Fezzan, all of the polling booths except two were open and functioned effectively. The two exceptions were in the neighbourhoods were tension was high because the Gaddadfa and the Awlad Sulieman tribes had clashed recently.
Benghazi is in the throes of a major battle between the forces of Major General Khalifa Hafter and the Islamist Jihadist Ansar Sharia and its allies. The terrible news of the brutal killing of women’s rights activist and lawyer Salwa Bughagis just as she had returned from the polling booth has shaken Benghazi. Khalifa Hafter declared a cease fire to allow people to vote. The process must have been fraught with danger. Even so it seems that all the polling stations but one operated successfully.
In the eastern city of Derna which Ansar Sharia and its allies have established an Islamic Caliphate, voting has been declared impossible and the outcome there remains uncertain.
The High National Elections Commission has stated that the Libyan House of Representativ election results may be announced on 27th or 28th June.
26th June 2014
This infographic gives you all the information on the Libyan election. It is essential reading.
More thoughts on Libya’s House of Representatives elections can be found here.
LIBYA – SOME NOTES ON ISLAMIC KALASHNITOCRACIES – THE LITTLE CHALIPHATE OF DERNA AND THE BIGGER CHALIPHATE OF DAASH
Ansar Sharia has established a Salafist Caliphate in the eastern Libyan city of Derna and is at war in neighbouring Benghazi with the forces of retired Libyan Major General Khalifa Hafter.
Ansar Sharia is an armed Salafist Jihadists group which refuses to become involved in elections because it perceives politics to be anti Islamic. In their view the will of god supersedes the will of the people. In practice this faction would impose its interpretation of Sharia law at the point of a gun. For them, to borrow a phrase, the AK47 rifle outranks the ballot box. They state that “The goal of Ansar al-Sharia brigade is to implement the laws of Allah on the land, and reject the human implemented laws and earthly made constitutions. There will be nothing ruling in this country other than the laws of Allah.” They propose the establishment of a theocratic government in Libya and the ‘restoration’ of a global Islamic Caliphate. Perhaps, in view of their habit of imposing their rule with the aid of that ubiquitous persuader the Kalashnikov automatic rifle, it might be suggested they are attempting to establish of an Islamic Kalashnitocracy.
The sometime Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, has been pontificating on the emergence of the Caliphate of Daash, better known to the west as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. He has been asserting that the toppling of Saddam Hussein by the US and UK at the behest of himself and G.W. Bush was not the cause of the recent brutal and comprehensive seizure of Iraq’s northern cities by Sunni Jihadist. He argues that sectarian policies of the al-Maliki government and the West’s failure to intervene in Syria are to blame. He also argues that ““The extremists are small in number, but their narrative – which sees Islam as the victim of a scornful West externally, and an insufficiently religious leadership internally – has a far bigger hold.”In this he may be right.
What is most disturbing is the general ignorance of Islam in the west. That ignorance may extend to influential legislators in both the US and the UK and certainly infects the public perception of Muslims in the UK. It must be time surely for Islamic leaders to have the courage to explain that Salafist Jihadists, such as Ansar Sharia, are a minority, albeit lethal. They might profitably explain that there are differing interpretations of Jihad and it is likely that Salafist Jihadists have a narrow view of its meaning which is not held by the majority of Muslims.
This week in Parliament the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, asserted that the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’ poses a real and present danger to the UK. At the same time Prime Minister Cameron hinted at a rapprochement with the Shia state of Iran and the possibility of cooperating with it to restore the ‘status quo anti-bellum with caveats’ in Iraq. He and his advisers must surely be wary of precipitating a wider sectarian war. For Cameron, the near total reliance of Britain on Qatari natural gas must be a serious factor in the wider debate and he will note that the Gulf States have not been bosom friends of Iran. The Saudis have already warned against western intervention.
Whilst much of the world’s media focuses on the Iraq crisis I would point out that the Islamic Kalashnitocrats have a wider agenda as witness the devastating attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Cameroon and the lethal attacks by Al Shaabab in Kenya. The Senegalese President Macky Sall has warned that Africa is facing a mounting terrorism crisis, particularly, the threat of the militant group Boko Haram, and that the continent is in the “heart of the storm.”
