Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Posts Tagged ‘Kufra

THE ISLAMIC STATE IN LIBYA – THE CAMEL’S NOSE IS IN THE TENT. (Updated 27th April 2016)

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Since the 11th century the nomadic and semi nomadic Bedouin tribes of Libya lived out their traditional lives on land they owned by right of conquest. They moved their tents, their animals and their goods about their homelands according to the seasons. The Libyan Desert and the Sahara are reluctant to yield food and water to those who choose to live in them. Libyan tribes, therefore, protected their water sources, their plough land, their seasonal grazing lands and their date palms. They won a frugal living from a harsh environment with which they remained in a finely balanced equilibrium. Consequently the appearance of strangers in their homelands was treated with a degree of suspicion which underlay traditional desert hospitality.
The Bedouin humour needs a practiced ear to appreciate it. You can hear it in the phrase they used when strangers overstayed their welcome amongst them. They would say, ‘The camel has got its nose in the tent’.
In the middle of the last century oil was found in abundance in Libya’s tribal lands. Tribesmen found employment in the oil industry and the old pastoral life faded. For more than 40 years Libya was ruled by the eccentric Muammar Gaddafi, a man born in a Bedouin tent near Sirte. His rule was despotic and he was removed from power in 2011. Since his demise Libya has been wracked by strife and armed discord. The seed of religious extremism, ruthlessly suppressed throughout Gaddafi’s rule, has germinated in the Arab Spring and now threatens to overwhelm Libya.
The brutal Caliphate which calls itself ‘The Islamic Sate of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)’ exploded out of Syria and seized territory and minds in Iraq with bewildering speed. It has become a de facto state with much of the apparatus of statehood. It is expanding rapidly and has looked for vulnerable and profitable places into which it might expand. It clearly has a greedy eye on Egypt which it threatens from the Sinai Peninsular.
Egypt’s western neighbour, Libya, became a magnet for ISIL. It harbours rich reserves of oil. It is a very large country and thus hard to police. It has fallen into armed discord since the demise of Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s huge stockpiles of arms have been looted and the country is awash with weapons. The armed militias which fought to topple Gaddafi have remained in being and are vying for power. There are two governments which are unable to reconcile their differences and one of them, that which is based in Tripoli, has Islamist leanings. Neither government has, so far, been able to exercise control over the numerous armed militias many of which are led by militant Islamists. There is no effective national police force or judiciary. The militias have assumed both of these roles from which they enrich themselves.
In the near anarchy of Libya, the ‘Islamic State’ was guaranteed a ready source of recruits and also a sufficiency of fellow travellers in positions of power. Now it has a foothold in Derna and Behghazi and is in complete control of the coastal city of Sirte and its neighbouring town of Al-Nawfaliyah.
Sirte was Gaddafi’s home town and he poured a great deal of money into it. He was killed trying to escape from it in 2011 and the city of Sirte has been a pariah ever since. It was thus virtually outlawed and an easy target for IS. It lies between the de facto government based in Tripoli and the internationally recognised government based in the eastern city of Tobruk. These ‘governments’ as so badly at odds that they are unable to combine to root IS out of Sirte. The Islamic State is thus safe in Sirte until a government of national unity exerts sufficient force to attack and eliminate it.
I vividly recall making the journey from Tripoli to Benghazi by road in the 1960s. The Tripoli oasis ends as the road turns south east at Misrata and dives into the desert through which it continues with little let up but for the towns and oil ports for more than 650Kms until it reaches Ajdabia. It is hard to convey in a few words how daunting that desert journey was in the mid twentieth century. It may have become somewhat easier now but is clear – to me at least – how difficult it would be to mount an attack on IS in its stronghold in Sirte.
So safe does IS feel in Sirte that it is from there that it now operates ISIL’s satellite TV station Al Bayan on which it broadcasts the brutal Islamic State propaganda.
There is one other major factor which has not so far been emphasised. Sirte lies to the west of the major oil ports which are spread along the southern shore of the Gulf of Sirte. This is significant in the light of this report by Maha Sulaiman which appeared in the Libya Herald on 3rd November 2015.
‘There has been another assassination attempt in Ajdabiya. Gunmen last night attempt to kill a local imam, Salem Rahil. Several shots were fired at his car as he was leaving his home. Rahil, who is also a member of staff at the University of Benghazi’s Islamic Studies Department, was unhurt.
Ajdabiya is currently the most dangerous place in Libya in terms of assassinations and attempted assassinations, which are on the rise.
Last week, a Salfist imam was murdered when a car bomb exploded beneath his vehicle. Ten days earlier the local army intelligence chief Colonel Ataya Al-Arabi died in a hail of gunfire as he drove up to his home. The day before that there was an attempt to kill another Salafist imam in the town in a similar car bomb attack. Sheikh Mohammed Bodiam escaped serious injury but his nephew was killed.
At the beginning of October, Hassuna Al-Atawish Al-Magharbi, the commander of the LNA’s Brigade 302, which is currently fighting in Benghazi, was shot dead in the town. In September, local militiaman Nasser Al-Rugaieh and political activist Belgassem Al-Zwai were killed in separate incidents and there was an attempt to kill local journalist Usama Al-Jarred.
Almost all the attacks have been blamed on Islamic State (IS) forces or the Islamist Ajdabiya Revolutionaries’ Shoura Council.’

The Islamic State is bidding to take over Ajdabia. Why is this significant? Ajdabia is a strategic city in Libya. It lies to the east of and very close to the oil ports on the southern shores of the Gulf of Sirte. I have already pointed out in earlier blog posts that Adjdabia lies at the point where the coastal road from Tripoli around the shores of the Gulf of Sirte branches north east for Benghazi, almost due east for Tobruk and south east for Kufra. It is a hub for people trafficking from the Sudan. It is also the base of Ibrahim Jhadran who commands the Central Petroleum Facilities Guard and has the power to shut down the oil ports in the Gulf of Sirte.
It is not difficult to see what would happen if IS controls Ajdabia as well as Sirte. It would lie across the sole road access to Libya’s major oil terminals which lie between Sirte and Ajdabia at Marsa Brega, al-Sidr and Ras Lanuf. It would also command the hub of Libya’s eastern highway system. That would not be desirable. The IS camel would have its nose firmly in the Libya tent.
John Oakes
6th October 2015

Update 2nd December 2015

This, in the British Daily Telegraph today, makes disconcerting reading:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/12028246/Islamic-State-is-building-a-retreat-zone-in-Libya-with-3000-fighters-say-UN-experts.html

Update 5th January 2915

IS has launched an attack on the Libyan oil terminal at Sidra. This from the BBC is worth noting as it has a useful map showing the various ‘power bases’ in Libya.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-35220281

The Libya Herald is today carrying a report listing the names of the IS fighters killed in the attack. They are all Sudanese:

‘As with almost all other IS suicide attacks, there are no Libyans involved. All four were Sudanese. IS names them as Abu Muad Al-Ghurhani, Abu Hamam Al-Ansari, Abu Abdalla Al-Ansari and Abdulrahman Al-Mohajer.’ ……….. ‘At least two members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard were killed this morning during a two-pronged attack by IS on the Sidra and Ras Lanouf oil export terminals.

It appears that IS launched two suicide car bombers at the security gate guarding Sidra in a diversionary strike while another force of up to a dozen vehicles looped south and attacked Ras Lanouf, 32 kilometres further east. In this assault one of the storage tanks in the tank farm was set ablaze.’ From Libya Herald, Tripoli, dated 4t January 2015.

Update 6th January 2015

This by Mustafa Fetouri, a Libyan academic, makes the case for intervention:-

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/12/libya-danger-isis-control-syria-iraq.html#

Update 24th April 2016

This from the Libya Herald.

