Sunday, July 31, 2011
Chill winds in Arab Spring
From: The Australian August 01, 2011 12:00AM
ACHIEVING the hopes for freedom and democracy born of the Arab Spring was never going to be easy, and any illusions about how difficult that task is should be dispelled by events in the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi and in Cairo's Tahrir Square, crucible of Egypt's revolution.
In Benghazi, it has emerged that General Abdel Fattah Younes, the most high profile defector from the Gaddafi regime and one of the few leaders able to organise the anti-Gaddafi militants, was killed by members of a hardline Islamist militia group, the Abu Obeida al-Jarrah Brigade. One of 30 similar Islamist groups operating with the rebels, the brigade, ominously, has charge of security in Benghazi. While it may not be precisely the al-Qa'ida link Muammar Gaddafi has claimed is behind the uprising, its prominence will add to concern about the extent to which Islamists hold sway within the rebel movement.
Similarly, in Egypt the degree to which Islamists - including the Muslim Brotherhood and the extremist Salafists, whose creed is total Islamic jihad - have overtaken the democratic movement that ousted Hosni Mubarak has been demonstrated by a significant show of strength that is a turning point in the revolution. The secular democrats who led the uprising were nowhere in sight. Increasingly, they are in despair. The Islamists made it plain they want Sharia law. The cry that echoed across Tahrir Square as a counterpoint to all the hopeful calls for freedom and democracy heard only a few months ago was "Islamic, Islamic . . . neither secular nor liberal".
The challenges for the West in Libya and Egypt are vastly different. In the former, NATO's campaign to dislodge Gaddafi has taken longer than expected. There is an urgent need now to do whatever it takes to bring it to a speedy conclusion before all the optimism that accompanied the early days of the uprising is lost and the Islamists gain even more influence. In Egypt, the military junta has done little to thwart the emergence of the Islamists. Instead, by their opaque handling of the post-Mubarak challenge, they have undercut the secular democrats and played into the hands of the extremist elements.
From the outset there was a tendency by some to underplay the potential for Islamists to gain in the Arab Spring. They must not be allowed to derail the ideals of freedom and democracy on which it was founded.
Libyan Rebels Wage 'Mad Max' War In The Mountains
by LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO
August 2, 2011
The sleepy towns in the Western Mountains of Libya come to life right before the country's rebels engage in a fight with the forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The mostly deserted roads suddenly fill with pickup trucks. The rebel fighters bristle with the makeshift weapons that they rely on. The vehicles, some monster trucks, then peel off into the front lines deep in the desert, covered in dried mud that serves as camouflage.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have often featured large, well-trained armies facing off against insurgents who also have modern weapons. But Libya is a "Mad Max" kind of war.
The Western Mountains, also known as the Nafusa Mountains, rise up from Libya's flat coastal plains like a wall of rock. Their stark brown cliffs form a natural defensive barrier.
For months the rebels there were essentially cut off. Gadhafi's troops had these mountains surrounded, and the rebels had to fight with whatever was on hand. And there wasn't much: ancient World War II rifles, some Kalashnikov guns, but everything else had to be scavenged.
But as the rebels pushed Gadhafi's forces back, they were able to raid his weapons storehouses. Some turned up surprising items like U.S. Navy practice rounds, provenance unknown. The rebels have been using them in the fighting, not realizing that they are simply duds.
Some of the heaviest fighting in the war is taking place in the mountains, and there aren't enough guns to go around. At one rebel lookout on the edge of a mountain cliff, the fighters only had four tank rounds for their tank. Had they known, Gadhafi's fighters stationed nearby could have attacked at any time, and there was no way the rebels could have been resupplied.
To supplement their arsenal, the rebels have become creative. One fighter made a rocket launcher from an old barbecue, with long tubes for firing projectiles positioned on top of what had been the grill. It looks like you could cook meat in the back blast of the rocket fire.
The fighters themselves are also a motley crew. Professors, students, lawyers, engineers, doctors, laborers and taxi drivers have all taken up arms and headed to the front lines. They've become battle hardened, but still lack discipline.
The rebels in the Nafusa mountains have made gains in recent weeks, using their bravado and their rusty guns to lethal effect. But the fighting is still far from over.
Posted by William Kelly at 6:07 AM
In Libya minefields, ill-equipped rebel teams defuse devices
By DAVID ZUCCHINO
Los Angeles Times
Published: Sunday, Jul. 31, 2011 - 1:00 am
AJDABIYA, Libya -- He searches for land mines,but he has no body armor or protective mask, nometal detector, no steel-toed boots. He wears dress shoes. His tools are a metal prod and an old rake.
Salem Barassi is a weathered former police officer, 67 and long retired. He's one of dozens of volunteers who clear mines at Libya's fighting fronts, using their bare hands to lift hundreds of small antipersonnel mines laid by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Every morning, Barassi tiptoes into minefields outside the eastern Libyan oil city of Port Brega. Prodding the sand with his probe and clearing debris with the rake, he inches forward, taking tiny, measured steps.
When the probe strikes a buried object, Barassi stoops to clear away the sand. Several times a day, he uncovers a Brazilian-made mine, constructed of tan plastic, that's small enough to hold in the palm of his hand. Each mine is stamped, in English: "High Explosive."
"You have to use a very soft touch to remove these things," he says. "Otherwise, you'll set them off, and boom!"
He carefully lifts the mine and unscrews its fuse. Mines and fuses are placed in discarded ammunition boxes for safekeeping: 54 mines collected on this brutally hot summer day by Barassi and other members of his team.
Over the last two weeks, the ad hoc team of volunteers and defectors from Gadhafi's military has cleared more than a thousand antipersonnel and anti-vehicle mines around Port Brega, site of on-again, off-again fighting between rebels and government forces.
Gadhafi's fighters have scattered mines over a coastal desert strip 70 miles long and 40 miles wide, says Col. Saleh Agouri, a bearded army defector who commands Barassi's team.
How many mines are out there?
Agouri wipes the sweat from his sunburned brow and ponders the question.
"Who knows?" he says finally. "There could be thousands, tens of thousands. The more we clear, the more we find."
Human Rights Watch has accused Libyan forces of planting mines on the eastern front and in the western Nafusa Mountains, where rebels are fighting government forces for control of a key supply route to Gadhafi's power base, Tripoli, the Libyan capital. Some mines contain highly sensitive fuses or booby traps that endanger mine-clearing teams, Human Rights Watch said.
The rights group accused rebel fighters of planting roadside mines in April near Ajdabiya, 45 miles northeast of Port Brega. Later that month, the rebel leadership signed a pledge to never use mines, to destroy any existing stockpiles and, as part of any future Libyan government, to adhere to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.
Gadhafi's government has refused to sign the treaty. So has the United States, which has outlawed long-lasting land mines but still authorizes the use of "smart" mines that self-destruct after a period of time.
Dozens of rebel fighters have been killed or maimed by mines, says Col. Awad Mohammed, an army defector who commands three teams charged with clearing mines at Port Brega. Civilians have also been killed or injured, he says, particularly farmers who brave mines to pick figs and grapes during harvest season.
Mohammed says he has lost no de-miners, though some have suffered hand injuries from mine explosions.
Mohammed hoists a defused Chinese-made antitank mine, a Type-72SP, stamped with a manufacture date of 1972. About the size of a frying pan, the mine is metal and can be located with a metal detector.
"These are the big killers," he says.
The teams have only 10 working mine detectors, all donated by Qatar, Mohammed says. They also have a single armored, mine-resistant vehicle, donated by a construction company in Tobruk that used it to help clear World War II mines.
None of the soldiers or volunteers knew how to operate the vehicle, Mohammed says.
Finally, he found a farmer who used his knowledge of harvesting machines to figure out how to drive the contraption.
To locate plastic mines, the teams use volunteers who rely on their hands, eyes and nerves. Col. Agouri, an engineer trained by the army to clear mines, says he and Col. Mohammed have provided rudimentary training to volunteers.
The Brazilian-made T-AB-1 mines don't look particularly sinister. They are smooth and round, with a toylike appearance that attracts children. But they can kill a child or adult, and can easily shear off a leg or hand. They are banned by the 1997 treaty.
After mines are cleared, signs are placed to warn civilians. For illiterates, photos of mines are posted.
Barassi, who retired after 39 years as a police officer, says he couldn't sleep after he heard of civilians maimed by the mines. He drove 150 miles from his home to the mine team headquarters in Ajdabiya to volunteer.
"I can't be a police officer anymore, but I can still help save lives," he says. "It means a lot to me to be able to serve my people."
Barassi and other team members drive their own cars to the front. The soldiers are paid periodically by the governing rebel council in Benghazi, but the volunteers are unpaid.
"I don't care about the money," Barassi says. "People are dying. Money can't save them."
The tip of Barassi's right index finger has been sheared off, not by a mine, but by his own hand. Like many Libyans drafted into Gadhafi's army to fight a war in Chad in the 1980s, Barassi cut off his own fingertip to avoid conscription.
He says he has no idea how long it will take to clear the Port Brega minefields. He works Fridays, the Muslim holy day, and intends to work through Ramadan, the monthlong Muslim period of prayer and fasting that begins next week.
"It's wartime, no time to be resting," he says.
Col. Ahmed Bani, the rebels' top military spokesman, says the Port Brega minefields indicate that Gadhafi's troops intend to retreat and not return. He says the mines are scattered randomly, not in a grid pattern that can be mapped for later removal.
For the mine-clearing teams, the random placement means more danger, and more long days scouring the desert.
Col. Mohammed replies in Arabic, which is translated as, "I can't say for sure."
Then he speaks in English: "A long time."
