Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Archive for August 2012

LIBYA – DEMOCRACY OR THEOCRACY?

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Democracy tends to give sovereignty to the people. Muslim countries prefer to emphasize the sovereignty of Islamic legislation.
There are three major currents within Islam – 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.
A new Libyan interim government takes the reins of power on 8th September and has the unenviable task of shepherding that war weary country towards a form of Islamic democracy. It will be a difficult and protracted task.
For the friends of Libya the news of the violent destruction of ancient shrines, mausoleums and libraries has been disturbing. The Sufi shrine of Sidi Abdul-Salam Al-Asmar Al-Fituri in Zliten has recently been badly damaged following clashes that left at least three people dead. In Tripoli one of the most important Sufi mosques, the resting place of the holy man Sidi Al-Sha’ab, was attacked by Islamic fundamentalists. A mechanical digger moved in to finish the demolition, overseen by personnel from the Supreme Security Committee.
Libya’s Interior Minister, Fawzi Abdel A’al, resigned on 26th August after being censured by the prime minister for failing to stop the destruction of the Al Sha’ab mosque. He returned to work two days later leaving observers to wonder about a power struggle behind the scenes.
Much of the problem lies in the number of armed militias which fought in the late civil war and have not yet been disarmed or absorbed into the army. Many of them are led by Islamic fundamentalists of the Salafist tendency. They reject as idolatrous the building of, and worshiping at, shrines which venerate Sufi notables. The possibility that Salafists now wield undue influence in the Interior Ministry via the Supreme Security Committee cannot be overlooked.
The list of attacks is escalating. In Tripoli the Othman Pasha Madrassa, named after its Ottoman Turkish founder, was attacked by a group of armed men at 3 a.m. on 29th August. They used automatic drills to dig up graves and also looted several historic texts from the school’s library.
There are reports from Al-Tag near Kufra in southeast Libya that Salafists removed the human remains from the mausoleum of Sidi Muhammad Al-Mahdi As-Senussi (1844-1902), the son of the founder of the Sufi Senussi Order. On 9th July the historic Sahaba Mosque in the eastern Libyan port of Derna was attacked and the shrine of Zuhayr Ibn Qais Al-Balawi, companion of Prophet Muhammad and Muslim military leader, was demolished.
The Human Rights Watch made this statement on 28th August; ‘We are shocked at the attacks on Sufi shrines in the past few days and more so, at the failure of law enforcement agencies to step in and protect these national heritage sites’.
There are striking parallels to be found in English history. When Henry VIII broke with Rome it released a wave of destruction at the hands of religious extremists. When his son, Edward VI, ascended the throne in 1547 religious reformers of an iconoclastic bent became influential at court. A royal injunction was issued which mandated those who wished to obliterate the symbols of the ‘old religion’ and ‘destroy all shrines. pictures, paintings and all other monuments of feigned miracles…..so that there remains no memory of the same on walls, glass windows, or elsewhere within their church or houses.’ Further waves of destruction occurred, notably during the English civil war and afterwards during the reign of Oliver Cromwell.
There are signs that the Tunisian government is giving tacit approval to Salafists some of whom have caused disturbances recently and a growing number of attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt are being watched by concerned observers. To the south, Mali has already been destabilised by the al Qaeda franchise Ansar Dine which has destroyed ancient Sufi sites in Timbuktu.
Seeds of religious intolerance have germinated in the Arab Spring. Are the shoots about to bear fruit and multiply? Which way will the new Libyan government turn?