The future of Libya, placed as it is at the historic nexus of the trans-Saharan Islamic missionary routes, is of some considerable importance to Sub Saharan Africa.
21st June 2014
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
On 16th May 2014 ‘retired’ Libyan Major General Khalifa Hafter launched his National Libya Army against the Islamist militias which have for some time dominated the citizens of Benghazi. These militias, the Ansar Sharia Brigade, Libya Shield No. 1, Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade and 17th February Brigade, have espoused a doctrinal form of Islam called Salafism. Recently there are signs of a more extreme form of this doctrine surfacing in the city. This is Tafrikism. Takfiris reject any reform or change to their interpretation of religion as it was revealed in the time of the prophet. Those who deny the fundamental foundations of Islam, or follow any other form of Islam, they call apostates and regard them as non Muslims.
Hafter has dubbed his ‘Battle for Benghazi’ Operation Dignity. The Libya Herald dated 17th May reported; ‘Hafter launched his assault [on 16th May] on Ansar Sharia as well as on 17 February Brigade and Libya Shield No. 1 Brigade, both widely viewed in the city as Islamist, from his Al-Rajma military compound in the east of the city yesterday morning. The operation which took everyone by surprise has so far left dozens dead and at least 250 wounded. Benghazi Medical Centre told the Libya Herald that it had 35 bodies and dealt with 138 injury cases. Jalaa Hospital said it had two dead and 29 injured and Marj Hospital six dead and 81 injured.’
At the time of writing the forces of Major General Khalifa Hafter are still in armed confrontation with Islamist militias in Benghazi, Libya’s second city and sometime capital of the old province of Cyrenaica. He has declared that his forces will soon be in Tripoli and his intention is to rid Libya of Islamist militias and their supporters, some of whom, he claims, are foreign. In particular he has singled out the Muslim Brotherhood as his main ‘political’ target. It has been reported that sometime before he mounted his first attack in Benghazi Hafter asked a close friend ‘am I committing suicide?’ Is he indeed committing suicide?
Libya’s immediate neighbours, Tunisia and Algeria to the west and Egypt to the east must surely be engaged in an assessment of his strengths and weaknesses and will be moving military recourses to contain any spill over should Libya disintegrate into total chaos and become a Somalia on the Mediterranean. All these states have their own issues with Islamists. Egypt today (29th May) has elected the former military chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi as President after a turbulent period of Islamist government, albeit democratically elected, and is engaged in an ongoing low grade war with jihadists in Sinai. It is thus somewhat distracted.
If Hafter fails and Libya becomes a stronghold for Al-Qaida and Salafist-Jihadists the stability of much of North Africa will be threatened and there will be a knock on effect in the Sahel states and Nigeria. Libya, therefore, matters. The coastal city of Derna is now firmly in Islamist hands and the vast and lawless south of Libya is a haven for Al Qaeda franchises and criminals. The coalition which has attempted to govern post-Gaddafi Libya has disintegrated and there are currently two prime ministers neither of whom can deal with the serious security problems. Hafter is attempting to demonstrate that only he can deal with the growing anarchy. He may also have political ambitions and has stated that he is willing to run the country if that is the popular demand. The battle lines in Libya are now clear. Arrayed against Hafter are forces akin to Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shaabab in Somalia and Kenya, some of the anti Assad rebel militias in Syria. One of the Islamist militias, Ansar Sharia, the Tafriki-Salafist-Jihadist group based mainly on Benghazi and Derna issued this uncompromising statement some weeks ago; “The goal of Ansar al-Sharia brigade is to implement the laws of Allah on the land, and reject the human implemented laws and earthly made constitutions. There will be nothing ruling in this country other than the laws of Allah.”