Tripoli, 23 April 2016:

The head of the central region Petroleum Facilities’ Guards (PFG), Ibrahim Jadhran, was injured this morning in fighting with convoy of vehicles from the so-called Islamic State. According to a PFG source, one guard was killed and, in addition to Jadhran, three others wounded. He claimed that a number of IS fighters had been killed and six of their vehicles captured.

Jadhran was not seriously wounded, the source stated and, after treatment at Ajdabiya’s Imhemed Al-Magarief Hospital, returned to the fighting.

The convoy of around 100 vehicles was spotted around dawn this morning south of Brega. PFG forces from Ajdabiya were called in and engaged them some 50 kilometres from Brega. Fighting continued until around midday.

According to the source, the convoy was not that of the IS fighters who retreated from Derna on Wednesday. With less than 40 vehicles, it was reported to have reached Sirte on Thursday.

The PGF source was unable to say where today’s convoy was heading, although with 100 vehicles it was thought to be taking part in a fresh military operation, possibly an attack on the oil facilities in Brega itself. In January, IS attacked the Sidra and Ras Lanuf export terminals and then attempted an attack on the Zuetina terminal.

Meanwhile there are separate reports of IS fighters pulling out of the village of Ben Jawad, 170 kilometres west of Brega and returning to Sirte, but these have not been confirmed.

Ben Jawad was captured by IS in January.

Update 27th April 2016

It is clear that a concerted attempt to deal with the IS lodgement in Sirte is underway as this in the Libya Herald shows:

Tripoli and Khartoum, 26 April 2016.

There are reports of the movement of two groups of Libyan National Army troops towards Sirte from the south-west and east. Meanwhile at least one Misratan brigade  has announced it is moving eastwards toward the 200 kilometre-long coastal strip controlled by IS terrorists.

An army source told this newspaper that a force of more than a thousand men had left Ghabghab, the main army base at Marj and was heading for Sirte.  It seems likely that the convoy will include some of the armoured personnel carriers and pickups delivered to Tobruk from the UAE on Saturday.

It is also being reported that the LNA commander in the west, Colonel Idris Madi, is pushing towards IS territory from the south-west. He is said to be accompanied by Colonel Mohamed Ben Nail, the commander of 241 Brigade and Colonel Ali Seedi Al-Tabawey, commander of the Tebu 25 Brigade. This unit, which fought against IS and Ansar Al-Sharia forces in Benina in Benghazilast year is based around the Sarir/Messla oil fields, the Sarir power station and the Shula oil compound.

On its social media site today Misrata’s Marsa Brigade has said that forces belonging to the city’s Military Council were concentrating before advance eastwards toward Sirte.

It is unclear if the Misratan move is being made in coordination with the Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Khalifa Hafter.

It is significant that the army has named its part of the move against Sirte  “Qurdabiya 2” after a battle near Sirte at Wadi Al-Hamar (The Red Valley) fought against the Italians in 1915. This was notable for the fact that it was the only major occasion on which Libyans from Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan fought side by side against the Italians,

An elder of the Magharba tribe said today on 218 TV that his people will do whatever they can to help the movement of army units from the east. Meanwhile, Petroleum Facilities  Guard commander Ibrahim Jadhran, a long-standing Hafter opponent, is understood to have agreed not to interfere with the army advance. Jadhran, who is himself from the Magharba, is believed to have sought to extend the PFG’s control over more oil fields to the south.

There has been considerable social media chatter in recent days about an impending operation against IS. A series of pictures has been posted claiming to show various units advancing.

Reports from inside Sirte this evening indicated that the town in unusually quiet and that the local radio station is broadcasting an almost constant diet of IS songs.

(https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=libya%20herald)

 

 

LIBYA – THE TEBU, THE ZAWIYA AND THE BATTLE FOR KUFRA – OLD ENEMIES IN NEW CONTEXTS.

