Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Road to Tripoli

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The original March on Tripoli began in 1804 at Derna, an eastern seaport city that was captured by the American warrior-diplomat William Eaton, Sgt. Presley O'Bannon, eight US Marines, and a ragtag army of Green Christian mercenaries and Bedouin calvary. After they repulsed a loyalist counterattack, their march was cut off by a treaty signed by the US Counsel Tobia Lear, which permitted the Tyrant of Tripoli Yousef Karamanli to remain in power and paid him $60,000 ransom for the 300 American prisoners from the captured frigate USS Philadelphia.

The second March on Tripoli began in Bengazi, shortly after the early successes of the February 17th Revolution, which quickly moved west towards Tripoli, but was stopped at Sirte, Gadhaffi's hometown. The loyalists counterattack, which began at Sirte, moved quickly towards Bengazi, but was stopped by NATO air attacks.

A stalemate in the battle developed, but no one foresaw that the rebels and people of Misrata could or would withstand a two month long siege and artillary and rocket bombardment and eventually push back the Loyalist forces breaking the siege.

Now the March on Tripoli will begin at Misrata, which is being backed by sea supplies sent from Bengazi.

There are three towns between Misrata and Tripoli, and Tripoli's main airport, built by the Italians in the 1930s and used by Americans until Gadhaffi took power (Wheelus AFB),is on the eastern outskirts of the city and a primary target for the rebel advance, once it gets there.

One major question is whether the Loyalist army and civilians who support Gadhaffi will fight or capitulate, and if the city will be saved or like Misrata, destroyed in the battle.

Besides all of the homes, apartments and office buildings in the capitol city, there are hundreds of ancient Greek, Roman artifacts and antiquities that will be endangered.

When the US invaded Iraq, the Baghdad Museum was ransacked, and when the Arab revolution reached Egypt, the Cairo Museum was broken into and some ancient, priceless statutes destroyed before the revolutionaries surrounded the building and secured it.

Will this happen in Tripoli?

Libya rebellion creeps towards Tripoli

By Christian Lowe
ALGIERS | Tue May 31, 2011 12:47pm EDT

(Reuters) - Libya's rebellion is creeping westwards from the rebel city of Misrata toward the capital along a chain of towns where opponents of Muammar Gaddafi stage clandestine night-time acts of defiance against his rule.

By day the three towns of Zlitan, Khoms and Garabulli are under government control but after darkness falls, a local man said, Gaddafi opponents daub graffiti on walls, hoist the rebel flag and the sound of gunfire can be heard.

If those acts spill over into open revolt, the three towns could act as stepping stones to allow the anti-Gaddafi uprising to spread from Misrata, the biggest rebel outpost in western Libya, to the Libyan leader's stronghold in Tripoli.

"We had never believed that these kind of cities would rise up," said the local man, who did not want to be identified because he feared reprisals for speaking to the foreign media. "There is a movement. The situation is boiling."

Three months into a revolt against Gaddafi's 41-year rule, the rebels -- with help from NATO air strikes -- have established firm control over the east of the country, the city of Misrata and a mountain range southwest of Tripoli.

Attempts to advance toward the capital have stalled though, leaving the conflict deadlocked and Gaddafi still defying international calls for him to step down.

But in the past week rebel fighters in Misrata have gradually been pushing west to within a few kilometers (miles) of Zlitan, potentially turning that town, and the towns of Khoms and Garabulli to the west of it, into the next battleground.


Accounts from the towns between Misrata and Tripoli could not be independently verified because reporters have not been given access.

Officials in Tripoli could not be reached for comment. They have previously denied there is any anti-Gaddafi unrest in areas under government control.

They say the vast majority of Libyans support Gaddafi and the trouble is being caused by small groups of armed criminals and al Qaeda militants.

Rebels in Misrata said that Gaddafi's son Khamis -- whose 32nd brigade has been deployed to put down revolts around the country and is feared by the rebels -- went to Zlitan a week ago to oversee security arrangements.

"According to information we got from people coming from there (Zlitan), the brigades have been firing on residents every now and then. They have also arrested several people over the past few days," said Abdelsalam, a rebel spokesman in Misrata.

Another Misrata rebel spokesman said government forces had positioned snipers on the rooftops of buildings in Zlitan.

NATO military spokesman Wing Commander Mike Bracken said the alliance had indications that pro-Gaddafi forces had "suppressed a number of popular... uprisings in Zlitan."

Britain's armed forces said they attacked tanks and rockets launchers near Zlitan at the weekend as part of the NATO mission to protect civilians from attack.


In the towns further west from Zlitan, the signs of unrest are more subtle, but they are unmistakable, the local man said.

In Khoms, about 25 km west of Zlitan and near the site of an ancient Roman settlement called Leptis Magna, gunshots ring out at night as security forces try to track down rebel sympathizers, he said.

"Khoms is going to explode soon," said the man, who has no involvement with the anti-Gaddafi movement.

"We have started not going out at night because it has become dangerous. Sometimes there are clashes, fighting. We don't know what will happen," said the man.

Petrol shortages were a flashpoint, he said. "There are queues at the gas stations so some people go on purpose to these stations and they start to make a noise in order to encourage people to rise up."

The rebel sympathizers, he said, have gone underground and hide out in the hills south of the town. "The government is looking for them. They know them by name but they cannot find them," he said.

Garabulli -- also known as Castelverde, the name the town was given during Italian colonial rule -- is 65 km west of Zlitan and the same distance again from Tripoli.

"I was talking to a friend from Garabulli and he was telling me that ... people in the morning found flags of the revolutionaries, the old flags, and they found something written on the walls against Gaddafi, the man said.

From Garabulli, it is another 50 km west to Tajoura, an outlying suburb of Tripoli where, early in the anti-Gaddafi revolt, large anti-Gaddafi protests were dispersed by security forces wielding Kalashnikov rifles.

Though Libyan officials deny it, Gaddafi opponents in exile say that in Tajoura too, young men come out at night to drape the red, black and green rebel flag from bridges and on public buildings.

"All the news drip-feeding out of Tripoli is pretty negative as far as the state of disarray and ... increasingly open dissent in Tripoli is concerned," said a senior diplomat from a European Union state, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It's difficult to pin this down or to say it's going to reach boiling point any moment but the sense of the strangulation of the regime is there."

McCain: Support Libyan Rebels

The United States should be running military operations in Libya, not leaving it to NATO, Arizona Sen. John McCain said Sunday, arguing that U.S. forces would have been much more expedient about getting rid of Libyan despot Muammar al-Qaddafi.

McCain said President Obama this week did expand the purpose of the NATO mission -- saying that civilian protection cannot be accomplished with Qaddafi in power -- but his position is too slowly evolving.

"As he is gradually changing, people are dying on the ground in Libya and they wouldn't have to if we were using all of U.S. airpower and the abilities and the unique capabilities that the United States military has. And, unfortunately, we are not," McCain told "Fox News Sunday."

"Qaddafi may crack. He may crack. But this could have been over a long time ago if we had brought the full weight of the American airpower to bear on him," McCain added.

McCain said he's also in disagreement with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who says it's premature to entirely trust Libya's Transitional National Council since the group does contain extremist elements. McCain said it makes more sense to help the council because by giving it strong backing, extremists won't have the room to win over moderates.

"The best way to get extremist elements in the lead amongst the rebels there, the liberation forces, is a stalemate. That's the way extremists come into power," he said, adding that there are parties in the fight who are not U.S. favorites but they all agree to work together to get rid of Qaddafi.

McCain added that the "anti-spending sentiment" in Washington that opposes pledging tens of millions of dollars to Egypt and Tunisia to help with democratic reform and economic stability are missing a golden opportunity.

"I think we can do things like debt relief, like matching grants, stimulation, business and job opportunity," he said. "We also have to do a better job of convincing American people that a smooth transition to democracy in the region of the best guarantee of us not having to spend a lot of money in the future if the wrong people get in power.