As Hafter’s warplanes bomb his strongholds in Benghazi a defiant Ansar Sharia military commander, Mohammed Al-Zahawi, has accused him of waging a crusade against Islam. He portrayed Hafter’s forces as lackeys of the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt and warned him that he would suffer the same fate as Gaddafi. Zahawi asserted that his forces beat of the attack launched on Benghazi by Hafter on 16th May and claimed it is a victory for Ansar Al-Sharia. Zahawi said: “We thank God that we were able to defeat Hafter and we challenge him to attempt entering Benghazi again. We warn him that if he continues this war against us, Muslims from across the world will come to fight, as is the case in Syria right now.”
Hafter has positioned himself as the sole leader capable of dealing with the Salafist-Jihadist threat and taming the numerous and heavily armed militias which dominate the civil powers throughout Libya. His aim is to gather support from the Libyan man in the street and claims that demonstrations in his favour in Benghazi and Tripoli last Friday gave him a popular mandate. The pro-Hafter demonstration outside Benghazi’s Tibesti Hotel was, however, countered by another, albeit much smaller one, in Tahir Square.
In an interview published in Ashraq Al- Awsaat on 22nd May 2014, Hafter is quoted as saying; ‘The security problem is a major issue that has shaken our country in a frightening manner after the GNC allowed all the terrorist forces across the world to come to Libya and coexist with the Libyan people. We know that these terrorists can never coexist with the people of Libya. The Muslim Brotherhood is leading this move. They are being granted Libyan passports and are coming to our country from abroad. There is now a large group of Brothers here, and that is why our neighbours are raising questions about this situation—particularly Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia. These groups, unfortunately, represent a great threat.’ If Hafter manages to win the ‘Battle for Benghazi’ and succeeds in taking over Tripoli he has still to deal with the Islamist Militia in Derna and win over the Islamist leaning City of Misrata. Tribal and ethnic discord needs urgent attention. The Cyrenaican Federalists are still in control of the main oil terminals and the unruly South presents a military problem of its own. In the mean time the Russians have made a diplomatic move by favouring one of the two rival Libyan prime ministers. There entry into the fray is interesting at this time.
1st June 2014
This from the Libya Herald today brings us up to date with the level of popular support for Hafter’s Operation Dignity.
‘Friday demonstrations have grown across the country since the beginning of “Operation Dignity” in Benghazi two weeks ago. The arrival of Central Libya Shield forces in the capital a week later, following an attack on the GNC, appears to have galvanised residents in Tripoli against the presence of armed groups there.
Hafter claimed after last week’s demonstrations that popular support had provided him a mandate to continue his campaign against militant Islamist groups. On Wednesday, he bombed an Islamist brigade’s camp and a number of known Islamist safehouses and check points in Benghazi.’
Update 13th June 2014
This from Wikipedia gives a balanced and well researched picture of Operation Dignity:
Update 16th June 2014
This, from World News, carries a clear statement of intent from Hafter;
and in this are more accusations of involvement by Qatar;
This puts the UK, at least, in an interesting position with regard to Qatar. It must be hard being a diplomat these days!
20th May 2014
The Forces of Major General Khalifa Hafter appear to be gathering for an armed confrontation with Islamist militias in Benghazi, Libya’s second city and sometime capital of the old province of Cyrenaica. In the mean time the price of Brent crude has shot up at the likelihood of a civil war in Libya and the US has moved six hundred marines from Spain to a forward base in Sicily in order to protect and evacuate US diplomats and other citizens from Tripoli where Islamist militias range freely. They are threatened mainly by powerful forces from Zintan, a city on the edge of the Jebel Nefusa. The Libyan General National Congress, by now probably without legitimate mandate, has been attacked by Zintani militias and has been stood down. The ‘legitimate’ but so far ineffective, Libyan army, seems to be divided and has not shown its hand. The Libyan Air Force units in Tobruk and, I believe, Benina have declared their support for Hafter.
Hafter’s forces, now named the Libyan National Army, are based to the east of Benghazi and were said to number 6,000 on the 17th May, though the Special Service (Lightning) Brigade stationed within the city is reported today to have sided with Hafter who also has tribal support, though the extent of this is unknown to date. It is probable that Hafter has been joined by Ibrahim Jadhran’s Cyrenaica Defence Force which hails from Marsa Brega and controls the main oil terminals on the southern shores of the Gulf of Sirte. The Islamist Omar Mukhtar Brigade is said to have left Kufra to join the confrontation though I do not know where it is heading.