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In Libya the Tebu people of Kufra have long been marginalised. For many years, Gaddafi’s people pursued a program of ‘arabiseation’ which effectively meant the persecution of the Tebu as this report by the Human Rights Council makes clear: “Some 4,000 Toubou [Tebu] people are living in the town of Kufra, an oasis city of 44,000 inhabitants some 2,000 kilometres from Tripoli. In the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya [Gaddafi’s Libya], they were treated as foreigners by the authorities. In December 2007, the Libyan Government withdrew citizenship from members of the Toubou group, stating that they were not Libyans but Chadians. Furthermore the local authorities issued decrees barring Toubou from access to education and health care services. The armed movement “Front for the Salvation of the Toubou Libyans” …. opposed these measures. Up to 33 people died in Kufra, during five days of fighting between the official security forces and the Toubou in November 2008. Despite public criticism, the government of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya [continued] to expel Toubou people from their residential areas in Kufra. Since November 2009 dozens of families lost their homes due to forced destruction by bulldozers supervised by state security forces.”
The hostility between the black Tebu people and the white al Zawiya tribe has long been endemic in Kufra and has escalated into open warfare since the heavy hand of the Gaddafi regime was lifted after the 2011 civil war. Here are some notes which may help to understand the long running enmity between the ethnic Tebu people and the Zawiya tribe in Kufra. (A note here about transliteration and the Zawiya tribe. The tribal name may appear in a number of spellings. Rosita Forbes, who is quoted below, used Souais. Nowadays Libyans often use the name Sway as the Zawiya are known thus locally. Also the Tebu are often honoured with a number of spelling variations, such as Toubu and other near approximations)
The Tebu people of Kufra, Sebha and Muzuq 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 neighbouring 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.
The Zawiya is a ‘client tribe’ which owes allegiance to the aristocratic Magharba tribe with which it shares a border in the north. This client relationship goes back into antiquity and the Zawiya ignore it at best and resent it at worst. Desert traders and nomadic pastoralists the Zawiya conquered Kufra in 1840 subduing the indigenous Tebu, the non-Arab pan- Saharan ethic group which, at some time in the distant past, maintained a notable presence there. The remnants of their dwellings and forts are still visible. Some suggest that Kufra was the ancient centre of the whole Teda people and even in the late 18th and early 19th centuries they had been in contact with the oases of Egypt and Cyrenaica. The literature is full of stories of their ability to travel between widely dispersed water sources on their special breed of camel and of their lawlessness and sometimes harsh treatment of slaves.
Since 1840 or thereabouts the Zawiya tribe has owned most of the date palm groves of the Kufra oases, employing the Tebu as labourers and extending its trading route into the last African Sultanate to fall to western imperialism, the Wadai, now part of Chad. It is said that Kufra under Zawiya rule was the most noted centre of brigandage in the Sahara. Plus ça change – plus c’est la même chose.
The Zawiya leadership promised the Grand Senussi, Mohamed Ben Ali as-Senussi, a liberal donation of dates and water if he would establish a religious community in Kufra. This he did and the Senussi order eventually moved its headquarters to Kufra from whence it exercised its moral and temporal suasion and commercial competence over the hitherto predatory Zawiya, establishing a profitable trans-Saharan trade in slaves and arms.
Unlike other trans-Saharan routes the Senussi control over the Wadai to Benghazi road via Kufra reduced the costs to slave merchants who were not, therefore, obliged to pay tolls even though their caravans passed through a number of tribal territories. However, the Senussi theocracy and the slave trade through Kufra were under threat from the French who were advancing their empire towards Chad and from the Italians who had commenced to colonise north eastern shore of Libya. Thus the slavers were losing access to the Mediterranean ports in the north and the supply of slaves from the south.
It was in 1910 that the Italians launched their colonial occupation of Libya and gradually extended their dominance over the country. In the east they met resistance from the Libyan tribes on whose most profitable land they had established Italian agricultural settlements and whose migratory life they restricted and disrupted. The logistical problems posed by the huge distance and lack of fodder and water between the Italian bases on the Mediterranean coast meant that the Senussi theocracy based in Kufra was for many years beyond their reach. What is more the Italians became embroiled in World War I and had little time or resources with which to mount an attack on Kufra, protected as it was by distance and an arc of impassable sand seas. In 1920 they adopted the pragmatic policy of appointing the future King of Libya, Mohamed Idris es Senussi, Emir of Cyrenaica with his capital at Kufra. .
In the early years of the 20th Century there were a number of blank areas on the maps of the Libyan Desert. For some time stories circulating about three lost or ‘forbidden’ oases, Kufra, Jebel ‘Uwainat and Zazura, had been circulating amongst geographers. Even the Royal Geographical Society published a paper about Zazura, which turned out to be a mythical place.
In 1921/22 a remarkable expedition to the hitherto closed oasis of Kufra was made by two colourful travellers. One was the Oxford educated Egyptian civil servant and explorer Hassanien Bey and the other an intrepid adventuress, travel writer and novelist, Rosita Forbes. By virtue of Hassanien Bey’s considerable influence with the Emir, Idris es Senussi, they acquired permission to visit the Senussi lodge and mausoleum in Kufra and overcame opposition amongst the Zawiya tribesman to visit the villages in the vicinity. Rosita Forbes managed to conceal a camera about her person with which she managed to take some unique photographs. (In doing this the she was risking her life. Even in 1960s I would not have dared to use my camera freely in much of Libya). The pair found evidence of a continuing, though by now clandestine, slave trade. The odd couple’s considerable journey by camel to the forbidden oasis is described in Forbes’ book ‘The Secret of the Sahara, Kufra’. At one point in their return journey they were under the impression that a band of Tebu was stalking them with malign intent. This may have been why Forbes described the Tebu as ‘the Berber aborigines of Libya. They wear only sheep skins and eat a mixture of powdered dates and locusts’. Some of her photographs appeared in ‘The Illustrated London News’ dated 21st May 1921. One of the photographs is of ruined stone dwellings which, she asserted, were built at some time in antiquity by the Tebu. Forbes estimated that ‘the population of Kufara and Buseima is about 3,000 Zouais (Zawiya) and 100 to 150 Tebu. In addition to these there are a large number of Negroid slaves from Wadai and Darfur’.
On 28th December 1930 the Italian colonial power in Libya was sufficiently strengthened and equipped to launch an attack on the Emir’s Sothern oasis stronghold of Kufra. For the first time the Italians used self contained motorised columns supported by aircraft which traversed the Libyan Desert to project overwhelming power across huge waterless distances and over hitherto impregnable sand seas. The Italian mechanised attack, supported by aerial bombardment and strafing, was quick to reduce Zawiya resistance in Kufra and forced the Senussi family to flee to Siwa in Egypt.
Those inhabitants who made a living on the land watered by Kufra’s springs remained behind but the proud Arabs of the Zawiya tribe decided to escape. They had no time to make long preparations or to feed their camels up for a journey over waterless and fodder-less terrain to the South East. Even so, a party estimated to have been five hundred strong including women and children set out in that direction for the Jebel ‘Uwainat, known as ‘the mountain of springs’, on the border of Libya with Egypt and the Sudan.
For some time there had been no rain at ‘Uwainat and whilst there was still water in the main spring, Ain Dua, the vegetation had withered away and the ill prepared camels could find no sustenance. Some groups elected to move on but many succumbed to starvation and perished. Around four hundred Zawiya eventually reached the Dakhla oasis in Egypt having covered more than 400 miles between water sources over arid desert, a feat with few parallels in non mechanised desert travel.
With time the Zawiya returned to Kufra and their numbers grew substantially as did those of the Tebu. During the early years of World War II Kufra became the base of the British Long Range Desert Group which perfected the use of mechanised transport in the Libyan Desert and the wider Sahara.
After the Italian defeat by the British 8th Army, Libya was administered by British and French Military governments until 1952 when it received its independence and the sometime Emir of Cyrenaica, Idris es Senussi, became its king. Oil was found to be abundant below the desert homeland of the Zawiya. The need for imported labour grew and workers from the Sudan and Chad flocked into Libya via the old slave trading routes, but now in motorised transport. Kufra became a hub for migrants. The number of ‘travel agents and vehicle repair shops’ proliferated. Competition for control of the people trafficking and smuggling business grew between the Zawiya and the Tebu.
The water which supplies the Kufra oasis is from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, the world’s largest fossil water aquifer which underlies North Western Sudan, North Eastern Chad, Much of Egypt and some of the South of Libya. One of the notable public works projects funded by revenue from Libya’s oil was to tap the aquifer and pipe fossil water to Benghazi and Tripoli. A centre point irrigation scheme, extracting the fossil water through artisan wells, was also set up near Kufra with the intention of developing a flourishing agriculture, hampered, however, by its remoteness and consequent cost of bringing the fresh produce to market.
Independence came to Libya in 1953 which then became ‘The United Kingdom of Libya’ with the sometime Emir of Cyrenaica, Idris es Senussi as its monarch. The search for oil quickened until the country became a major oil producer. The great wealth which followed attracted numerous economic migrants for sub-Saharan Africa. Many Tebu migrated into Libya from their homeland in the Tibesti Mountains. The Tebu population in Kufra grew apace as did tension between Tebu and Zawiya.
King Idris, always a reluctant monarch, abdicated in 1969 and Muammar Gaddafi mounted a pre-emptive coup whilst the old King’s favoured successors were still abed. His rule, which lasted until 2011, was erratic and autocratic. He stirred up enmity between the Zawiya and the Tebu by means of a classic disinformation ploy. He implied that the Tebu were brought into Kufra by the much hated Italians.
Gaddafi’s grandiose ambitions were directed towards Africa and in particular Chad. Between 1968 and 1987 Gaddafi launched a number of military incursions into Chad and for a while maintained a military occupation of Chadian territory. One of the results was a further increase of Tebu in Kufra. Gaddafi’s forces were roundly defeated in the so called Toyota Wars and left Chad in 1987. One of the cruel outcomes of Gaddafi’s occupation of northern Chad was the large numbers of land mines his forces left behind in the Tebu homelands. They interrupted migratory patterns and made swaths of the country uninhabitable. There followed a further increase in the Tebu population in Kufra. In addition, the uneasy relationship between the Zawiya and the Tebu was exacerbated during Gaddafi’s war with Chad. Since the majority of the Tebu live in Chad those who established in Kufra were perceived to be 5th Columnists
In 2011 the uprising against Gaddafi commenced. France, the UK and the Arab League became involved and matters fared badly for Gaddafi who was forced to employ mercenaries. Many of them were recruited in Chad. Since the Tebu homeland is mainly in the Tibesti mountain region of northern Chad it was an easy propagandist ploy to label all Tebu as mercenaries.
In 2011 the Tebu formed an armed militia called the Desert Shield Brigade and joined the anti-Gaddafi forces. The Zawiya appear to he been divided in loyalty. The Gaddafi regime was toppled and the proliferation of arms from the looting of Gaddafi’s considerable arms dumps has resulted in the breakdown of law and order.
There are now two rival governments in Libya which are in bitter and often armed opposition to each other. Neither has the will nor the wherewithal to control the remote south and consequently old enmities are now pursued with deadly consequences. These reports in the Libya Herald illustrate the point:
Dated 27 July 2015: ‘Despite reports of a ceasefire agreed yesterday in Kufra between Zawia and Tebu fighters, with a promise to hand over prisoners, there has again been heavy fighting in the town today, for the third day in succession. Continued intermittent clashes between the two communities re-erupted into full-scale violence on Friday since when at least 14 people have been killed two dozen wounded.
“Nine Zwai members and five Tebu people have been killed and the number of casualties is over 25, from both communities” Salah Al-Sanussi, a Tebu elder living in Kufra, told the Libya Herald today.
“Mortar and heavy artillery fire is being exchanged and there is absolutely no safe police left,” he said.
Most of the current fighting is around the Tebu district of Gadarfai, which separates the two Zwai areas of Bu-Shoug and Al-Harah, as well as at the Al-Khadrah roundabout in the south of the town.
Tebu fighters are also reported to have fired mortars at the Kufra airport, located at Zwai area of the town, forcing its closure.
A week ago, when five people, including two Bangladeshi workers, were killed in a Zwai-Tebu shootout, the town’s National Security Directorate spokesman warned of rising tension between the two communities. Lieutenant Mohammed Khalil said that the main streets of the town were closed because of sniper activities by both sides and that the Directorate did not have the power to put a stop to the clashes.
Zwai and Tebu elders and other local leaders were trying their best to contain the situation, he said, but it was deteriorating fast………..31 July 2015: Communal clashes in the south-eastern oasis of Kufra have now continued for just over a week, with the government and the Libyan National Army (LNA) still unable to control the conflict.
Tebu-Zwai tit-for-tat killings over the last month once again exploded into bloody armed clashes between the two tribes on Friday last week. In the past couple of days, some 15 people are said to have been killed.’
This is an unfinished story with an unpredictable outcome. The troubles in Kufra are far from over. Both the Tebu and Zawiya are in competition for the lucrative people trafficking, drug and arms smuggling trade centred on Kufra. There are also rumours of foreign interference, particularly from the Sudan. I believe that Ansar Sharia, the Salafist-Jihadist group which has been listed by the USA as a terrorist organisation, has a foothold in Kufra where it seems to control the road to Jalo, and thus of most of the northbound traffic.
Around 17% of Libya’s oil reserves lies in the Zawiya homeland as do the source wells for the Great Man Made River carrying water from the Nubian Sub-Saharan Aquifer to the coastal cities. The Zawiya have sometimes threatened to cut off both of these vital resources.
For more contemporary background this paper is worth reading:
http://carnegieendowment.org/files/libya_security_2.pdf
John Oakes
10th September 2105
NOTE – HASSANIEN BEY AND ROSITA FORBES
The achievements of Hassanien Bey who was accompanied by Rosita Forbes on the epic journey to Kufra in 1922 (mentioned above) were overshadowed by Forbes who rushed into print with her book ‘The Secret of the Sahara: Kufra’. Hassanien Bey made a further and more extensive expedition into the Libya Desert. An article about his travels, with photographs of Kufra, Zawiya sheiks and a Tebu woman, appeared in the National Geographic Magazine in September 1924 and may be accessed here.
http://www.saharasafaris.org/hassaneinbey/dwnld/natgeog1924-text.pdf