McCain also encouraged private U.S. businesses to make their own pledges to invest if corruption-free governments emerge in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.

"I think that could be one of greatest incentives rather than just throwing money at them," McCain said.

National Liberation Army

Libyan rebels rename themselves National Liberation Army(AFP)

BENGHAZI, Libya — Libya's rebel leaders, the National Transitional Council (NTC), have announced that they have renamed their armed forces the National Liberation Army (NLA).

"The NTC hopes that the temporary name will help better define the increasingly professional and disciplined military efforts to overcome the Kadhafi regime," said the statement.

Rebels have been fighting troops loyal to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi since the February 17 uprising that has effectively split the country in two, with the rebel forces entrenched in the east of the country.

But their military force is made largely of young, inexperienced volunteers and the force is poorly equipped compared to the soldiers fighting for Kadhafi.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Reports from Free and boring Benghazi

Jeremy Relph: Bengazi revels in post-Gaddafi freedom
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National Post May 29, 2011 – 3:41 PM ET

Free Libya?

There is plenty of good news for Libyans these days. The nightly pounding of Gaddafi compounds in Tripoli, the announcement of NATO sending helicopters to carry out more precise attacks, the secret talks between the UK and Gaddafi governments all lift spirits. Misurata residents welcome the sound of planes knowing they back Gaddafi loyalists further from the port town. And lovely though these reports are, it’s obvious they’re now becoming little more than details. Just over 100 days since the beginning of the revolution, Free Libya has already moved on.

When I arrived in Libya two months ago it was a different place. The border was haphazard. A fake press card trumped a real letter from an editor. A border guard wore the Libyan flag as a cape and our names were scribbled in a notebook along with passport numbers.

Benghazi was charming with frequent demonstrations and sporadic gunshots. Loud booms were heard throughout the day. Rumours of Gaddafi loyalists in the streets after dark brought random citizen-manned checkpoints. There were fluid frontlines west you could commute to and run from, back to the journalist packed hotels and restaurants. The good restaurants were closed. There was a drunken feeling of optimism that the whole thing could come to a close any day. The grass grew long and families stayed in.

The Libyan border today is an organized affair. Computers have replaced notebooks. Arrivals fill out customs cards. Our bags are politely searched. Passports are inspected and stamped. Welcome to free Libya.

Todays’ Benghazi is boring in contrast. The parade has passed. People are moving on. Men repaint the curbs and parking spaces in the Uzu Hotel’s parking lot. Families have returned to the parks while their children play. Elsewhere children clean up trash on the side of the road in the city. And the burned out Katiba still sits in ruins in the middle of the city. Young men in cars drift by it sideways on Thursday nights. They fill the streets causing traffic jams late Friday, post-prayers. Cadillac Escalades, Pontiacs and BMWs fill the streets and the restaurants operate at full capacity, the options varied and multiple. The theatre is open again, a passenger boat sales for the once-besieged Misurata 3 times a week. The nights are quiet. There is next to no random gunfire. Journalists have split for Misurata. Tellingly, sprinklers blast water on an isolated grassy traffic island. Some form of municipal governance is back in action.

Benghazi residents have moved on to life post-Gaddafi. That his rule will last much longer is unthinkable. That his forces would ever retake Benghazi or Misurata unimaginable. That NATO might allow any of that given the resources poured into establishing the stalemate which has lasted roughly a month, impossible. Gaddafi’s departure date is unknown though that he will leave, whether to some unsecured exile to the state of a moral fellow-traveler or a beneficent nation or if one of NATO’s rockets finally catches him, that he will leave now seems certain. Free Libya has moved on. When will the rest of Libya?

Jeremy Relph is a freelance journalist. http://jeremyrelph.com

National Post

Libyan freedom fighter returns home (to Michigan) for son's graduation


Spends 150 days in revolution
By Tim Jagielo
Published: Friday, June 3, 2011 3:49 PM EDT

 Mustafa Gheriani has two hearts, one for his home country of Libya, and one for his family in Tyrone Township. He has been in Libya since the uprising against the dictator Col. Moammar Gaddafi began in February, on the east side of the country.

 Gheriani wanted to see his youngest son graduate from Fenton High School and returned home on Wednesday to spouse Lois Van Lente and their two sons.

 “He has a torn heart,” said Lois Van Lente, who had not seen her husband of three decades since New Year’s Day. She spent many days and nights for five months with little communication, worrying about his safety.

 In Benghazi, Gheriani assisted in forming the provisionary rebel government and, because of his English skills, became a liaison between the rebel leaders at the seat of the rebel government and the international media. The rebel government formed the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Benghazi. Gheriani said he felt comfortable leaving the NTC and his country’s revolution, but it was still a tough choice to return home.

 “It was a great sight to see you,” said Van Lente to her husband. “Alive and in one piece,” added Gheriani, smiling.

 The couple’s reunion will be short, as Gheriani will return to Benghazi at the end of the month. “I understand how important his mission is,” said Van Lente.

His role in Libya

 Benghazi rose up quickly against the Ghaddaffi regime, following a bloody crackdown against protesters. When with the regimes’ politicians scattered, there was no government in Benghazi. “We gotta run the city,” said Gheriani. “My gosh, we have a revolution.”

 With no government, there were numerous gaps to fill, to ensure both social order and services. Gheriani was one of the first two Libyans who stepped up to speak with the international media, and give a public face to the newly forming transitional government. “The world wanted to see a government,” he said.

 Gheriani worked with reporters and other media to help the world understand who the rebels were, and what they wanted. His job was to make sure Libya’s story stayed on the front page. 

 After six weeks, Gheriani was relieved of his duties as media liaison. He worked on planning food quantities and logistics, making sure everyone had enough flour, rice, and semolina, staples of the Libyan’s diet. His report was completed just before he returned home.

For love of country

 The Libyans fought against Gaddafi’s forces with what Gheriani described as the “Hyundai Army,” young men and women fighting with whatever they could find, or make. “He’s a brutal guy,” he said. “He’s a terrorist, basically.” Gheriani said the fighters had little organization and were driven by “pure resolve.”

 When cities in the west side of Libya tried to rise up against Gaddafi and were quashed, 150,000 people fled to Benghazi, seeking refuge. “I was so proud to say those 150,000 people were absorbed into people’s homes,” he said. Residents of Benghazi opened their summer homes and spare rooms to the people of besieged cities such as Raz Lanuf.

 Former Gaddafi regime members were protected from reprisals and were asked to stay home. “We wanted a peaceful revolution,” Gheriani said.

 The new NTC members worked 19-20 hours each day. “People really rose up to the moment,” he said. Gheriani compares the current revolution to the French Revolution.

The world responds

 When Libyans took to the streets proclaiming their freedom, they waved American, French, British and Italian flags, among their own. “This is unique,” said Gheriani, who said the international community is finally comfortable with who is behind the revolution, and is lending help via NATO air strikes

 Gheriani’s homecoming is just in time for international military pressure to mount against Ghaddaffi’s forces through international military strikes, aimed at protecting civilians from Gaddafi’s military forces. Recently, Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev admitted that Gaddafi needs to step down.

 Five of Gaddafi’s generals have defected, Al-Jezeera reported. These generals claimed that Ghaddaffi’s power is weakening. Gheriani said that at the moment, Ghaddaffi has very few strongholds, including his home town of Sirte.

Family support

 Gheriani gives credit for his pivotal role in Libya to his family, and most importantly his wife, Lois. “I couldn’t have chosen a better wife,” he said. Gheriani expressed that his wife gave him the most support out of everyone. “I know my kids were taken care of,” he said.

Back to the fight

 Gheriani is returning to Benghazi on June 21 to continue his work. He even hinted that his wife might be joining him in Benghazi, once his son is away at college.

 His business offices in Tripoli were ransacked, but that is the last thing on his mind. For Gheriani, it’s the revolution.