Haftar’s tribal militiamen seem to have set up a ring of road blocks around Benghazi in order to stop Islamist forces, from Derna in particular, from entering the city and coming to the aid of those within. The Islamist forces within Benghazi are made up of the Ansar Sharia Brigade, Libya Shield No. 1, Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade and 17th February Brigade.
At the time of writing the Libya Herald appears to be off line though its server may be unable to cope with the unprecedented number of calls on its service. The last news I have been able to access from that source was on 17th May 2014 and I take the liberty of copying parts of its despatches here.
‘A threat by General Khalifa Hafter made on Libya Awlan TV today to “cleanse and purify” Benghazi of Islamist militants took concrete form this evening when a massive explosion destroyed Ansar Al-Sharia’s radio station in the city’s Leithe district.
Earlier in the day, an imam, said to be a supporter of Ansar, was also reported killed at his home in Hay Salam. He was named as Mohamed Ashur.
Hafter launched his assault on Ansar as well as on 17 February Brigade and Libya Shield No. 1 Brigade, both widely viewed in the city as Islamist, from his Al-Rajma military compound in the east of the city yesterday morning. The operation which took everyone by surprise has so far left dozens dead and at least 250 wounded. Benghazi Medical Centre told the Libya that it had 35 bodies and dealt with 138 injury cases. Jalaa Hospital said it had two dead and 29 injured and Marj Hospital six dead and 81 injured.
Figures could not be obtained from Hawari and other hospitals.’
It seems that the action has been in the south west of the city – in Hawari and Sidi Ferej districts, in particular the area controlled by Ansar Al-Sharia between the south-western gate checkpoint and the cement factory – as well as in the port area where clashes were reported between Hafter’s forces and Libya Shield 1.
The Libya Herald continues:
‘……. Hijazi said that he did not recognize the legitimacy of the government or the GNC. He claimed that the GNC had long lost their legitimacy back on 7 February (the date he said they were supposed to end their term).
The government and GNC were out of touch, weak and ineffective, he added, saying that his own forces’ military actions were in response to demands of the people (in the face of terror attacks by extremists, criminals and extremist Islamists). He stressed that the “Dignity” operation would continue, but refused to disclose any further details.
Earlier in the day Hijazi had called on residents of three districts to evacuate, on the assumption of a planned military strike. However, Hijazi refused to elaborate.
This evening, there was an eerie calm in Benghazi as most of the city’s inhabitants waited nervously to see what happened next. There are conflicting reports as to how much support Hafter enjoys in Benghazi. Some inhabitants and commentators have expressed relief and joy on the fact that someone – anyone – was prepared to confront the extremist militias.
Others saw no difference between the illegitimate Hafter, who they saw as pursuing his own personal political agenda, and the extremist militias he was confronting.’
Some notes on Khalifa Hafter follow:-
The Libyan revolution began on 17th February 2011 in Benghazi. On Saturday 5th March 2011, the Libyan opposition movement in Benghazi nominated an Interim National Council to lay the foundations for a government. A Military Council of fifteen including, Omar Hariri, was also set up. The most interesting figure was Staff General Abdul Fatah Yunis, who had resigned as Gaddafi’s Interior Minister on 20th February. Yunis was a long standing colleague of Gaddafi and one of his companions in the 1969 coup. It seemed to some observers that he may have harboured ambitions to replace Gaddafi and some believed that he may have kept ‘back channels’ open to his erstwhile boss. He may even have attempted to negotiate a deal in which Gaddafi would stand down thus bring the rebellion to a relatively peaceful end. This would not have suited some of the hard line Islamist militias.
In protest over the Gaddafi brutality, Khalifa Hafter, a native of Benghazi who was a retired Libyan general made his way from the USA and joined the Military Council. He became the general commanding the rebel forces.