Posted by William Kelly at 4:40 AM
Friday, July 29, 2011
Convicted terrorist al-Megrahi attends Green Square Rally for Gadhafi
Convicted Terrorist Megrahi Cheers While Qadhafi Still Reigns
July 28, 2011 at 11:49 am
On Tuesday, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, appeared on Libyan state TV at a rally in support of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi—the brutal dictator and continued target of NATO forces. Megrahi was in a wheelchair, appearing frail but in good health—a stark contrast to claims that he had a mere three months to live, prompting his release from a Scottish prison nearly two years ago.
Not only is Megrahi’s public support of Qadhafi a tremendous insult to the memory of the 270 people who perished in the Pan Am 103 terrorist attack, but it is yet another example of the disastrous “leading from behind”foreign policy of President Barack Obama’s Administration. The President failed to act in the best interest of the United States by not ensuring that Megrahi was brought to justice—a glaring affront, considering that 189 passengers aboard that flight were U.S. citizens. Meanwhile, he has continued to prosecute a poor policy in Libya as U.S. forces remain engaged in an inconclusive war with no strategy or solution in sight.
If you feel like you’ve heard this story before, never fear. You’re not experiencing Libya déjà vu. It may be the same issue, but it is certainly not the same leadership style. In April 1986, President Ronald Reagan decided, after consulting with U.S. allies and Congress, to order air strikes on Libya in response to a fatal Libyan-sponsored terrorist attack on American troops.
In contrast, President Obama made the conscious decision to leave Congress out of his decision to engage U.S. forces in Libya, and he has failed from the outset to demonstrate a clear plan or objective. U.S. intervention in Libya, which he said would “be a matter of days and not weeks,” is now entering its fourth month and has cost the U.S. a reported $1 billion (since the U.S. pays three-fourths of the operating costs for NATO).
Megrahi’s presence at the pro-Qadhafi rally adds insult to injury, representing the result of one policy mistake supporting another policy failure. It should serve as a stark reminder that the foreign policy issues of our past can quickly become the issues of our present, and we would be wise to heed history rather than political expediency.
Posted by William Kelly at 3:24 PM
Rebel Commander Abdel Fateh Younes Assassinated
ENTER The Assassins
Lyban Assassins and Cut-throats
Among the graves at Old Protestant Cemetery in Tripoli are five clearly marked as those of American sailors who died in the explosion of the USS Intrepid Sept. 4, 1804, and one nearby that states the deceased was a victim of an assassin.
Ever since the Libyan revolt began and Gadhafi’s violent response changed the rules from non-violent civil disobedience to the Art of War, assassination came into play, but has not influenced events until the assassination of the rebel commander, apparently by other rebels who questioned his loyalty even though Gadhafi had a million dollar bounty on his head.
Gadhafi himself has been said to be targeted by NATO bombers in deliberate attempts to kill him, and he often refers to the “NATO crusaders.” It was during the crusades when King Richards the Lionheart of England fought with Saladin, the head of the Moslem army. As legend has it, Richard demonstrated the power of his heavy and mighty sword by breaking a table in half, while Saladin’s strength was emphasized when he picked up a silk scarf and let it slowly fall and cut in two by the sharp edge of his small curved cutlass. Whether true or not the legend illustrates the difference in the perspective of the European and Arab mentalities.
From Americans first experience fighting the Barbary Pirates at Tripoli it was recognized they had a penchant to feign surrender only to begin fighting again when the guard was down. As Rubin James learned, they will stab you in the back or cut your throat if given the chance. Rubin James, for whom US navy warships have been named, was recognized for saving the life of Lt. Stephen Decatur during an August 1804 battle at Tripoli. It’s apparent that betrayal and assassination are part of the deal when dealing with these people, then as now.
Knowing the Barbary pirates penchant for cutting throats, the US marines adopted leather collars for the combat uniforms and were thus nicknamed “leathernecks.”
One West Point history professor had expressed the idea that resolution of today’s conflicts in Libya will also be the real resolution of the unresolved nature of the Barbary Wars of two hundred years ago. Certainly there are fighters on both sides that must be considered traitorous cut throats who can’t be trusted.
In the movie “Flight of the Phoenix,” based on the crash of a World War II bomber in the Libyan desert, the survivors encounter a wandering band of Bedouins who make camp nearby. Two of their group go to see if they can be of help, but the next morning they are found with their throats cut, a clear indication of the value of human life in the desert.
From among those students who attended the Wheelus Air Force Base school in Tripoli, there is the account of a young Libyan who liked all things American, especially Elivs and rock & roll. He lived with the ambition of one day visiting America, but shortly after the Gadhafi coup in 1969 he was seen being hung by a mob, apparently because of his sympathy for Americans.
Over a decade after Gadhafi took power, a young student who had been educated in America and had returned home was arrested as a traitor and terrorist and sentenced to death by hanging. His execution was carried out in front of grade school students in a basketball arena in Benghazi. It was an act repeated a thousand times in just one day at a Libyan prison when political prisoners were executed. It was the February 17, 2012 arrest of a lawyer who represented the families of those executed that sparked the revolt in Benghazi.
And now the lead commander of the rebel fighters in Benghazi has been assassinated, ostensibly by Islamic extremists from among the rebels, and an entire brigade has been attacked and wiped out as being a Gadhafi Fifth Column whose rebel sympathies were a ruse.
In response to my column on Sadiq Hamed Shwehdi, the student hung in the Benghazi baseketball arena, “wff” writes, “Sorry but the report on Sadiq Hamed Shwehdi as an example of Gaddafi's "brutal" rule is out of all proportion and context and is more of a cheap propaganda and demonization against Gaddafi than a serious analysis.”
“Executions may have been more public in Libya and even more brutal due to the, dare I say with reservations, ‘less civilized’ culture, development, etc., but even in the UK the death penalty for the type of act committed was still in force up until 1998, while in the US public televised executions are held even today.”
“In many countries even now, life is ‘cheap’ and seeing cruelty, executions, etc. does not have the same effect or significance as it does in the West, unfortunate but true.”
And we should be prepared to see the use of assassination as a tool in this revolt again.
Libya rebel leader Younes killed, Benghazi wobbles
One thing that's certain is that Abdel Fateh Younes, a longtime aide of Muammar Qaddafi who defected to Libya's rebels in February, was murdered today. But the circumstances of his death are murky and troubling.
Dan Murphy, Staff writer / July 28, 2011
That Abdel Fateh Younes, the longtime enforcer for Muammar Qaddafi whose stunning defection to the Libyan rebellion in February was an early indication of the depth of the challenge to Qaddafi's regime, is dead, you can take to the bank. General Younes had been head of the embryonic rebel army from practically the moment he'd switched sides.
As far as the rest of the story – who killed him, when, precisely where, and why – all remains murk and conjecture, created by cross-cutting rivalries within the rebellion and the often misleading and contradictory way that Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC) communicates with the press and the Libyan public.
This afternoon, reports began to trickle out of the de facto rebel capital Benghazi that Younes was variously under arrest or summoned for questioning by some other element of the rebellion. An early Al Jazeera English post said that "he is being held at an undisclosed military garrison in Benghazi. The reason behind the former minister of interior’s arrest on Thursday has not been made public." Al Jazeera reported that some of Younes's men had withdrawn from the frontlines at Brega and were heading to Benghazi to demand his release.
Then Mustapha Abdul Jalil, the head of the TNC, called a press conference. He said that Younes was killed along with two colonels working with him on the road from Brega to Benghazi and, oddly, that he didn't know where their bodies were. Mr. Jalil said, and other supporters of the rebellion insistently agreed, that Younes had been killed by agents of Qaddafi. That is hard to believe given the security around the men and the earlier claims that Younes was in the process of being arrested for allegedly working as a sort of double agent, still in contact with Qaddafi's people, and, in some accounts, pilfering weapons from the rebellion to send to Tripoli.
Benghazi is east of Brega, and the road east of town is largely in rebel hands. Younes typically traveled with a convoy of gunmen. Jalil urged Libyans not to listen to "rumors" and said a three-day mourning period would be observed for Younes.
Another explanation is that Younes was killed by supporters of the rebellion, either out of anger over allegations that he maintained ties to Qaddafi or as a matter of tribal or political rivalry. In March, Younes was locked in a cold war of sorts with Gen. Khalifa Hefter, who defected from the Qaddafi regime more than 20 years ago and has lived for most of the time since then in Virginia.
After Hefter returned home in March, he declared himself – with the clear backing of at least some of the rebel leadership – the new head of the rebel military. Weeks were spent jockeying for position, with whispers on one side about Younes's Qaddafi ties, and whispers on the other that Hefter was a CIA asset and not to be trusted as a longtime exile. Younes ended up winning that round and Hefter has been largely behind the scenes since.
There has been deep distrust of Younes in some quarters in Benghazi since the moment he arrived. On Feb. 20, he swung trained forces under his command to the support of civilians who with Molotov cocktails and stones were desperately trying to dislodge Qaddafi's forces from the Benghazi Barracks, or kutaiba.
His intervention proved decisive, but witnesses who fought on the civilian side that day reported that his forces also appeared to provide a security cordon to still armed Qaddafi loyalists, who retreated to the country's west. If Younes ordered this, it wouldn't necessary be evidence of perfidy – perhaps mercy for men who served along side with, or simply an expedient way to avoid bloodshed on both sides. But for some, it planted a kernel of doubt.
Shortly after Jalil's announcement, an agitated group of gunmen arrived at the hotel where he'd spoken, firing small arms and an anti-aircraft gun into the sky, escalating tension in the city. Witnesses said they appeared to hold the TNC responsible for Younes's death.
