Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Posts Tagged ‘Salafists

LIBYA – WHAT IS GOING ON IN BENGHAZI? (UPDATED 29TH JUNE 2016)

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Muammar Gaddafi did not like Benghazi much. The city was ruled for some time by his henchwoman Huda Ben Amer. She had first come to his attention as he sat in his Tripoli bunker watching a TV relay of a public hanging in Benghazi. The victim was slow to die and thrashed about on the end of the rope, so she hurried his demise by hanging onto his legs. Gadaffi was impressed and appointed her mayor of Benghazi where seh was  called Huda the Executioner. She fled to Tripoli soon after the events that followed 17th February 2011 uprising and her villa in Benghazi has been razed to the ground.
This helps to explain, but does not excuse, the recent killing of 14 high ranking officers who served in Gadaffi’s military but changed sides and were deployed to Benghazi by the new Transitional Government. No one has been arrested for these assassinations. The view that the Libyan military should purge itself of the remnants of Gadaffi’s regime is not without adherents in Benghazi.
The most pressing of the many problems facing Libya’s new government is the large number of ant-Gaddafi militias which are still bearing arms. They have been particularly active in Benghazi which has been badly hit by violence. Amongst the organisations which have been attacked are the United Nations, the Red Cross, a convoy carrying the British Ambassador and the Tunisian Consulate.
Global attention has been focused on Benghazi since 11th September when the U.S. consulate was stormed. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens died of smoke inhalation while trapped alone inside the villa, and three other Americans were killed in the attack and during a rescue attempt that followed. The US has responded. US drones have been conducting reconnaissance missions over Benghazi, and a counter-terrorist unit has also been sent to Libya. Two American warships, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers the USS Laboon and the USS McFaul, have also been deployed off the Libyan coast. FBI agents are waiting to go to Benghazi to find out who killed Ambassador Stevens but appear to be stuck in Tripoli.
On 12th September, just hours after Ambassador Stevens was killed, the Libyan cabinet dismissed Wanis Sharif as Deputy Interior Minister with responsibility for the Eastern region. Also dismissed was Hussein Abu Humaida, the head of the Security Directorate in Benghazi. On 16th September Interior Minister, Fawzi Abdulal, appointed in their place veteran police chief Colonel Salah Al-Din Awad Doghman with the title of Assistant Undersecretary at the Interior Ministry with responsibility for eastern Libya. Libyan police in Benghazi have so far refused to serve under Colonel Doghman. He told Reuters “When you go to police headquarters, you will find there are no police. The people in charge are not at their desks. They have refused to let me take up my job.”
There has been a predicable response to the US reaction by the Libyan Salafist militia, Ansar al Sharia, which is thought to have been responsible for the deadly assault on the American consulate in Benghazi. An Ansar al Sharia spokesman has said that “If one U.S. soldier arrives, not for the purpose of defending the embassy, but to repeat what happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, be sure that all battalions in Libya and all Libyans will put aside all their differences and rally behind one goal of hitting America and Americans,”

At least Colonel Doghman seems determined to sort things out – when he gets some police officers to work for him. He told Reuters that ‘America, Libya, the world, should know that in this situation they should have the right person in place. Libyans should know that there is firm leadership. If there had been wise leadership, this attack could not have happened.’ We will see.

Added Friday 21st September …see ‘Save Benghazi’  http://www.facebook.com/BenghaziFriday

Later Friday 21st September… AP reports –(AP)- Around 30,000 Libyans marched through the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday in an unprecedented protest to demand the disbanding of powerful militias in the wake of last week’s attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans……..

Update – Saturday 22nd September…….a summary of Libya Herald, The Telegraph and Time reports;

Following the ‘Save Benghazi’ rally on Friday 21st September hundreds of demonstrators arrived at the Salafist ‘Ansar Al-Sharia’ Militia headquarters on Nasr square demanding the brigade leave immediately. Members of Ansar Al-Sharia who were acting as guards at Al-Jalaa hospital were also removed by protesters.

Around 80 or so protesters also took control of the headquarters of the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, located at a farm in Hawari district, some 15 kilometres from Benghazi’s city centre. The Ukba bin Nafi’a brigade stronghold was also cleared of militiamen.  Reports of injuries and probable fatalities during these clashes are yet to be verified. The Libyan police moved in quickly to occupy the bases.

