Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tripoli Sept. 1 2009 - Sept. 1 2011

Libyans attending Eid al-Fitr prayers in Tripoli's Martyrs Square Wednesday

Two years ago Col. Gadhafi held a major celebration to honor the 40th anniversary of his coup at Green Square, including a day long parade that included floats, military units and even bagpipers from New Zealand. Today Gadhafi is on the run, gone underground in hiding and Green Square is known as Martyr's Square.

For this day, the Libyans appeared to forget there is a war on as tens of thousands gathered at Martyrs' Square, renamed from Green Square in the Al Qathafi era in the heart of the Libyan capital, Tripoli to mark the Muslim Eid al-Fitr feast.

They knelt in prayer in the same square that the fugitive dictator, Muammar Al Qathafi was going to use on Thursday to mark the 42nd year of his rule at the First of September Revolution.

The worshippers who packed the square rejoiced at the collapse of their former leader and his rule, chanting "Allahu Akbar (God is greatest), Libya is free."

Men, women and children decked out in their holiday best, had begun to pour into the Square since dawn. Women ululated in triumph and spontaneous cries of joy erupted. Many still under 40, who remember no one else by Al Qathafi as their ruler, openly praised God for freeing them of the dictator.

They described the day as their best holiday of their life. Al Qathafi made us hate our lives ... We come here to express our joy at the end of 42 years of repression and deprivation," said one.

An imam leading the dawn prayer at the square urged all Libyans to stand united and hailed the ouster of "the tyrant Al Qathafi", prompting jeers from the crowd at the mention of the former leader's name.

But the war is not over yet, with Al Qathafi on the run and his loyalists defying an ultimatum set by Libya's interim council.

Rebel forces had set up a security belt around the square, as armed guards patrolled the area and shooters took positions on rooftops overlooking the gathering which ended peacefully later in the morning.

The Eid celebrations in Tripoli began late night Tuesday with bursts of red tracer rounds fired into the sky as a substitute for fireworks.

A man by the name of Amari Abdulla, 24, reportedly told AFP: “This is the first time we have felt relaxed in 42 years. "We will celebrate as in the past but this time it is simply better. It is a new Libya."

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chief of the rebels' National Transitional Council (NTC), said in an interview published Wednesday by Egypt's state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper that he wanted Al Qathafi arrested alive so he could be brought to justice.

"I believe he is in Libya, and I hope he is arrested alive so he can be brought before a fair trial for his crimes against the Libyan people," he said.

Abdul Jalil on Tuesday gave the loyalists until Saturday to surrender or face the "final battle" of a more than six-month uprising against Al Qathafi's autocratic regime.

The rebel leader told reporters in their eastern stronghold of Benghazi the ultimatum was offered to mark the Eid al-Fitr feast.

Although Al Qathafi has rejected the ultimatum, sources have said that talks are under way with civic and tribal leaders in a number of towns, including Sirte, in an effort to avoid bloodshed, but more fighting could be imminent as rebel fighters massed to the east and west of the town.

"From Saturday, if no peaceful solution is in sight on the ground, we will resort to military force," Abdel Jalil said, warning that Al Qathafi "is not finished yet."

Meanwhile, as some 60 nations prepared for a Paris aid conference on the war-battered country's future administration, the National Transitional Council was expecting the European Union to lift its sanctions against Libya's ports and 22 economic entities including some oil companies by Friday.

It follows an agreement in principle reached on Wednesday, which governments formally expect to adopt on Thursday, the diplomats said. The sanctions will be lifted on Friday when the move is published in the EU's Official Journal

In another development, with the Libyan rebels claiming to be closing in on Muammar Al Qathafi, human rights activists and lawyers are urging them to turn the former leader over to the International Criminal Court for trial and not attempt to mete out justice themselves.

Leading the calls is the court's Argentine prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who has charged Al Qathafi, along with the long-time leader's son Seif al-Islam and the regime's intelligence chief Abdullah Al-Sanoussi with unleashing a campaign of murder and torture since February that unsuccessfully aimed at snuffing out anti-government protests.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday called on leaders meeting on Thursday in Paris to also push the rebel leaders to surrender Al Qathafi to The Hague-based international court if he is captured.

Libya conflict: Eid lull lets Tripoli ponder future

By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East editor

Tripoli's soundtrack this morning was a mix of gunfire and prayers.

From early on, mosque loudspeakers were buzzing across the city's sprawling skyline to mark the feast of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

As the sun rose higher the words of the Koran merged with the clatter of gunfire.

Libyans have an unfortunate habit of firing their guns in the air when they are happy, sad or angry - and all three emotions are on display here at the moment.

It is always the way as a war ends, for winners, losers and the bereaved.

And here in Tripoli it does feel as if the war is over, even though fighting is expected to resume elsewhere in this huge country after what appears to be a pause for Eid.

Anti-Gaddafi forces are squeezing Sirte, Col Gaddafi's hometown, from east and west. They have issued an ultimatum to the Gaddafi loyalists to surrender before the end of the feast or face the consequences.

It is clear, though, that the rebels have some way to go before they can claim to be the masters everywhere.

No 'normality'
Col Gaddafi's wife, pregnant daughter and two of his sons, as well as their families and retinues, were able to drive across a big stretch of Libya to get to the Algerian border.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

[In Tunisia and Egypt], the promise of the spring has faded. The new powers in Libya would do well to learn their lessons”

The furious reaction of the anti-Gaddafi National Transitional Council (NTC) to Algeria's decision to give the family sanctuary confirms that its men would have stopped them, had it been possible.

It is wrong to talk about a return to normality in Tripoli, because Col Gaddafi dominated everything until just over a week ago. Residents of the city are trying to work out just what normal life will be without him.

Libyans have to be well into their 50s to remember a time when he was not the leader. His cult of personality meant that it was hard not to see his portrait wherever you looked.

His favourite approved images showed him wearing either ochre robes, or a series of increasingly elaborate uniforms, apparently made to his own design. They have all gone.

In the last few days I have seen only two Gaddafi portraits. One was propped up in a dustbin as a fighter emptied his Kalashnikov into it for some grateful photographers.

The other was positioned carefully on the threshold of the hotel where many of the journalists are staying, in such a way that all the guests have to walk over it to get inside.

Fragile peace
Tripoli feels very local at the moment.

Young anti-Gaddafi fighters run roadblocks at important junctions. But there is no central authority.

The rebels run local checkpoints, but there is no central authority
The NTC has been recognised by many of the world's most powerful states - but as a government it is invisible. Families, and neighbourhoods, are looking after themselves.

It is calm, but if matters continue to drift that might not last.

I saw some signs of impatience and strain outside a bank in Tajoura, a suburb of Tripoli that was one of the hotbeds of resistance to the regime in the last six months.

A few hundred public employees were queuing, hoping it would open so they could pick up their salaries. A woman touched off a shouting match when she started pounding on the door.

The men yelled at her to be patient, all would come right. She yelled back that she had not been paid for three months, and that she was hungry. Other women supported her, saying their children could not wait.

The men said they were happy to feed off revolutionary euphoria. The women were much more conscious that freedom alone does not put food on the table.

The men responded with some patriotic chanting.

At the start of this remarkable year, the revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt were just as happy when they overthrew their dictators.

But since then, slow or nonexistent political, social and economic progress have created a poisonous malaise in Tunisia and Egypt.

Most people in those countries still think life is better without the dictators. But the promise of the spring has faded.

The new powers in Libya would do well to learn their lessons.

Libya is fragile and it will need help, luck and wise leadership. It has already been offered some help. It is waiting for the other two ingredients of a better future.

Russ Baker & Stephen Zunes Analysis

The Libya Secret: How West Cooked Up “People’s Uprising”
By Russ Baker on Aug 31, 2011

As I write this, a new day is dawning in Libya. The “people’s revolt” against yet another tyrant is unquestionably exciting, and the demise (political and/or otherwise) of Muammar Qaddafi will, of course, be widely hailed. But barely below the surface something else is going on, and it concerns not the Libyan “people”, but an elite. In reality, a narrowly-based Libyan elite is being supplanted by a much older, more enduring one of an international variety.

The media, as is so often the case, has botched its job. Thus virtually all of its resources over the past six months have gone into providing us with an entertainment, a horse race, a battle, with almost no insight into the deeper situation..
It’s true that Qaddafi, like many—perhaps a majority of—rulers in his region, was a thug and a brute, if at times a comical figure. But one doesn’t need to be an apologist for him—nor deny the satisfaction of seeing the citizenry joyously celebrating his ouster—to demand some honesty about the motives behind his removal. Especially when it comes to our own government’s role in funding it, and thus every American’s unwitting participation in that action.