What really happened? It may be days before we have a clear picture, if then. But whatever happened here, there have been emerging splits in rebel ranks, and the likelihood that there could be a "war after the war" is looking greater (I have generally been skeptical about extensive fighting in the event Qaddafi loses, but have grown more pessimistic about my own opinion in recent weeks).
For now, the first major defector from the core of Qaddafi's security forces lies dead while Qaddafi, hounded by NATO airstrikes but untouched, remains in power in Tripoli.
Home / News / World / Middle-east
Officer accuses fellow rebels in Libya killing
A rebel special forces member accused fellow Libyan rebels on Friday of killing the movement's military chief, pointing to a potentially major split in the ranks of the opposition battling Moammar Gadhafi.
An angry Mohammed Agoury told The Associated Press that he was present when a group of rebels from a faction known as the February 17 Martyrs' Brigade came to Abdel-Fattah Younis' operations room outside Benghazi before dawn on Wednesday and took him away with them for interrogation.
Agoury said he tried to accompany his commander, "but Younis trusted them and went alone."
"Instead, they betrayed us and killed him," he said.
The February 17 Martyrs Brigade is a group made up of hundreds of civilians who took up arms to join the rebellion. Their fighters participate in the front-line battles with Gadhafi's forces, but also act as a semi-official internal security force for the opposition. Some of its leadership comes from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an Islamic militant group that waged a campaign of violence against Gadhafi's regime in the 1990s.
Agoury said the brigade had an agenda against Younis, because he was previously Gadhafi's interior minister and was involved in the crackdown that crushed the LIFG.
Younis defected to the rebellion early in the uprising that began in February, bringing his forces into the opposition ranks _ a move that at the time raised Western hopes that the uprising could succeed in forcing out the country's ruler of more than four decades. But some on the rebel side remained deeply suspicious of him because of his longtime ties to Gadhafi.
"They don't trust anyone who was with Gadhafi's regime, they wanted revenge," said Agoury.
A member of the Martyr's Brigade said his group had evidence that Younis was a "traitor." He told the AP that "the evidence will come out in a few days." The brigade member spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals.
Younis' body, along with those of two colonels who were his top aides, were found on Thursday, dumped outside Benghazi, the rebels' de facto capital. Their bodies had been burned.
The head of the rebel National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, blamed "gunmen" and said one man had been arrested, but Abdul-Jalil did not say what he believed motivated the killers.
Abdul-Jalil said Younis had been "summoned" to Benghazi for questioning on a "military matter" and was killed along with two aides while on route.
But hours before the commander's death was announced, rebel military spokesman Mohammed al-Rijali had said Younis was taken to Benghazi for "interrogation" on suspicion his family might still have ties to Gadhafi regime, raising questions about whether he might have been assassinated by his own side.
The city of Benghazi woke up to fierce shooting Friday morning, as the news of Younis' death spread confusion and suspicion in the city.
Thousands marched in Younis' funeral procession on Friday, as men draped the rebel tricolor flag over his coffin and carried it to a cemetery, where he was buried.
Younis' son, Ashraf, broke down, crying and screaming as they lowered the body into the ground.
"We want Moammar to come back! We want the green flag back!" he shouted at the crowd, betraying his frustration with the months of chaos in the country and a desire for a return to normalcy.
At the funeral, Younis' nephew Mohammad al-Obaidi called Younis a martyr and a champion of the Libyan uprising, while the crowd broke into chants of "The martyr is God's beloved" and "Allah is Great."
At the cemetery, Younis was given a military farewell with a 300-soldier salute beore being buried. The crackling of machine guns shot in the air competed with the crowds chanting.
Younis' deputy Col. Suleiman Mahmoud has taken over the military's duties in Benghazi.
Libya rebels say Younis killers were 'Islamist element'
National Transitional Council minister says rebel-aligned Obaida Ibn Jarrah group murdered defector from Gaddafi regime
The gunmen who shot dead the Libyan rebels' military chief Abdul Fatah Younis were members of an Islamist-linked militia allied to the campaign to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, according to a National Transitional Council minister.
After 24 hours of confusion surrounding the death, the NTC's oil minister, Ali Tarhouni, said Younis had been killed by members of the Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade, a militia named after one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, suggesting that Islamist elements were involved.
Tarhouni told reporters in Benghazi that a militia leader who had gone to fetch Younis from the frontline had been arrested and had confessed that his subordinates carried out the killing. "It was not him. His lieutenants did it," Tarhouni said, adding that the killers were still at large.
The NTC leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said on Thursday that Younis had been recalled for questioning to Benghazi but was killed before he arrived. Relatives said they retrieved a burned and bullet-riddled body.
The Gaddafi government has said the killing is proof the rebels are not capable of ruling Libya. Spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said: "It is a nice slap [in] the face of the British that the [NTC] they recognised could not protect its own commander of the army."
Ibrahim said Younis was killed by al-Qaida, repeating a claim that the group is the strongest force within the rebel movement. "By this act al-Qaida wanted to mark out its presence and its influence in this region," he said, adding: "The other members of the National Transitional Council knew about it but could not react because they are terrified of al-Qaida."
Younis's death has raised fear and uncertainty in Benghazi, the rebel stronghold. Thousands marched behind his coffin, wrapped in the rebels' tricolour flag, to the graveyard for his burial, chanting that he was a martyr "beloved by God". Troops fired a military salute as the coffin arrived, and angry and grieving supporters fired wildly into the air with automatic weapons.
At the graveside, Younis's son, Ashraf, broke down in tears as they lowered the body into the ground. And in a startling and risky display in a city so allied to the rebel cause, pleaded hysterically for Gaddafi's return to bring stability back to Libya. "We want Muammar to come back! We want the green flag back!" he shouted at the crowd, referring to Gaddafi's national banner.
Younis's death appeared to shake both the NTC and its western allies, who have heavily backed the rebels controlling most of eastern Libya.
Two weeks ago 32 nations including the US made a major commitment by formally recognising the NTC as the country's legitimate government. On Wednesday the British foreign secretary, William Hague, declared the council Libya's "sole governmental authority" and invited the body to set up full diplomatic relations with London.
Western worries will likely be deepened if Younis's death opens major splits among the fractious rebels. Divisions would also weaken the opposition's campaign to oust Gaddafi, which has largely stalled in a deadlock despite the four-month-old Nato bombing campaign against regime forces.
In Washington, state department spokesman Mark Toner said the circumstances of Younis's death remained unclear. He pressed the opposition to shore up any cracks in their front against Gaddafi. "What's important is that they work both diligently and transparently to ensure the unity of the Libyan opposition," Toner said.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
To Topple Assad, It Takes a Minority
By BASSMA KODMANI
Published: July 31, 2011
AFTER four months of popular demonstrations and ferocious repression, including a bloody crackdown on the central city of Hama on Sunday, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, still refuses to step down, insisting that he can reform his regime.
What is keeping Mr. Assad in power is the extensive security apparatus that was engineered by his father, Hafez al-Assad, and is dominated by their fellow Alawites, a minority Shiite sect.
Alawites, who constitute just 12 percent of Syria’s population, have mostly thrown their support behind Mr. Assad, fearful that if he is overthrown they will be massacred. If the democratic opposition in Syria is going to succeed, it must first convince the Alawites that they can safely turn against the Assad regime.
This is not as improbable as many observers believe. As the bodies have piled up — security forces have killed around 1,500 civilians since March — Alawite leaders have not been blind to the rapid erosion of the government’s power and its inability to restore control.
If they are assured of their safety, key Alawite leaders might begin to withdraw their support for the Assad family and cast their lot with — or at least tacitly assist — the opposition. A signal from them could persuade powerful Alawite army commanders to defect and take other officers with them.
Alawites have dominated Syria since Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970. But unlike his father, Bashar has never been able to bring the country’s security apparatus fully under his control since taking power in 2000. Instead, he has tried to cultivate a gentle and humane image and broaden the base of the regime by reaching out to the Sunnis, who make up most of Syria’s population. He married a wealthy Sunni woman whose family is from Homs — a stronghold of the current revolt — and actively encouraged the building of Sunni mosques and Koran schools.
But he hasn’t altered the total domination of Syria’s security forces by his Alawite clan. In the last decade, Bashar left his brother Maher al-Assad to organize the security sector with the support of his uncle and cousins, who control the ubiquitous secret police.
Since mid-March, as suppression of the protests became increasingly violent, the army has purged officers and soldiers — including many hitherto loyal Sunni troops — to reduce the chance of a revolt. The infamous Fourth Division, led by Maher and composed mostly of die-hard Alawite loyalists, played a major role in the crackdown. It is backed by an organized group of thugs, who form a parallel militia in civilian clothes.
Even when a Sunni general is in command, an Alawite deputy is often the one who holds real power. As a result of this structure, the army cannot be relied upon to carry out violent repression, nor is it able to defect as a whole.
Driven by fear of execution, disaffected soldiers have quietly worked to undermine the regime. Opposition leaders report that sympathetic soldiers and officers have sometimes warned them of imminent attacks. However, the army’s top leadership is unlikely to collectively withdraw its support from the government, as happened in Egypt and Tunisia — and opposition forces should not put too much hope in this scenario.
It is the Alawite population as a whole, not the army, that holds the key to change. But the Alawites will need assurances from the opposition before they abandon Mr. Assad.
Alawite religious and community leaders have tried reaching out to Sunni religious figures, including leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the last month to obtain guarantees that their security and well-being will be protected in the post-Assad era; the opposition should offer such promises, which would encourage Alawites to join the revolt en masse.