The army Chief of Staff Yousef Mangoush, Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur and Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelal urged the protesters to remain calm. “I call for restraint on all sides, and I also call on the chief of staff to take all necessary measures to control the situation and secure the lives and safety of our citizens” said National Congress Speaker Mohammed Magarief.

Update 24rd September.  

The Libyan National Army’s First Infantry brigade’s commander, Colonel Hamid Buheir has confirmed in Benghazi that the Ansar al Sharia militia has been disbanded. There are clearly militiamen still at large. The colonel was kidnapped by masked men from outside his house on Saturday morning. The Salafist kidnappers accused him of being a Kuffer and threatened his life. His kidnappers received a phone call from someone instructing them not to kill him. He was released by being thrown from a car on to a roundabout. It would be interesting to find out who made the telephone call. Five soldiers from Colonel Buheir’s First Infantry Brigade were found dead. They had been shot through the head with their arms tied behind their backs in the Hawiya district of Benghazi.

There are other significant questions which remain unanswered. How did the group who killed the US ambassador on 11th September know his travel plans?  He was on a brief visit to Benghazi and his travel plans were said to be secret as was the location of the safe house in which he was to stay.

The Benghazi militias which are to brought under formal military control appear to be the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, the Sidi Hussein Martyrs brigade, and the Abu Salim brigade. The Ansar Al-Sharia brigade has apparently agreed to disband. The Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade is to be merged with the 17 February brigade which has for some time submitted to government control as has the Libya Shield brigade.

Updated 27th September 2012

According to the Libya Herald today the Human Rights Watch has called for a change to Libyan Law 38 of 2012 which grants immunity for any acts “made necessary by the 17 February revolution”. It also calls for the abolition of Article 2 of Law 38, which, it argues, legalises interrogations by armed militias and other bodies.

Update 27th September

An interesting time line from the Washington Post…..

See http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/from-video-to-terrorist-attack-a-definitive-timeline-of-administration-statements-on-the-libya-attack/2012/09/26/86105782-0826-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_blog.html

Update 28th September

Posts on my Facebook and reports from the Libya Herald are suggesting that the Congress for Benghazi has noted the progress made since last Friday in bringing the militias into the government fold and re-establishing the role of the National Army and police. The Congress has called for all revolutionaries to join the organs of the state or otherwise disband. Facebook posts, as far as I am able to translate them, suggest that ordinary citizens of Benghazi want a peaceful future without interference from militant militias or from the US or Europe. They clearly want to order their own lives and are aware that they fought for, and voted for, a democracy. However, a bomb exploded early yesterday outside the Security Directorate. There are rumours of another ‘Save Benghazi’ street demonstration today. There were 11 deaths after the clashes with militias last Friday.

Later from my Facebook;The statement issued by the organizers of Juma Save Benghazi 2012.09.21…..” we publish this statement …
To assure you that we have decided to postpone our demonstration … After the National Conference resolution. And members of the National Congress of Benghazi…. they promoted our demands … They pledged to implement them …”

Update 30th Seprember

This interesting background piece from the New York Times suggests that the CIA had a listening post in Bengahzi…

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/world/africa/attack-in-libya-was-major-blow-to-cia-efforts.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0

Update 5th November 2012

I missed this about the tribal leaders meeting in Benghazi in September 2012. It is hard to read but important.

http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/7514/libyan-eastern-tribal-chiefs-population-and-govern

Update 10th November 2012.