Update 23rd September 2015

Reports from Kufra on 20th September 2015 suggest that some30 have recently been killed and dozens wounded in fresh fighting and that the town council is threatening to seek foreign help in the absence of support from ether the Tripoli or Beda governments.

‘IT IS TIME TO SELL THE CHILDREN’ – SOME REFLECTIONS ON PEOPLE TRAFFICKING IN LIBYA – UPDATED 9TH JUNE 2016

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When drought hits the people of Northern Niger they often say ‘it is time to sell the children’. Sometimes they do just that. It is little wonder that so many people of the Sahel now set out on the long and dangerous journey to Europe where the streets seem to be paved with gold. Many of them travel the old trans-Saharan slave trafficking routes through Libya. There are few people writing about Libyan people trafficking with real experience of living there. Without that experience it is difficult for observers to understand the great distances and physical hazards migrants must overcome to reach the Mediterranean shore and embark on the hazardous sea crossing. Libya is a very large country much of which is inhospitable. I lived and worked there for more than eight years and drove my less than reliable British motor car over its roads. It was in the middle of the last century admittedly. Libya was just then emerging from being one of the poorest countries in the world into oil rich nationhood and Gaddafi was still training in the Royal Libyan Military Academy. Tribes still migrated with their flocks and telephone communication was sparse and intermittent. King Idris was still nominally in charge but he was a reluctant monarch who attempted to abdicate at least twice whilst I was there. I have not driven but have flown over some of the other countries the migrants traverse such as Chad and Niger. From the air the Libyan Desert and the Sahara look forbidding enough but the view through an aircraft widow is a privileged one and not shared by an impoverished migrant riding the roads and tracks in an overloaded Toyota half truck. We have no real data about the number who die on the land leg of their journey but I suspect there are many. The simplest of the long road trips I made regularly was from Tripoli to Tobruk along the old military road constructed by the Italians when they occupied Libya. They built rest stations along the way but in my day these had been abandoned. The last remnant of the Italian colonial way stations was Mamma Rosa’s bar at Ben Juade. Mamma Rosa’s daughter had acquired somewhat overrated popularity born of long periods of life without women amongst those who drove supplies to the oilrigs deep in the hinterland. At Mamma Rosa’s one could purchase a cold drink, admire her daughter and watch camels replenish their capacious water storage organs at the drinking troughs. The distance by road from Tripoli to Tobruk via Misrata, Sirte, Ajdabia, Benghazi and Derna is approximately 1,460 kilometres and the journey should take around 19 hours if you drive without stopping at Libya speeds. Few would attempt to do so, even today. The road was not in good repair in the middle years of the last century when I travelling around Libya. On one notable occasion I was met and summarily forced off the road a few kilometres west of Ajdabia by a motor convoy conveying King Idris from Tripoli to Tobruk. The poor king, who was not in robust health, was so shaken up by the numerous potholes in the road that he caused them to be repaired by a Greek construction company. The Greeks succeeded in replacing the potholes with lumps which were almost as destructive. Land travel in Libya is hazardous for a number of reasons. Libyan drivers are rather reckless and are not keen on being overtaken. Wrecked cars are not uncommon, even on long strait roads. Also it gets very hot indeed during the day in the summer but the temperature dips steeply at night. As I write the temperature in Ajdabia is 40C and is forecast to drop to 23C tonight. High winds can make life very difficult. I drove through a gale whilst near Marsa Brega when the sand blast raised by the wind was so severe it stripped paint off the front of my car and polished its sump to a high shine. Water is not readily available and dehydration can be lethal. Vehicles which overheat are not recommended. A real, but fortunately infrequent, hazard is the hot wind which rolls up from the deep south. These winds are known as Khamseens in Egypt. In Libya they are called Ghiblis and they are formidable and can kill. The sight of a Ghibli as it approached me over the Red Plane west of Benghazi frightened me a great deal. These awful sandstorms suffocate one in dust. There is only one thing to do and that is to stop and sit it out in the hope that one does not dehydrate and that the motor engine will not have seized up with sand when the storm has passed. They can last up to four days and they are hot. Nowadays enterprising militias set up roadblocks to augment their fighting funds and it is fatal for Christian migrants to meet Islamic State fanatics who kill them brutally. Their default method is beheading. Islamic Sate is in control of the city of Sirte on the Tripoli to Benghazi road. I knew the city of Ajdabia well enough. I would stop there on my regular journeys from Benghazi to the developing oil ports on the shores of the Gulf of Sirte. I often ate a late breakfast in one of its cafes of a boiled egg and a cup of very strong and very sweet coffee, known in Libya as ‘Ghid Ghid’. So strong and addictive is ‘Ghid Ghid’ that it may account for the lack of harmony which besets Libya today! It is an interesting town. It has strategic value today because it is here that members of two major Libyan tribes, Al Magharba and Al Zuweya, live in a wary coexistence. The Magharba now exercises a great deal of influence over the oil terminals on the shores of the Gulf of Sirte and the Zuweya tribe’s homeland includes a major section of Libya’s oilfields. It is at Ajdabia that the coastal road from Tripoli now branches in three directions, one branch goes north east across the white and red plains to Benghazi, a second strikes out eastwards across the southern foothills of the Jebel Akhdar, roughly following the old Trig al Abd camel track to Tobruk, and a third takes the hazardous route going SSE in the direction of Kufra and, even further south, to the Jebal Uweinat. This is one of the main roads for people trafficking. The distances are enormous. For example the Jebal Uweinat is around 1,200 kilometres from Ajdabia. Ajdabia is now one of the northern hubs on the people trafficking routs from East Africa and the Horn of Africa via Khartoum and Dongola in the Sudan and Kufra in Libya’s Deep South. From Ajdabia traffickers often take their human cargo westwards to Tripoli to find the fragile and unstable boats in which they are packed to hazard the Mediterranean crossing to Lampedusa, Malta, Sicily and mainland Italy. Kufra is an oasis town which is now Libya’s the south eastern hub for people trafficking. The route through Kufra to Ajdabia is favoured by refugees from Eritrea and Somalia. Data from the International Organization for Migration shows that these two countries are large contributors to the tide of human migration into Southern Europe. Many of the young migrants from Eritrea appear to be escaping military conscription and Somalia has long been a failed state, a veritable model of anarchy. Recently a number of refugees from Syria have been using this route. They are escaping the Syrian misery and finding their way to Turkey from whence they fly to Khartoum and travel thence by land to Kufra. That would be complicated enough but they still have to get to the Mediterranean coast from Kufra and then make the parlous crossing to a European shore. It is a demonstration of the lengths human beings will go to find a future for themselves and their progeny. It is also a demonstration of the firestorm of warfare, religious intolerance, corruption, grinding poverty and racial hatred which blights a great swathe of the Middle East and Africa. For those who make it as far as Kufra the journey to Europe would be hard enough but Libya is a failed state. Civil society is near nonexistent and corruption is rampant. The economy is collapsing as Libyans fight each other, the oil revenue diminishes and trade dries up. The people traffickers are growing ever more callous and brazen. Human trafficking from Libya across the Mediterranean was a $170 million business last year. Some Sudanese traffickers are taking their clients on a new route westward from Dongola and Khartoum to Quatrun and Sebha in the Libya’s Fezzan. Here the migrants from East Africa join those from the Sahel and West Africa who trek eastwards via Bamako in Mali and Naimy, Agadez and Dirku in Niger. This is the route followed by drug smugglers carrying their lethal mind altering chemicals shipped into corrupt West African states by the South American drug cartels. A substantial number of the ‘western’ migrants originate in Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and the Gambia. Once in Quatrun the migrants face a 1057 kilometre road trip to Tripoli before they embark on the lethal sea crossing to Lampedusa, Malta, Sicily or mainland Italy. Libya is shouldering the blame for the tide of economic migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean. There is no doubt that unscrupulous people traffickers are making money out of human misery and that Libya is disintegrating into chaos. The migrants are following tracks made by their ancestors who were sold into slavery by unscrupulous Sultans in Darfur, Wadai and Kano and trafficked across the Sahara. Even today they may see the skeletons of those who were left to die for the desert is slow to recycle bones. It is time to question the resounding silence of the Africa Heads of States from whose lands the tides of migrants have their origin. John Oakes 25th June 2015