The onus falls on the Sunni majority to reassure Alawites and other minorities like Christians, Druse and Shiites — who believe they need the regime’s protection — that they will not be subjected to acts of vengeance. These Sunni religious and political leaders can save Syria from its sectarian demons.
Only Syrians can initiate this delicate process; foreign governments, whether Arab or Western, have limited roles to play. The Syrian psyche is shaped by memories of foreign interference, something the Assad regime did not invent, but has exploited.
In Syria, anyone who calls for outside intervention is likely to be branded a traitor; any Western threat of military action would therefore hurt the opposition more than the regime. Outside powers can play a useful role by declaring they will not use military force. Such a statement would weaken Mr. Assad’s argument that the uprising is the result of foreign meddling and remove a major source of anxiety among Syria’s hesitant majority.
Syrians of all stripes are beginning to understand that everyone is a victim of this regime and that the real conspiracy is that of the Assads themselves. Sunni leaders must act now to prevent the revolt from descending into civil war by assuring minorities that they will not face reprisals in a new Syria. This could bring Alawites into the opposition’s ranks and seal the regime’s demise.
Bassma Kodmani is the executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative.
The Syrian Revolution Gets Organized & News From Around the League
WASHINGTON, July 26, (Agencies): The United States on Monday denounced Syria’s army as “barbaric” and “reprehensible” after the latest violence, renewing its charges that President Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy. The State Department highlighted the death of 12-year-old boy Talhat Dalat, who human rights activists said died of his injuries on Saturday after a policeman earlier shot him at close range during an anti-regime rally.
“The behavior of Syria’s security forces, including other such barbaric shootings, widescale arrests of young men and boys, brutal torture, and other abuses of basic human rights, is reprehensible,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. “President Assad must understand that he is not indispensable, and we believe he is the cause of Syria’s instability, not the key to its stability,” she said.
“The regime should make no mistake that the world is watching, and those responsible will be held accountable for their crimes,” she said, repeating Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks that Assad has “lost legitimacy.” Security forces have killed another three people and arrested so many that Syria has become a “huge prison,” activists said on Tuesday, as the crackdown on dissent shows no signs of easing.
Two men and a woman were shot dead on Monday in separate incidents in and around the flashpoint central city of Homs and in the northwestern city of Idlib, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
They were killed by security forces manning checkpoints, the Observatory’s chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP in Nicosia on Tuesday. One man was killed as he was heading to work in Homs, a bastion of anti-regime dissent where the army has been conducting a bloody crackdown since last week, he said.
Another man was shot dead on Monday night when security forces manning a checkpoint in Talbissah outside Homs opened fire, Abdel Rahman added. The woman was riding a motorcycle with her husband and child in Idlib, and they had just driven past a security checkpoint when she was killed, he said. Abdel Rahman also reported “heavy gunfire” on Tuesday in Homs.
Meanwhile, the National Organisation for Human Rights accused the Syrian authorities of turning the country into a “huge prison” by arresting hundreds of people, despite lifting emergency rule in April.
“Syria has become a huge prison,” NOHR chief Ammar Qorabi said in a statement on Tuesday which also gave the names of some 250 people who have been arrested nationwide in the past few weeks.
Several other people have also been detained but their names could not be confirmed, the statement said.
“The Syrian authorities are still pursuing arbitrary arrests of political activists, academics and civilians and storming homes as Syrian civilians continue to disappear by the hundreds,” it said.
“This is a flagrant violation of the basic rights that are guaranteed by the Syrian constitution, despite the lifting of the state of emergency.”
THE REVOLUTION GETS ORGANIZED
Meanwhile, representatives of Syrian anti-regime protesters are to meet on Wednesday in Turkey to discuss coordination and strategy, a Syrian activist said.
Bahiya Mardini, who heads the Cairo-based Arab Free Speech Committee, told AFP in Nicosia on Tuesday that the meeting would be the first of its kind since dissent against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad erupted in mid-March.
Syrian dissidents have already met in Istanbul, but there has been no gathering of people directly connected to the almost daily protests that have shaken Syria since March 15.
The Istanbul meeting will run until Saturday and focus on “developping the coordination between activists and working groups of the revolution,” said Mardini.
She said training sessions will be held during the four-day gathering, as well as workshops covering several aspects of revolutionary work, from the legal, political and media aspects to logistics.
On Wednesday, delegates from the so-called Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union will submit “papers for discussion and other documents about the revolution.”
Earlier this month some 350 Syrian dissidents gathered in Istanbul for a so-called National Salvation Congress to debate strategies to oust the Assad regime.
Two French rights groups will file legal complaints against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and members of his entourage in an attempt to push the government to determine whether they hold assets in France.
Sherpa and Transparency International France, which earlier this year filed complaints against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Tunisia’s ousted president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, said in a statement they wanted the government to make public all of its findings.
“The objective is get an investigation open that would then identify assets that they may own in France either in their own name or through intermediaries .... and then to freeze them so they are not transferred to uncooperative jurisdictions,” the rights’ groups said in a statement on Tuesday.
Egypt’s hospitalised former President Hosni Mubarak, who is due to stand trial next week over the killing of protesters, is weak and refusing solid food, the official news agency MENA reported on Tuesday.
The statement about Mubarak’s condition followed reports that he had died. The condition of the 83-year-old former leader has been a frequent subject for speculation. Many Egyptians see his illness as a ploy so he can avoid trial.
Mubarak, toppled in February by a popular uprising, has been in hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since April when he was first questioned by the authorities. He has been charged with involvement in the killing of protesters and abuse of power and is due to stand trial on Aug. 3.
A Cairo court is handling the case but judicial and security sources told Reuters this month that the trial could take place in Sharm el-Sheikh. There has been no official statement so far suggesting the trial would be moved.
Mubarak “is completely refusing to eat food but consumes some liquids and juice only. He lost a lot of weight and suffers weakness and severe infirmity,” MENA quoted Mohamed Fathallah, head of the hospital where Mubarak is being treated, as saying.
The report also quoted a medical source as saying medical supervisors would decide in the next few hours whether to put him on a drip or to continue normal feeding, saying his current food intake was “not sufficient to live.”
Health Minister Amr Mohamed Helmi told Al Arabiya satellite channel that Mubarak remained in poor health.
Protesters have accused the army council now ruling Egypt of dragging its feet over the trial of their former commander-in-chief. They say the generals do not want to publicly humiliate the decorated war veteran whom they served for years.
A court ordered on Monday that the case of former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli and his aides be joined with those of Mubarak and his sons, as the charges were the same.
The daily al-Masry al-Youm, citing a security source, said on Tuesday this could mean Adli and others would be taken to Sharm el-Sheikh.
Clashes broke out on Tuesday between workers at an industrial free zone in the Egyptian canal city of Ismailiya and military police in which 38 people were injured, witnesses and medics told AFP.
At least 5,000 workers from the Ismailiya Public Free Zone, where 80 factories produce textiles and leather, had tried to leave the industrial compound where they have been striking and were blocked by military police, witnesses said.
The military fired gunshots into the air and blocked the exit to the compound. Workers then pelted stones at the troops, who hurled them back.
The clashes left 36 workers and two military police officers injured. Of these, 23 people needed hospital treatment, medics said.
Fifteen Egyptian groups called on Wednesday for women’s rights to be guaranteed in the new constitution, after a popular uprising that toppled the regime paved the way for a new charter.
“We are not proposing a new constitution, but we want women’s rights to be included,” Amina ElBendary, a professor of Arab and Islamic Civilisation at the American University in Cairo, and one of the signatories, told a news conference.
“We have simply put forward some suggestions of clauses which could be included in the next constitution,” she said.
After eight weeks of research in various parts of Egypt, the 15 groups are calling for a women’s quota in parliament and in local councils, as well as equal rights for women at work and in education.
“The women we have met are very concerned about their rights, they want the law to protect them,” said Azza Soleiman, a long-time women’s rights activist.
“The women are not questioning the sharia,” the Islamic law on which personal status laws are based, “but they want the law clearly defined because the interpretations can vary,” she said.
“We don’t want Egypt to adopt the same interpretation as in Saudi Arabia,” said Soleiman.
The statement comes as Egyptians await a new constitution, after the previous one was suspended by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which took power when president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February.
An international consensus may be emerging over allowing Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to remain in the country if he steps down.
Western countries and Libyan rebels long insisted Gaddafi leave the country, as a condition for ending the five-month-old civil war.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday became the latest Western official to suggest Gaddafi could remain in Libya if he resigns. His French counterpart made such a proposal last week. The White House has said it’s up to the Libyan people. Gaddafi has given no sign he is ready to leave office.
Suggesting a shift in position, Libyan opposition leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil said Monday that Gaddafi could stay in Libya if he resigns. Abdul-Jalil spoke to The Wall Street Journal.
Libya’s capital is suffering shortages of fuel, medicine and cash despite “aspects of normalcy,” UN fact finders said, as the top US military officer deemed NATO’s air campaign as at a “stalemate.”
Meanwhile, NATO said on Tuesday it had “no evidence” that civilian facilities were hit in air raids near Zliten east of Tripoli after the regime accused the alliance of destroying a clinic there and killing seven people.
But the alliance did warn it would bomb former civilian facilities, including factories, warehouses and agricultural sites, being used by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces to launch attacks.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya Laurence Hart, in a statement issued late on Monday, said the week-long fact-finding UN mission to Libya had identified several problems besetting Gaddafi’s regime, which has been battling rebels for the past five months.
“Although the mission observed aspects of normalcy in Tripoli, members identified pockets of vulnerability where people need urgent humanitarian assistance,” Hart’s statement said.