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LIBYA –The trial of Saif al Islam al Gaddafi and New Labour – Dining with the Devil without long spoons (Update 2nd May 2013)

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It is hard for us to remember Tony Blair’s brief sojourn with Muammar Gaddafi in a posh Bedouin tent pitched in the desert near Sirte. In hindsight it was not the wisest of things for Mr Blair to have done. He was on a tour designed to demonstrate the success of his interventionist foreign policy and the love-in in the tent was vaunted as bringing Gaddafi in from the cold and opening channels between MI6 and Gaddafi’s personal intelligence service. When dining with the devil one needs to use a very long spoon and Tony Blair left his behind when he posed in the tent with the ‘Brother Leader’ that day.
It should be noted that a spokesman for Mr Blair said: “As we have made clear many times before, Tony Blair has never had any role, either formal or informal, paid or unpaid, with the Libyan Investment Authority or the government of Libya and he has no commercial relationship with any Libyan company or entity. The subjects of the conversations during Mr Blair’s occasional visits was primarily Africa, as Libya was for a time head of the African Union; but also the Middle East and how Libya should reform and open up.”‘
The MI6 connection has landed sometime Foreign Secretary Jack Straw with the unwanted problem of a potential court case brought by one Abdul Hakim Belhadj, recently Chair of Tripoli’s Military Council and hero of the attack on Gaddafi’s bunker at Bab Azzizia. Abdul Hakim Belhadj, who fought the Russians with the Taliban in Afghanistan, is asserting that MI6 was complicit in his imprisonment and torture by the Gaddafi regime. Because MI6 will never disclose secret information it is a good ploy to try to get Jack Straw into court where he may be forced to tell what he knows. The subsequent bad odour would probably drive a wedge between the CIA and MI6 or at least put serous pressure on the intelligence services which they could well do without.
The other founder of New Labour, Peter Madelson was apparently unwise enough to meet Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al Islam al Gaddafi. Mr Madelson’s Achilles heel was always his pretentious social life and Saif al Gadaffi was often seen about in those doubtful circles that the powerful and carless are fond of inhabiting. It will be recalled that the London School of Economics was induced by Saif al Gaddafi to approve his PhD thesis and to accept his cheque for a considerable amount of money. They were lulled, no doubt, by Muammar Gaddafi’s Judas kiss for Blair during the fateful meeting in the desert.
Saif al Gaddafi may soon go on trial in Zintan, an impoverished and remote town some four hours drive from Tripoli. There are no hotels there and the international press corps will be less than sympathetic if it finds itself short of accommodation, restaurants and the communications facilities it has come to expect when covering great show trials. Let us hope that the Libyan government will ship in some temporary facilities in time for the trial. (It is interesting to note that the Libya Herald is reporting today – 21st August – that Libya’s deputy prime minister is denying that the trial will take place in Zintan).
Saif al Gadaffi is charged with war crimes and more but Libya’s new government is said to be threatening to carry out a further investigation into his corrupt dealings with ‘western figures’. According to the Sunday Telegraph and the Tripoli Post, Blair and Mandleson are included in the list. That these two are implicated by the Telegraph, which may be wrong, is not surprising on two counts. The first is that the Telegraph would do that anyway and the second is that Blair and Mandelson have a gained a reputation which allows speculation of this nature to sound plausible. Both of them seem to have dined at doubtful tables without their long spoons.
John Oakes

Update 2nd May 2013
Saif al Gaddafi is still in prison in Zintan. This short piece in the Libya Herald seems to indicate that his state of mind is disconcerting.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/05/02/saif-al-islam-appears-in-zintan-court/

Update 31st July 2013

Trails of Gaddafi’s relatives and ministers have begun.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/07/2013731164359925959.html

LIBYA FACES SERIOUS SECURITY PROBLEMS (UPDATED 12TH FEBRUARY 2013)