BOOKS BY JOHN OAKES 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 30th June 2015

From the Libya Herald 28th June 2015:

The EU states also have to contend with the attractive business and economic model of people smuggling. An illegal migrant worker is charged between a low of US$ 1,000 and US$ 3,000 per crossing with some boats carrying up to 700 people. The average Libyan border guard or policeman gets paid US$ 1,000 /month. The lure of people smuggling is very strong and a weak Libyan state, barring a return to dictatorship, will struggle to counter this lure for a few years to come.

Update 9th July 2015

This from Amnesty International can not be ignored:

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/05/libya-horrific-abuse-driving-migrants-to-risk-lives-in-mediterranean-crossings/

Update 19th September 2015

A graphic piece about the perils of the land leg of the trans-Saharan migrant journey:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/middle-east/article24785137.html

Update 9th June 2016

This is from the Libya Herald and is dated 7th June 2016. It represents the Libyan view about people trafficking:
London, 7 June 2016:

Libya’s Government of National Accord Prime Minister-elect and head of its Presidency Council, Faiez Serraj, has sunk EU policy on illegal migration by refusing to accept migrants picked up at sea back onto Libyan territory.

The news comes as the Libyan Red Crescent updated the number of migrant dead bodies washing up on the Zuwara coast over the last few days to 133.

Speaking over the weekend to a number of media outlets, Serraj rejected a Turkey-style deal with the EU to hold onto illegal migrants and possible refugees in ‘’reception centres’’ in Libya. Serraj said Libya and Turkey were different. Libya would not accept that the EU send them back to Libya to settle.

Serraj criticized the EU saying that bombing boats in the sea would not be the solution to illegal migration. He said that the solution must be found in the migrants’ countries of origin. He insisted that Libya would not allow migrants to use Libya as a transit country, however.

He said that the EU must send illegal migrants back to their home countries, adding that on this issue Libya and the EU were in disagreement.

Backing his Prime Minister-elect, Libya’s GNA Foreign Minister-elect, Mohamed Siala confirmed the position taken on the issue by Serraj. Siala reiterated that Libya would not be accepting back migrants that sailed from Libya.

Siala said that illegal migrants should be returned to their country of origin and not to the country of transit. He said that these had entered Libya illegally. Siala said that if a large number of illegal migrants accumulated in Libya with its relatively small population of over 6 million, they would have a great (negative) effect on Libya’s demographic make-up.

The highly experienced Siala, who had held a number of high governmental positions in the previous Qaddafi regime, including Deputy Foreign Minister, pointed out the existence of a Libyan-Italian agreement which stipulates that any illegal migrants that travel to Libya illegally, without documents or visas, cannot be returned to Libya.

He stressed that this agreement would be implemented.

These latest pronouncements by the UN-backed GNA through its Prime Minister-elect and Foreign Minister-elect will be a big blow to the EU. It completely scuppers EU anti-illegal migration policy in the central Mediterranean based upon installing a pro-EU Libyan government in Tripoli which was expected to agree to a deal on the lines of that struck with Turkey.

The EU had hoped that Libya would either retain most illegal migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean or accept those rescued at sea into ‘’reception centres’’ on Libyan soil.

Meanwhile, international aid agencies such as MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiers) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have been critical of EU policy intentions to return migrants to Libya.

MSF’s UK Executive Director, Vicky Hawkins, told Libya Herald today that “European governments should not be sending people back to Libya”.

“Last year MSF operated three rescue boats in the Mediterranean. 92% of our patients fleeing Libya by boat reported having directly experienced violence in the country, while 100% witnessed extreme violence against refugees and migrants including beatings, murders and sexual violence. No wonder people are trying to flee”.

“All European governments must uphold their legal and moral responsibilities and urgently increase the proper management of refugee claims across Europe. This is the only solution for this crisis that will not lead to an unacceptable level of suffering”, she concluded.

Equally, HRW said that the EU should do less prevention and more search and rescue at sea. It said that the EU should provide safe and legal routes for refugees. It said that ‘’trapping people in detention centres in Libya would expose them to terrible harm”.
It added that ‘‘partnering with Libya on migration would be disastrous. While smugglers bear direct responsibility for sending boats from Libya, European governments share moral and political responsibility’’.