The health sector is under strain, having lost thousands of foreign workers at the beginning of the conflict, it said.
“Medical supplies, including vaccines, are rapidly running low, and the mission received reports of heavy psychosocial impact of the conflict, mainly on children and women,” it added.
“Although basic food items are available in the markets, prices are rising and there are concerns over the sustainability of supplies into the city especially as the (Muslim) holy month of Ramadan approaches,” it added.
The UN fact finders also visited Khoms and Zliten, east of Tripoli and close to the frontline, as well as Garyan south of the capital, where they found “a significant” influx of internally displaced people.
“Fuel shortages have become a pressing problem, and the UN team observed long queues at gas stations, some of which had closed down,” the statement said.
“Reduced availability of cash is also a serious concern because many Libyans withdrew their savings from banks at the beginning of the crisis. Banks are restricting cash withdrawals for individual account holders.”
In Brussels, NATO said alliance warplanes struck military targets near Zliten on Monday but there was no immediate confirmation that a clinic had also been hit.
Foreign reporters taken to Zliten by government minders and shown what they were told was the remains of a clinic hit by a NATO bomb. A local official said seven people were killed.
Alliance military spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie said in Brussels on Tuesday that in recent days NATO had hit a concrete factory near Brega where regime forces were hiding and firing multi-barrel rocket launchers.
“Pro-Gaddafi forces are increasingly occupying facilities which once held a civilian purpose,” Lavoie told reporters in a video news conference from the operation’s headquarters in Naples, Italy.
Such sites include stables, agricultural facilities, commercial and industrial warehouses, factories and basic food processing plants.
“By occupying and using these facilities the regime has transformed them into military installations from which it commands and conducts attacks, causing them to lose their formerly protected status and rendering them valid and necessary military objectives for NATO,” Lavoie said.
NATO’s daily operational update said it had hit a military facility, armoured vehicles, tanks and light military vehicles around Brega on Monday.
It also hit a command centre, anti-aircraft weapons, multiple rocket launchers and a military vehicle in the Tripoli area and armoured fighting vehicles near Garyan.
NATO said Tuesday that bombing in Libya will continue as long as needed despite growing reluctance among some countries to participate, and Muammar Gaddafi cannot “wait us out.”
“As long as his forces continue to attack or threaten civilians, and as long as they continue to try and cut off humanitarian aid, our operations will continue in Libya,” spokeswoman Carmen Romero said.
When NATO took command of operations, it expected that would quickly persuade Gaddafi to yield power. But the bombing campaign — now in its fifth month — has yet to dislodge the regime.
Eight NATO members have been participating in air strikes in Libya: the US, Britain, France, Belgium, Canada, Norway, Denmark and Italy. They have carried out a total of more than 6,200 strike sorties.
But this coalition has been gradually fraying.
The United States was the first to limit its participation, deciding to only provide support to the European allies. Then Italy withdrew its only aircraft carrier and part of its air force contingent. Meanwhile, Norway has announced it will pull all of its F-16 warplanes out of the operation by Aug 1.
Still, NATO has said Gaddafi should not count on any change in the tempo of operations.
“(NATO) nations are absolutely determined to continue that mission,” Romero said. “Gaddafi cannot wait us out.”
Yemeni forces said on Tuesday they killed 10 al-Qaeda fighters who attacked their camp outside the southern town of Zinjibar, the scene of fierce clashes between government troops and militants.
Islamists have seized several areas in the surrounding province of Abyan in recent months — raising fears in the West and neighbouring Saudi Arabia that al-Qaeda’s Yemen wing is expanding, taking advantage of a security vacuum left by prolonged anti-government protests.
Yemen has been rocked by more than five months of demonstrations against the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The country was left in political limbo when Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment following a bomb attack on his palace last month.
Yemen’s army launched an offensive last week to push back militants in Abyan, on Yemen’s southern coast, but has so far only regained one military site.
An army spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the al-Qaeda fighters attacked one of its camps on Monday night.
“The 10 militants were killed by heavy shells before they could make it to the military camp,” he said, adding that one of those killed was a senior member of the militant group.
An army general told Yemeni television late on Monday the army’s offensive in Abyan was facing fierce resistance.
“Our forces are engaged in difficult clashes with al-Qaeda in Zinjibar,” said Mohammed al-Somali. “The fighting is large and violent, on a larger scale than most would probably imagine.”
About 90,000 people have fled the violence in Abyan, most of them heading to the nearby port city of Aden, which lies east of a strategic shipping strait that channels about 3 million barrels of oil a day.
Security analysts have cast doubt on Yemen’s reports that its forces have killed dozens of al-Qaeda militants and several senior leaders, noting that many of those fighting in Abyan are likely members of other militant groups.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if there were puritanical militants who want to see closer adherence to what the consider to be Islamic values but didn’t necessarily share the trans national agenda of AQAP (al-Qaeda’s Yemen wing),” said security analyst Jeremy Binnie, of IHS Jane’s.
Saleh’s opponents accuse him of letting his forces ease their grip around areas suspected of hosting militants, in order to convince foreign governments that only he stands in the way of a militant takeover.
Both the United States and neighbouring Saudi Arabia, targets of foiled attacks by al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, are wary of growing turmoil in Yemen, which they fear gives room to the militant group to operate.
Washington and Riyadh hoped to bring more stability to Yemen by pushing Saleh into signing a Gulf-brokered transition plan, but the 69-year-old leader has backed out of inking the deal three times.
He has instead vowed to return to Yemen and start a national dialogue, angering protesters in the streets who are still insisting on his resignation.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Destroyed Mosque outside of Misrata in June, 2011
Who’s minding the mosque?
Most of the Arab revolutionary demonstrations occur on Friday, after Muslim prayers. This article from Israel details how the religious leaders are either controlled by the government censors or free to preach what they want.
TML Jerusalme, Israel
Whether as a conduit for government policy or the headquarters for insurgencies, mosques have always played an important political role in political events. But the Arab Spring is playing havoc with the simple rules that once prevailed, complicating the jobs of government mosque-minders.
On Sunday, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Watanreported that preachers who speak out against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad are bring arrested, whereas sermons targeting the Libyan dictator Muammar Al-Qaddafi are permitted and even encouraged. "This is a political decision," an unnamed source in Kuwait's Ministry of Religious Endowments told the daily. "The Endowments Ministry receives its orders from the Foreign Ministry."
Friday sermons are the linchpin of the weekly service, when Muslims gather in the mosque for communal prayer. The preacher, or khatib, is often a government appointee – subject to censorship or pushed to self-censorship. The outbreak of the Arab Spring has upset the system, enabling preachers to speak freely in some countries while in others upsetting the messages governments want the faithful to hear.
Although mosques have often taken a backseat to Facebook and other social media in many countries this year, for many in the Arab world the Internet isn’t accessible and politics is governed by religion. For activists in Syria, where the government has shut down communications, the mosques have taken on their traditional role.
But the government, which is struggling to quell widening protests across the country against the regime, still tries to keep sermons on message. When U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford angered Damascus by visiting the rebel stronghold of Hama earlier this month, Syria’s preachers were ready with a response.
They denounced the ambassador's visit without prior permission, calling it interference in Syria’s internal affairs, according to the state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency. In his Friday sermon at Damascus’ historic Umayyad Mosque, Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan Al-Bouti warned against foreign interference in the events witnessed in Syria, stressing that the Quran warns against making mistakes during such critical times. Some ignore these warnings, he was reported to have said.
In Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as a bulwark against the change taking place in the Arab world, government-appointed clerics have condemned Arab demonstrations as un-Islamic acts of rebellion against leaders. But even that has changed this year to some extent.
"Preachers follow the government line," Abdullah Jaber, a Saudi political cartoonist, told The Media Line. "I don't remember Arab revolutions ever mentioned in Friday sermons."
The Saudi government has remained silent on demonstrations in Syria and Bahrain, Jaber added, and as a consequence mosque preachers have remained silent as well. The exception to that rule, he said, is Libya.
"During the Tunisian revolution no one spoke, nor during the Egyptian revolution. But when Libya revolted, the imam began speaking about the citizens of Misrata and the oppression applied against the protesters."
In Jordan, where King Abdullah has faced increasing vociferous protests against corruption and the absence of democracy, preachers must be authorized by Jordan's General Intelligence Directorate (GID), and the text of Friday's sermon must be sent to the Ministry of Endowments ahead of time. So far, the government hasn’t relaxed its stricture.
"Generally speaking, political sermons are banned in Jordan," Fatima Al-Smadi, a Jordanian media professor and columnist for the daily Al-Arab Al-Yawm, told The Media Line. "The Ministry of Endowments, which controls the mosques, won’t allow it."
Jordan didn’t always exercise such tight control over sermons, Al-Smadi said. That began to change after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center created worries about Islamic fundamentalists. She said that historically Muslim Brotherhood preachers dominated mosque pulpits, but today they are almost completely absent. The clampdown has intensified over the past five years, but Al-Smadi said it has done little to affect public opinion.
"Most Jordanians supported the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, but the Friday sermons opposed them, arguing they caused fitna (social chaos)," she said. "What is said on the pulpit does not represent the majority of Jordanians."
Kuwait, an oil-rich Gulf emirate so far unscathed by social unrest experienced in other Arab countries, controls mosque sermons through its Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs. In 2009, the government published a "Mosque Charter" outlining the role of the mosque in society, and that of its leader, the imam.
"The imam must maintain an atmosphere of submission, calm and peace in the mosque. He must not allow any activity that arouses disunity or confusion, corrupting the spirit of submission. He should not discuss matters he does not understand," the charter reads.