Hafter was one of Gaddafi’s senior officers during his long and abortive war with Chad. I understand he was left in Chad to fend for himself when Gaddafi withdrew his forces after a humiliating defeat. Hafter sought exile in the USA, living near the CIA Head Quarters in Langley and he may have been what is politely known as a CIA asset. It is this apparent connection with the CIA which has made Haftar unpopular in some quarters in Libya and allowed the suspicion to grow that he is still under its influence.
Early disagreements amongst members of the Military Council led to disquiet and Italy, France and Britain later sent teams of military advisers to get the staff work sorted out. After some infighting, Abdul Fatah Younis took overall command of the rebel forces with Hariri as his deputy and Hafter was deposed to third place. Abdul Fatah Younis was murdered on or around 29th July 2011 and his killers have yet to be brought to book. Hariri and Hafter remained in command at least until the attack on Tripoli. Harai’s whereabouts are not known at the moment but he, and Haftar, would have been precluded from military command by the Political Exclusion Law passed in February 2013 by the Libyan General National Council as he had held high office under Gaddafi.
I believe that Hafter has been touring the country and building support for the formation of a Libyan National Army with which he is about to confront the Islamist militias which are holding the reins of power in Benghazi and Tripoli. He appears to have won over the powerful Zintani militias and some Air Force units. It remains to be seen if he can win over the highly organised militias in Misurata which are known to have Islamist leanings and to oppose the Zintanis.
On 20th Febraray 2014 the ‘Middle East Online’ reported in part:
‘On….Feb 14, Maj. Gen. Khalifa Hafter announced a coup in Libya. “The national command of the Libyan Army is declaring a movement for a new road map” (to rescue the country), Hifter (sic) declared through a video post. Oddly enough, little followed by way of a major military deployment in any part of the country. The country’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan described the attempted coup as “ridiculous”.’
Ali Zeidan was deposed as Prime Minster and went into exile. Haftar roamed the country building a military following. He clearly reached the conclusion that the time was ripe to make his move when a number of protesters were killed in Benghazi. This report in the Libya Herald dated 10th May 2014 describes the event.
‘Three protestors were shot dead in Benghazi early this morning outside the headquarters of the 17 February Brigade. Another 20 were injured. Four were taken to the city’s Jalaa hospital, were one is in a critical condition, according to the hospital’s spokesperson. Sixteen were taken to the Benghazi Medical Centre………..The protestors had gone to the brigade’s headquarters after shots were fired yesterday afternoon at them while they were demonstrating outside the Tibesti Hotel over the security situation in the city. They were convinced that the gunmen were members of the brigade.
As with so many other similar incidents in Benghazi the exact circumstances of what happened are confusing and it is impossible to say who killed the demonstrators.
As they headed to the headquarters at the end of Venezia Street at about 7.30pm, ignoring warnings from the Benghazi Joint Security Room not to do so. Shortly afterwards, as dusk fell, the lights in the area were turned off.
For around two and a half hours they chanted slogans outside the gates of the brigade, which is headed by Ismail Salabi, such as “We don’t want you here”, “No to militias” and “All we need are the police and the army”. According to one of the protestors, there was then shooting of automatic rifles in the air from inside the headquarters, in “an attempt to scare us off”. Another report says that the shooting was proceeded by an explosion, possibly from anti aircraft missile fired from inside the base…..’
As I write Haftar may be regrouping to the east of Benghazi and awaiting further recruits to his banner. That the Special Forces ‘Lightening’ Brigade stationed in the city has declared for him he is commencing to look stronger.
22nd May 2014
According to Khalifa Hafter the pause in the progress of his forces in Benghazi is because the Islamist militias have taken refuge amongst the civilian population. This, he points out, requires a change in tactics in order to save innocent lives. He argues that the operation, code name Dignity, continues according to plan.
The commander-in-chief of Libya’s Air Force, Col. Gomaa Al-Abbani, has just backed Haftar’s offensive. Abbani said: “The Air Force’s Chief of Staff announces its full accession to Operation Dignity” and called on the Libyan people to “support the armed forces in their battle against terrorism and to restore security.”