Let’s start with the official justification for NATO’s launch of its bombing campaign—for without that campaign, it’s highly improbable the rebels could ever have toppled Qaddafi. We were told from the beginning that the major purpose of what was to be very limited bombing—indeed, its sole purpose—was to protect those Libyan civilians rebelling against an oppressive regime from massive retaliation by Qaddafi. Perhaps because of NATO’s initial intervention, the feared Qaddafi-sponsored, genocidal bloodletting never did occur. (At least, not beyond the military actions one would expect a government to take when facing a civil war: after all, remember General Sherman’s “scorched earth” policy in the US Civil War?). However, protecting civilians apparently didn’t generate sufficient public support for intervention, so we started to hear about other purported reasons for it. Qaddafi was encouraging his soldiers to…commit mass rape! And giving them Viagra And condoms.

You can’t make this sort of thing up. And yet that’s just what the NATO crew did—made it up. The media, always glad to have a “sexy” story, especially a sick sexy story, even a sick sexy story with no evidence to back it up, covered this ad nauseum, but never bothered to find out if it was true.

We’ve been expressing doubts about these claims, for a number of reasons—including logic—for some time now. (For more on that, see this and this and this.) But it’s tough to counterpoise hot-button issues with rationality. If you questioned the mass rape story, you were a “rape-enabler.” If you pointed out that Qaddafi was being bombed for anything other than humanitarian reasons, you were a “Qaddafi-lover.”

The media was so gullible that the professional disinformation guys went onto auto-pilot, recycling tired old tropes that nobody ought to be buying anymore. For example, most news outlets reported recently that Libya had fired a SCUD missile at the rebels.

“That it didn’t hit anything or kill anyone is not the point. It’s a weapon of mass destruction that Col. Qaddafi is willing to train on his own people,” said one Western official.

If the effort to rally public opinion against Qaddafi centered on any one factor, it was fury over Libya’s purported role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. As we noted in a previous article, in the years since the conviction of a Libyan intelligence officer in the tragedy, a chorus of doubts has grown steadily. The doubt is based on new forensic evidence and research, plus subsequent claims by prosecution witnesses that their testimony was the result of threats, bribes, or other forms of coercion. It is an ugly and disturbing story, not well known to the larger news audience.
Yet Lockerbie has continued to touch nerves. In February, when Qaddafi’s Justice Minister turned against him and became a rebel leader, he brought with him dynamite. Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil made the dramatic claim that his ex-boss was the culprit behind the bombing of Pan Am 103. He asserted that he had proof of Qaddafi giving the direct order for the crime. This got considerable media attention, though almost no news organizations followed up or reported that Jeleil never did supply that proof. The Libyan convicted of the crime has consistently denied any involvement. Nonetheless, his conviction in the case has had Qaddafi on the defensive for years—and working hard to prove to the West that he can be a “good citizen.” Part of this has entailed his paying out huge sums in reparations.

From the beginning of the Libya saga in February until now, the NATO coalition has never wavered from its initial declaration of humanitarian motives. And, to be sure, we may still learn of horrible, previously-unknown atrocities by Qaddafi. Still, the United States and its allies have little history of using their might strictly to protect civilians. If so, millions of South Sudanese, Rwandans and others might not be in their graves.

Besides, with all the talk about Qaddafi harming his citizens, what about the effect of more than 7000—yes, seven thousand—NATO bombing runs? We heard constant reports about how Qaddafi was facing charges of “war crimes,” with never a word about NATO. To learn the impact of this massive unleashing, you had to be relying on Tweets from Libyans witnessing it, or visiting obscure websites that shared eyewitness accounts.

Some Western military officials couldn’t even be bothered to participate in the “humanitarianism” charade. For example, the top British general explicitly stated that the objective was really to remove Qaddafi. Nobody—including the media—paid much attention to this admission, perhaps because it was already assumed to be the case.

Qaddafi should never be seen as a victim—indeed, he has always been sleazy and monstrous in various ways. But the US and its allies appear to have cared little about this, while being deeply troubled by his role as a fly in the geopolitical ointment. A look at the long and complex historical relationship between Qaddafi and the West begins to explain the true reason he had to go. It also dovetails perfectly with a growing body of indications that Western elites encouraged and even provoked the uprising—while tapping into deep discontent with the dictator.

Qaddafi has long been a thorn in the side of the West’s oil industry and their national security apparatus. In the early 1970s he worked closely with Occidental Petroleum chairman Armand Hammer in thwarting the ambitions of the oil majors. He was a leader in the boycott of Israel and often cozied up to the Soviet Union.

Back in the 1980s, the Reagan Administration plotted for five years to get rid of Qaddafi and sent 18 U.S. warplanes in April 1986 to eliminate the “Mad Dog of the Middle East.” Reporter Seymour Hersh actually did investigate the whys and wherefores of the ensuing bombings over Tripoli. (The bombings killed the Libyan dictator’s daughter but obviously failed to achieve their primary objective). Hersh’s piece in the February 22nd, 1987 New York Times Magazine, “Target Qaddafi,” has striking echoes in the NATO attacks of 2011.

It revealed:
- “internal manipulation and deceit” on the part of the White House to disguise its real intentions, namely, to assassinate Qaddafi;
- Denials after the raid on Qaddafi’s compound that he had been a target, insisting that the compound hit was “a command-and-control” building;
- The training of Libyan exiles, armed by Israel, to infiltrate Libya through Tunisia.
- The creation of a pretext for the attacks. In this case, it was the April 5, 1986 bombing of the La Belle discotheque in West Berlin,a hangout of American servicemen. This bombing was blamed on Libya “based on intercepted communications,” despite the explicit rejection of this claim by Berlin’s then-chief of anti-terrorist police.
- The revelation, according to one intelligence official, that “We came out with this big terrorist threat to the U.S. government. The whole thing was a complete fabrication.”
- As for real motives, Hersh discerned from a three-month investigation that the Reagan Administration saw Qaddafi as being pro-Soviet, “relentlessly anti-Israel,” and a supporter of extreme elements in Syria as opposed to “the more moderate regimes in Jordan and Egypt.”
- Qaddafi’s “often-stated ambition to set up a new federation of Arab and Moslem states in North Africa” frightened policy makers about their access to minerals.

It’s this that has to be considered as background for the true story of Libya—the one the Western media cannot, or will not now, report.


What the media has so relentlessly characterized as the “spontaneous uprising” of February 2011 was hardly spontaneous. It began even before the Arab Spring itself commenced in Tunisia during December of last year—and it was orchestrated by the West.

In October 2010, Qaddafi’s protocol chief, Nouri Al-Mesmari, arrived in France, purportedly for medical treatment. But he had his family with him, and the declared reason for his trip was a cover story. He almost immediately plunged into talks with the French and their intelligence service. He argued that Qaddafi was weak. He pointed out breaches in Qaddafi’s national security shield that made it possible to take him down. (More on this can be found on the subscription-newsletter site “Africa Intelligence.”)

In December, Mesmari was joined by three Western-educated Libyan businessmen who had years earlier staged an unsuccessful revolt against Qaddafi. It didn’t take long for the French government of Nicolas Sarkozy to sign on to a covert effort to topple Qaddafi. There are multiple possible reasons for this, including intra-European competition, notably with the Italians, who enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Qaddafi and an inside track on Libya’s oil. In addition, the French were deeply concerned about illegal immigration from Arab and African countries via Libya, that they felt was tolerated or even encouraged by Qaddafi. The French began talking with the British, who shared many of their concerns and a history of cooperation on covert projects.

In November, a French trade delegation, including representatives of multinational corporations, traveled to Benghazi in Eastern Libya. That delegation has been characterized by Africa Intelligence’s Maghreb Confidential as having included French military officials under commercial cover, assessing the possibilities on the ground.

The New Year’s uprising in Tunisia, followed in rapid succession by those in other Arab states, created a kind of perfect storm, arguably even a smoke screen for the “popular revolt.” (It is interesting to note the above newsletter’s assertion that Mesmari paid a brief visit to Tunisia in October on his way to France.)

“Muammer Kadhafi’s [i.e., Muammar Qaddafi’s] chief of protocol, Nouri Mesmari, is currently in Paris after stopping off in Tunisia. Normally, Mesmari sticks closely to his boss’s side, so there’s some talk that he may have broken his long-standing tie with the Libyan leader.”

Egypt followed quickly on Tunisia’s heels, and on February 16, just days after the dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled in neighboring Egypt, peaceful demonstrations began in Benghazi—after calls went out on Facebook for people to take to the streets in protest over the arrest of a human rights lawyer. (The lawyer, Fethi Tarbel, was quickly released—news organizations do not appear to have scrutinized who ordered Tarbel arrested, or exactly why—though this was the seminal event that would ultimately lead to the end of Qaddafi’s regime.)

On February 27, a National Transitional Council, made up of politicians, ex-military officers, tribal leaders, businessmen and academics, announced its launching in Benghazi as the rebel leadership. Not surprisingly, no mention was made of the French back story.

The Italian intelligence services, intent on preserving that country’s advantageously close relationship with Qaddafi, began trying to leak what was going on. (More on the extent of the coziness between Libya and Italian oil companies, and between Qaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi here.) When it proved unable to stop the operation, the Italian government seemingly decided to switch and try to head this particular parade, lest the spoils go to the others.