It is worth pointing out to readers that while the issue of illegal migration is very prominent in EU political and media debates, it figures very low on the minds of Libyans and on the internal Libyan political agenda.

Libya is currently suffering a political and economic crises reflected in high foreign exchange rates, high prices and inflation, cash-shortages at banks, late salary payments and high rates of militia-related crime and kidnapping.

As most illegal migrants are loaded onto their boats away from prying eyes, usually after midnight, Libyans get to see very little of the phenomenon at home.

LIBYA – ELECTIONS IN A HEAT WAVE – IS DEMOCRACY COOKED?

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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.
John Oakes
26th June 2014
This infographic gives you all the information on the Libyan election. It is essential reading.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2014/06/infographic-explaining-libyas-election-2014624134840313976.html

More thoughts on Libya’s House of Representatives elections can be found here.
http://www.aawsat.net/2014/06/article55333637
or
http://www.thewire.com/global/2014/06/what-you-need-to-know-about-libyas-elections/373387/

LIBYA – MURDER IN DERNA

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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.
John Oakes
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.
http://www.majalla.com/eng/2014/04/article55249680

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.

https://muslimsinafrica.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/sufis-v-salafis-winning-friends-and-interdicting-enemies-in-islamic-africa-dr-timothy-r-furnish/

LIBYA – THE ZAWIYA TRIBE. (A fifth in the Libyan Tribes series) UPDATED 14TH FEBRUARY 2013

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The Zawiya tribe wields considerable clout in modern Libya because of the vast size and strategic importance of its homeland in the old eastern province of Cyrenaica. From Ajadabia its members are spread out across vast interior regions around major oil deposits and water sources. They also command the trade, legal and illegal, that passes through the Kufra oasis archipelago and along the only tarmac road from thence to Jalo in the north.
Desert traders and nomadic pastoralists the Zawiya conquered Kufra in 1840 subduing the indigenous Tebu which, at some time in antiquity, maintained a notable presence there. The remnants of their dwellings and forts are still visible. Since that time the Zawiya tribe has owned most of the date palm groves of the Kufra oases, employing the Tebu as labourers and extending its trading route into the Wadai, now part of Chad. It is said that Kufra under their rule was the most noted centre of brigandage in the Sahara. Plus ça change – plus c’est la même chose.
The Zawiya leadership promised the Grand Senussi, Mohamed Ben Ali as-Senussi, a liberal donation of dates and water if he would establish a religious community there. This he did and the Senussi order eventually moved its headquarters to Kufra from whence it exercised its moral and temporal suasion and commercial competence over the hitherto predatory Zawiya, establishing a profitable trade in slaves and arms between the south and the north until the Italians drove it out in 1931.
A minority of the inhabitants of modern Kufra are the descendents of the Senussi religious community known as the Ekwan who align themselves with the Zawiya. The Tebu have long been marginalised and since the fall of Gaddafi have acquired arms and become belligerent. Kufra is now a problem for the new Libyan government which has recently declared the south of Libya a military zone.
Libya is a huge country. The very size of it alone would make it difficult to govern but the nature of the terrain adds immeasurably to the problem. The remoteness of Kufra, one of a number of oases deep in Libya, is profound. It is largely protected by the Ribiana Sand Sea to its north-west and the Kalansho Sand Sea to its north-east. The road from Benghazi, the old slave trade route, passes the oases of Tazerbo and Zighen and then the gap in the sand seas to Kufra proper.
In 1941, the famous desert explorer and soldier, Colonel R.A. Bagnold, described the oasis complex thus: “Imagine northern Europe as a rainless desert of sand and rock, with London as Tag (the site of the fort in Kufra), a little area a few miles across, with shallow artesian well water, palm groves, villages and salt lakes, and with a population of 4,000. The suburb of Tazerbo with another 1,000 inhabitants is north-west where Liverpool is. Zighen would be near Derby, and Rebiana near Bristol cut off by a sea of dunes. Cairo would be at Copenhagen, across a sand sea. Wadi Halfar (on the Nile) would be near Munich, with waterless desert in between.”
The dilution of traditional tribal ties, caused by urbanisation in the coastal towns of Benghazi and Ajadabia, has not occurred in the proudly isolated Kurfa. There, the hostility between the black Tebu people and the white Zawiya tribe has long been endemic. Recently it has escalated into open warfare, largely because Tebu migrants have flocked to Kufra from their homeland in the Tebesti mountain region of Chad. They are seen as inferiors and foreigners by the Zawiya majority who’s social, political and economic dominance they threaten.
On the 23rd of February 2012, the Jamestown Foundation published its report entitled “The Battle for Kufra Oasis and the On-going War in Libya”. It states, in part: “An escalating tribal conflict in the strategic Kufra Oasis has revealed once more that Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) is incapable of restoring order in a nation where political and tribal violence flares up on a regular basis, fuelled by a wave of weapons liberated from Qaddafi’s armoires. Though this is hardly the first clash between the African Tebu and the Arab Zawiya tribe that took control of the oasis from the Tebu in 1840, it is certainly the first to be fought with heavy weapons such as RPGs and anti-aircraft guns, an innovation that is reflected in the various estimates of heavy casualties in the fighting. Fighting began on February 12 and has continued to the present [22nd February]. Well over 100 people have been killed in less than two weeks; with many hundreds more wounded.”

OIL AND WATER
There are two other reasons why the Zawiya is important in Libya today. The first has to do with water. From 1,116 wells which tap into the ancient Nubian Sandstone Aquifer system below the Sahara a network of pre-stressed concrete pipes, known as the ‘Great Man Made River’, brings the pure ‘fossil’ water to the Libyan coastal cities of Tripoli, Misurata, Sirte and Benghazi for irrigation, industry and domestic use. Much of the water comes from the 126 wells in the Sarir field, 108 wells in the Tazerbo field and the 300 wells in the Kufra field, all in the homeland of the Zawiya tribe. The potential threat to the government of Libya should the Zawaya tribe sabotage the power supply to the wells and pumping stations is patiently obvious.
The second reason for taking note of the Zawiya tribe is oil. The Sarir oilfield, which falls squarely within Zawaya tribal land, is one of the biggest in Libya and produces around 11% of its total output of crude oil. It flows through a 400 km pipeline to an oil terminal at Marsa Hariga near Tobruk on the Mediterranean coast of Libya. The Zawiya tribal leader, Sheik Faraj al Zwai, has been known to threaten to interrupt oil exports from the Sarir field and some believe he may have threatened the other major Arabian Gulf Company fields of Messla and Nafoora-Aquila. Taken together the capacity of these three fields is believed to amount to over 1 million barrels per day or around two thirds of Libya’s output.

TRIBAL VALUES
At the time of writing sectarian violence has broken out yet again in Belfast, a part of the United Kingdom. The lesson is that tribal values that are seen as anachronistic are still unresolved in Belfast, as they are in Kufra.
A few words about the Zawiya might be helpful. Its tribal homeland coincides in the northwest with that of the al Magharba tribe which occupies a swath of the shore and hinterland of the Gulf of Sidra, including some of the important oil ports such as Marsa Brega. The Magharba also has holdings in the oasis town of Jalo which it shares with the Awajila tribe and the Zawiya. The al Magharba is one of nine Sa’adi tribes of Eastern Libya which trace their ancestry to the true Arab Bedouin tribes from the Nejd which migrated belligerently into Libya in 1050, pushing the indigenous Berbers into the Jebel Nefusa. The Sa’adi tribes, therefore, own their homeland by right of conquest. Their people are ‘Hurr’ or free.
The Zawiay’s neighbours to the north east are the Fawaqiur, a landlocked client tribe with ties to the Awaqiur tribe around Benghazi. Like the Zawiya the Fawaqiur is a client tribe or ‘Marabtin al sadqan’. Theoretically both these tribes occupy their homeland in return for ‘sadaqa’. Sadaqa is a fee payable to a free tribe for using its earth and water and for its protection. In effect the Zawiya no longer pay the fee but the relationship between it and the Magharba still retains remnants of class distinction.
The Libyan civil war left the Sothern borders with Egypt, Darfur and Chad undefended. Arms from Gaddafi’s looted armoires have been smuggled across the boarder and have done much to destabilise regimes in the Sahel. The new Libyan government has declared Sothern Libya a military zone and intends to restore a semblance of order there. Its relations with the Zawiya will be of some importance.