In the meantime political support the operation appears to have grown. There are reports that the largest political bloc in the Libyan General National Congress, The National Forces Alliance, has voiced its support for Hafter.
Significantly, the powerful armed forces of Misurata assembled as though to move to Tripoli to oppose Hafter but stood down and returned to their bases. Their appearance in Tripoli would have caused some unrest in any case but their failure to act may have tipped the balance of power further in favour of Hafter. They are Islamist in outlook and will be a hard nut for Hafter’s forces to crack should it come to a showdown.
There are rumours that demonstrations in favour of Hafter’s Operation Dignity are planned in Tripoli and Benghazi tomorrow. We will see.
22nd May 2014
The Misurata militias did not abort their mission and have arrived, according to this AP report, in Tripoli. This will not help the planned? protests and Hafter will certainly face difficulties. See this:
‘Tripoli, AP—Islamist-led militias on Thursday streamed into the Libyan capital amid a standoff with fighters loyal to a renegade general whose offensive has won support from officials, diplomats and army units, but has also threatened to fragment the country further.
The militias, known as Libya Central Shield, are composed of groups from the western city of Misrata. They are under the command of the army’s chief of staff, who answers to parliament.
Witnesses in Tripoli said they saw Misrata militiamen take positions early on Thursday in army barracks in the city’s south, near the airport highway. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their own safety.’
This from the Libya Herald adds to the picture. The difference between the GNC and the government is becoming notable. ‘The Libyan Government has called on armed groups – namely Libya Central Shield, Qaaqaa and Sawaiq brigades – to leave Tripoli as the brigades squared up in the capital this evening.
Members of the Misratan-based Libya Central Shield arrived on the outskirts of Tripoli today, stationing themselves in the Salaheddin district, where clashes took place in the early hours of yesterday morning. It is not clear how many Shield troops have arrived in Tripoli……….It said it would hold the General National Congress (GNC) responsible for any of Libya Central Shield’s actions, because Congress head Nuri Abu Sahmain had called on them to protect the capital.’
The powerful Qaaqaa and Sawaiq brigades are from Zintan, the city in the Jebel Nefusa in which Saif al Islam Gaddafi is still held pending trial. They have been in Tripoli for some time.
There are useful and well informed sources which offer further information, in particular you will find Jason Pack here:
The best guide to the Libyan Militias is to be found here:
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 20th May 2014
Is this significant? Has the balance of power shifted in favour of Hafter? The Misuratani forces have failed to move to Tripoli.
Update 22nd May 2014
A good piece on Hafter in the Washington Post
American readers my recall learning that the Battle of Derna (27th April to 13th May 1805) was the first recorded land battle the United States fought overseas and is now always associated with the heroic actions of US Marine Corps First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon. They will know that it was this battle that gave rise to the famous line ‘From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli’.
They may not know that there is a new battle being fought in Derna. Secure as they are in the power of their inspirational Constitution they may also be unaware that the effort to forge one in Libya may be sabotaged by events in Derna.
There are Salafists in Libya – and in Egypt and Tunisia – who hold that the principles and practice of early Islam should govern the social and political life of the people. They believe that the true Islam, that of the Prophet Muhammad and the first, second and third generation of his followers, has been obfuscated, contaminated and watered down by constant amendments to its fundamental principles.
The Salafists are sect of Sunni Muslims who have thus far preferred to infiltrate their doctrine into local mosques and schools without violence. They abhor the Sufi sects and destroy the tombs of revered holy men holding that no one person can reinterpret the word of Allah as revealed in Arabic to the Prophet Mohammad and written in the Holy Koran – with the exception of themselves of course, a strange paradox which is not uncommon amongst zealots of any creed.
The more extreme Salafists, some authorities have called them Salafist Jihadists, refuse to become involved in elections because they perceive politics to be anti Islamic. In their view the will of god supersedes the will of the people. In practice this faction would impose its interpretation of Sharia law at the point of a gun. For them, to borrow a phrase, the automatic rifle outranks the ballot box.