Irish and Polish Lessons for Arab Spring

In Poland, President Obama Discusses Irish and European Lessons for the Arab Spring‬

May 28, 2011 11:53 AM


Having visited two formerly occupied countries where there is now freedom and democracy -- Ireland and Poland – President Obama today ruminated on their lessons for the countries embracing the same values in the so-called “Arab Spring.”

‪The process, he noted, is "not always smooth. There are going to be twists and turns. There are going to be occasions where you take one step forward and two steps back -- sometimes you take two steps forward and one step back."

What leaders of these changing nations need to do, he said, is first to understand that they have to "institutionalize this transformation," which he described as a potentially difficult and lengthy process.

"It’s not enough just to have the energy -- the initial thrust of those young people in Tahrir Square, or the initial enthusiasm of the Solidarity movement," he said. "That, then, has to be institutionalized and the habits of countries have to change."

Merely holding elections is not enough, he said. A process needs to emerge to establish rule of law and the respect of the rights of minorities, and mechanisms to guarantee freedom of the press and freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Potential ethnic conflicts that may arise need to be brokered.

Another lesson offered by the president was for the American people to understand the importance of the US in helping these countries.

While countries on the outside "cannot impose this change," he said, they can help and facilitate and make a difference.

"The testimony of I think the people that I’ve spoken to here in Poland -- as is true when I had conversations about the resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict -- was that American participation, American facilitation of dialogue, our investment in civil society, our willingness to do business, our openness to ultimate membership in international institutions like NATO -- all those things made a difference," he said. "It solidifies, it fortifies people’s impulse that change is possible."

Just last night at a dinner with Central European leaders, one of them recalled that "'There were those who said we could not handle democracy, that our cultures were too different. But America had faith in us. And so now we want to join with America and have faith in those in the Middle East and in North Africa. Even if some don't think that they can handle democracy, or that their cultures are too different, our experience tells us something different.'"

‪The president called that "a good lesson for all of us to remember."

‪So "even at a time when we have fiscal constraints, even at a time where I spend most of my day thinking about our economy and how to put folks back to work and how to make sure that we’re reducing gas prices and how we stabilize the housing market and how we innovate and adapt and change so that we are fully competitive in the 21st century and maintain our economic leadership," he said, "I want the American people to understand we’ve got to leave room for us to continue our tradition of providing leadership when it comes to freedom, democracy, human rights."

On Saturday, one Polish political leader told the president that "he had lived through three waves of revolutionary transformation in his lifetime. He saw the shift from military rule to democracy in Latin America. He saw those changes then take place with incredible speed when the Berlin Wall came down and the Iron Curtain was pulled asunder. And now he’s seeing what’s happening in North Africa and the Middle East."

-Jake Tapper

Praise the Arab Spring, prepare for the Arab fall


Tue Jun 14 2011 09:19:06 GMT+0400 (Arabian Standard Time) Oman Time

FOR all the excitement about the twilight of the dictators, only two — Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia — have been officially knocked over since the start of the so-called Arab Spring six months ago. It isn’t even clear whether that count will reach three.

Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh is in neighbouring Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after a bomb in his own presidential palace burned him badly and sent shards of a carved wooden prayer-niche into his body.

It is probable his hosts won’t let him return home, even if he recovers enough to try and rule. But even this result isn’t absolutely certain. If it looks like no one but Saleh can manage to keep Yemen from becoming a failed state and an even better incubator for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, then the Saudis may take steps to restore him to power.

And therein lies a tale: No one knows whether what follows the Arab dictatorships will manage to govern the unruly countries that are in the midst of unrest or civil war. Tunisia and Egypt are relatively homogeneous (though the Coptic minority in Egypt has been badly buffeted in the uncertain transitional period).

But Yemen, Syria, Libya and others are very much like Iraq: powder kegs of potential violence and divided by sect, ethnicity, tribe or some combination. The rulers, through their secret police, kept the peace. The trouble with the Arab Spring is the Arab Fall.

Power of the Generals
If all the change afoot in the Arab world were the product of solid middle-class protestors demanding democracy and then organising it — a vision sometimes hinted at in the US news media, not to mention Al Jazeera — then there would be no problem at all. The truth, though, is that not only are the protestors an unknown quantity, they didn’t even bring down the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt on their own.

In both cases, it was the army that removed the rulers from office, after judging that the military’s interests would be better served by siding with “the people” than by shooting them.
Events in Egypt have borne out the view that the army was prepared to negotiate shared power with whoever will be elected — which will probably be a government dominated, though not controlled, by the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Tunisia, too, the caretaker army will make sure its power is preserved when a government is eventually chosen.

Elsewhere, public protests have unleashed forces that are very different from Poland’s Solidarity or Eastern Europe’s post-1989 models of peaceful middle-class revolution.

In Yemen, the violence has been between Saleh’s government and its clan rivals. At least one southern city is in outright rebellion. From the time the British left in 1967 to 1990, the country was split in two — a situation that could conceivably recur.

One consolation is that, outside the major cities, the Yemeni government’s writ has never run very far. So in the rural and desert areas, a failed state wouldn’t look very different from what presently exists.

In Libya, public protests that began in January emboldened eastern tribes that had long been neglected by Muammar Gaddafi’s government, which is dominated by their western rivals. They took up arms, though very weakly.

When France and the UK, with the US in tow, intervened — for reasons so surprising they are best saved for a future column — the tribes found themselves with a motive to continue a civil war that would otherwise have been a very short rebellion.
Now the greatest danger is that, if and when Gaddafi is killed or flees, the political and public infrastructure of the country will be so badly damaged that no one will be able to put it back together.

In addition to the warring Arab factions, there are also Berber tribes (the preferred term today is Amazigh) that have their own language, ethnicity and interests.

Sound familiar? In Baghdad in the spring of 2003, days after the looting ended, with ministries in ruins and garbage gathering on the streets, an Iraqi in a poor Shiite neighbourhood asked me, “Who is the government?” There was no good answer — nor would there be for several years.

The destruction of a state is infinitely easier than its reconstruction. The longer it takes to remove Gaddafi, the more the Libyan state is degraded, and the greater the probability that Tripoli will become Baghdad-sur-Mer.

Sectarian difference
Then there is Syria, where the protests have been brave, broad and sustained — yet have so far failed to penetrate the main middle-class enclaves of Damascus and Aleppo. The protests have, perhaps inevitably, begun to reflect the sectarian difference between the Sunni majority and the Alawite regime. The Alawites have historically made common cause with Christians and Druze (themselves religious sectaries).

The best-case scenario would be a democratic accommodation between elements of the military and people — the present and likely future arrangement in Tunisia and Egypt. But Syria is also capable of collapsing into all-out civil war.

The Alawites, like Saddam Hussein’s Baathists in Iraq, have nowhere else to go, and little reason to expect future good treatment from the people they have spent decades oppressing.

The rise of democratic aspirations in the Arabic-speaking world is inspiring. Muslim democrats are going to get the chance to succeed or fail, and they are most likely to copy the Turkish model of moderation and liberal rights, not religious autocracy.

But democratic transition is almost impossible when a state is weak or failing. Internal divisions make the challenge even harder. Fear of failed nation-building will make external aid scarce.

In retrospect, the successes of Eastern European democratisation were a near-miracle. The rise of the post-dictatorial Arab world may take an actual one.

The author is a law professor at Harvard University. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.

Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding

Remember the Quranic verse: "Don't seek alliance with the oppressors lest fire touches you."

The Syrian Regime Must Go ... Now


By Khalid Amayreh

Al-Jazeerah: CCUN, May 30, 2011

So far, over a thousand Syrian citizens have been mercilessly killed or harshly tortured to death at the hands of the regime's various killing machines.

The gruesome images and horrifying accounts that keep coming from Syria defy linguistic description. They go beyond the pale of human decency.