Nabil Al-Awadi, a well known Kuwaiti preacher, was recently expelled from the pulpit for four months after criticizing the Syrian president in violation of the Mosque Charter, local media reported this week.
But in Egypt, where popular demonstrations succeeded in toppling President Husni Mubarak last February, preachers have found new freedoms, Ali Khafagy, a youth leader in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, told The Media Line.
"In the past, sermons in Egypt used to be purely religious, with no one but the Muslim Brotherhood talking about politics," he said. "Today, politics is the rule in mosques rather than the exception."
Khafagy said every large mosque in Egypt used to have "supervisors" who would inform the government of the content of Friday sermons, with erring imams subject to arrest and torture.
"Today everyone can say anything about any leader," he added. "The revolution has changed a lot, especially in terms of freedom of speech."
Posted by William Kelly at 12:27 PM
Living to Resurrect Libya
By Aziza Bazama
If you had asked me to remain in my country five months ago -- I would have hesitated. Not for the lack of love or appreciation, but rather the dim outlook on its future.
My country had been sucked dry from all its beauty, wealth and grandeur. It was like a red-breasted robin caged within the dark dismal shadow of a hunting cat. Afraid to show its beauty, sing its song, fly its wings of freedom.
Its youth, us, aging within our minds. Our hairs greying before their time. Our parents dying for they are now old, fifty. If you reach 70 years of age, you are a living legend.
Liver sclerosis is widespread, alcohol is not. Scurvy is widespread, dental hygiene is not. Diabetes is widespread, adequate healthcare is not. Schools are widespread, education is not. Universities lack basic facilities, such as computers, laboratories, and internet access. Heads of departments within universities hold nothing more than Junior Level Certificates to their names. How did they reach that position you ask?
They know Gaddafi.
The beginning of the end of emotional and mental poverty was born on February 17th 2011. The new date of birth for all of Libya.
The diamonds within the rough emerged and did what no man before them could do. They stood before their oppressor, armed with nothing more than faith, loyalty and moral strength. Characteristics absent within their so called leader. Their voices bellowed beyond the streets, mountains and shook the walls of his compound.
It was on that day that every young man that sat outside a shop and whistled at a passing girl, the young man that slipped his number into her bag and cheekily followed her until she responded. The young man that gave up on searching for work and looked into travelling abroad. The young man that fought with his neighbour over football then took him out for pizza as an apology. It was on that day; those men rose and became our heroes.
The legends of Libya.
They are, we are, the children of Omar Al-Mukhtaar.
We knew our uprising would differ to Egypt and other countries. For our lives had been different. We were ruled by an iron fist. For forty two years we could not mention his name without suffering frightening consequences. Now we dare to speak to him and ask for our rights and freedom.
This would anger the barbaric beast.
Family after family mourned losses because of this man. Families were torn apart as lives were ripped out and replaced with hollow pangs. If you practiced your religion devotedly, you deserved to be captured and tortured. If you were friends with those that did, you best run in fear if you are not caught.
Our meals were controlled. He decided when we ate Lamb, Chicken, Fish etc He decided what websites we could access. If he was angry with a city, they did not receive the luxury of food. He decided who could leave or return to Libya. He decided if we are worthy of electricity, clean drinking water etc He decided that the average wage would be 200LY (law number 15), leaving little or no means to clothe, shelter and feed a family. He decided that if a person entered an empty home and stayed one night in it, that home and all its belonging legally became theirs. Law number 4 caters for the confiscation of private and commercial property, practically passing such stolen properties to the members of his family and of its so called revolutionary committee members who are in charge of security.
He had and still has spies worldwide. They would monitor every Libyan's life. Who they spoke to, where they worked, their family links back in Libya, what they spoke about etc. Everything was reported back to him. If you dare to utter a word against him, you and your family's lives were at risk. If the spies were angry with you, they would abuse their powers and blacklist you.
Not to mention the peculiar unwritten law of forbidding the mention of the names of any Libyan official by the national media, except those of himself and immediate members of his family. Even in football, no names of players were allowed to be mentioned, except that of his son because Gaddafi regarded stardom as a political crime. Sport was not safe.
Hundreds of men went missing in the Chad war, over 20,000. One of the most pointless wars to date. Families were left without fathers and sons without explanation as to what happened or where they are. Twenty five years later, they are given a small sum of money and told they are now considered "victims of war" and they have recorded them as "dead".
Libya's devil in female form, Huda Ben "Amer, has hanged numerous men. One of the most infamous is being that of a man in the middle of a university in Benghazi, accused of plotting against Gaddafi in USA. She kicked and swung out of him to ensure that he was dead. My auntie, a student, turned her head to only be slapped on the face by a female guard and forced to watch in fear.
Later, he, Mr. Al-Shuwehdy was found to be innocent. Officials arrived at the house of his wife and children, to apologise, giving her a sheep and money. A poor, disgusting attempt to replace a true man. A brother, uncle, husband, son and father.
He is one of hundreds, if not thousands that she killed. Gaddafi committed some of the most brutal human right excesses in the late 70s and early 80s. Libyan students were hanged in universities, sport auditoriums and public squares simply for not adhering to the green book ideology.
In reality, their crimes were nonexistent.
Young and old men were disappearing without a trace. They were being snatched from the streets and their homes for speaking out or knowing people that do. Forty two years later, during the uprising, an underground prison cave was unearthed in Benghazi, with remains of human bodies except for a few frail men.
One of the most heartbreaking atrocities that took place was on June 29th 1996. The Abu Salim prison massacre, where he ordered the killing of 1,270 political prisoners.
Not forgetting that Gaddafi's agents killed WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London on April 17th 1984. Along with many other Libyan political dissidents through a campaign that he calls "Eliminating Stray Dogs".
Gaddafi has also shot down a civilian Libyan airliner over Libya killing about 150 passengers. Bizarrely he had given the doomed flight a similar flight number to the Lockerbie airliner. This atrocity was also committed on the anniversary of the Lockerbie airliner.
The thousands of Libyan people that died due to the constant discharge of untreated sewage in the sea in close proximity to the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi is agonising. Private Libyan citizens yearly spend on average 5 billion dollars in Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt out of their pockets for medical treatment, because they have completely lost trust in the Libyan health care system.
The terrifying truth is that civil infrastructure, healthcare and the education system have failed beyond disbelief in the last 40 years.
He demolished stunning structures from history. Buildings that symbolised the heroic history of our country such as the parliament and foreign ministry buildings in Tripoli. He destroyed the mausoleum (in Benghazi) of Omar Al-Mokhtaar and then removed his remains, to bury them in a remote oasis, which in itself was an act of desecration to the national pride. This is all in an effort to continuously rewrite Libyan history according to his twisted personal ideology and personal grandiose.
This is besides the fact that he has complete and utter total disregard for the teachings (Sunnah) of the prophet Muhammad and his failed attempts at altering the Quranic text.
For many years, Gaddafi squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on terrorist organizations such as the IRA and the red brigades, and on separatist movements in Africa, the Far East and central and Latin America.
He is responsible for the abolishment of the Libyan constitution (compiled by a team of leading international jurists) which symbolized the smooth birth of Libyan independence and its national sovereignty as voted for by the general assembly of the UN.
He is responsible for the forced military training of very young male and female students.
He is responsible for the use of Libyan women as so called revolutionary nuns as personal bodyguards.
He is responsible for the declaration of war on Switzerland for arresting one of his sons and his wife for beating up the domestic staff.
He is responsible for the HIV infection breakout in Benghazi. Over 500 children were affected because the sterilization equipment was malfunctioning.
He has squandered unimaginable wealth on his propaganda machine; mainly managed by such figures like Mr. Ali Al-Kilani and Mr. Abdullah Mansour.
He is responsible for suffocating our country.
He is responsible for destroying, abusing, destroying and killing our country and its people.
He is the reason this revolution took place and this revolution will not end until he is destroyed.
Libya will be resurrected and loved loyally.
Living in Ireland, from Libya. UCD graduate. Dying to return to a free Libya.
The Libyan Virtual Revolution
Ali, a Misrata freedom fighter hit by a Gaddafi Grad on May 13 (source)
News report after Twitter update after Facebook status, my mind wanders beyond belief. Are my family ok? What about my neighbours? My land, how much of it has he destroyed?
Benghazi is safe. That's good. What about the rest? Misurata, Zintan, Zawiya, Tripoli, the list is endless. If we fail to free them, he will return with vengeance.
The battle on the ground is heart-wrenching. Lives torn to shreds, the buried dug up so that their simple right to rest in peace is taken away. Mothers and children running in fear into the desert, into emptiness, while their husbands and fathers protect their land. Boys as young as eight falling victim to rape, along with their sisters and mothers. Young men, Libya's future, are fighting on the frontline with little or no training. They are fighting for our freedom. Soldiers breaking down doors and pulling the young men and children out of their homes, their crime -- crying out for freedom, for basic human rights. Snipers positioned on the roofs of buildings with orders to kill any male between the ages of thirteen and thirty. Hospitals and mosques destroyed, along with the attempted banning of prayer. The stopping of food, medicine, and water from reaching the cities.
All of this, and we have suffered more at the hands of his rule the past forty two years.
We feel helpless, completely and utterly helpless. Living abroad, with no means of reaching adequately to our people. Charity events are springing up everywhere to raise money and awareness. Protests are being held weekly, if not, bi-weekly worldwide. In the meantime, another form of battle for Libya has surfaced.
It began as groups and pages forming on Facebook / Twitter to report confirmed news. People, who have never met supporting one another from across the globe, lending a word of encouragement, sympathy, a simple word that would bring a smile to our faces, if even momentarily. We were a strong 3000 members that were not giving up on our country.