The Salafist trend has been revitalized across the Arab world since the Arab Spring and the fall of dictatorships. In its militarized manifestation it has emerged as ‘Ansar al Sharia’ which roughly translates as ‘Partisans of Sharia Law’. A number of armed Ansar al Sharia groups have emerged in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. In Libya the groups trace their origin to Islamist militias formed to topple Gaddafi in the civil war of 2011.
This recently appeared on the twitter feed of the Ansar al Sharia Brigade based in Benghazi; “The goal of Ansar al-Sharia brigade is to implement the laws of Allah on the land, and reject the human implemented laws and earthly made constitutions. There will be nothing ruling in this country other than the laws of Allah.” This was clearly intended to threaten the new Libyan Constitutional Assembly formed by a national election which took place the 20th February 2014 and tasked with the job of writing a constitution for the new Libya. The election was successfully completed throughout Libya with the notable of exception Muzurk, Kufra and Obari where ethnic minority issues are unresolved and Derna where the polling stations were closed by violence or the fear of violence by armed Islamist militias. Unless these elections are complete the Constitutional Assembly is unable to function.
Fifty years ago it took me somewhat more than four hours to drive eastwards from Benghazi, up the Tochra pass and through the lush country of the Jebel Akhdar (the Green Mountains) to the little Mediterranean port of Derna. In those days it was a good place to stop for a rest on the way to or from Tobruk, even though it meant a diversion down to sea level via the notorious hairpin bends from the high plateau of the Jebel.
For a number of years I worked with a talented native of Derna whose abilities as a linguist were extraordinary. He was a near native speaker of English and was fluent, as far as I could judge, in French, Italian and Greek. I cannot imagine that he, or the other Derna residents I met in the course of my duties, could become ruthless killers or adopt a form of Islam which rejects both the democratic process and liberal education.
Today no European would hazard his life to stop for a coffee in Derna and it is hard to reconcile my memory of those talented and hospitable colleagues and their well managed town with the stories of murder now emerging there from. What has happened?
We might hark back to the Gaddafi inspired propaganda during the Libyan uprising in February 2011 when it was asserted that an ‘Islamic Emirate of Derna’ had been declared under the leadership of one Abdul-Hakim al Hasadi who was said to be a Guantanamo returnee. Al Hasadi denied having been incarcerated in Guantanamo and stated that there was no Islamic Emirate. This led some observers to assume that Gaddafi’s propagandists had raised the spectre of an al-Qaeda linkage with Derna in order to legitimise his military response to the uprising in the Eastern cities. However, a captured Al Qaeda list of foreign fighters in Iraq contained the names of more Jihadists from Derna than any other city. That, and the subsequent history of Islamist activity in Derna, led some of us to revise this view. Recent events may explain why.
Earlier this April (2014) three of Derna’s Islamist armed militia, the Army of the Islamist Sate of Libya, the Derna branch of Ansar Al-Sharia and the supporters of Sufian Ben Qumu the sometime Guantanamo detainee, formed themselves into a single unit called ‘The Shoura Council of Islamic Youth in Derna’ and paraded unopposed through the town in their ‘Technicals’ and other armed vehicles. A photograph which appeared on 6th April 2014 in Asharq Al-Awsat showed militiamen raising the flags of Al-Qaeda during this parade.
It is not surprising that the presence of Ben Qumu and the show of Al Qaeda flags in Derna leads us to wonder if there are active connections with ‘Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)’ which operates in Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger and aims to replace their ‘apostate’ governments with Islamist regimes. AQIM is a militant group with great regional – and international – reach. Its criminal activities have made it al-Qaeda`s richest franchise. What is more there are those who suggest potential connections between the Derna Islamists and other like organisations such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Somalia.
There are clear signs that disputes have arisen between Islamists in Derna. This report appeared in the Libya Herald on 8th April 2014:
‘One of the leaders of the newly formed Derna Islamist militia, the Shoura Council of Islamic Youth in Derna, has been found murdered. According to security sources, the body of Ali Abdullah Ben Tahir, known as Al-Far (the “Mouse”), was discovered very early this morning riddled with bullets at Karsa, outside the town. He was one of the leaders of the Army of the Islamic State of Libya.