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On Wednesday 8th August 2012 Libya’s new democratic Congress began to assume power. Late on Thursday it elected Mohammed Youssef Magariaf as its President. Magariaf won 113 votes from the 200-strong Congress against the independent candidate Ali Zidan who gained 85 votes.
President Magariaf is the leader of the National Front party – known as the National Front for the Salvation of Libya during the Gaddafi era. He is an economist and former Libyan ambassador to India who was born in Benghazi in 1940. His election is seen as an important boon for Benghazi where many feared they were being side-lined.
President Magariaf will lead Congress which now has less than 30 days to select a prime minister, begin the process of drafting a new constitution and organising parliamentary elections. Observers believe that Magariaf’s friend Mustafa Abushagur is the most likely candidate the prime minister’s job but he was also born in Benghazi. This may incline Tripolitanians to oppose his candidature in favour of one of their own. The outcome will be interesting and regional politics will play a major part.
Amongst his numerous problems Magariaf will have been distressed to hear that, almost immediately after he was elected, unidentified gunmen in Benghazi shot dead a Libyan army general and high-ranking defence ministry official, Mohamed Hadia al-Feitouri. Al-Feitouri was one of Gadaffi’s army generals who defected early to the 17th February movement. He is one of a number of ex Gaddafi men who have been assassinated in Benghazi by unknown killers.
There are other disturbing straws in the wind. Haji Fornani reported on 7th August that Zuwayya tribesmen stopped oil production in three oilfields in eastern Libya in protest against armed clashes in south eastern city of Kufra.
The nomadic Zuwayya tribe claims a significant area of Libya from Ajadabia in the north to the oasis of Kufra, which they captured from the Tebu in 1840. Kufra now has of around 44,000 inhabitants and is some 2,000 kilometres from Tripoli.
Violence in Kufra between Arab Zuwayya tribesman and the Tebu minority has been going on for some time. The Tebu are a race of desert warriors living in the eastern and central Sahara Desert. The majority of the estimated population of 215,000 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, who have often had violent clashes with the neighbouring tribes. About 2,600 them now live in Kufra.
Fighting in Kufra first erupted as a smuggling turf war between the well-armed Tebu community and the majority Zuwayya tribe, but then developed into a war of attrition between the Tebus and the Libya army sent in by the authorities to restore law and order.
In their attempts to force the government to take decisive action against the Tebu in Kufra the Zuwayya are also threatening to stop the water supply from the sub-Saharan Aquifer which is transported in huge cement pipes from near Kufra to the populous coastal cities of Libya. The pipelines and wells are known as the ‘Great Man-made River’. Even though the source of the water is in a Tebu controlled area; the pipeline passes through Zuwayya territory, which means they can turn off the pumps and prevent the water heading north.
John Oakes – 14th August 2012

Update 6th January 2013

At last some effort is being made to absorb the militias into the police. See:

http://libya.tv/en/thousands-of-men-sign-up-for-police-training/

Update 13th January 2013

Disturbing news of one of Tripoli’s militias

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/12/fashloum-youth-demand-government-action-against-nawasi-brigade-others-support-it/

Update 28th January 2013

Misurata still appears to be in the hands of militias:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/28/misrata-clamps-down-weapons-ban/

Update 12th January 2013

An attempt to make militiamen into real soldiers;

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/24/trying-to-make-thuwars-true-soldiers/

Update 30th March 2013
A good clear analysis of the security situation in Libya today:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/03/01/analysis-the-security-conundrum/

Update 3 July 2013
Militia begin to join the Libyan Army
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/01/ghariyan-base-passes-into-army-control/

However, armed militia are still causing trouble in Tripoli

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/02/interior-ministry-besieged-by-hundreds-of-armed-men/

LIBYA – GADDAFI’S AFRICAN LEGACY AND NIGERIA (UPDATED 2ND AUGUST 2013)

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Western intervention, ostensibly to help the citizens of Benghazi who had mounted the ‘17th February 2011’ rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi, soon turned into an exercise in regime change which crucially upset Vladimir Putin and influenced his response to the Syrian crisis.
Libya has since held its first peaceful and successful elections for sixty years. The elections were as nearly democratic as might be expected in country so long without a civic society but the problems facing the new government are manifold and difficult. The presence of powerful armed militias, the imprisonment and alleged torture of black African workers from Mali, Niger and other sub-Saharan countries, the cessationist movements in eastern Libya and the damaging rumours of corruption together threaten the emergence of a strong central democratic government.
One effect of the massive military intervention by the western nations (and Qatar) was the near destruction of the Libyan Army leaving no force able to control or absorb the proliferating militias. Realists now recognise that the destruction of the Iraqi army and civil service after the removal of Saddam Hussein resulted in serious loss of lives and civic disorder. The dangers of similar period of havoc in Libya cannot be dismissed easily.