Update 8th January 2013
The trial of a member of the Zawiya tribe has recently commenced in Tripoli and will be worthy of attention in the future.
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/07/court-cases-adjourned/

Update 9th January 2013
Inter-tribal killing still!
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/08/new-fatal-clashes-in-kufra/

Update 11th January 2013

A member of the Zawiya appointed Deputy Minister of the Interior:

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/11/new-deputy-ministers-appointed/

Update 14th February 2013

News of efforts to reconcile the Zawiya and the Tebu in Kufra. The mutual attachment to the Senussi sect is invoked:

http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2013/02/12/feature-02

LIBYA – A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION TO THE ISLAMIC SENUSSI ORDER

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There are a number of prominent Islamists in the old Libyan province of Cyrenaica, now East Libya. They caused the Gaddafi regime considerable trouble and they have been influential in post-Gaddafi Libya. I argue, though they may profoundly disagree, that they are the heirs to the Islamic Senussi order which exercised a profound influence over the nine Sa’adi tribes of Cyrenaica and supplied the first King of Libya, Sayyid Idris al Senussi, when Libya achieved independence. Without some small knowledge of the Senussi’s and their influence on East Libya much of what is now happening there is not readily understood. There follows a very short introduction to the Senussi Order. There are but few books on the subject. The reader may find Rosita Forbes’ eyewitness account in her book ‘The Secret of the Sahara: Kufra’ interesting reading. What follows is taken from a draft for my book ‘Libya – The History of Gaddafi’s Pariah State’ and is out of context but I hope it proves a useful introduction.

During the Ottoman period, the Sufi Senussi Order was established in Libya. In 1842 the Algerian born Islamic scholar and missionary, Sayyid Muhammad ibn ‘Ali Senussi, found himself by chance, taking up residence in Cyrenaica [East Libya], near the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Cyrene. There he found, living amongst the native Bedouin, a number of holy men known as the Marabtin b’il Baraka. Like them, Sayyid Muhammad was an Arabic speaking Sunni Muslim, familiar with Bedouin life. There was also a flourishing cult of saints, the Marabtin, in Cyrenaica and tribes adjusted their annual migration to spend regular periods near the tomb of their patron saint. These tombs are often small square white structures topped by a dome. In my day, one such could be seen from the road from Benghazi to Benina airport with the tents of a visiting section of the al Awaqir tribe pitched nearby. Therefore the Bedouin found nothing unusual when, in 1843, Sayyid Muhammad, known as the Grand Senussi, and his disciples founded a Senussi lodge or ‘Zawia’ at Baida on the central Cyrenaican plateau.

The new lodge was situated at a point where the territories of three important tribes met. Probably the best way to describe a Senussi lodge is an Islamic seminary and community centre. It was made up of a mosque, classrooms, store rooms and living quarters for the head and for the brothers of the order. Senussi lodges were self-sufficient and needed land and water to support the residents and their visitors. In order to attract a lodge into their territory, local tribes had to give up some of their productive wells and arable land to support it. It was, thus, an important step because good land and reliable wells were precious resources in Cyrenaica and not often surplus to requirements.

This is how it worked in practice. When a few tribes applied for a lodge, they received a visit from a member of the Senussi family. Important visitors were always entertained to a feast and displays of wealth. By observing the interplay of personalities and their relative wealth, the Senussi visitor was able to spot the paramount sheik and areas of surplus wealth. They then set up their lodge under his protection and it was he who negotiated their title to arable land and grazing rights. The lodge was constructed where there is sufficient surplus acreage and water and was protected by the most powerful sheik amongst the tribes.

Under pressure from the Ottomans the Grand Senussi moved from Baida to Azziyat. In 1856 Said Ibn Ali founded a Zawia at Jaghbub which was to become a ‘university’ for the Senussi brotherhood. Jaghbub is situated around 280 kilometres south east of Tobruk. It is close to the Libya’s border with Egypt and with Siwa, the oasis town in the Egyptian Western Desert. As an oasis Jaghbub is not well endowed with palm trees and the water is brackish. At first sight it does not seem a promising place for the Grand Senussi to establish his headquarters. However, it was strategically placed amongst feuding tribes which he wished to pacify and convert and its proximity to Siwa was important.

Said Ibn Ali lived for six years in Jaghbub from whence he contiuued his missionary work. He died in 1859 and was buried in a tomb over which rose the kubba of Jaghbub. (According to reports Colonel Gaddafi ordered the destruction of the tomb and had The Grand Senussi’s mortal remains scattered.)

From Jaghbub Said Ibn Ali allied himself with the Zuwaya tribe, whose home is the oasis of Kufra still further to the south. The tribe offered The Grand Senussi one third of its holdings in the Kurfa Oasis if he would establish a lodge there. He commissioned a famous follower called Sidi Omar Bu Hawa to go to Kufra and establish a Zawiah at Jof and to begin missionary work. The Zuwaya traded across the dessert as far south as Chad, Wadai, Darfur and Kano and as far north as Ajadabia. The Grand Senussi’s followers travelled with the Zuwaya trading caravans to establish their missionary lodges.

In the late nineteenth century, the time was ripe for a new burst of missionary energy and the Grand Senussi was so successful that, within his lifetime, a vast theocratic empire was established. It was a missionary empire which stretched westwards into Tripolitania, eastwards into Saudi Arabia and the Western Desert of Egypt and southwards into the oasis towns of the Sahara.

Islamic orders are a way of life. One of the better known is the Wahhabi of Saudi Arabia, but there are many others. Their aim is to achieve a complete identification with God by means of contemplation, charity, living apart from the everyday world and performing religious exercises. For the Senussi order, this was achieved by the contemplation of the Prophet Muhammad. Followers were urged to imitate the Prophet’s life until he became their sole guide and counsellor. Islam is a Bedouin faith at heart.

To quote the great traveller, Hassnein Bey, who was a rare and now too often forgotten observer of the Senussi order; ‘For his followers (The Grand Senussi) forbade all kinds of luxurious living including the possession of gold and jewellery ‘excepting for the adornment of women’ and the use of tobacco and coffee.  He imposed no ritual but demanded a return to the simplest form of Islam to be found in the teaching of the prophet. He was intolerant of any contact with Christians, Jews and those Moslems who, in his view, had strayed from the original meaning of Islam.’

It is easy to see that what the Prophet Muhammad taught the Bedouin of Saudi Arabia in the seventh century was well suited to the Bedouin of Cyrenaica, who still led much the same lives in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its clear and simple principles, to do good, avoid evil and pray regularly, were appealing to a tough nomadic and semi-nomadic people who lived in tents and followed their flocks in a quest for water and grazing.

The Senussi order was a success in Cyrenaica because, as the great anthropologist E. E Evans-Pritchard once wrote: “(the Bedouin) need was for some authority lying outside their segmental tribal system which could compose intertribal or intersectional disputes and bind the tribes and tribal sections within an organisation and under a common symbol.” It was also helpful that the Turkish occupiers of Libya were largely confined to the coastal towns and lacked the arms and will to destroy it.