It is not known who killed Ben Tahir, a member of a prominent local family other members of which are involved in the Islamist cause. However, the same security sources say there has been infighting among Derna’s Islamists both on ideological grounds and over who should lead the movement……
Three weeks ago, Mohammed Al-Douri, said to have been close to Ben Qumu was shot dead. A few days earlier four other men, also said to be Islamists, were shot dead by gunmen who attacked the farm near Derna where they were staying.’
The battle for control of post Gaddafi Libya is beginning to focus on the wording of a new constitution. Some time ago I wrote ‘There are three major currents within the Islamic world today – modernism which calls for a contemporary interpretation of Islam, secularism which calls for the separation of religion and politics and fundamentalism which is unwavering in its adherence to traditional Islam and strongly anti-western. We will see these three currents in play should the Libyan Constitutional Assembly be able to function and accommodate all the various factions now competing to get their hands on the levers of power.
I also wrote ‘Seeds of religious intolerance have germinated in the Arab Spring. Are the shoots about to bear fruit and multiply?’ It would seem that they are in Derna.
24th April 2014
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 April 2014
In the light of Libya’s efforts to form a democratic government this piece by Youssef Cherif is worth reading.
Update 7th May 2014
I am still reading this long and detailed paper on the ‘Sufi v Salafi’ struggle. It is worth the effort in the light of events in Libya and Nigeria.
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 cities 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 it 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 Shati 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.
Readers looking for an in depth analysis of the role of tribes in Libya might find this helpful:
11th March 2014
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 March 2014
There is still unrest in Sebha it seems.
‘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 Jadhran, sometime eastern commander of Petroleum Facilities Guard. Jadhran 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 Jadhran 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 Jadhran’s company. On Monday 6th January 2014 the Libya navy fired on a North Korean flagged vessel presumed to be on its way to take on crude oil from one of the ports under Jadhran’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 Jadhran 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 Jadhran 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 Jadhran. 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 Jadhran 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 Jadhran’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 Jadhran’s oil company as we have seen when the Libyan Navy turned a North Korean registered ship away by force. However, Jadhran 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 Jadhran, 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 Jadhran of support from the Maghrabi 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 comes 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.
This also is worth noting. It affirms, in my opinion, that the Federalist movement is strongest in Cyrenaica. There are some notable personalities mentioned in this piece:
UPDATE 13th March 2014
ALI ZEIDAN IS DEPOSED OVER HIS FAILURE TO DEAL WITH THE OIL PORT TAKE OVER
Ali Zeidan was deposed as Libya’s Prime Minster by a vote in the general National Congress on the 10t March and replaced by Defence Minister Abdullah Thinni. The reason given was that he failed to end the occupation of the Sirte oil ports. Ali Zeidan has since left the country despite a travel ban placed on him by the Attorney General, Abdel Qadar Radwan. The travel ban was issued to allow an investigation into Dr Zeiadn’s part in the alleged payment in September last year of bribes to Ibrahim Jadran, the leader of the Federalists blockading the Sirte oil terminals.
According to today’s Libya Herald:
‘Ibrahim Jadhran, the self-styled leader of the federalists occupying the ports, accused GNC Energy Committee head Naji Mukhtar and the government of trying to bribe him with LD 30 million to end the blockade in September last year.
Zeidan denied any involvement but Mukhtar admitted giving a number of cheques to one of Jadhran’s brothers Salem. He said that these could not be considered bribery because the accounts held insufficient funds for them to be honoured. One cheque for LD2.5 million was, however, reportedly cashed.’
Read more: http://www.libyaherald.com/2014/03/12/former-prime-minister-ali-zeidan-did-not-run-away-from-libya-thinni/#ixzz2vq6oBDdZ
An oil tanker, The Morinng Glory, took on a load of crude at one of Jadhran’s ports and has escaped the attention of the Libyan Navy to be sighted off the coast of Egypt today. Jadhran is reported to have said that another tanker is about to arrive for loading soon.
Read these for good background:
The eastern oil port of Tobruk is under force majeure again today (26th March 2014):