The Boston Herald carries an ATP reporrt about the US response to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. It makes a number of things clear and is worth reading;

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/national/general/view.bg?articleid=1061173593&srvc=rss

Update 18th November 2012

The David Petraeus story becomes very intersting for Libyans. He has given evidence before a US Congressional Committe and the LIbyan Herald carried this yestarady.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/17/david-petraeus-claims-cia-knew-all-along-that-benghazi-attack-was-orchestrated-by-terrorists/

Update 21st November 2012

This is the 18th assassination of high level security officials in Benghazi since the revolution. They were all sometime senior officials of the Gadaffi regime.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/21/benghazi-security-directorate-chief-assassinated/

Update 23rd November 2012

More on Benhgazi’s top policeman.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/23/new-benghazi-police-chief-appointed-just-hours-after-rejection-of-previous-nominee/

Update 10th December 2012

The long delay in finding the killers of Ambassador Stevens is making the US restive. See this in the Libya Herald:

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/12/08/egyptians-arrest-suspected-terror-leader-in-connection-with-benghazi-consulate-attack/

Update 19th December 3012

This from Al Jazeera today sheds more light on the killing of Ambassador Stevens.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2012/12/2012121942621595392.html

and Libya’s new Minister of the Interior and Defence set out their priorities, putting the security situation in Benghazi first.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/12/17/ministers-of-interior-and-defence-set-forth-their-plans-for-libya/

Update 9th January 2012

An interesting piece – worth following up;

http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2013/01/02/feature-02

Update 19th January 2013

The continued killings in Benghazi has led to speculation that it might be declared a military zone;

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/19/benghazi-could-be-put-under-curfew-prime-minister-ali-zeidan/

Update 23rd January 2013

In which Mrs Clinton expresses her views before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the killing of Ambassador Stevens:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9821292/Hillary-Clinton-on-Benghazi-Arab-Spring-shattered-security-in-region.html

Update 25th January 2013

UK citizens are told to leave Benghazi immediately:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/24/quit-benghazi-advice-is-overreaction/

…and later

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/24/westerners-urged-to-leave-benghazi-over-imminent-terror-threat/

….and the killing continues

ttp://wwwh.libyaherald.com/2013/01/25/another-benghazi-assassination/

Update 29th June 2016

This in the British newspaper The Guardian tells us much about the response in the USA to the killing of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/28/house-benghazi-report-clinton-attack-military

 

 

 

 

LIBYA – THE ARAB SPRING AND UNREASONABLE EXPECTATIONS

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Some observers are beginning to express their anxiety about the future of the Arab Spring. Pragmatists are pointing out that the present unrest in Egypt, The Yemen, Tunisia and Libya was predictable.
The rise in religious fervour throughout Islam has been obvious and Libya may well be the focus of the religious discord for some time to come. The Salafist movements, such as Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi, are determined to see the strict application of Sharia law and the Islamiseation of government. The Salafists are seriously anti- western and, for them, jihad as inevitable.
The failure to understand the Arab concept of power and the fateful notion that Westminster or Washington democracies are readily exportable have combined to raise false hopes in the West. However, Libya still has time to forge a civil society and a representative democracy.
If it comes, it will be Libyan in character. To be successful it will have to take account minority rights such as those of the Berbers in general and the Tebu and Tuareg in particular. It will also have to balance the aspirations of tribes and clans and make some attempt to satisfy regional loyalties which still linger in the old provinces of Cyreniaca, Tripolitania and the Fezzan.
The virtual destruction of the standing army, the police force and the intelligence services has left a power vacuum which has been temporarily filled by armed militias. They have cohered to form very powerful power broking groups and this is probably the greatest challenge to the will of the Libyan people as expressed in recent elections.
The lack of towering figures, such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in South Africa, has made reconciliation difficult between the ex Gadaffi supporters and the new militias. Gadaffi’s use of foreign mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa has resulted in serious racial attacks on black people and the incarceration and alleged torture of a large number of foreign workers.
Control the oilfields is still not secure in government hands and tribes, such as the fierce al Zawya in southeast Libya, have threatened to interrupt production in their territories.
The late King Idris, who reigned in Libya between 1951 and 1969, made sure that he controlled the army and the police force and he constantly adjusted the balance of power between them. Gadaffi pursued a similar policy but he often shot or exiled those commanders who threatened him – and they were often the most competent. It may be cynical to suggest that he who controls the army, the police and the intelligence service controls Libya. It would be a sad outcome were this to be proved correct and a new dictator emerged.
It will take time to forge a new Libya. In the meantime those who express impatience with the progress towards democracy might remember that the French revolution resulted in the Reign of Terror. The Spanish have yet to settle the Basque separatist problem. The United Kingdom’s unity is threatened by the Scottish Nationalist Party and sectarian violence broke out in Northern Ireland but a few days ago. Last summer’s riots in Britain were violent reminders that Westminster democracy is not always effective.