Qaddafi and Berlusconi (Italy)

The United States was late to this affair, but determined to get its share of the picnic. The US has been as nervous about Qaddafi’s relationship with Russia’s Putin as France was about his ties to Italy.

CIA was ready with its own man and plan. As we previously noted, Khalifa Hifter, a former Libyan army officer, had spent the past two decades living just down the road from CIA headquarters, with no apparent source of income. In 1996, while a resident of Vienna, Virginia, he organized a Benghazi-based revolt that failed. When the current uprising was sputtering in March, CIA sent Hifter in to take command.

When the rebels were being routed, the United Nations Security Council approved a no-fly order for Qaddafi. The NATO bombing began almost immediately, under the “humanitarian” label.

Before long, other European countries had covert elements in Libya. The British paper, The Guardian, has just reported the role of British special forces in coordinating the rebels on the ground. This was denied by the UK government. But then another British paper, The Telegraph, cited UK defense sources saying special forces had been in Libya already for weeks, i.e., since early August.)

For the first time, defence sources have confirmed that the SAS has been in Libya for several weeks, and played a key role in co-ordinating the fall of Tripoli.

Now that it is all over, expect details to emerge daily. For example, see this from the Daily Beast on the extent of US involvement behind the scenes, including:

[A]t NATO headquarters outside Brussels, the U.S. was intimately involved in all decisions about how the Libyan rebels should be supported as they rolled up control of cities and oil refineries and marched toward the capital, Tripoli.


Ok, so certain Western powers wanted, really, really badly, to oust Qaddafi. But why exactly? France’s intra-European competitive motive was certainly one factor. But there was more.

Back in 2007, European Union leaders were seriously toying with the idea of NATO-izing the entire Mediterranean, turning it into the new mare-nostrum originally contemplated in Roman days. In 2007, France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy invited 27 European Union heads of state to launch a “Mediterranean union.” He also invited 17 non-EU Mediterranean countries to use, as Britain’s Daily Telegraph put it, “imperial Rome’s centre of the world as a unifying factor linking 44 countries that are home to 800 million people.”

One leader did not buy in, however: Muammar Qaddafi. He claimed the scheme would divide Africa and the Arab World. “We shall have another Roman empire and imperialist design,” he was quoted as saying in July, 2008. “There are Imperialist maps and designs that we have already rolled up. We should not have them again.”

Qaddafi was particularly angered that an earlier plan, which contemplated building closer co-operation among a few southern European and North African states bordering the Mediterranean, had been replaced with one which included the whole EU, the Middle East—and Israel—in the new “Union.”

“It is unbelievable that I would come to my own country and people and say that I have a union with Israel. It is very dangerous,” he said, referring to the possibility of the plan fomenting jihadism throughout Europe, not just the Middle East.

Despite this “insult,” however, Qaddafi had been attempting for some time to get his country out of the near-global embargo imposed after blame for the Lockerbie bombing was laid at Libya’s feet. And the West, for its part, had been largely in a great hurry to “forgive”—and to get access to Libya’s riches.

Qaddafi and Condoleezza (US)

While Qaddafi was discussing with the Russians in 2007, for instance, the prospect of building a Russian military base in Libya, he’d also been busy rapidly repairing relations with other potential allies. French President Sarkozy visited that year, and signed a number of agreements, including a deal for France to build a nuclear-powered facility to desalinate ocean water for drinking. The next year, Qaddafi signed a cooperation treaty with Italy’s Berlusconi. And American secretary of state Condi Rice came calling in 2008, accelerating the thaw George W. Bush had avidly begun early in his administration.

In recent years, Qaddafi was on such good behavior that U.S. officials showered him with the sort of praise usually reserved for those officially deemed to be close allies. If that sounds unlikely, all you need to do is watch this video of Republican Sen. John McCain on an August 2009 visit to Tripoli—with his buddy Joe Lieberman, known to most as a pro-Israel, pro-Iraq-war hawk—gushing about Qaddafi and his regime. Emerging from meetings, they evoked a spirit of friendship and mutual respect, and endorsed the US providing defense equipment to that regime. (Ever the political animal, in recent weeks, the very same McCain who led that delegation has turned to criticizing Obama for not being willing to bomb Libya heavily enough.)

A cable from the US embassy in Tripoli, released by WikiLeaks, confirms that on the 2009 visit, “Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism, noting that common enemies sometimes make better friends,” the cable continues. “The Senators recognized Libya’s cooperation on counterterrorism and conveyed that it was in the interest of both countries to make the relationship stronger.”

This rapprochement was characterized by a land rush of Western corporations that had long coveted their share of Libya’s oil revenues. Leading the way was the investment bank Goldman Sachs. Qaddafi and his advisers trusted Goldman’s claims that it would turn handsome profits with any funds entrusted to it. Yet Goldman managed to lose an astonishing 98 percent of the funds, which were the Libyan people’s sovereign wealth. No matter. Goldman was soon back with more brilliant ideas—including suggesting, at the height of the Wall Street crisis, that Qaddafi buy a substantial stake in the Goldman firm itself.

Qaddafi was faced with these huge losses at the very time Libya was carrying a crushing obligation of reparations for the Lockerbie bombing that had been pressed on Libya as a condition of its re-emergence from years of isolation, and he began to worry about how he would pay for it all. Keeping the Libyan population at a relatively high standard of living (compared certainly to neighboring Egypt) was essential to his maintaining power. It was at this point that Qaddafi began pressing foreign oil companies to increase the royalties they pay, and the companies began grousing about it.

Could this hardening of postures have contributed to the sudden decision to oust a man who had worked hard to ingratiate himself with the West?

At least two factors appear to have come together to create an impossible situation for Qaddafi: (1) The French, perhaps
impatient with Qaddafi’s independence, and frustrated with his Italian alliance, began considering whether they might effect a change of government in Libya. And (2) the Arab Spring. Suddenly, a startling number of the thuggish Middle Eastern allies of the NATO countries began to come under threat. For a number of U.S. Eastern Establishment types, at least, these regional spasms of disaffection and bravery seemed to come as a genuine surprise. The Council on Foreign Affairs produced articles titled “What Just Happened?” and “Why No One Saw it Coming,” in the May/June issue of its Foreign Affairs magazine, dedicated to “the New Arab Revolt.”

No one seemed to know for certain what was going to happen, although there was plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking about how the Arab Spring was entirely predictable in light of the world-wide financial meltdown in 2008-09 and a growing restiveness in the Arab world. (See also our recent article about a correlation between skyrocketing food prices and the revolts.)

But while it may take years to put the Arab Spring in its proper perspective, it surely had begun to occur to foreign policy elites that NATO’s plans for a militarized Mediterranean would be susceptible to unraveling if Libya’s unpredictable Qaddafi remained…unpredictable. Especially with the NATO-allied dictator Mubarak on his way out and Egypt destabilized.

A mere glance at the map reveals the strategic location of Libya. Right next to Egypt. Large. Unlike Egypt, full of oil. And of a particularly sought-after grade of sweet crude oil. (If you had momentarily forgotten how incredibly important oil is to Western government and corporations, consider this news item: Exxon Mobil reported second quarter profits of $10.7 billion, up 41 percent from the previous year.)

In other words, Libya is both sitting on gobs of oil and perfectly, strategically located for military bases to protect that oil and the oil of nearby countries, including Saudi Arabia, whose citizens have expressed hostility to the sitting of American troops there. Almost nobody could stand Qaddafi. So if he were pushed out, who would complain? By getting behind the rebels (or, even better, helping to create and fortify the rebels) the forces of the West might be able to have their own Arab Spring.


In an inexcusable affront to the public, the media (with notable exceptions such as The Guardian) has largely waited until Qaddafi was destroyed to begin focusing on this incredibly obvious oil factor. One example is a piece just published by the New York Times. How useful is it to allow the one-sided demonization of this man, and then, when he is on his way out, to begin saying, Oh, by the way, it was always about oil?

The piece focuses on the rebels’ plans to favor the countries who backed them over those who preferred a negotiated settlement with Qaddafi: “We don’t have a problem with Western countries like Italians, French and U.K. companies,” Abdeljalil Mayouf, a spokesman for the Libyan rebel oil company Agoco, was quoted by Reuters as saying. “But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil.”

Russia, China and Brazil did not back strong sanctions on the Qaddafi regime, and they generally supported a negotiated end to the uprising. All three countries have large oil companies that are seeking deals in Africa.

This feels like Iraq Redux, only with different players and, so far, a different outcome. In 2003, Germany and “Freedom-fries” France refused to join the “Coalition of the Willing” in George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Why? Because they had pending oil deals with Saddam Hussein.

