Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Posts Tagged ‘Tripoli

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;

Click to access 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?

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

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

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

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

Update 31st July 2013

Trails of Gaddafi’s relatives and ministers have begun.

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

IS A MILITARY STRONGMAN NECESSARY IN LIBYA?

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On the 17th February 2012 Libyans will celebrate the first anniversary of the Benghazi uprising which triggered the fall of Gaddafi. As they do so they may feel that their new leaders have been too slow to control the numerous revolutionary militias (known as thwars) formed during the civil war and have yet to disband. The militiamen argue that they fought to topple Gaddafi and are entitled to say who runs their country. Since they are heavily armed, some with artillery and tanks, they easily assert their authority because the regular army is weakened and there is no real police force. What is more, the Gaddafi regime destroyed civic society and outlawed political parties. Ordinary Libyans lack the democratic machinery to fill the power vacuum.
The capital, Tripoli, is a case in point. There are at least seven armed militias controlling the city, one of which is led by the sometime Islamist fighter, Abdul Hakim Belhadj. He fought the Russians in Afghanistan and now heads the Tripoli Military Council. He is loudly proclaiming that the British MI6 was complicit in torture. The leader of another group, Abdullah Ahmed Naker, recently claimed to have 22,000 armed men at his disposal and that his forces already controlled of 75 per cent of the capital, whereas Belhadj could only call on 2,000 armed supporters.
More significantly thwars from other regions of Libya control parts of the capital. One of them is from Misurata and has recently been in a gunfight with Belhaj’s militia. A further thwar is from the town of Zintan and it controls Tripoli airport. It is this Zintan militia which captured Gaddafi’s favourite son, Saif el Islam. He is still incarcerated in Zintan, apparently without access to a lawyer. The Berbers from the Gebel Nefusa also maintain a militia in Tripoli. Clearly they intend to see that the Berbers, long suppressed by Gaddafi, are not marginalised in the new Libya.
The provisional Libyan government seems to have abandoned Misurata to its militias of which there are thought to be 170 or so. The strongest is probably the Hablus Brigade which still has 500 militiamen at its disposal. The Misuratans appear to control a region stretching from the east of Tripoli to Sirte, Gaddafi’s old home town. We may yet find that a Misuratan militia executed Gaddafi.
Some of the militias have been accused of mistreating suspected Gaddafi loyalist. According to the UN Commission for Human Rights, there has been torture, extrajudicial executions and rape of both men and women. The medical charity, Doctors Without Frontiers, has refused to treat prisoners in Misurata jails where its volunteers have been asked to revive torture victims. According to the U.N., armed militias are holding as many as 8,000 prisoners suspected of being Gaddafi loyalists in 60 detention centres around the country.
The appearance of a Coalition of Libyan Thwars (revolutionaries) and a Cyrenaica Military Council to represent militias from several parts of Libya is disconcerting. Is it likely that a military strongman will soon emerge in Libya or will the country disintegrate into civil war again as Gaddafi predicted? Neither would be desirable.

THE DYERS

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Down by Tripoli harbour, opposite the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, you could watch little donkey carts loaded with newly dyed wool arrive. The dyers plunged the skeins in the sea water and the surplus dyes washed off the wool and spread out across the harbour. They dyers wrung the skeins out, piled them back on the carts and trotted them away to dry.

Written by johnoakes

October 20, 2011 at 10:00 am