A few weeks ago, Hamza al Khatib, a vivacious and charming boy from Dira'a was abducted from his home by the regime's Shabbiha thugs or death squads, for allegedly taking part in an anti-regime demonstration.

A few days later, his body, riddled with bullets, and bearing indescribable scars of torture of all kinds, was handed over to his family.

According to eyewitnesses and human rights operatives who examined the body, the agents of the regime also severed the boy's sexual organ before turning in the body for burial.

Arab intellectual and current-affairs commentator Azmi Bishara remarked on the incident, saying that only human animals were capable of committing such a crime.

Speaking on al-Jazeera TV, Bishara said that in this case at least, the matter went behind classical torture, which is intended to punish and deter.

"This is sadism, pure and simple. It is even sadism in its most barbaric forms."

Nonetheless, Hamza al Khatib is by no means an isolated case of police brutality. On the contrary he epitomizes the sheer barbarianism and cannibalistic instincts with which the regime of Bashar al Asad deals rather systematically with Syrian citizens, especially those demanding political reforms.

There is absolutely no doubt that the Syrian regime is committing real crimes against humanity against the Syrian people. What else can one say of a regime that orders its crack soldiers to riddle with machine gunfire peaceable protesters, including children? And if the soldiers show any reluctance, they are summarily killed for disobeying orders. Then of course, the lying machine of the regime would claim that the soldiers were killed by infiltrators and salafis and what have you!!

Obviously, this regime has lost its legitimacy and must be ended sooner rather than later. Otherwise, there is every likelihood that massacres of a greater magnitude, such as Srebrenica or even worse, will happen throughout Syria if the world continues to deal indecisively with this manifestly criminal regime.

So far, over a thousand Syrian citizens have been mercilessly killed or harshly tortured to death at the hands of the regime's various killing machines.

In many Syrian towns, electricity and power supplies were cut off as a collective punishment for demanding freedom. Food supplies were also severely curtailed for the same reason. This is in addition to the disconnection of all cellular telephone and internet communication, ostensibly in order to prevent pro-freedom activists from communicating and exposing the brutality and criminality of the regime to the outside world.

I am not really inclined to comment on or try to refute the plethora of lies the regime in Damascus has been disseminating to justify its pornographic violence and hair-raising sadism against its own citizens. In the final analysis, a regime that rapes its women, murders its children and indiscriminately riddles peaceful protesters with bullets can't be expected or trusted to tell the truth.

Moreover, it would be more that naïve to even listen to what the regime has to say about what is happening in Syria. Criminals, child killers and obscene liars shouldn't be given a podium to kill the truth, after having killed their innocent victims.

It is really lamentable that the vast majority of Arab states are keeping silent about the genocidal killings in Syria. To these Arab rulers, one is prompted to say: What are you waiting for? To see the sectarian regime finish off the people of Syria?

The recent decision by the Turkish government to freeze relations with the Syrian regime is laudable. However, Turkey is expected to do more to help their brothers and sisters to the south. Turkey should probably take some pro-active measures to stop the massacres in Syria. The Syrian women, whose brothers, sons, and husbands are being murdered by the cutthroats of the regime, are crying out for help. If their Turkish brothers don't hear, and listen, to the cries of these distressed women, who will? Muammar Qaddafi?

Besides, non-interference in a country's internal affairs doesn't and should never mean watching the regime in that country massacre its own people undisturbed.

Now, a final word of rebuke for both Iran and Hezbullah. You are backing the murderous regime of Bashar al Asad for ostensibly sectarian, selfish and unethical reason, and in doing so you are inviting the dismay, consternation and hostility from hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims who never flinched from standing on your side. Don't alienate hundreds of Sunni Muslims all over the world for the sake of a godless regime that is devoid of humanity, morality and any shred of Islamic decency.

You must immediately distance yourselves from this criminal and barbaric junta which is really a stigma of shame on the conscience of Shiites all over the world?

This regime is committing all these crimes in your good name. Don't allow them to besmirch your erstwhile glorious image. Do it now, otherwise tomorrow might be too late.

Remember the Quranic verse: "Don't seek alliance with the oppressors lest fire touches you."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Open Letter to Cynthia McKinney

Cynthia McKinney – Tripoli Transcript – May 25, 2011

Former Congresswomen Cynthia McKinney recently appeared on Tripoli government television condemning the US support for NATO bombing of Gadhafi forces in Libya and denouncing US policy. She implied that the allegations that Gadhafi forces are mercenaries is propaganda. She has previously praised Gadhafi and his Green Book as proponents of democracy, and claimed that the economic wage system was a form of slavery and that Libya is in Africa and Africans were enslaved by the West.

I will post a complete transcript of what she had to say as soon as I have a copy. In the meantime, I want to respond to what she said in order to set the historical record straight. - Bill Kelly



“And so when we initially heard the assertion or the allegation that the Libyan government had employed black mercenaries, it sounded exactly like the kind of propaganda that we blacks in the United States are so well accustomed to. Because the fact of the matter is, Libya is in Africa, and so therefore it is not unusual for there to be people who look like me. And the ….be seen, particularly by black people in the United States, was almost insulting in the highest order…”

“Actually I have seen more since I have been here, that was available, therefore I think it important for people to understand what is happening here, and it is important that people all over the world….”

“I come here with a heavy heart…the government of the United States fails to represent the interests of the American people now. The government is here, and the people of the United States are here. And what we are searching for, and I have joined Senator Gravel in this effort...”


Dear Cynthia, Your implication that reports of the Gadhafi regime hiring mercenaries to kill Libyans is propaganda is untrue, and in fact, it has been documented extensively that foreign troops have been brought in to fight for Gadhafi.

In addition, your statement that Libya is in Africa and Africa is black like you and blacks were enslaved, fails to take into consideration that in 1800 the black and Muslim states of North Africa pirated American ships and enslaved their crews, demanding payment of tribute to stop the practice and ransom for the enslaved prisoners. These attacks led to the creation of the US Navy and the first American war against the Barbary pirates.

While you denounce the NATO bombing of Gadhafi forces, you remained silent when Gadhafi’s army laid siege to Misratah, shelled the city unmercifully and raped its women in systematic fashion, as captured soldiers have testified and the videos from their cell phones have documented.

You have implied in the past that Gadhafi’s Green Book promotes democracy, and you are against the economic enslavement of wages, but Gadhafi’s chance at bringing democracy to Libya has come and gone, and Mohamid Bouazizi inspired the new Arab revolution because he couldn’t get a job and opened a fruit cart stand that was taken away from him by the government, a government that was toppled in 18 days by the subsequent revolt he inspired by setting himself on fire.

We don’t fight in Libya for oil, military bases, to break old alliances or make new ones, we do it for the same reasons revolutionary Americans fought for, and the same reasons the young Arab men and women are fighting for today – liberty, economic freedom, democracy and true self-determination, and not the autocratic rule of tyrannical dictators like Gadhafi.

As someone who has always been a rebel at home, it is hard to believe that you would reject the hopes, beliefs and determination of the young Arab men and women who are leading the revolt against tyranny in their homelands, and instead take the side of the dictatorial tyrant who has hired mercenaries to rape and slaughter his own people and refuses to step aside and let a free Libya develop its open economy and democracy.

William Kelly billkelly3@gmail.com
(William Kelly met Cythia McKinney in Dallas and assisted her in the organization and presentation of a Congressional Briefing on 9/11 after the 9/11 Commission issued its report.)

Mercenaries in Libya: Gadhafi’s hired terrorists
By Edward M. Gabriel - 05/16/11 02:21 PM ET

Two weeks have passed since U.S. military forces tracked down Osama bin Laden and finally brought him to justice, a decade after 9/11. But while bin Laden is dead, the hate and violence he preached clearly isn’t. The deadly bombing in Morocco — which killed 17 and has been linked to an al Qaeda loyalist — is the most recent evidence of this.