There are other possible factors, including Qaddafi’s unique influence as an uncontrollable, Castro/Chavez-style independent nationalist with influence throughout the region. Qaddafi was an avid promoter of African unity, of governments that would remain free from the influence of the major powers. He poured a lot of money into South Africa, for instance, when it was struggling to free itself from Western influence after the fall of the apartheid regime there. As Qaddafi was going down to defeat, the West began pressuring South Africa to turn over frozen Libyan funds. (Not incidentally, there’s more than $35 billion of frozen Libyan assets in the U.S., and a comparable sum in Europe.)
African nationalism remains a big concern for Western mining, banking and industrial interests. Though the people of Africa remain desperately poor, the continent is the earth’s richest potential source of precious and strategic metals, minerals and resources of every stripe.

In hindsight, the Libyan “revolution” may be viewed as a clever effort to harness genuine domestic discontent to a global competition for the resources necessary to sustain the industrial West as well as newly emerging industrial countries like China, India and Brazil. Refracted this way, the whole NATO involvement in Libya appears to be, at root, business as usual. As they say in law enforcement, follow the money. In the midst of a severe fiscal crisis, Pentagon spending alone on Libya through the end of July was $896 million. Will everyone who believes that the Western military establishment is spending such vast sums to further the “aspirations of the Libyan people,” please raise their hands?

At this juncture, it seems realistic to expect the US and its allies to settle in, nice and comfortable, on Libyan “assets” for a very long time. Anyone who doubts that might want to check out US statements, not widely discussed, of intent for US troops to remain in Iraq well past the original troop departure date. Or a proposal for the same thing in Afghanistan—see this report about a desire to keep substantial military personnel there through 2024. Then do a little reading on the potentially $1 trillion worth of minerals in Afghanistan which the US says it only recently learned about. (Wink, wink.) As The New York Times reported in June, 2010 (the story generated little public reaction):

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

Some will say that ascribing solely selfish motives to Western “liberators” is too cynical. For one thing, aren’t the rebels at least an improvement on Qaddafi in terms of human rights, liberties, and so forth?

For a possible answer, it’s worth reading the British journalist Patrick Cockburn. He nicely sums up the craziness, brutality and internecine murder taking place in the rebels’ ranks without proper Western media attention. They appear to have killed one or possibly two of their own commanding generals on suspicion of treachery—or at least being partial to the wrong faction. For example, we’ve been hearing—in part via a seemingly well-informed individual inside Libya—that the reason the rebels killed their own commander-in-chief General Abdul Fatah Younis was his advocacy of negotiations with Qaddafi. If that’s correct—and these subjects need more reporting by the news organizations there on the ground—then we’d like to know what position all those Western spooks took on the ouster and killing of this man.

Continuing on this score, we have the plight of black Libyans, generally among the poorest in the country. We’ve seen a steady stream of indications that, almost by definition, anyone black in Libya (many African migrant workers but also some Libyan citizens) has been lumped in with Qaddafi’s non-Libyan African mercenaries, considered a suspected Qaddafi loyalist and therefore targeted for harassment, physical violence and death.

Meanwhile, the rebels have released, en masse, prisoners linked to extremist Islamic movements. And one analyst is currently asserting that an Al Qaeda-linked figure is the new military commander of post-Qaddafi Tripoli.

Here’s another twist: The Libyan convicted in the Lockerbie bombing, released in 2009 from jail in Scotland and allowed to return home for health reasons, is now, according to CNN, on his death bed, said to be deprived of medicines due to the recent looting of Libyan pharmacies. Once the rebels had consolidated their hold over Tripoli, CNN found Abdel Basset al-Megrahi comatose, and while he has consistently maintained his innocence, it is unlikely the world will ever learn what he knows. With him and Qaddafi disappearing from the scene, any demand for a deeper inquiry into the bombing will likely evaporate.

But where is the West in all of this? A leaked plan for post-Qaddafi Libya shows how elaborately involved NATO has been in the entire operation. It includes a carefully thought-out proposal for avoiding the mistakes made in the Iraq occupation—including embracing most of Qaddafi’s security forces, and an initial occupying force “resourced and supported” by the United Arab Emirates, with essentially no (visible) Western “boots on the ground.”

Doesn’t this sound more and more like an invasion, for spoils? And one that could—notwithstanding lessons supposedly
learned—quickly get very messy?


Stephen Zunes
Professor of Politics and Chair of Mid-Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco

Lessons and False Lessons from Libya
Posted: 8/31/11

The downfall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime is very good news, particularly for the people of Libya. However, it is critically important that the world not learn the wrong lessons from the dictator's overthrow.

It is certainly true that NATO played a critical role in disrupting the heavy weapons capability of the repressive Libyan regime and blocking its fuel and ammunition supplies through massive airstrikes and by providing armaments and logistical support for the rebels. However, both the militaristic triumphalism of the pro-intervention hawks and the more cynical conspiracy mongering of some on the left ignore that this was indeed a popular revolution, which may have been able to succeed without NATO, particularly if the opposition had not focused primarily on the military strategy. Engaging in an armed struggle against the heavily armed despot essentially took on gaddafi where he was strongest rather than taking greater advantage of where he was weakest - his lack of popular support.

There has been little attention paid to the fact that the reason the anti-Gaddafi rebels were able to unexpectedly march into Tripoli last weekend with so little resistance appears to have been a result of a massive and largely unarmed civil insurrection which had erupted in neighborhoods throughout the city. Indeed, much of the capital had already been liberated by the time the rebel columns entered and began mopping up the remaining pockets of pro-regime forces.

As Juan Cole noted in an August 22 interview on Democracy Now!, "the city had already overthrown the regime" by the time the rebels arrived. The University of Michigan professor observed how, "Beginning Saturday night, working-class districts rose up, in the hundreds of thousands and just threw off the regime." Similarly, Khaled Darwish's August 24 article in The New York Times describes how unarmed Tripolitanians rushed into the streets prior to the rebels entering the capital, blocked suspected snipers from apartment rooftops and sang and chanted over loudspeakers to mobilize the population against Gaddafi's regime

Though NATO helped direct the final pincer movement of the rebels as they approached the Libyan capital and continued to bomb government targets, Gaddafi's final collapse appears to have more closely resembled that of Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali than that of Saddam Hussein.

It should also be noted that the initial uprising against Gaddafi in February was overwhelmingly nonviolent. In less than a week, this unarmed insurrection had resulted in pro-democracy forces taking over most of the cities in the eastern part of the country, a number of key cities in the west and even some neighborhoods in Tripoli. It was also during this period when most of the resignations of cabinet members and other important aides of Gaddafi, Libyan ambassadors in foreign capitals and top military officers took place. Thousands of soldiers defected or refused to fire on crowds, despite threats of execution. It was only when the rebellion took a more violent turn, however, that the revolution's progress was dramatically reversed and Gaddafi gave his infamous February 22 speech threatening massacres in rebel strongholds, which in turn, led to the United States and its NATO allies to enter the war.

Indeed, it was only a week or so before Gaddafi's collapse that the armed rebels had succeeded in recapturing most of the territory that had originally been liberated by their unarmed counterparts six months earlier.

It can certainly be argued that, once the revolutionaries shifted to armed struggle, NATO air support proved critical in severely weakening Gaddafi's ability to counterattack and that Western arms and advisers were important in enabling rebel forces to make crucial gains in the northwestern part of the country prior to the final assault on Tripoli. At the same time, there is little question that foreign intervention in a country with a history of brutal foreign conquest, domination and subversion was successfully manipulated by Gaddafi to rally far more support to his side in his final months than would have been the case had he been faced with a largely nonviolent indigenous, civil insurrection. It isn't certain that the destruction of his military capabilities by the NATO strikes was more significant than the ways in which such Western intervention in the civil war enabled the besieged dictator to shore up what had been rapidly deteriorating support in Tripoli and other areas under government control.

I could achieve an outcome I desired in an interpersonal dispute by punching someone in the nose, but that doesn't mean that it, therefore, proved that my action was the only way to accomplish my goal. It's no secret that overbearing military force can eventually wear down an autocratic militarized regime, but - as the ouster of oppressive regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, the Philippines, Poland, Chile, Serbia, and scores of other countries through mass nonviolent action in recent years has indicated - there are ways of undermining a regime's pillars of support to the extent that it collapses under its own weight. Ultimately, a despot's power comes not from the armed forces under his command, but the willingness of a people to recognize his authority and obey his orders.

This is not to say that the largely nonviolent struggle launched in February would have achieved a quick and easy victory had they not turned to armed struggle with foreign support. The weakness of Libyan civil society, combined with the movement's questionable tactical decision to engage primarily in demonstrations rather than diversifying their methods of civil resistance, made them particularly vulnerable to the brutality of Gaddafi's foreign mercenaries and other forces. In addition, unlike the well-coordinated nonviolent anti-Mubarak campaign in Egypt, the Libyan opposition's campaign was largely spontaneous. However, insisting that the Libyan opposition "tried nonviolence and it didn't work" because peaceful protesters were killed and it did not succeed in toppling the regime after a few days of public demonstrations makes little sense, particularly since the armed struggle took more than six months. And it does not mean there were no other alternatives but to launch a civil war.