The effect of Gadaffi’s demise on Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso draws little attention from the mainstream press. It should not be thus. Hidden amongst these impoverished and divided countries lie problems for oil rich Nigeria, a country struggling to reconcile its more populous Muslim north with its oil rich Christian south. There is growing unease, notably in the USA, about the current state of affairs in Nigeria, a country which some pundits are saying is ripe for Balkanisation.
Gaddafi himself, as President of the African Union, called for the division of Nigeria into two states; a Muslim north and a Christian south. Gaddafi was ever simplistic and naive in his meddlesome interventions in the politics of other countries.
The dangers for Nigeria lie in the destabilisation of Mali, already partially accomplished by the al Qaeda franchise Ansar Dine and the potential destabilisation of Niger threatened by a restive Tuareg population strengthened by returning Gaddafi mercenaries. Both these countries have porous borders with Nigeria’s impoverished and restive north in which a further al Qaeda franchise, Boko Haram, has established a foothold. It is exploiting the endemic unrest, harsh military rule and police corruption.
‘Boko Haram’ is the local name for the ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’ (Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad). It is led by Abubakar Muhammad Shekau and said to number 3,000 fighters. It is based in north east Nigeria conveniently close to the Niger and Mali borders and where people feel ignored by the predominantly Christian government led by Goodluck Jonathan.
As Professor Jean Herskovits wrote in the New York Times on 12th January 2012 ‘……..Meanwhile, Boko Haram has evolved into a franchise that includes criminal groups claiming its identity. Revealingly, Nigeria’s State Security Services issued a statement on Nov. 30 [2011], identifying members of four “criminal syndicates” that send threatening text messages in the name of Boko Haram. Southern Nigerians — not northern Muslims — ran three of these four syndicates, including the one that led the American Embassy and other foreign missions to issue warnings that emptied Abuja’s high-end hotels. And last week, the security services arrested a Christian southerner wearing northern Muslim garb as he set fire to a church in the Niger Delta. In Nigeria, religious terrorism is not always what it seems…………’
This volatile situation has been further intensified by the arrival of arms in Nigeria, looted from Gaddafi’s extensive armouries in the aftermath of his demise. Nigeria’s Minister of State for defence, Mrs Olasula Obada, speaking in Abuja, said recently ‘Today in Nigeria, we are at peace with our neighbours and do not face any external threats…..However, we are aware that since the end of the Libyan war, some weapons made their way down south and [into] Nigeria. Nevertheless, today in Nigeria, we do face serious internal threats, but we do hope that the threats will be reduced to the barest minimum.”
The United Sates is becoming interested. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the US Assistant Secretary on African Issues has stated; “Over the past year, Boko Haram has created widespread insecurity across northern Nigeria, inflamed tensions between various communities, disrupted development activities, and frightened off investors. The near daily spate of bombings and attacks that have claimed the lives of thousands of Nigerians is unacceptable, and the United States strongly condemns this violence”
We should note that Ansar Dine in Mali has been ‘absorbed by AQIM (al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb). This is possibly one of the richest al Qaeda franchises having profited greatly from kidnapping, smuggling and other illegal activities. The core members of Boko Haram were trained by AQIM.
A pessimistic view, and one which is becoming increasingly common amongst observes, is that an absorption of Ansar Dine in Mali and Boko Haram in north eastern Nigeria by AQIM might create a new focus for al Qaeda operations and their attendant lawlessness in the bad lands south of Algeria and Libya with the dangerous destabilisation of Nigeria as one of its consequences.
Strangely the ‘Gaddafist’ blog ‘Libya360’ appears to suggest that Boko Haram is a child of the CIA and the US Africa Command (AFRICOM); an interpretation which illustrates the strange twists and turns matters are now taking in sub-Saharan Africa.