In Libya, terrorism has a different, yet disturbing face, where hired mercenaries are terrorizing the Libyan opposition. Senior NATO officials have received information that Moammar Gadhafi is spending millions to hire mercenaries from the Polisario Front in Algeria and elsewhere to help fight the U.N.-backed coalition and quash Libyans who oppose his dictatorial regime. Credible sources report that hundreds of Polisario mercenaries are being paid $10,000 each by Gadhafi to cross Algeria into Libya to fight NATO-led forces and kill Libyan protesters and rebels.

In other words, the Polisario Front, which touts itself as a human rights champion and gets millions in humanitarian aid from the U.S. and Europe through the United Nations, is letting its members take up arms against U.S.-allied NATO forces, in defiance of the U.N. Security Council mandate, and join Gadhafi’s military campaign against the people of Libya.

As a former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco and someone who has followed the Middle East and North Africa closely for more than three decades, I find it outrageous that the Polisario Front continues to enjoy a civil reception in the official corridors of the U.S. administration and Congress, even while many of its members are engaged in a deadly shooting war against NATO forces in Libya.

And Algeria, which was one of only two Arab League nations to vote against a U.N. no-fly zone in Libya, is duplicitous in opposing U.N.-sanctioned military action against Libya while providing materiel to support Gadhafi’s forces. After capturing 15 Algerian mercenaries last month, Libyan rebel leaders charged Algeria with backing Gadhafi and “turning a blind eye” to mercenaries crossing into Libya. More recently, Libyan opposition leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil — who met with senior Obama administration officials in the White House Friday — charged that Algerian planes have been used to fly mercenaries to fight Libyan rebels. And the Africa News Agency in London now reports that 500 combat-equipped light trucks have been sent to Libya from Algeria.

If the details about mercenaries received by NATO officials are accurate, both the leadership of the Polisario and Algerian authorities stand complicit in Gadhafi’s efforts to reinforce his mercenary army. It is inconceivable that hundreds of Polisario mercenaries could be hired in the first place, or travel more than 1,000 miles from the isolated, Polisario-run camps in southwestern Algeria, without the tacit, if not explicit, support of Polisario and Algerian leaders.

Recent reports from press and policy experts have linked Polisario members to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Latin American drug cartels, and other criminal groups operating in the Sahel region in Africa. Terrorist bands in these lawless expanses have kidnapped and killed foreign nationals, and engaged in illegal trafficking of drugs, arms, people and humanitarian relief supplies.

This is unacceptable. These charges of mercenary and criminal activity in Libya must be fully examined and investigated, and the U.S. government must hold the Polisario Front and Algeria accountable for their actions and complicity.

Rather than welcome them into the halls of Congress and the U.S. administration, and let them exploit our generous aid dollars, those who dare to take up arms against the U.S. and its NATO allies should face very serious consequences.

Edward M. Gabriel served as U.S. Ambassador to Morocco from 1997 to 2001, and currently advises the government of Morocco.
Gaddafi paying Polisario mercenaries $10,000 each to fight for him
WASHINGTON — A former U.S. diplomat, Edward Gabriel, has said that the Polisario Front has been deployed in Libya to join the Gaddafi regime in its war against the rebels. Gabriel has said Gaddafi has paid Polisario fighters to fight the rebels and its NATO allies.
""Credible sources report that hundreds of Polisario mercenaries are being paid $10,000 each by Gaddafi to fight NATO-led forces and kill Libyan protesters and rebels,"" Gabriel said.

In a column on May 16 in the congressional daily The Hill, Gabriel did not say how many Polisario fighters were working for Gaddafi. The Polisario mercenaries flew into Tripoli in April.

""If the details about mercenaries received by NATO officials are accurate the leadership of the Polisario stand complicit in Gaddafi's efforts to reinforce his mercenary army,"" Gabriel said.

""Senior NATO officials have received information that Moammar Gaddafi is spending millions to hire mercenaries from the Polisario Front elsewhere to help fight the UN-backed coalition and quash Libyans who oppose his dictatorial regime,"" Gabriel said.

Gabriel, a former ambassador to Morocco and now a consultant to the North African kingdom, also cited reports that 500 combat sent light trucks to the Gaddafi regime. No further details were given.

""It is inconceivable that hundreds of Polisario mercenaries could be hired in the first place, or travel more than 1,000 miles from the isolated, Polisario-run camps,"" Gabriel said.

(Source: worldtribune.com)

More evidence has emerged in Libya of troops systematically raping women and girls linked to the uprising against Moamar Gaddafi.


Two soldiers have admitted taking part in mass rapes in the town of Misrata.

Dr Ahmed Sewehli, a British-Libyan psychiatrist who has family living in Libya, has also spoken out about what he knows of the rapes.

"There are Gaddafi men who are abducting girls from houses and are taking them to a certain hotel and they are systematically raping a woman there," he said.

"To be honest, what is happening to Libya as a whole is unbelievable and I think that is one of Gaddafi's weapons that he's using.

"I mean, this man has no problem in making sure that Libyans do not forget him."
Dr Sewehli set up the Libyan Doctors Relief fund with the help of fellow psychiatrists and psychologists to try to help the "hundreds, if not thousands" of rape victims among his compatriots.

"The [Transitional National Council's] health coordinator Dr Najib Barakat ... has said that there are over 230 reported cases in Eshtebah alone," he said.

"We are hearing of this everyday. So I think when I do go back to Libya, when this is all over, and to work there permanently as a psychiatrist, I'm going to be dealing with mostly post-traumatic stress and I'll be seeing a lot of rape victims. I hope that they do come forward."

Dr Sewehli says this abuse will be extremely damaging for the women and their families for "years and years to come" and they will need counselling, psychotherapy and in some cases medication in order to cope.

"Rape for anybody is very, very difficult. I would have to say in the Arab and Muslim world even more so because of the shame factor," he said.

"I think we're going to have to be very proactive in actually going to them, rather than them coming to us, because I think many will be reluctant to come forward.

"What I would be worried about is that many of them may be driven to even suicide, because of what has happened to them."

"When girls get married in the Middle East, it is expected that they are virgins. That is going to be another thing added on top of the assault, both the emotional and the physical assault, that's happened to these girls."

Dr Sewehli says he cannot believe what is happening in Libya.

"I never thought it would come this; that Libyans, and I have to say it is Libyans and not just mercenaries, are actually raping their own people," he said.

"And I think, to be honest, that is the worst bit of it. It's not the killing, it's not the injuring, it's not the imprisoning, it's not the torture: it's what is happening to our sisters.

"I'm just so shocked ... sometimes I've not been able to sleep just thinking about that kind of thing."

We were just told to kill, says Libyan teen soldier

Marie Colvin From:The Times, May 25

THE young Libyan soldier showed almost no emotion as he described how his unit had raped four sisters, the youngest about 16, after breaking into a home in the besieged port of Misratah.

"My officer sent three of us up to the roof to guard the house while they tied up the father and mother and took the girls to two rooms, two each to a room," said Walid Abu Bakr, 17.

"My two officers and the others raped the girls first," he recalled in a monotone, still dressed in the camouflage uniform he was wearing when he surrendered 12 days ago. They were playing music. They called me down and ordered me to rape one of the girls."
Abu Bakr, from Traghen, a poor southern town, claimed he had been given hashish and was not responsible.

"She did not move much when I raped her," he said, admitting the girl had already been gang-raped. "She said in a low voice, 'There is Allah. He is watching you.' I said, 'Yes, Allah is watching me.’

Abu Bakr seemed to regard himself as a victim, however. He said he had become his family's breadwinner after his father left his sick mother and his siblings.

He joined the army when he was offered 200,000 dinars ($155,000), payable on victory for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, he said. But he had received only a week's training at Yarmouk camp in Tripoli before being sent to Misratah as part of a militia attached to the elite Khamis brigade, named after Gaddafi's youngest son. Their mission was simple. "We were just told to kill," Abu Bakr said. The teenager said he did not keep track of how many times the four girls in the house had been raped. The soldiers in his unit had stolen 12,000 dinars and jewellery from the family, but he had not received a penny, he said.