The estimated 13,000 additional deaths since the launching of the armed struggle and the widespread destruction of key segments of the country's infrastructure are not the only problems related to resorting to military means to oust Gaddafi.

One problem with an armed overthrow of a dictator, as opposed to a largely nonviolent overthrow of a dictator, is that you have lots of armed individuals who are now convinced that power comes from guns. The martial values and the strict military hierarchy inherent in armed struggle can become accepted as the norm, particularly if the military leaders of the rebellion become the political leaders of the nation, as is usually the case. Indeed, history has shown that countries in which dictatorships are overthrown by force of arms are far more likely to suffer from instability and/or slide into another dictatorship. By contrast, dictatorships overthrown in largely nonviolent insurrections almost always evolve into democracies within a few years.

Despite the large-scale NATO intervention in support of the anti-Gaddafi uprising, this has been a widely supported popular revolution from a broad cross section of society. Gaddafi's brutal and arbitrary 42-year rule had alienated the overwhelming majority of the Libyan people and his overthrow is understandably a cause of celebration throughout the country. Though the breadth of the opposition makes a democratic transition more likely than in some violent overthrows of other dictatorships, the risk that an undemocratic faction may force its way into power is still a real possibility. And given that the United States, France and Britain have proved themselves quite willing to continue supporting dictatorships elsewhere in the Arab world, there is no guarantee that the NATO powers would find such a scenario objectionable as long as a new dictatorship was seen as friendly to the West.

Another problem with the way Gaddafi was overthrown is the way in which NATO so blatantly went beyond the mandate provided by the United Nations Security Council to simply protect the civilian population through the establishment of a no-fly zone. Instead, NATO became an active participant in a civil war, providing arms, intelligence, advisers and conducting over 7,500 air and missile strikes against military and government facilities. Such abuse of the UN system will create even more skepticism regarding the implementation of the responsibility to protect should there really be an incipient genocide somewhere where foreign intervention may indeed be the only realistic option.

Furthermore, while it is certainly possible that Gaddafi would have continued to refuse to step down in any case, the NATO intervention emboldened the rebels to refuse offers by the regime for a provisional cease-fire and direct negotiations, thereby eliminating even the possibility of ending the bloodshed months earlier.

Indeed, there is good reason to question whether NATO's role in Gaddafi's removal was motivated by humanitarian concerns in the first place. For example, NATO intervention was initiated during the height of the savage repression of the nonviolent pro-democracy struggle in the Western-backed kingdom of Bahrain, yet US and British support for that autocratic Arab monarchy has continued as the hope for bringing freedom to that island nation was brutally crushed. And given the overwhelming bipartisan support in the United States for Israeli military campaigns in 2006 and 2008-09 which, while only lasting a few weeks, succeeded in slaughtering more than 1,500 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, Washington's humanitarian claims for the Libyan intervention ring particularly hollow.

It's true that some of the leftist critiques of the NATO campaign were rather specious. For example, this was not simply a war for oil. Gaddafi had long ago opened his oil fields to the West, with Occidental, BP and ENI among the biggest beneficiaries. Relations between Big Oil and the Libyan regime were doing just fine and the NATO-backed war was highly disruptive to their interests.

Similarly, Libya under Gaddafi was hardly a progressive alternative to the right-wing Arab rulers favored by the West. Despite some impressive socialist initiatives early in Gaddafi's reign, which led Libya to impressive gains in health care, education, housing, and other needs, the past two decades had witnessed increased corruption, regional and tribal favoritism, capricious investment policies, an increasingly predatory bureaucracy and a degree of poverty and inadequate infrastructure inexcusable for a country of such vast potential wealth.

However, given the strong role of NATO in the uprising and the close ties developed with the military leaders of the revolution, it would be naïve to assume that the United States and other countries in the coalition won't try to assert their influence in the direction of post-Gaddafi Libya. One of the problems of armed revolutionary struggle compared to unarmed revolutionary struggle is the dependence upon foreign supporters, which can then be leveraged after victory. Given the debt and ongoing dependency some of the rebel leaders have developed with NATO countries in recent months, it would similarly be naïve to think that some of them wouldn't be willing to let this happen.

In summary, while Gaddafi's ouster is cause for celebration, it is critical that it not be interpreted as a vindication of Western military interventionism. Not only will the military side of the victory likely leave a problematic legacy, we should not deny agency to the many thousands of Libyans across regions, tribes and ideologies, who ultimately made victory possible through their refusal to continue their cooperation with an oppressive and illegitimate regime. It is ultimately a victory of the Libyan people. And they alone should determine their country's future.

Tripoli Prison Art - Huda the executioner arrested

One of Colonel Gaddafi's most reviled lieutenants, Huda ben Amer, isreported to have been arrested in Libya by troops loyal to the new regime.

Nicknamed Huda the executioner, she had twice been mayor of Benghazi and had risen by the start of the uprising to become a senior official in the General People's Congress.

Her notoriety and political ascendancy stem from a public execution in 1984, carried out in front of schoolchildren in her native city's basketball stadium.

A bound Gaddafi opponent was left dangling in front of the crowd until Ben Amer rushed forward and wrapped her arms around his body, pulling him down until he ceased struggling. Her action brought her to the colonel's notice but also earned her the enduring hatred of many in Benghazi.

Soon after Gaddafi's forces were driven out of the eastern city, her sprawling white mansion was attacked and burnt down. She was last seen standing beside Gaddafi during one of his television broadcasts in March.

One of the Benghazi rebels, Walid Malak, an engineer who was carrying a Kalashnikov, told The Guardian at the time: "If we lose, Huda ben Amer will hang all of us. Everyone in Benghazi knows it's them or us."

The victim of the 1984 public execution was 30-year-old Al-Sadek Hamed al-Shuwehdy, an aeronautical engineer. His cousin Ibrahim al-Shuwehdy, 47, told The Daily Telegraph earlier this year: "Everyone knew why she did it. She was ambitious, and Colonel Gaddafi has always promoted ruthless people.

"Sure enough, afterwards she was rapidly promoted. That terrible thing she did was the making of Huda ben Amer's career."

The death penalty still exists under Libya's constitution although all of Gaddafi's laws will doubtless be reviewed by the National Transitional Council.

Last year, newspapers in Tripoli reported that there were more than 200 people on death row.

Amnesty International condemned the execution of 18 people in June 2010 by firing squad. Many were said to be foreign nationals, from Egypt, Chad and Nigeria, accused of murder.

Asked about the use of the death penalty for Colonel Gaddafi, the international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, told the Evening Standard this week: "People will have different views on the issue of the death penalty but it's a matter for the Libyan people and their new government, the National Transitional Council.

"Britain's position is that we have signed up to conventions which are opposed to the using of the death penalty, so that is the position of the government."

Ben Amer's fate could become a test of how the new regime deals with demands for retribution.

Rebel Relaxes in Gadhafi's Home

Tripoli’s sudden fall revealed rotten heart of Gaddafi’s regime

By Simon Denyer and Leila Fadel, Published: August 31

TRIPOLI, Libya — They were elite, professionally trained troops guarding a critical source of the regime’s power: the headquarters of Libya’s propaganda-spewing state television.
But when unarmed protesters took to the streets, the feared guards, members of brigades known as Katibas, simply took off their uniforms, lay down their weapons and ran.

“Underneath their uniforms, they had civilian clothes, jeans and T-shirts, as though they were expecting this,” said Badr Ben Jered, a 25-year-old employee in Nokia’s marketing division, patrolling his neighborhood with a Kalashnikov rifle. “Then people started screaming, ‘The Katiba are running! The Katiba are running!’ We were so shocked, and still so scared of them, no one even went after them.”

The guns have been collected, but abandoned uniforms still litter the ground around the television station and elsewhere in Tripoli, evidence of a gigantic loss of nerve, the sudden crumbling of a regime built on brutality and fear.

Its rapid disintegration Aug. 20 and 21 suggests that support for Moammar Gaddafi was far more shallow than the government had portrayed over the course of the six-month uprising.

But the way many of Gaddafi’s supporters just melted away into the night also prompts concern about whether some die-hard loyalists are simply lying low, waiting for the day they can regroup and launch their own insurgency.

Elements of the former government have already signaled their continued defiance. Gaddafi’s most influential son, Saif al-Islam, issued a statement to a Syrian-owned satellite television channel Wednesday in which he urged followers to fight to the death against the Transitional National Council, the new de facto government of Libya.

“We assure people we are here, ready and in good shape. Resistance is continuing, and victory is near,” he said. He boasted that 20,000 fighters loyal to his father — who is still at large — remain in the Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte.

And yet, when it came time to battle the rebels for control of Tripoli, the Gaddafi government did not put up much of a fight. Since February, when the uprising began, there was a gradual hollowing out of the regime from within that seems to have finally precipitated its collapse.