Update 1st November 2012

See Amnesty International’s report;http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR44/043/2012/en/04ab8b67-8969-4c86-bdea-0f82059dff28/afr440432012en.pdf

Update 11th February 2013

Reports of Boko Haram terrorists training in Mali

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/mali/9860822/Timbuktu-al-Qaedas-terrorist-training-academy-in-the-Mali-desert.html

Update 9th March 2013

A disturbing killing of a British captive.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/9919656/Nigerian-militants-kill-seven-hostages-including-Briton.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/9920655/British-hostage-killed-because-kidnappers-thought-UK-was-launching-rescue-mission.html

Update 2nd August 2013

This in al Jazeera today shows that Boko Haram has developed a new strategy in northern Nigeria. It is killing school teachers.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/08/201381194058468813.html

Update 12th August 2013

A valuable compilation of articles about Boko Haram in the British Guardian newspaper:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/boko-haram

Update 25th August 2013

Further violence is reported in this today. The possible death of Abubakar Shekau between July 25 and Aug. 4 from gunshot wounds inflicted in a gun battle with security forces is raised here also.

http://www.aawsat.net/2013/08/article55314677

Libya and Niger – Locust swarms, Tuareg mercenaries and Saadi Gaddafi.(Updated 22nd January 2013)

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Swarms of the voracious Desert Locust have recently been found in northern Niger. They arrived there from infestations reported in January 2012 in southwest Libya, near the ancient Tuareg city of Ghat.
In a normal year Libya would have been able to control most of the swarms and prevent their movement southwards. However its capacity to monitor and control locusts has collapsed because trained personnel and equipment vanished during the civil war.
The locusts may have moved southwards from one insecure area to another. In northern Mali a Tuareg rebellion, strengthened by returning mercenaries after Gadaffi’s defeat, was hijacked by the militant Islamic group called ‘Ansar Dine’. There is now no local authority there, and certainly no one left with the experience and equipment to control Desert Locust infestations.
Some of the Gadaffi’s Tuareg mercenaries had been recruited from Niger to which they have returned bringing with them large quantities of arms and ammunition. So far Niger has dealt with its potentially rebellious Tuareg population more skilfully than neighbouring Mali; perhaps because the new president, Mahamadou Issoufou, has appointed a Tuareg, Brigi Rafini, as prime minister.
There are further threats to Niger arising out of Libya’s current problems. Prior to the Libyan uprising, the country hosted approximately one million African workers. Many were employed in construction, garbage collection, domestic work and other low-wage jobs. Unskilled Niger workers are no longer remitting part of their wages to their families and are returning home, adding more needy mouths to the already impoverished population.
There is one further disconcerting aspect to this. A number of workers from Niger have been imprisoned by Libyan militias which believe them to have been Gadaffi’s mercenaries. The treatment of some of them is reported to be brutal and the International Organisation for Migration is working to get them released. Until the Libya government is able to assert control over the many armed militias the treatment of these prisoners, and others from Chad and Mali, will continue to cause unease.
Niger is also harbouring Gaddafi’s playboy son, Saadi, who is wanted in Libya to answer number of charges. He is said to have escaped there with the assistance of a colourful and loquacious body-guard from New Zealand who claims to have been trained by the Australian army and who is busy seeking publicity for his exploits in Canada. So far Niger has refused to return Saadi Gadaffi to Libya for trail.
Update 22nd January 2013
The colourful and loquacious body-guard appears to be in a spot of bother in Canada at the moment according to the Libya Herald:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/22/saadis-smuggler-facing-canadian-deportation/
John oakes (First posted on Gaddafi’s Afrcan Legacy)