Many years later, during the Italian occupation of Cyrenaica, the Senussi order was given a new lease of life and became almost politicised. The Italians found it impossible to deal with the many powerful and independent tribal sheiks. They found it easier, as did the British after WWII, to deal with the head of the order, Sayyid Idris, who was to become the King of an independent Libya.

The Ikwan lived in lodges built within the tribal homelands and held prayer meetings there. The Ikhwan were missionaries in the true sense of the word and they lived cheerfully and dressed well. They were self-supporting, growing their own food and herding their own animals. Thus, they avoided living on charity. The ordinary unschooled Bedouin, Muntasabin, had little knowledge of the inner rituals and special prayers of the order, but they gave their personal loyalty to the sheikhs or leaders of the lodges in their territory. The Cyranaican Bedouin lived austere lives and thus many casual observers thought of the Senussi order as being fanatical.

The Grand Senussi aimed to establish the conditions which would allow the Bedouin to live by their own laws and govern themselves, an aspiration which has recently plunged Libya into civil war. The Grand Senussi remained in Libya for only a few years before he moved on to establish lodges in Egypt and Arabia. One of his sons, Sayyid Mohamed al Mahdi, who succeeded him, moved his headquarters to Kufra in 1895 and thence further south to Qiru in Chad in 1899. When Sayyid al Mahdi came to power there were thirty eight Zawiyas in Cyrenaica and eighteen in Tripolitania.Others were scattered over other parts of North Africa and there were nearly twenty in Egypt. Some none too reliable estimates suggest that at its height there were between one and a half million and three million people who owed allegiance to the order.

The French, who were advancing there sphere of influence to Chad, were less than hospitable to the Senussi Order, so the Grand Senussi’s third successor, Sayyid Ahmad al Sheriff, moved his headquarters back to Kufra, in order to retain control of the Wadai to Benghazi slave trade route. He was a charismatic and inspiring Muslim and leader, who was both a scholar and a soldier who led the tribes in the First Senussi War and was defeated by the Italians and left Libya by submarine in 1918.

The Italian occupation of Libya, which commenced in 1911, entered an aggressive phase during Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Then Italians colonists launched a campaign of ‘re-conquest’. They began to pacify the defiant tribes with no little brutality.
Organised resistance by the tribes was impossible so they pursued a classical guerrilla war where Italian sentries were shot, supply columns ambushed, and communications interrupted. There was a succession of small actions and acts of sabotage in different parts of the country.
At first the Italians responded by courting the favour of those tribes, or parts of tribes, near the towns. By offering employment, subsidies and arms, they hoped to turn them against the rebels. In their minds there were two types of tribe, the sottomessi, that is the submitted, and the rebelli.
They thought they had gained the loyalty of the sottomessi to support them against the rebelli. They were to be constantly disappointed. The sottomessi supplied arms, ammunition, food, intelligence, shelter and funds to the rebelli. Sometimes the tribal sheiks would arrange amongst themselves who would submit and who would take the field.

To their consternation, the Italians had overlooked or misinterpreted, as many do, the powerful Bedouin law. The nine Sa’adi tribes of East Libya and their clients were all Bedouin, jealous of each other and hostile to tribes other than their own. The males of each tribe were duty-bound to avenge a slain kinsman. The group of males within the tribe who shoulder this collective responsibility is called the amara dam. The other side of this coin is the duty to protect and aid a living kinsman. This is at the root of Bedouin values. The common ancestry and the kinship of the Sa’adi tribes overrode the lesser demands. The tribes were united by blood, Islam and a common way of life against the Italians.
As the Italian proconsul Graziani wrote of the Second Senussi War. “The entire population thus took part directly or indirectly in the rebellion.” However the guerrilla war was led by some notable families who have received less attention than they deserve. They were the Abbar and the Kizzih of the Awaquir, the Saif al Nasr of the Aulad Suliman, the Bu Baker bu Hadduth of the Bara’asa, the Lataiwish of the Magharba, the Abdalla of the Abaidat, the Asbali of the Arafa, the Suwaikir and the Ilwani of the Abid and the Bu Khatara bu Halaiqua of the Hasa. The homelands of the tribes which these families led stretched from the desert south of the present city of Sirte to the Marmarica in the east around the city of Tobruk. All of this territory was ideal for guerrilla warfare.

The tribal leaders were formidable but they needed the coordinating hand of a leader. They found it in the person of Omar Mukhtar who brought not only his considerable energy and talents into the field but also the network of Senussi lodges and intelligent personnel stretched throughout the tribal homelands. The Islamic Senussi order had for a long time planted seminaries amongst the Bedouin tribes of Eastern Libya. They were staffed by a leader or sheik and a band of the Ikwan (brothers) who educated the young and gave religious and practical leadership.

In the Senussi sheik, Omar Mukhtar, they had a leader who, though he was more than sixty, was an experienced soldier, a talented tactician with an almost unique ability to keep the peace between the fractious tribal detachments which he commanded, perhaps because of his Bedouin birth. His parents were members of a Minifa (Marabtin al-sadqan) tribe from the Marmarica. Between 1912 and 1931 he planned all the gruella operations, gathered and evaluated the intelligence, organised the logistics and finance and led a band of his own.

The Italians response grew more heavy handed as the war progressed. They found that the sottomessi were supplying the rebellei, so they commenced by disarming the non-combatant tribesmen. They went on to harsher methods to stop the flow of rebel volunteers, ammunition and weapons, money and food from the sottomessi. They used the well tried methods of arrests, restricting civilian movements, deportations, aerial bombardment and strafing of recalcitrant tribes. They blocked and poisoned desert wells, confiscated precious livestock and barbed wire was liberally strewn around to restrict the seasonal migrations. The rate of executions was alarming but it was in concentration camps that the sottomessi who were much depleted in health, morale and numbers.
They went after the Senussi lodges, destroying them and deporting their leaders. They captured Omar Mukhtar in September 1931 when he was ambushed near Baida. He was wounded in an arm. His horse was shot and pinned him to the ground. He was taken prisoner and tried in a hurry. The Italians made a spectacle of his final moments. He was hanged at a place called Suluq before an audience of 20,000 Libyans assembled there by their colonial masters. The rebellion was ended. A number of tribal leaders attempted to escape to Egypt.

The logistical problems posed by the huge distance and lack of fodder and water from the Italian bases on the Mediterranean coast meant that the Senussi theocracy based in Kufra was for many years beyond their reach. What is more the Italians became embroiled in World War I and had little time or resources with which to mount an attack on Kufra, protected as it was by distance and an arc of impassable sand seas.

The Grand Senussi’s fourth and last successor was Sayyid Muhammad al Idris who was destined to become King of Libya when it became fully independent.

In 1920 the Italians, still unable to move against him, adopted the pragmatic policy of appointing the future King of Libya, Mohamed Idris es Senussi, Emir of Cyrenaica with his capital at Ajdabiya and his impregnable stronghold in the Kufra oasis. In so doing the Italians began the process of politicising the Senussi hierarchy. It will be seen later this was furthered by the British during WWII.

In 1931 the Italians had built up their sufficient strength to project their power across the desert and they  attacked Kufra and brutally killed the Senussi supporters there. Sayyid Idris went into exile in Egypt.

 

From this brief sketch of the foundation and spread of the Senussi Order, it will be clear that it penetrated rapidly from its first foundation lodge near Baida, mainly via the slave trading routes from Kufra to the Sudan, Chad, Mali and Northern Nigeria. It was pushed out of the Sahel states by the French. However, its firm hold on the nine Sa’adi tribes in Cyrenaica was to give it a key role in modern Libya.

John Oakes

Books by John Oakes: 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 31st December 2012

The Libyan government commemorates of Battle of Kufra http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/19/1931-battle-of-kufra-commemorated/