For months, many state employees had not been turning up for work — some because the government had ceased to function properly, but many because they were simply boycotting the regime.

One of the key defections was that of Mohammed al-Barani Eshkal, who commanded the brigade guarding the television station and was charged with protecting Gaddafi in his main Bab al-Aziziya compound.

Eshkal had played a finely nuanced game, working for the Libyan leader while simultaneously assuring the rebels that if their fighters arrived at the gates of the capital, he would instruct his men to lay down their weapons. That is exactly what happened, according to rebel officials in Benghazi.

Operation Mermaid Dawn

Rebel commanders — working in conjunction with NATO — had long been plotting an uprising of Tripoli residents to coincide with an opposition advance into the capital.

The start of Operation Mermaid Dawn was set for Aug. 20, the six-month mark of the uprising in Tripoli and the 20th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The day is symbolic among Muslims because it marks the anniversary of the prophet Muhammad’s entrance into Mecca to retake his home town.

“The day was studied carefully based on the deterioration of Gaddafi’s power in Tripoli, and as we got closer to the capital, we chose the day for its symbolism,” said Mustafa Sagazly, the deputy interior minister for the rebel government.

Outside Tripoli, the military tide had turned sharply against Gaddafi in mid-August with the fall of the eastern city of Zlitan and the garrison mountain town of Gharyan. But the critical rebel victory came about in the gateway city of Zawiyah, which cost Gaddafi his last oil refinery and his coastal lifeline to Tunisia.

Attempts by Gaddafi’s forces to reinforce Zawiyah and Gharyan from Tripoli were spotted by NATO and quashed with airstrikes, said a NATO official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. Then government checkpoints on the way to the capital also were struck.

“We knew we had to come from the east, west and south,” said Fathi Baja, the head of political affairs for the rebel council. “We designed the plan in connection with NATO so they could start the operation by hitting the checkpoints.”

News of Zawiyah’s fall turned the mood in Tripoli, as residents who had endured 42 years of Gaddafi rule realized that his defeat was within reach.

Rebel officials in Benghazi said underground dissidents, as well as lawyers, journalists, doctors and drivers, were primed to bring people out on the streets, with armed sleeper cells ready to do the fighting.

On the afternoon of Aug. 20, a Friday, young men took over the microphone at a Tripoli mosque to broadcast a message to Gaddafi’s troops.

“Raise the white flag and nobody will touch you,” one young man proclaimed, according to residents who heard the announcement. “Lay down your arms, and I promise you we will break our fast together this evening. We are all Libyans. We don’t want to kill you, we don’t want to hurt you. How many are you going to kill? 10? 20? 30? You can’t kill us all.”

A homemade video shows young men cautiously making their way onto the streets in the capital’s Zawiyat al-Dahmani district. Machine-gun fire crackles, and they briefly retreat, but soon they are advancing again.

Gradually the streets start to fill, and the red, black and green rebel flag emerges from people’s homes.

When rebels streamed into the capital Aug. 21 and 22 from Misurata to the east and Zawiyah to the west, they found many districts “liberated,” even if there was still fierce fighting ahead to overtake the Bab al-Aziziya compound and loyalist neighborhoods such as Abu Salim.

“I thought most of us would die,” said Mohammed Fallah, 23, a rebel fighter. “We thought there would be a lot of blood in Tripoli, but we were very surprised, very happy at what happened here.”

Fallah said Gaddafi’s troops had put up a far less potent fight than he had expected. “I thought, ‘Is that all Gaddafi can do?’ He was the bogeyman, but once the people of Tripoli got over their fear, they found themselves free.”

Hard-core government loyalists were surprised, too, at how quickly the city fell.

In the Rixos hotel, Moussa Ibrahim, a Gaddafi spokesman, left with his entourage Aug. 21. Today, in what was once his room, an open suitcase and his infant son’s toys lie scattered on the ground, evidence that his wife did not even have time to pack as she ran out of the hotel, her son in her arms.

‘Please forgive me’

More than a week after Tripoli fell, the bulk of Gaddafi’s remaining forces appear to have regrouped in his home town and tribal stronghold of Sirte.

But they are also in Tripoli. Some, no doubt, are preparing for battles to come; others have begun to curry favor with the very people they once subjugated.

Hamza Mhani, a prisoner under Gaddafi, recalled watching on the night of Aug. 20 as prison guards shed their uniforms, stashed weapons in the trunks of their vehicles and drove away before they could be vanquished by the rebels.

One guard, whom Mhani describes as the most conspicuously loyal to Gaddafi, stopped to free the prisoners.

“He was crying and saying, ‘Please forgive me,’ ” Mhani said.

As the guard unlocked the cells, Mhani said, he repeated again and again: “I am now doing what was always in my head to do.”

Fadel reported from Benghazi. Correspondent Michael Birnbaum in Cairo contributed to this report.

Art and Artifacts

By Bill Kelly (

When the strategic coastal port of Alexandria, Egypt was conquered, its ancient library and a one of the wonders of the civilized world was intentionally destroyed, officially declaring the death and destruction of the combined knowledge of the world up to that time.

The new regime wanted to start with a clean slate, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Libya, where the seven month old revolution seems intent on preserving the key elements of its society – the oil industry infrastructure, the ancient historic sites and the records and evidence of crimes committed by the Gadhafi regime.

In that regard, most of the American artifacts at Tripoli are relatively safe, at least from the ravages of the revolution – including the national museum at the old castle fort, the Old Protestant Cemetery, where remains of five of the men of the USS Intrepid are buried, and Green/Martyr’s Square, where eight Intrepid men remain buried under a parking lot.

Then there are the Tripoli harbor sites of the wrecks of both the Intrepid and the large frigate Philadelphia, both of which have reportedly been covered over with cement by the Libyans, which will act to preserve them.

Other than the fort and the square, the historic artifacts in Tripoli that are of interest to Americans are only a few hundred years old, which to the Libyans is like yesterday, as their history dates back four thousand years and through multiple eras and civilizations – Cartridge, Rome, Ottoman Turks, the Karamanli Dynasty, Italian Colonial, a monarchy and the Gadhafi regime.

In a scene from the movie Patton, George C. Scott as Patton, drives to some ancient ruins along Libya’s coast and reflects on the ancient battles that were fought over the same land. And the American cemetery at Tunis, administered by the American Battlefield Monument Commissions (ABMC), which is located a few miles from where the current revolution started, appears to remain secure and undamaged.

Patton’s chief rival, German Gen. Erwin Rommell came to North Africa at Tripoli Harbor, and can be seen in photos plotting strategy over a table set up outdoors. There are also photos of British troops at the square, the old castle fort and the ubiquitous pillars.

The oldest art found in South Libya are the petrographs of hunting scenes, while Pre-Roman Cartridge ruins and the best examples of Roman – era cities can be found along the Libyan coast – incredible inlaid tile baths and theaters in the round that overlook the sea.

At the beginning of the turmoil there was a lot of concern that the battles would spill into the historic arena, or the victor or the vanquished would destroy everything in their wake.

Or, as the Taliban destroyed duel ancient Buddas just because they didn’t understand them, and the rampant looting of the museum at Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq, the Cairo Museum in Egypt was for the most part saved from looters during the revolution by people who linked arms and created a human fence around the building. But not before some vandals got in and destroyed some irreplaceable statues.

In Libya it seems like both sides studiously avoided the destruction of the infrastructure – oil processing plants and ancient ruins, both of which were vulnerable. They turned off the internet, didn’t destroy it, - and while Gadhafi Loyalists took refuge at ancient ruins and historic sites, knowing the NATO wouldn’t attack them there, the primary sites – appear to have survived relatively intact.

While the rebels seem to have been well trained and directed not to enter homes unless they were fired upon, once they defeated the defenders at Gadafhi’s home and compound, the area was thoroughly looted by the rebels as well as the local civilians.

Other historic sites appear to have been saved and were secured, including the national museum at the Old Castle Fort, Green/Martyr’s Square and the Old Protestant Cemetery. I’d also like to know the status of the airport, the golf course there, and the Marriot Hotel, a $36 million, 30 some floor hotel that opened the week before the revolution began in February.

The national museum, besides holding ancient Roman art and artifacts, also has the VW bug that Gadhafi drove into Tripoli during the September 1969 coup.

The head of the national museum – the Director of Antiquities Dr. Guima Ang, left his post a year or so before the revolution, possibly over differences with the Gadhafi regime over the construction at ancient historic sites.

It is paramount that the new Director of Antiquities, whoever they are, be seriously responsible for the protection of historic sites, including the museum, Martyr’s Square, Old Protestant Cemetery and the ancient historic sites throughout Libya.

Gadhafi digitally remastered - Bells Toll for Assad -

As Gaddafi falls, the bells toll for Assad
By Michael Danby

"Zenga Zenga daar daar" was the subversive YouTube video made by Noy Alooshe sending up the bizarre Libyan dictator, Moamar Gaddafi.