I would log on, at home and in work, looking for news, support and comfort. It became a necessity. A virtual force that kept me strong. Little was I aware at the time that other groups had been forming and increasing in numbers rapidly.
We came across a pro-Gaddafi group that consisted of approximately 300 members. They were posting information against the freedom fighters, NATO, UK, France etc I, along with 6 other members of a group decided to go in and post our beliefs and the true voice of Libya. With every fact, article and video we posted, we were subjected to abuse, threats, insults and later our posts were deleted and we were blocked.
In the meantime, another group surfaced, pro-Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, which consisted of 575 members, and within 2 hours dropped to 543 when we voiced our concerns regarding Libya.
This resulted in the formation of the FLVA (Free Libyan Virtual Army) on Facebook. Created by Libyan people of different backgrounds that had one voice. We are from Ireland, UK, Sweden, Egypt, Canada, USA and many more countries.
It began as a small group, no more than seven. Within 24 hours it grew to 197 and today, five days later, there are 317 dedicated virtual soldiers and we are growing strong.
Our sole goal is to spread the voice of the Libyan people. The real reasons why we are so dedicated to this revolution. The atrocities we have been subjected to over the years and how Gaddafi ruled with an iron fist.
We are dedicated to opening the minds and eyes of the people within these groups. To show them the truth behind the lies, the light that has been overshadowed by him and his regime.
Our first few attempts resulted in us coming across many more of these groups. As a matter of fact, we have uncovered 74 to date. Frighteningly, 80% of them are formed and consist of non-Libyans. With an astonishing number of Serbian and Russian supporters, who are the most abusive of them all.
We also came across Gaddafi's virtual army. The Libyan Green Electronic Army, consisting of 789 members.
It is a fact that the battle ahead of us is rather challenging. Considering that the lies that are being depicted by these groups is worrying, and the image they are painting of the freedom fighters and Libyan people is quite disturbing. We have come across fake videos and photographs in these groups that are being used by Gaddafi's media to try and distort the truth. This is turn has raised our concerns regarding the information that has been projected by the media, as a result of the Libyan government.
In addition, the groups controlled by the Serbian and Russian members are rendering quite sickly manifested ideation of the military intervention in the revolution.
The comments on our posts are abusive to say the least, but they do not come close to the private messages we receive. A small sample of these would be:
Bint Al-Iraq 03 May at 14:06
Look what I just received from Podrska Pukovniku May 1 at 1:21pm When I called him a mercenary:
yes im mercenary and i will kill u for free
Hi Aziza, Kamran Sadr commented on Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi's Wall post:
04 May 22:17
Kamran wrote "Yes we support him against External and internal Aggressors !"
Hi Aziza, Петар sent you a message.
28 April 23:52
"fuck u rat"
You may ask, why not just "report abuse" and block them?
This would be pointless, as we want to voice the truth, not run from the lies. We have been running and hiding for 42 years, our time is now.
What keeps us, the FLVA strong is the vision of a free Libya and knowing that we are playing our part in this revolution.
Our battlefield is the worldwide web. Our weapons are knowledge, truth, dignity and words.
Our goal is to free Libya of all its enemies, on the virtual battlefield.
Posted by William Kelly at 12:19 PM
Libyan Rebels Fight To Maintain Control Of Gualish
by LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO
There's been more fighting in western Libya as forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi moved to retake control of a village that fell to rebel fighters earlier this week. As news of the latest attack spread, young rebels in the mountain town of Zintan jumped into cars and trucks heading to the front. Civilians fled in the other direction to escape the bombardment.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, Im Steve Inskeep.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
And Im Mary Louise Kelly.
We're getting an update, this morning, on conflict in two countries in the Middle East. First: Libya. In Libya's western mountains, battles are underway for control of dusty villages. The rebels fighting there are a ragtag group who drive to the front in pickup trucks. Yesterday, word spread that the village of Gualish had been retaken by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins the rebels as they made their way to the frontline.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Word spread like wildfire around Zintan, the main garrison town in the western mountains. Gadhafi's forces had retaken Gualish.
(Soundbite of conversations)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Almost immediately, dozens of gars crowded into the only working gas station, young men in bandanas greeting friends and relatives.
(Soundbite of conversations in foreign language)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The scene is pretty extraordinary here in Zintan. Everyone has come with their cars, sedans, pickup trucks; weapons and people stuffed in everyway they can, to get gas and then head straight to the front.
(Soundbite of engine ignition)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Abdul Fatah has 12 young men sitting on the back of his truck, which also is carrying a mound of Katyusha rockets.
Mr. ABDUL FATAH: (Arabic language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We all sleep together and hang out together, he says, and now we go and fight together.
Speeding along heading into battle are also two brothers and their friend. They're all from Zintan but they've studied in the U.K. at some point. Twenty-year-old Khalid is painfully slender. He has black and white bandana raffishly tied around his hair and a long beard. Like many young men heading into danger, he's filled with bravado.
KHALID: Say anything happen in the western mountain. Anything happen here because Zintan, it's like the NATO for western mountains, yeah. They don't fall back, you know, we just move ahead. Where as the Gadhafi forces, there. Kick their butts and kick them away.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: His brother Mohammed, who is driving the car at what feels like warp speed, is pumped up. He says fighting makes him feel more alive than he's ever felt before.
MOHAMMED: I love this life.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MOHAMMED: It's a great thing, you know, to do. It's a great cause to fight for.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ahmed, the friend, was injured in an earlier battle. His brother is at a hospital in Tunisia recovering from a bullet wound to the stomach. His other brother is already at the front, which is why he's headed there now.
MOHAMMED: It's a shame on me to stay in the house and still in there. I'm just carrying a very light weapon, as you can see. I'll do my best. I mean Ill do my best, even by this gun.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: They get quieter as they get closer to the frontline.
(Soundbite of gunfire)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: While they are heading into battle, others are running away from it. If this civil war in Libya has been characterized by anything, it's the repeated winning and losing of the same dusty tiny villages.
But the blowback of this conflict is being felt, not only by the fighters, but by families, children, old people, women. And today, they are terrified.
Ms. ABDUL SALAM RUAWI: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Abdul Salam Ruawi has what looks like the entire contents of his home stuffed into his car. He says his village of Gelaa near the fighting is being bombarded by Grad rockets, coming from Gadhafi's army.
In another car, six members of one family huddle. In the back seat, a woman is quietly sobbing.
Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We never imagined that we would find ourselves in this situation, she says, tears streaming down her face.
Later in the evening, the three U.K.-educated fighters come back from the frontline. The village of Gualish has been retaken by the rebels. They survived but eight people died in the fighting, and at least 20 were injured.
Mohammed is now mournful. Another battle that tread over ground, already won.
MOHAMMED: Eight people is quite a big number, especially for nothing. You know?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: After imparting their news, the young men, head home.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News in the western mountains.
Tribal Rivalries Complicate Libyan War
Settling Old Scores
By Mathieu von Rohr in Qawalish, Libya
The rebels in western Libya have captured the Nafusa Mountains and are only 80 kilometers from Tripoli, but have been unable to advance further. Meanwhile long-simmering tribal hostilities are complicating the situation, as rival groups clash and old resentments flare up. The inter-tribal conflict adds to a growing sense that the uprising against Gadhafi is turning into a civil war.
The decisive front in the war against Moammar Gadhafi runs through the dusty village of Qawalish, which consists of a mosque, a few dozen houses and a hill, behind which rebel fighters are entrenched.
At first glance, it is hard to understand why more than 15 rebels have been killed in this godforsaken place, and why Qawalish has changed hands three times in only two weeks.
Musbah Milad, a rebel fighter from the city of Zintan in northwestern Libya, is standing on the roof of a two-story building in the midday heat. He gazes out at the flat landscape and points to a row of trees at the other end of a vast plain. "There you can see him," he says. "Fucking Gadhafi." Through his binoculars, Milad can make out two trucks hidden in the shade of trees, about 6 kilometers (4 miles) away. Sometimes Gadhafi's forces fire a poorly targeted missile, prompting the rebels to return fire.
The fate of the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi is being decided in these days and weeks in tiny villages in the Nafusa Mountains of western Libya. The region was almost unknown to the world before the Libyan revolution began in February.
Loosely Organized State
Since the outbreak of the war, the rebel offensive has made more significant advances in these hilly highlands than anywhere else in Libya. In the eastern part of the country, the rebels are still entrenched near Brega, a city they captured for the first time in February, only to lose it to Gadhafi's forces soon afterwards. Brega is more than 600 kilometers from the capital Tripoli.
In the west, on the other hand, the rebels have captured almost the entire mountain chain, where they have established a loosely organized state, complete with its own newspapers, a radio station and a makeshift airfield. The territory they control extends 200 kilometers eastward from the Tunisian border. And at the northern end of the Nafusa Mountains, the rebel fighters are now only 80 kilometers from the capital.
But the most important front lies in Qawalish. If the rebels manage to advance into the next town, which is 30 kilometers away, they will have cut off Gadhafi's key supply route, the road from Sabha to Tripoli.
However, the rebels have not made any progress in weeks. After taking Qawalish in early July, they were so heady with victory that they left the front and returned to their villages, leaving only a few 16-year-olds with Kalashnikovs in the village. Their mission was to hold the town, but the small rebel contingent didn't stand a chance when Gadhafi's troops attacked on Wednesday of the week before last.