ON THE TRANS-SAHARAN PEOPLE TRAFFICKING ROUTES – KUFRA (UPDATE 28TH FEBRUARY 2017)

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Kufra is a cluster of oases in south eastern Libya 1,500 kilometres or so from the Mediterranean coast. Around 60,000 people now live there. It is on the old trans-Saharan slave trade route from Chad in the south to Benghazi in the north. It is now on the illegal migrant route from Khartoum to the Mediterranean. There are other routes through western Libya from Timbuktu and Kano to Tripoli which were used in the past by slave traders.
When they reach Kufra, migrants are transported at night across the desert to the coast in covered trucks. They are then embarked on flimsy and overcrowded boats for the hazardous sea trip to Malta, Lampedusa or mainland Italy. The UN Refugee Agency released figures in January 2012 showing that more than 1,500 irregular migrants or refugees drowned or went missing last year while attempting crossings of the Mediterranean Sea.
Kufra was a holy place. It was the seat of the Senussi theocracy which, for a number of years, controlled the southern part of the old province of Cyreniaca and oversaw the passing slave trade which persisted until at least 1911. It is now the hub of an illegal trade in arms, drugs, alcohol and humans. There have been a number of disturbances there between the Arab al-Zwia tribe and the African Tebu minority. These clashes reflect the ancient animosity between the Tebus and the al-Zawia but are also part of a turf war for control of the smuggling trade and people trafficking.
The most striking thing about Kufra is that it is a very long way from anywhere. Libya’s defence ministry, ultimately responsible for securing nearly 6,400km of land and sea borders, has borne the brunt of public criticism for a hopelessly under-resourced effort to stem the flow of migrants. The Libyan government is not strong and the revolution which brought it to power all but destroyed the standing army and weekend the police force, effectively replacing both with local militias.
The movement of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa through Libya towards the countries of Sothern Europe is inexorable and growing. It is too easy to shift the responsibility for stemming the flow onto Libya which has a few problems of its own to deal with at the moment. There are forces outside its control which need attention.
In 2007 the Nigerian embassy in Tripoli published this:-‘For many Nigerians, the only means of reaching Europe is by taking the risk of crossing the Sahara Desert to one of the North African countries. Recently, Libya has become the most preferred country of transit for illegal immigrants from the sub-Saharan Africa, from where they embark on a more suicidal journey of crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Italy. Many are making this arduous journey on their own volition; spending days and nights going through dunes and mountains, violence and suffering, risking their lives in temperatures sometimes reaching 50°C. Other hazards faced by the immigrants include possible abduction by several rebel groups, i.e. the Salafist, or the marauding Touareg gangs, who often rob, and rape their victims! Increasingly, among these migrants are young girls, who are lured into this journey under the pretext that they would work either in Libya or in Italy. Sadly, these girls end up in brothels, subjected to horrible sexual abuse, until they die in the hands of their captors. A few lucky ones are rescued by the police or the Nigerian Mission in one of the transit countries. Unfortunately, for most of them life would never be the same again, as they often contract HIV/AIDS while in these brothels.’
John Oakes

Update 11th October 2014

This site gives details of the people trafficking routes to and through Libya today;
http://www.iom.int/cms/en/sites/iom/home/what-we-do/migration-policy-and-research/migration-policy-1/migration-policy-practice/issues/december-2013-january-2014/mixed-migration-into-libya-mappi.html?

Update 13th February 2015

The number of deaths on the Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy and Malta remains high and the number of coastguard boats devoted to migrant rescue has been reduced. This appeared in the Libya Times on 11the February 2015;

‘Just two days after 29 migrants died of hypothermia after being rescued by the Italian coast guard in the Mediterranean, International Office of Migration (IOM) and UNHCR officials say they fear that another 300 migrants have died trying to make the crossing from Libya to Italy.’