To the jiving sound of Shakira, Alooshe re-engineered the exaggerated body movements of a crazy Colonel Gaddafi media conference given in the early stages of the revolt against his brutal regime. More than four million people across the Middle East, mainly younger people, have now seen this send-up of Gaddafi. Its popularity indicated widespread contempt and a lack of fear for his regime.

And it is this lack of fear that has now proved fatal to another Arab dictator. Wherever Gaddafi is, dead or alive, in Zimbabwe or Algeria, his brutal regime is now at an end.

The mysterious Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) has all but defeated the man who controlled Libya for 42 years. Former US Ambassador to Morocco, Marc Ginsberg argues in his article 'Tripoli Minus Gaddafi' (The Huffington Post), that Libya in the post-Gaddafi era, with the 140-plus tribes that make up the nation, could easily slide into civil conflict. While the NTC are united in the push to oust Gaddafi, there is a real concern that the alliance between various factions will fray post-Gaddafi. After all the control of 3 per cent of the world's oil is at stake. The NTC consists of a combustible mixture of democrats from Libya's secular society tribes and hard-line Islamists who were based in Benghazi. Some of the Benghazi gang were once (and still may be) affiliated with members of the extremist Libyan Fighting Group - a franchise of Al Qaeda and its Algerian offshoot; the Armed Islamic Group.

Gaddafi leaves Libya with no parliament, no political parties, no unions, no civil society, no non-government organisations, and no ministries except the state oil company. Despite having a country of six million people and vast oil resources, Gaddafi leaves Libya a broken nation.
It is a shame that none of the legion of Australian apologists for the Colonel - former MPs Joan Coxsedge and Jean McLean, or educator Brian McKinlay - are willing to speak about their decades-long support for the Colonel.

Australian academic and Russian resident John Helmer, the other half of the famous Claudia Wright/ Helmer duo, co-authors of innumerable treatises for Chatham House and the serious US foreign policy journals like Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, is also grumpily silent about his former advocacy of Gaddafi's so-called "moderation".

Gaddafi agreed to give up Libya's weapons of mass destruction for cosier relationships with the West after he saw the attack and destruction of the Saddam Hussein regime. I note the ominous warning of visiting Israeli expert Professor Efraim Inbar that the lesson learned by Middle East dictators is this: "not to give up your nuclear weapons". Australia briefly experienced a romance with Gaddafi in 2004 when in a Libyan charm offensive, the dictator's odious son Saif-al-Islam Gaddafi was met by deputy prime minister John Anderson and was even interviewed by The Australian's foreign editor Greg Sheridan.

While the end of the "mad dog of the Middle East" is an occasion to celebrate, the people of Libya will not be completely free unless we support their transition to democracy.

Most importantly, perhaps the fall of Gaddafi and the fact that Libya is out of the way, means that international opinion can finally be galvanised against Syria, whose fate is far more strategically important.

Since the beginning of the uprisings in March, 2,200 people have so far been killed by the Assad Baathist regime. The Assads belong to the Alawite sect of Shiah Islam. This is regarded by the Sunni majority as heretics. They in turn regard themselves as natural elite. Although Assad's Alawis are only 13 per cent of the population, with Sunnis around 74 per cent and Christians 10 per cent, they control most of the positions of power, including the military and the security apparatus.

Syria is the key conduit between Iran and its proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, so the fall of Assad could have dramatic and in my opinion positive consequences for regional stability.

Unlike the United States, who still has an Ambassador in Damascus, Australia has refused to credential the Syrian Ambassador. Even Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has publicly recalled his Ambassador to Syria, and issued a statement of condemnation of the Assad regime in early August. Kuwait and Bahrain have also condemned Assad. More ominously for Assad, three days ago Turkey announced that they no longer have confidence in the Syrian regime.

Whether Assad faces the same fate as Mubarak and Gaddafi is questionable, but the Colonel's demise will mean the full force of world opinion focuses on Damascus.

Michael Danby MP is the Federal Member for Melbourne Ports.

Moammar Gadhafi, digitally remastered

Philadelphia Inquirer
August 30, 2011

By Michal Levertov

When the Tel Aviv-based musician Noy Alooshe decided to create an ironic dance remix of a speech by Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, he never imagined it would become a huge YouTube hit in the Arab world.

Not only has the video attracted more than 5.5 million hits, but television footage showed Libyan rebels advancing into Tripoli being greeting by locals chanting "zenga zenga" - words from Alooshe's remix.

The title, "Zenga Zenga," comes from Gadhafi's repetition of the Libyan Arabic word for "alleyways" in the speech used in the video clip. Alooshe, 32, first posted the video in February.
"The news reports from the revolution in Egypt stressed that this was a new world - that all the young people there are into Facebook and Twitter," Alooshe said. "I was interested to see if youngsters in the Arab world really were so involved in the Web and in its social networks."
At first, he sent the video to about 20 sites devoted to Arab opposition movements. Within hours, "Zenga Zenga" had received more than 300,000 hits. Alooshe was surprised at the massive response.

"Most viewers were in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt," he said.

Once news of the video was reported by mainstream Israeli media, viewership took off internationally. Alooshe said he heard that the video was even shown on Libyan state television until someone realized it was mocking Gadhafi rather than glorifying him.

Although Alooshe did not identify himself as an Israeli when he posted "Zenga Zenga," he noted that most viewers learned of his background by looking at his online profile.

"There were ... many pleasant reactions: people who wrote saying how much they enjoyed the remix; Libyans who promised they would dance in the streets to this music when the country was freed; Iranians and Syrians requested such remixes of their own leaders," he said. "People even wrote that they disliked Jews and Zionists but liked the remix."

Alooshe says he's learned much from the response.

"In Israel, the Arab Spring was depicted as a revolution doomed to be taken over by extremists such as the Muslim Brotherhood," he said. "But then, I suddenly saw a totally different picture - one of people who are just like me.

"All these years, we were told that there are these enemy countries whose citizens hate us. And then you get to talk to people from Saudi Arabia and Iran and other Muslim countries, and you simply grasp that it's nothing like what we were told all of those years."

Michal Levertov is a Tel Aviv-based journalist who writes for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gadhafi's Internet Spies


Firms Aided Libyan Spies

First Look Inside Security Unit Shows How Citizens Were Tracked—

On the ground floor of a six-story building here, agents working for Moammar Gadhafi sat in an open room, spying on emails and chat messages with the help of technology Libya acquired from the West.

The recently abandoned room is lined with posters and English-language training manuals stamped with the name Amesys, a unit of French technology firm Bull SA, which installed the monitoring center. A warning by the door bears the Amesys logo. The sign reads: "Help keep our classified business secret. Don't discuss classified information out of the HQ."

The room, explored Monday by The Wall Street Journal, provides clear new evidence of foreign companies' cooperation in the repression of Libyans under Col. Gadhafi's almost 42-year rule. The surveillance files found here include emails written as recently as February, after the Libyan uprising had begun.

One file, logged on Feb. 26, includes a 16-minute Yahoo chat between a man and a young woman. He sometimes flirts, declaring that her soul is meant for him, but also worries that his opposition to Col. Gadhafi has made him a target.

"I'm wanted," he says. "The Gadhafi forces ... are writing lists of names." He says he's going into hiding and will call her from a new phone number—and urges her to keep his plans secret.
"Don't forget me," she says.

This kind of spying became a top priority for Libya as the region's Arab Spring revolutions blossomed in recent months. Earlier this year, Libyan officials held talks with Amesys and several other companies including Boeing Co.'s Narus, a maker of high-tech Internet traffic-monitoring products, as they looked to add sophisticated Internet-filtering capabilities to Libya's existing monitoring operation, people familiar with the matter said.

Libya sought advanced tools to control the encrypted online-phone service Skype, censor YouTube videos and block Libyans from disguising their online activities by using "proxy" servers, according to documents reviewed by the Journal and people familiar with the matter. Libya's civil war stalled the talks.

"Narus does not comment on potential business ventures," a Narus spokeswoman said in a statement. "There have been no sales or deployments of Narus technology in Libya." A Bull official declined to comment.

The sale of technology used to intercept communications is generally permissible by law, although manufacturers in some countries, including the U.S., must first obtain special approval to export high-tech interception devices.

Libya is one of several Middle Eastern and North African states to use sophisticated technologies acquired abroad to crack down on dissidents. Tech firms from the U.S., Canada, Europe, China and elsewhere have, in the pursuit of profits, helped regimes block websites, intercept emails and eavesdrop on conversations.

Members of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's family were reported Monday to have arrived in Algeria, a neighbor Libyan rebels have accused of supporting the ousted regime. Jeff Grocott has details on The News Hub.

The Tripoli Internet monitoring center was a major part of a broad surveillance apparatus built by Col. Gadhafi to keep tabs on his enemies. Amesys in 2009 equipped the center with "deep packet inspection" technology, one of the most intrusive techniques for snooping on people's online activities, according to people familiar with the matter.