In the ensuing six-hour battle, the rebels mobilized all of their forces to return to the front that they had so foolishly exposed. Troops rushed back to Qawalish from Zintan, Jadu and Kikla. By the end of a bloody day, they had regained control over the village, despite heavy rocket fire. Eight men died. It was a strange battle, and it showed how little Gadhafi's opponents in western Libya understand about waging battles. The rebel force there consists of a motorized horde that rushes to the front when it is needed and then quickly disperses.
Since then, the rebels have done nothing to advance farther to the east.
Limits of Their Strength
When Ramadan begins in a week, the fighters will not be allowed to eat or drink anything during the day, at temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade. Some say that they are holding back because Gadhafi's forces have left thousands of mines in the vast steppe, while others say that the rebels are trying to spare the pro-Gadhafi civilians in the next town.
There are also signs that the rebels in the west are gradually reaching the limits of their strength. Even their military leaders in Zintan admit that there are no plans to advance from the mountains in the coastal plain and hazard a march on Tripoli. Instead, they are waiting for a revolt in the capital. And on Sunday, they had to rebut another hard-fought attempt by Gadhafi's troops to take back the town.
The truth is that the uprising against Gadhafi is looking more and more like a civil war every day. At first, it seemed as if Libyans had all come together to revolt against the man who had controlled the country for the last 42 years. Much like the uprisings in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, the Libyan revolt began in mid-February with peaceful protests, but this dictator refused to allow himself to be toppled and responded by waging a cruel war on the civilian population instead. This response was the reason behind the NATO mission.
But reality is more complicated than that, as evidenced in the Nafusa Mountains. The situation in Libya is made more difficult by the fact that it is a tribal society, not a nation state like its neighbors.
Most Libyans may be strongly opposed to Gadhafi, and yet there are still important tribes that largely support him, including the Warfalla, the Tarhuna and Gadhafi's own tribe, the Gadhadhfa. And despite the rebels' official claims to the contrary, this conflict is also a war among tribes.
The rebels were so successful in the mountains because most of the tribes there are hostile to Gadhafi. The Berbers in the western part of the mountains, the country's original inhabitants, have liberated their traditional areas in recent months. Under Gadhafi, they were prohibited from speaking their own language. Most of the rebels in the eastern part of the mountains are Arabs, members of the Zintan tribe and its allies.
Zintan is their key city, the center of the rebellion in the west. Most of the rebel fighters are from Zintan, as are most of the dead. It is a small city with a population of about 25,000, a maze of narrow streets where canisters of gasoline smuggled from Tunisia are sold, but where bread is hard to find these days. There are no women to be seen, but there are bearded men who show off their weapons and drive makeshift combat vehicles. The people of the town are as warmhearted as they are rough around the edges. They give food to outsiders, even though it is in short supply, and no one would think of demanding payment for accommodations.
The military council, the nominal leadership of the rebel army in the west, has its headquarters in Zintan. Last week, Omar Hariri, the military coordinator of the Transitional National Council, came to visit Zintan to talk about strategy. But many rebels from the town refuse to take direct orders from such officials. Instead, their allegiance lies with their local command center.
It is Gadhafi's army that has committed the heinous war crimes in this conflict. Nevertheless, a trip along the road that extends for 50 kilometers from Zintan to the front in Qawalish reveals that the rebels' behavior is not always exemplary.
Looting and Arson
Several towns along the route are now completely depopulated. One is Awaniya, a town of 15,000 people until the rebels captured it. The shops lining the highway in Awaniya were looted and are now littered with garbage. In some stores, even the shelves are missing. In the town itself, houses stand empty and ransacked, and some have been burned down. Other towns look similar. New houses are still burning days after the rebels took over, and trucks are removing anything that was overlooked during the initial looting: sacks of wheat as well as food and sheep.
A piece of graffiti on the wall of an empty supermarket in Awaniya berates the "Mashashiya traitors." The Mashashiya are the tribe that lived in Awaniya and two other nearby towns. Most of its members supported Gadhafi, as did the inhabitants of most of the remaining depopulated towns along the road from Zintan to the front, including Qawalish.
In a report, Human Rights Watch has sharply criticized the rebels for engaging in looting and arson. In an interview, a spokesman for the western Libyan military council admits that there have been isolated incidents of this nature, but he also insists that the rebels only set those houses on fire in which Gadhafi's troops had been holed up.
The rebels respond aggressively to anyone who tries to investigate. A SPIEGEL team was taken into custody in Awaniya, escorted to the Zintan command post and interrogated.
Part 2: Gadhafi Played Off Tribes Against Each Other
To explain the hostility between the Mashashiya and the Zintan, a visit with the council of elders in Zintan is helpful. It is a group of more than a dozen old men in white robes. The men hold their meetings in an administrative building in the center of the town, sitting in a circle.
They say that the Mashashiya did not own the land they had inhabited and where they had built their houses, and that it was land that they had stolen from other tribes, including the Zintan, the Khaleifa and the Kikla. According to the Zintan elders, the Mashashiya are shepherds, as their name, which means "Walkers," signifies. They have never owned land and are not from the area. Instead, they are from southern Libya.
The elders say that the Mashashiya supported Gadhafi because he gave them the land in the region in the 1970s. They also say that Gadhafi bred discord in their valleys to play off the tribes against one another and safeguard his own power.
The men speak of old deeds of ownership from the Italian period, deeds that allegedly prove which established tribes own the land. They also mention maps drawn by the former French colonial rulers in Algeria, which show the large tribal territory of the Zintan and make no mention of the Mashashiya.
"We've known about the tricks of the Mashashiya for a long time," says one man. "Sometimes they would move into empty houses, set up gravestones nearby and claim that their ancestors were buried there. They worked as informers for the Italians during the colonial period."
'They Should Stay Out of Here'
The people in Zintan say that the Mashashiya benefited under Gadhafi while the Zintan suffered from neglect. The hostility between the two tribes has simmered beneath the surface for decades. There was no intermarriage between members of the two tribes, they avoided each other and sometimes they went to court over land disputes. Then the revolution erupted and the Mashashiya declared their support for Gadhafi.
The elders in Zintan say that they had negotiated three times with the Mashashiya elders since April, and that the latter had agreed to remain neutral. But Gadhafi's soldiers apparently used Awaniya as a base for their tanks, firing Grad rockets from there at the civilian population of Zintan and the surrounding villages for months. The tribes have been at war with each other ever since.
The Mashashiya will only be allowed to return if they can prove that the land belongs to them, but it doesn't, say the Zintan elders. Many of the rebels are more direct, saying that they don't like the Mashashiya and that "they should stay out of here."
On the rebel side of the front, there are no longer any members of the tribe who could be asked about these accusations. The only remaining Mashashiya are in the Zintan prison, a former school. One of the two men interviewed admits that most members of his tribe are for Gadhafi, but the other one denies it. Both of the two men insist that they did not fight for Gadhafi. They say that they are only in prison because of their tribal affiliation.
Returning to Libya to Fight
Nevertheless, the military leaders of the western rebels still insist that all Libyans are fighting Gadhafi together and are careful not to portray the rebellion as a tribal matter. To be sure, these tribal disputes are not the basis of the rebellion against Gadhafi's dictatorship. All it takes to understand why the rebellion occurred is to look at the uneven distribution of oil wealth in the country, the poor outlook for young people, nepotism and brutal repression by the regime.
But the tribal structure is one of the key reasons why Gadhafi is still in power. He knew how to play the tribes against one another, and many derived benefits from him. This is why there is such a great risk of civil war.
Significant migrations have been taking place since the uprising began. Thousands of young men have returned to the mountains from other parts of Libya, and even from elsewhere in the world, to fight for their tribes and against Gadhafi in these dusty hills. Many rebels fighting for the Zintan are unwilling to be photographed, because they have come from Tripoli and their families are still there.
Forces Are No Armies
A 22-year-old named Ahmed Hanna says that he was working on an oil tanker and was on land in France when the war began. He returned home, as did Hani Mahlouf, a 29-year-old Berber, who had been living in Kuala Lumpur, where he was writing his dissertation on supersonic aircraft wings. He says that he couldn't stay there, and that his place is here, on the front in Qawalish.
Mahlouf explains, in a surprisingly simple sentence, what is happening in the mountains: "This is a war that is being fought between the tribes that were here originally, and the people who only arrived 50 or 60 years ago."
Many rebels say that more and more volunteers are now fighting for Gadhafi, whose army had previously consisted solely of mercenaries and soldiers. The forces facing off in the mountains are no armies. In the battle for Qawalish two weeks ago, few more than 1,000 men were fighting on the rebel side, while Gadhafi's troops were hardly any more numerous.
It is impossible to capture and hold larger pieces of territory with such a small army, which probably explains why the rebels are not advancing any farther in Qawalish. The inhabitants of the villages on the other side of the front are, in their majority, seen as Gadhafi supporters, from whom the rebels cannot expect much help.
Computer Scientist Turned Sniper
Last week only a few dozen fighters were visible at the northernmost point along the front, a cement plant near the town of Bir al-Ghanam on the northern edge of the mountain, 80 kilometers from Tripoli. They have dug themselves into the mountain, where they were attacked on the previous day and fought successfully for hours to hold their positions.
A 21-year-old rebel fighter named Mohammed, who was a computer science student before he became a sniper, says that Gadhafi has only 300 soldiers stationed below. He points to a wall in the village. "I can see two of them with my bare eyes." he says. "They're probably smoking."
He says that they sometimes fire rockets at the town, mostly out of boredom. He decides to show us how it's done. The rebels use the base of a home trainer as a firing ramp. They aim the rocket and connect the ignition wire to a car battery. Nothing happens. They try it three or four times, but still nothing.
Exhausted by the heat, they sit down again in the shade behind a large cliff. And they wait.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Posted by William Kelly at 12:08 PM