Update 20th February 2017

This from the British Guardian Newspaper makes it clear that people trafficking is brutal and flourishing in Libya:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/20/migrant-slave-trade-libya-europe

Update 28th February 2017

This should be compulsory reading for everyone with an interest in the huaman condition;

https://www.unicef.de/blob/135970/6178f12582223da6980ee1974a772c14/a-deadl-journey-for-children—unicef-report-data.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Written by johnoakes

September 11, 2012 at 10:43 am

LIBYA – The recent destruction in Tripoli of the Karamanli tomb and with it some of Libya’s history.

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News that Salafists have recently destroyed the Karamanli graves in Tripoli came as something of a surprise. To many this event may pass without the comment it deserves. Libya has a rich history and the Libyan people have for too long suffered under the yolk of foreign governments. The Ottomans, for example, ruled Libya from the arrival of the corsair Dragut in 1551 until the Italians superseded them in 1911.
The long course of Ottoman rule in Triopli was interrupted by an extraordinary interlude when a local dynasty seized power and exercised it, nominally on behalf of the Ottoman Sultan, for a century and a quarter. The dynasty was in power when the first war between the USA and Libya occurred.
The first native of Libya to rule Triopli was Ahmed Karamanli. He emerges into history in 1711. Tradition has it that the Karamanli family was founded by a corsair from Caramania, who came to Tripoli with Dragut, married locally and settled in the menshia, that is the cultivated oasis which surrounded the walled city. The tradition, as ever, may be a dramatized version of the truth.
The first Karamanli to seize power in Tripoli was the commanding officer of the Tripoli version of the famous Ottoman ‘feudal’ cavalry, known as the Khuloghlis. The name, incidentally, is derived from the Turkish ‘kul-oghli’, meaning son of slaves. Kuloghli service bore some similarities to feudal knighthood.
In 1711 the official Ottman governor of Tripoli was Khalil Pasha. His rule was shaky and he was opposed by the commanders of his Janissary troops. Eventually one of them, Mahmoud Dey, unseated him and turned his attention to the subjugation of the Kuloghlis commanded by the popular Ahmed Karamanli. It was an error. Ahmed Karamanli, leading a horde of Berbers and the local Kuloghlis, marched into the city and became the Bashaw of Tripoli, Misurata, Benghazi, Derna and Muzurk and nominal overlord of the tribes in the interior. He and his descendants ruled their regency from 1711 to 1835.
The city state of Tripoli was for many years a nest of corsairs. By maintaining a small navy of shallow draft vessels, often manned by Christian renegades, the rulers of Tripoli were able to pursue a lucrative trade in state sponsored piracy. Tripoli, Tunis and Algiers were together known as the Barbary States. History is not without complaints about the Barbary pirates and their depredations around the Mediterranean shores and their preying on merchant vessels. Tripoli was the lesser of the three Barbary States, with the smallest corsair fleet
The state sponsored piracy led to a war with the USA. When the thirteen colonies in America made their famous declaration of independence, they lost the protection of the British Royal Navy. American merchants sent their ships out into the oceans to find as much trade as they could. Those of their ships which ventured into the Mediterranean were harassed by the Barbary Pirates from the pariah states of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. So bad were the depredations that in 1794 the US Congress authorised the construction of a navy to defend American trade.
An American consul, Cathcart, was stationed in Tripoli and, via him, the US offered the Bashaw an annual payment of 18.000 dollars, plus a present of 4,000 dollars, to buy off the corsairs. The Bashaw, Yusuf Karamanli who ruled from 1795 to 1832, was sure that the fledgling US Navy was too weak to attack Tripoli and therefore decided to provoke the US Congress into making a more generous settlement. He demanded a yearly subsidy of 250,000 dollars and an immediate present of 25,000 dollars. As Cathcart was unable to pay, Karamanli chopped down the flagpole at the American Consulate. This amounted to a declaration of war, so Cathcart left Tripoli. Karamanli’s confidence that the Americans would avoid war and offer him a larger bribe was misplaced.
The US President, Thomas Jefferson, was under some pressure to deal with the Barbary corsairs. He despatched a small navy squadron commanded by Commodore Richard Dale with limiting rules of engagement. There followed a protracted period when the fledgling US Navy patrolled the Mediterranean in an ineffective effort to limit the attacks on its merchant shipping by the corsairs.