When rebel forces began closing in on the airport road, the officers sent the family to Zliten, the next town controlled by Gaddafi's troops, and left, ordering Abu Bakr and eight others to guard the house. They never returned.

"The rebels surrounded us and we threw away our guns and surrendered," he said.

Abu Bakr, who is now held in a Misratah school with other former Gaddafi soldiers while the rebels decide what to do with them, said he had decided to speak about the rapes after talking to an Islamic cleric.

Misratah officials said the ruthless assaults by Abu Bakr and his unit had been repeated across the city. Gaddafi's soldiers, they said, had engaged in an orgy of rapes that mirrored their destruction of the city's homes and buildings.

Nothing would have prepared the women of Misratah or their families for the ferocity of the onslaught that occurred when they were trapped amid the fighting, mostly in districts that were controlled by Gaddafi's forces for two months.

The brutality emerged only when the rebels broke through loyalist lines and chased Gaddafi's troops beyond the city limits. In their wake, they found horror stories. Doctors at Hekma hospital found some of Gaddafi's soldiers had recorded video footage of rapes on their mobile phones. "They made the girls identify themselves to the camera and show their faces. Then they raped them," one doctor said. The phones were found on loyalists who had been wounded or killed.

"In one of the videos, there's a woman. She's moaning, 'Oh, no, no, the sixth one, God help me'," said one doctor.

Another video shows a group of Gaddafi's soldiers in camouflage uniform breaking down a door and confronting a frightened family - a man, a woman, five girls whose ages range from about five to early 20s, and a boy aged about 7. The soldiers, shouting and waving their guns, stripped the four older girls in front of the family and took them into the next room where they raped the young women. The girls screamed and cried for mercy, calling on Allah. A soldier at one point yells: "Gaddafi is our Allah."

The video was found on the phone of a loyalist soldier.

A Filipina nurse said her best friends had fled to Tunisia after their four daughters and 13-year-old son were raped repeatedly after the family was trapped in their flat on Tripoli Street, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in Misratah.

"I spoke to their mother," the nurse said. "She said the boy was terrible. She said, 'Don't even ask about my girls'."

So horrified is Misratah by the rapes that young rebel soldiers have offered to marry the victims, who face ostracism in this deeply traditional society.

"The rebels feel guilty that they did not arrive in time to save these families from Gaddafi's men," said Ismael Fortia, an obstetrician who estimates that up to 1000 women may have been raped.

Hardly any of those attacked have come forward because a raped woman is regarded as virtually unmarriageable if she is single, or a shame to her family if she is married.
Doctors and psychologists in Misratah have banded together to help. They will check victims for sexually transmitted diseases and offer abortions. One of their concerns is that unless they are treated, the women will suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, and may commit suicide rather than live with their memories.

"The images of their rape will go around and around in their heads, like an endless nightmare, unless they receive counselling and help," said Mustafa Shigmani, a doctor.
The terrible revelation comes as Misratah's rebels fight on three fronts around the city, loyalists try almost daily to mine the port and explosions reverberate day and night.
The people of Misratah have suffered the greatest toll in the Libyan conflict, largely because their city has been so bitterly contested by Gaddafi. It is the only population centre in the west of the country that is under rebel control.

In districts liberated by the rebels, residents described a reign of terror under Gaddafi's soldiers.

"The soldiers ordered our family out of the house while they searched," said Fatima, 47, of the Zreig neighborhood.

"They said they were looking for weapons, but they took our money, our jewellery, everything they could carry while we waited for three hours."

Families were forced to fly the green flag of the regime. Foot patrols raided homes at all hours. "They would shoot up the television if you were watching anything other than the state channel," said Fawzi Damir, 21.

Men disappeared. "They caught my husband and two of my sons," said Fatima, explaining that the men would usually flee if they spotted loyalists on their street. Two weeks ago, however, they had been taken unawares early in the morning. One son escaped by hiding under her bed.

City officials have said more than 1000 men, women and children have disappeared.

Some residents took to the streets last week to celebrate an end to the shelling of the city centre. They waved flags and shouted with joy. They were the lucky ones. One unforgivable legacy of Gaddafi is that many women of Misratah will never again emerge from their homes and think only of the beautiful sunshine.

The Sunday Times

Monday, May 23, 2011

Soccer Revolution II

Libyan pro-democracy demonstrators and fighters have a lot to plan for, not least of which is their scheduled hosting in 2013 of the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament.


Apparently little heard in the din of protest demonstrations and weapons fire in the continuing battle for Libya was the declaration Tuesday by the Confederation of African Football (Caf) stating that the sports body was still thinking about Libya as a matter of priority.

Caf’s secretary-general Hicham El Amrani told BBC News yesterday that the group is also considering other options in the light of the continuing battle for Libya between pro-democracy opposition forces and troops loyal to the government of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.

The federation official added that the group was also taking into consideration not only the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations tournament but also the CHAN, the African Nations Championship and the Futsal Championship next year – all scheduled in Libya.

He said Plan Bs and Plan Cs were on the table, but as of today, there are no decisions to switch the tournaments to venues other than Libya.

An internal timetable has reportedly been set by the sports federation for a decision on a transfer of venue, but its head said it would not be made public prior to a meeting on the subject scheduled for September.

The CAF already had to move a competition set for earlier this year in Libya, the African U20, which had to be switched to South Africa where it was successfully staged.

On the warfront, latest reports said opposition forces were closing in on Tripoli from the east and west, claiming the liberation from government forces of two towns along the Mediterranean coast.

There has been no word however on whether the Qaddafi regime, apparently cornered in Tripoli, was about to capitulate.



Recognizable by their bright red FC al-Ahli soccer jerseys, you can see them on virtually every street corner in Benghazi. Since the Libyan uprising of Feb. 17, local soccer supporters have been among those most active in trying to build of a new Libyan nation. Some have put their sweat into repairing pavements or roads. Others have gone to the front to fight against Colonel Gaddafi's troops.

But on a recent evening, a few supporters got together in Benghazi Central Square and recalled when they were routinely beaten up a decade ago because they were FC al-Ahli fans. At that time, about 30 supporters went through a living hell because they dared to rebel against Saadi Gaddafi – the third son of the Libyan leader – who back then was both owner and captain of the rival club based in Tripoli called Al Ahly Tripoli.

Soccer was then one of the few fields in which people would show their collective local pride, and more implicitly their rejection of the current regime. Thus, the Libyan dictator thought that it was anything but a harmless hobby.

In the summer of 2000, Saadi Gaddafi decided to reign in the unruly rival team after a series of on-field disputes. During a match between the two clubs, Benghazi players threatened to leave the field after two “imaginary” penalties and an offside goal were awarded to the rival team leader. Later, FC al-Ahli supporters refused to support the Libyan national team, and ransacked the premises of the Libyan Soccer Federation, which was then chaired by Saadi Gaddafi himself.

In the following days, Libya's Internal Security Forces rounded up several dozen supporters and sent them to Tripoli. “Before being transferred to the Ain Zara prison, usually reserved for political prisoners, they shaved our heads,” recalls Abdul Salam el-Mozoughi, a strapping fan, now 42. “We were tortured for five weeks. Our torturers wanted us to confess to the worst crimes imaginable. Gaddafi's soldiers treated us like terrorists. They wanted us to say that we were in touch with political opponents in exile.”

In the meantime, Benghazi's FC al-Ahli was temporarily disbanded, as 34 defendants were accused of attempting to create a political party, insulting the Libyan guide's family and criminal conspiracy. Three of the defendants were sentenced to death. Those sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment.

“The truth is that Saadi Gaddafi had a grudge against us, because our team was strong, and because we refused to submit to his whims,” says Murad Rhoma, who was behind bars for three years. “On the field, the other teams' players were so afraid of his fits of anger that they did not dare to try to get the ball from him,” adds Abdul Salam el-Mozoughi, who was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.

The supporters, who were pardoned at the end of 2005, have got their team back now. But Saadi Gaddafi does not seem to have forgiven Benghazi's inhabitants. In the early days of Libya's revolt, he seemed to have personally ordered to shoot young protesters in Benghazi.

Many FC al-Ahli supporters have taken active roles in the Libyan revolution, only too pleased to be able to take their revenge. At the end of March, six of them were killed by accident by a NATO strike. Others were shot dead by the pro-Gaddafi troops. “Our country is worth those sacrifices,” says Murad Rhomas. The man is overjoyed to be able to speak openly of his pride. At present, like many other locals, he wants to devote himself totally to fight against Gaddafi's troops.

But as soon as the peace is won, they boast to their French visitors, the old Hugo Chavez Stadium will be re-baptized Nicolas Sarkozy Stadium. “Then it will be time to enjoy playing soccer again.”

The club that defied Gaddafi
The Guardian
Benghazi, Libya, May 27, 2011

The story of the Al-Ahly Benghazi football club offers a window into the mindset of the Gaddafi family and explains some of the resentment that led to the revolution there. For more than a decade Muammar Gaddafi and his footballing son, Saadi, conspired to destroy Libya’s oldest club. In 2000, the club faced relegation and the primary reason, the squad insisted, was a conspiracy by Saadi who captained Ah Ahly Tripoli and headed the Libyan Football Federation.

Having already used his wallet to lure several Benghazi players to Tripoli, Saadi set about rigging games by bribing or coercing match officials. Indeed, throughout the season, Al-Ahly appeared to be on the wrong side of refereeing decisions. On 20 July 2000, the team needed a draw from their last game to survive and their opponents were awarded a dubious penalty and Benghazi fans invaded the pitch, forcing the match to be abandoned. A donkey made an appearance, clad in a shirt with Saadi’s number.

Gaddafi waited until 1 September to take revenge. During Friday prayers, bulldozers destroyed Al-Ahly’s training ground and team offices. The club was hit with relegation and an indefinite ban.

32 fans and staff were sent to prison in Tripoli, most were given sentences of between three and 10 years. Three men received the death penalty.

Today, the site contains only a building and a training field. At the old ground, piles of rubble are all that remain. “We still don’t know why Gaddafi did this to Al-Ahly,” said Moataz Ben Amer, the current club captain. “Football takes the attention of the youth away from bigger issues like politics. But Gaddafi does not understand that.”

Curiosly, Gaddafi sent Saadi to Benghazi in February to end the uprising. Realising he had no chance, Saadi exited, but not before giving orders to shoot unarmed protesters, according to local people and a BBC Panorama report.

DIY demolition on Gaddafi's pet projects
By Andrew Hosken
BBC News, Benghazi


The antipathy between Col Muammar Gaddafi and the so-called "rebel stronghold of Benghazi" runs deep, with the Libyan leader leaving a trail of unfinished construction projects there.

The other day I was taken to see a pile of rubble in Benghazi.

As you can imagine, there are quite a few piles of rubble in Benghazi at the moment, with little to distinguish them.

But this pile stood next to fragments of a sports stadium and, lurking morosely on the periphery of some wasteland, were half a dozen or so floodlights, their long-extinguished lamps dipped more in pity than illumination.

This was once the club HQ of the Al-Ahly Benghazi football club, and the remarkable story of how its hallowed turf was turned into scorched earth revealed much about Libya under Col Gaddafi and his family, and why the revolution originated in this extraordinary city.

In recent months a number of important places have been reduced to ruins in what is habitually referred to as the "rebel stronghold of Benghazi".

Both the ministry of internal security and the hated Katiba army barracks have felt the force of revolutionary fervour.

At the Katiba, the rebels requisitioned bulldozers from a local plant hire company to conduct arbitrary demolitions, as well as making a number of other alterations by means of fire.

Col Gaddafi always stayed in the Katiba during his few visits to Benghazi, whose people he always distrusted.

I had a look around, and I doubted very much whether he would like what they have done with the place.

As for the football club, retribution came its way in the shape of Col Gaddafi's football-obsessed son, Saadi.

In 2000, the fans of al-Ahly tired of the alleged match-fixing antics of Saadi, who ran a rival club in Tripoli.
They dressed a donkey in Saadi's football strip and generally behaved in the boorish way most of us expect to see on terraces the world over.

But Saadi's love of the game did not extend to tolerating the puerile behaviour of a few rival fans.

He had the clubhouse razed to the ground and arrested scores of fans - three were sentenced to death.

It is little wonder that among those rampaging around the Katiba were many al-Ahly fans, looking for a sudden-death goal against the regime in extra time.
Job half done
It is a remarkable story for many reasons - not least because the efficiency shown by the Gaddafi regime in knocking down the club stands in complete contrast to its apparent inability to put up any long-lasting legacy, particularly in Benghazi.
A young engineering student called Abdelsalam agreed to take me on a strange tour of the great building projects that the regime, for all its supposed ruthlessness, has failed to see through to completion.

First up, the west Benghazi new town project 2000. "Oil brings us $120bn (£732bn) a year," said Abdelsalam, "and yet everyone lives with their parents."

West Benghazi was supposed to provide the city's youth with an extra 200,000 homes and yet, as far as the eye could see, the husks of incomplete apartment blocks were all that constituted the promised utopia - that, and the many cranes that stood idly by.

Nearby, a placard hailed another Gaddafi project, the great trans-Libyan railway line, linking Tobruk and Egypt in the east with Tripoli and the west, and beyond to Tunisia.

You learned very quickly around here that Col Gaddafi was very fond of placards heralding grand new building projects.
What was happening behind the scaffolding was often very different, as was the case for the great trans-Libyan railway.
There was no great terminus (as yet), but the buffers seemed very soundly constructed. From here, the twin tracks coursed their way through the desert for about 800m before petering out beside a resting goatherd and his flock.
"What did I tell you?" exulted my young engineer guide.

Not only had Gaddafi failed to make the railways run on time he had... um... failed to make the railways.

Then it was off to Benghazi's newly-finished hospital.

"Started 40 years ago and just completed," said Abdelsalam. "They started and finished Dubai in the same time."

Then a look at the far-from-finished and apparently abandoned March 28th football stadium, where Libya hoped to host the 2013 African Cup of Nations tournament.

Other unfinished works included a cafe complex, a golf course and another of the colonel's celebrated man-made rivers, laid low by a big corporate bankruptcy.

"We in Benghazi always know this of Gaddafi," Abdelsalam told me. "The guy just can't finish anything he starts."

So here was a dictator whose diktat did not appear to run as far as building contractors, nor would it seem to the people of Benghazi.

"You can folly some of the people some of the time," said a graffiti message with delightful malapropism on a broken wall inside the Katiba. "But you can't folly all the people all of the time."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

President's Speech on Arab Revolt

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The State Department is a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy. For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change take place in the Middle East and North Africa. Square by square; town by town; country by country; the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights. Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow. And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security; history and faith.

Today, I would like to talk about this change – the forces that are driving it, and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security. Already, we have done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts. After years of war in Iraq, we have removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we have broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue transition to Afghan lead. And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader – Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden was no martyr. He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate – an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change. He rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism; his agenda focused on what he could destroy – not what he could build.

Bin Laden and his murderous vision won some adherents. But even before his death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life. By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had taken their future into their own hands.

That story of self-determination began six months ago in Tunisia. On December 17, a young vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi was devastated when a police officer confiscated his cart. This was not unique. It is the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world – the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity. Only this time, something different happened. After local officials refused to hear his complaint, this young man who had never been particularly active in politics went to the headquarters of the provincial government, doused himself in fuel, and lit himself on fire.