In 1803, the US sent a third squadron to the Barbary Coast. It was commanded by Commodore Edward Preble, who had the frigates Constitution and Philadelphia, the brigs Siren and Argus and the schooners Enterprise, Vixen and Nautilus at his disposal.
Preble ordered the frigate Philadelphia, commanded by Captain Bainbridge, to take up station off Tripoli and maintain a blockade. The Philadelphia was accompanied by the schooner Vixen for inshore action. The gales made it impossible for Vixen to maintain her station, so Bainbridge sent her off to patrol around Cape Bon.
Toward the end of October, Bainbridge spotted a number of Tripoli corsairs running for shelter from the gales. On 31st October, he engaged a corsair in the approaches to Tripoli harbour. He had men taking soundings and lookouts posted but he was caught out by the treacherous Kaliusa reef which rises abruptly from the sea bed. The 44 gun Philadelphia hit it at speed with a following wind, and she was stuck fast.
Karamanli’s renegade Scottish admiral, Peter Lyle, saw his chance and sent his corsair fleet out to pound away at the Philadelphia’s rigging. With his guns unable to reply, Bainbridge called a meeting of his officers and decided to surrender. For this, he has been roundly criticised.
The Tripolitanian boats ran alongside and the Philadelphia was boarded and her crew captured. They were landed below the castle at 10 o’clock at night, and were paraded through the city in their undergarments. The officers were imprisoned in the town, but the crewmen were thrown into the notorious dungeons below Tripoli’s castle. The 308 crew members of the Philadelphia were to remain in captivity for a long time.
When the tide turned, the Philadelphia was freed from the Kaliusa reef by the renegade Peter Lyle with a salvage crew. She was towed into Tripoli harbour and remained there as an embarrassment to the US Navy. She also posed a threat to the balance of sea power in the Mediterranean, should she be restored and manned by Karamanli’s navy. This and the incarceration of 308 of her sailors ensured that the USA would have to attempt to destroy the Philadelphia and free the sailors.
In the events which followed, there were legendry feats of heroism performed by American sailors and marines. The great courage shown here was, thus, more important to the history and fighting spirit of the US Navy and US Marine Corps than to the eventual release of the 308 prisoners.
Commodore Preble decided to destroy the Philadelphia. To do this he had to get a crew into Karamanli’s well-defended inner harbour, destroy the ship and escape. He needed good information about the harbour defences, the disposition of the Tripolitanian navy and the winds and tides in the harbour. Much of this he obtained from the prisoner Bainbridge and his officers who, strangely, were permitted to correspond with friends in the US fleet.
Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, USN, volunteered to lead the raid. For this purpose he was given a captured Tripolitania ketch, the Mastico, renamed the Intrepid, and the brig Siren. Decatur and his crew trained rigorously and on the 16th January 1805, after many difficulties, they began their attack. They disguised their ships as merchant vessels from Malta, but the Intrepid was loaded with explosives and fire making material.
At night they brought the Intrepid alongside the Philadelphia, which they boarded, and quickly overcame the watch crew, laid their explosives and combustibles and lit the fuses. They re-joined the Intrepid, but the alarm had been raised. They made their escape through a heavy artillery bombardment, but reached the harbour entrance.
As they left the harbour, the Philadelphia exploded and burst into flames which lit up the castle and the ships in the harbour. Decatur and his crew escaped aboard the Intrepid and the Siren to Syracuse in Sicily, and the admiration of their countrymen.
The sailors remained incarcerated in Tripoli despite a brilliant but unsuccessful amphibious assault on the eastern city of Derna by the fledgling US Marine Corps led by Consul William Eton and Lt Lieutenant Presley N. O’Bannon. USMC. This assault, aimed at what is nowadays know as a regime change, has since been commemorated in the famous line …from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…..’ which inspires the US Marine Corps to this day. The sailors were eventually repatriated when the US Government paid a substantial sum of money to Yusuf Karamanli.
When I had the privilege of living in Tripoli friends pointed out a white flag pole on the castle. They told me that it was made from one of the masts salvaged from the USS Philadelphia. Perhaps it was. Is it still there?
John Oakes
4th August 2012
(Paraphrased from Libya – The History of Gaddafi’s Pariah State by John Oakes and published by The History Press in 2011)

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?