Sometimes, in the course of history, the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has built up for years. In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat. So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, then thousands. And in the face of batons and sometimes bullets, they refused to go home – day after day, week after week, until a dictator of more than two decades finally left power.

The story of this Revolution, and the ones that followed, should not have come as a surprise. The nations of the Middle East and North Africa won their independence long ago, but in too many places their people did not. In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of the few. In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn – no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.

This lack of self determination – the chance to make of your life what you will – has applied to the region’s economy as well. Yes, some nations are blessed with wealth in oil and gas, and that has led to pockets of prosperity. But in a global economy based on knowledge and innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground. Nor can people reach their potential when you cannot start a business without paying a bribe.

In the face of these challenges, too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people’s grievances elsewhere. The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half century after the end of colonialism. Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression. Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else.

But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and diversion won’t work anymore. Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world – a world of astonishing progress in places like India, Indonesia and Brazil. Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before. A new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.

In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.”

In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”

In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”

In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.”

Those shouts of human dignity are being heard across the region. And through the moral force of non-violence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.

Of course, change of this magnitude does not come easily. In our day and age – a time of 24 hour news cycles, and constant communication – people expect the transformation of the region to be resolved in a matter of weeks. But it will be years before this story reaches its end. Along the way, there will be good days, and bad days. In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual. And as we have seen, calls for change may give way to fierce contests for power.

The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds. For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region: countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce, and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.

We will continue to do these things, with the firm belief that America’s interests are not hostile to peoples’ hopes; they are essential to them. We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region, or al Qaeda’s brutal attacks. People everywhere would see their economies crippled by a cut off in energy supplies. As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders, and we will keep our commitments to friends and partners.

Yet we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind. Moreover, failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our own interests at their expense. Given that this mistrust runs both ways – as Americans have been seared by hostage taking, violent rhetoric, and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens – a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and Muslim communities.

That’s why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. I believed then – and I believe now – that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self determination of individuals. The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.

So we face an historic opportunity. We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

As we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility. It is not America that put people into the streets of Tunis and Cairo – it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and must determine their outcome. Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short term interests do not align perfectly with our long term vision of the region. But we can – and will – speak out for a set of core principles – principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months:

The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.

We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women under the rule of law; and the right to choose your own leaders – whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran.

And finally, we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.

Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest– today I am making it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.

Let me be specific. First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.

That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high –as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab World’s largest nation. Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections; a vibrant civil society; accountable and effective democratic institutions; and responsible regional leadership. But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place.

Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have been answered by violence. The most extreme example is Libya, where Moammar Gaddafi launched a war against his people, promising to hunt them down like rats. As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to impose regime change by force – no matter how well-intended it may be.

But in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help. Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed. The message would have been clear: keep power by killing as many people as it takes. Now, time is working against Gaddafi. He does not have control over his country. The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible Interim Council. And when Gaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.

While Libya has faced violence on the greatest scale, it is not the only place where leaders have turned to repression to remain in power. Most recently, the Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens. The United States has condemned these actions, and working with the international community we have stepped up our sanctions on the Syrian regime – including sanctions announced yesterday on President Assad and those around him.

The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests; release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests; allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition. Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and isolated abroad.

Thus far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression. This speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stand for the rights of protesters abroad, yet suppresses its people at home. Let us remember that the first peaceful protests were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail. We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran. The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory. And we will continue to insist that the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations.

Our opposition to Iran’s intolerance – as well as its illicit nuclear program, and its sponsorship of terror – is well known. But if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for change consistent with the principles that I have outlined today. That is true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. And that is true, today, in Bahrain.

Bahrain is a long-standing partner, and we are committed to its security. We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law. Nevertheless, we have insisted publically and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.

Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict. In Iraq, we see the promise of a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy. There, the Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence for a democratic process, even as they have taken full responsibility for their own security. Like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. As they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.

So in the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region. Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we will need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike. Our message is simple: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States. We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future – particularly young people.

We will continue to make good on the commitments that I made in Cairo – to build networks of entrepreneurs, and expand exchanges in education; to foster cooperation in science and technology, and combat disease. Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned, and who speak uncomfortable truths. And we will use the technology to connect with – and listen to – the voices of the people.

In fact, real reform will not come at the ballot box alone. Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information. We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard – whether it’s a big news organization or a blogger. In the 21st century, information is power; the truth cannot be hidden; and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.

Such open discourse is important even if what is said does not square with our worldview. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard, even if we disagree with them. We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy. What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion – not consent. Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and respect for the rights of minorities.

Such tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion. In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” America will work to see that this spirit prevails – that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them. In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation. And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.

What is true for religious minorities is also true when it comes to the rights of women. History shows that countries are more prosperous and peaceful when women are empowered. That is why we will continue to insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men – by focusing assistance on child and maternal health; by helping women to teach, or start a business; by standing up for the right of women to have their voices heard, and to run for office. For the region will never reach its potential when more than half its population is prevented from achieving their potential.

Even as we promote political reform and human rights in the region, our efforts cannot stop there. So the second way that we must support positive change in the region is through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that transition to democracy.

After all, politics alone has not put protesters into the streets. The tipping point for so many people is the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family. Too many in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day, and perhaps the hope that their luck will change. Throughout the region, many young people have a solid education, but closed economies leave them unable to find a job. Entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas, but corruption leaves them unable to profit from them.

The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people. In the recent protests, we see that talent on display, as people harness technology to move the world. It’s no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google. That energy now needs to be channeled, in country after country, so that economic growth can solidify the accomplishments of the street. Just as democratic revolutions can be triggered by a lack of individual opportunity, successful democratic transitions depend upon an expansion of growth and broad-based prosperity.

Drawing from what we’ve learned around the world, we think it’s important to focus on trade, not just aid; and investment, not just assistance. The goal must be a model in which protectionism gives way to openness; the reigns of commerce pass from the few to the many, and the economy generates jobs for the young. America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability; promoting reform; and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy – starting with Tunisia and Egypt.

First, we have asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G-8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. Together, we must help them recover from the disruption of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year. And we are urging other countries to help Egypt and Tunisia meet its near-term financial needs.

Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past. So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship. We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation. And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.

Third, we are working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt. These will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region. And we will work with allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe.

Fourth, the United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. If you take out oil exports, this region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland. So we will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement. Just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa.

Prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress – the corruption of elites who steal from their people; the red tape that stops an idea from becoming a business; the patronage that distributes wealth based on tribe or sect. We will help governments meet international obligations, and invest efforts anti-corruption; by working with parliamentarians who are developing reforms, and activists who use technology to hold government accountable.

Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.

For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own. Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security, prosperity, and empowerment to ordinary people.

My Administration has worked with the parties and the international community for over two years to end this conflict, yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on for decades, and sees a stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward.

I disagree. At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.

As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.

The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people – not just a few leaders – must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

Ultimately, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away. But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I know that these steps alone will not resolve this conflict. Two wrenching and emotional issues remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.

Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel – how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist. In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.

I recognize how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past. We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. He said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.” And we see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. “I have the right to feel angry,” he said. “So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate…Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow.”

That is the choice that must be made – not simply in this conflict, but across the entire region – a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past, and the promise of the future. It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.

For all the challenges that lie ahead, we see many reasons to be hopeful. In Egypt, we see it in the efforts of young people who led protests. In Syria, we see it in the courage of those who brave bullets while chanting, ‘peaceful,’ ‘peaceful.’ In Benghazi, a city threatened with destruction, we see it in the courthouse square where people gather to celebrate the freedoms that they had never known. Across the region, those rights that we take for granted are being claimed with joy by those who are prying lose the grip of an iron fist.

For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar. Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire. Our people fought a painful civil war that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved. And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of non-violence as a way to perfect our union – organizing, marching, and protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”

Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa – words which tell us that repression will fail, that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights. It will not be easy. There is no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope. But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. Now, we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.