Chinese telecom company ZTE Corp. also provided technology for Libya's monitoring operation, people familiar with the matter said. Amesys and ZTE had deals with different arms of Col. Gadhafi's security service, the people said. A ZTE spokeswoman declined to comment.
Journal Community

VASTech SA Pty Ltd, a small South African firm, provided the regime with tools to tap and log all the international phone calls going in and out of the country, according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and people familiar with the matter. VASTech declined to discuss its business in Libya due to confidentiality agreements.

Libya went on a surveillance-gear shopping spree after the international community lifted trade sanctions in exchange for Col. Gadhafi handing over the suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 and ending his weapons of mass destruction program. For global makers of everything from snooping technology to passenger jets and oil equipment , ending the trade sanctions transformed Col. Gadhafi's regime from pariah state to coveted client.

The Tripoli spying center reveals some of the secrets of how Col. Gadhafi's regime censored the populace. The surveillance room, which people familiar with the matter said Amesys equipped with its Eagle system in late 2009, shows how Col. Gadhafi's regime had become more attuned to the dangers posed by Internet activism, even though the nation had only about 100,000 Internet subscriptions in a population of 6.6 million.

The Eagle system allows agents to observe network traffic and peer into people's emails, among other things. In the room, one English-language poster says: "Whereas many Internet interception systems carry out basic filtering on IP address and extract only those communications from the global flow (Lawful Interception), EAGLE Interception system analyses and stores all the communications from the monitored link (Massive interception)."

On its website, Amesys says its "strategic nationwide interception" system can detect email from Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail and see chat conversations on MSN instant messaging and AIM. It says investigators can "request the entire database" of Internet traffic "in real time" by entering keywords, email addresses or the names of file attachments as search queries.

It is unclear how many people worked for the monitoring unit or how long it was operational.
In a basement storage room, dossiers of Libyans' online activities are lined up in floor-to-ceiling filing shelves. From the shelves, the Journal reviewed dozens of surveillance files, including those for two anti-Gadhafi activists—one in Libya, the other in the U.K.—well known for their opposition websites. Libyan intelligence operators were monitoring email discussions between the two men concerning what topics they planned to discuss on their websites.

In an email, dated Sept. 16, 2010, the men argue over whether to trust the reform credentials of Col. Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, who at the time was widely expected to succeed his father as Libya's leader. One man warns the other that the younger Gadhafi is trouble. "I know that you hope that Seif will be a good solution," he writes. "But … he is not the proper solution. I'm warning you."

Computer surveillance occupied only the ground floor of the intelligence center. Deeper in the maze-like layout is a windowless detention center, its walls covered in dingy granite tile and smelling of mildew.

Human Rights Watch

Activist Heba Morayef's emails turned up at Libya's internet surveillance center.
Caught in the snare of Libya's surveillance web was Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef, who handles Libya reporting for the activist group. Files monitoring at least two Libyan opposition activists included emails written by her, as well as messages to her from them.

In one email, dated Aug. 12, 2010, a Libyan activist implores Ms. Morayef to help him and his colleagues fight a court case brought against them. "The law is on our side in this case, but we are scared," he wrote. "We need someone to help." The email goes into specific detail about the plaintiff, who was a high-ranking member of a shadowy group of political commissars defending the Gadhafi regime.

Ms. Morayef, reached Monday in Cairo, where she is based, said she was last in contact with the Benghazi-based activist on Feb. 16. She said she believes he went into hiding when civil war broke out a week later.

Another file, dated Jan. 6, 2011, monitors two people, one named Ramadan, as they struggle to share an anti-Gadhafi video and upload it to the Web. One message reads: "Dear Ramadan : Salam : this is a trial to see if it is possible to email videos. If it succeeds tell me what you think."

Across town from the Internet monitoring center at Libya's international phone switch, where telephone calls exit and enter the country, a separate group of Col. Gadhafi's security agents staffed a room equipped with VASTech devices, people familiar with the matter said. There they captured roughly 30 to 40 million minutes of mobile and landline conversations a month and archived them for years, one of the people said.

Andre Scholtz, sales and marketing director for VASTech, declined to comment on the Libya installation, citing confidentiality agreements. The firm sells only "to governments that are internationally recognized by the U.N. and are not subject to international sanctions," Mr. Scholtz said in a statement. "The relevant U.N., U.S. and EU rules are complied with."

The precise details of VASTech's setup in Libya are unclear. VASTech says its interception technology is used to fight crimes like terrorism and weapons smuggling.

A description of the company's Zebra brand surveillance product, prepared for a trade show, says it "captures and stores massive volumes of traffic" and offers filters that agents can use to "access specific communications of interest from mountains of data." Zebra also features "link analysis," the description says, a tool to help agents identify relationships between individuals based on analysis of their calling patterns.

Capabilities such as these helped Libya sow fear as the country erupted in civil war earlier this year. Anti-Gadhafi street demonstrators were paranoid of being spied on or picked up by the security forces, as it was common knowledge that the regime tapped phones. Much of the early civil unrest was organized via Skype, which activists considered safer than Internet chatting. But even then they were scared.

"We're likely to disappear if you aren't careful," a 22-year-old student who helped organize some of the biggest protests near Tripoli said in a Skype chat with a foreign journalist before fleeing to Egypt. Then, on March 1, two of his friends were arrested four hours after calling a foreign correspondent from a Tripoli-based cellphone, according to a relative. It is unclear what division of the security service picked them up or whether they are still in jail.

The uprising heightened the regime's efforts to obtain more intursive surveillance technology. On Feb. 15 of this year, as anti-government demonstrations kicked off in Benghazi, Libyan telecom official Bashir Ejlabu convened a meeting in Barcelona with officials from Narus, the Boeing unit that makes Internet monitoring products, according to a person familiar with the meeting. "The urgency was high to get a comprehensive system put in place," the person said.

In the meeting, Mr. Eljabu told the Narus officials he would fast-track visas for them to go to Libya the next day, this person said. Narus officials declined to travel to Tripoli, fearing damage to the company's reputation.

But it was too late for the regime. One week later, Libyan rebels seized control of Benghazi, the country's second largest city, and the capital of Tripoli was convulsing in antiregime protests. In early March, Col. Gadhafi shut down Libya's Internet entirely. The country remained offline until last week, when rebels won control of Tripoli.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fletcher's Killer Identified

By Christopher Hope, Whitehall Editor
9:56PM BST 26 Aug 2011

The Daily Telegraph can reveal that Abdulmagid Salah Ameri, a junior diplomat working at the Libyan embassy, was seen firing a machinegun from a window in April 1984.

Following the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, Scotland Yard, which has kept the case open, is planning to send officers to Libya in the hope of bringing the suspected killer and his alleged accomplices to justice.

Mr Ameri was identified by a witness in a 140-page secret review of evidence conducted at the request of the Metropolitan Police. The report, seen by The Daily Telegraph, was written by a senior Canadian prosecutor and addressed to Sue Hemming, the head of counter-terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service.

Pc Fletcher was killed by a single bullet that hit her in the abdomen. An 11-day armed siege followed that ended when 30 Libyans from the embassy were deported. No one has ever been charged with killing the officer.

Queenie Fletcher, her mother, declined to comment but said earlier this week that the turmoil in Libya offered the “best chance yet” of catching her daughter’s killer.

The remnants of Gaddafi’s regime came under further attack yesterday, with RAF Tornados using Storm Shadow precision guided missiles in an assault on the former dictator’s home town of Sirte as the rebels prepared for an assault on the city.

Fighting continued in Tripoli, the capital, but a rebel military chief claimed that they were in control of 95 per cent of the city.

Foreign Office officials are already in discussions with Scotland Yard about detectives investigating the Fletcher case, who have made three trips to Libya in recent years, returning to the country. Officials said finding the killer of Pc Fletcher was a “priority” for ministers.
The secret CPS report contains detailed testimony from David Robertson, a painter and decorator who had a clear view of the embassy on the day of the shooting and watched a man open fire on a crowd of anti-Gaddafi protesters.

The report says: “The man was holding the stock of the gun in his right hand, while his left hand was near the trigger area, as if he was about to fire. There were other men with him, with one to his left and at least two others standing behind him.

“There was no grille behind the window, although it appeared to have a blue haze, which Mr Robertson thought might have been a curtain.

“Mr Robertson made a comment to someone to his left about the gun and, as he did so, he heard the gun being fired from the direction of the bureau, a 'rapid rat-a-tat-tat’ lasting for two or three seconds.”

Mr Robertson subsequently identified Mr Ameri on television as he left the embassy after the siege. He believed that the man he had seen holding the gun was “second from the left” in a group of five Libyans.

Sources close to the investigation confirmed that the suspect identified by Mr Robertson was Mr Ameri. Scotland Yard believes he may have died, although this could be a pretence by officials in Libya to stop officers from questioning him.

The CPS report, whose existence was first disclosed nearly two years ago by The Daily Telegraph, concluded that there was enough evidence to prosecute two other Libyans, Abdelgader Mohammed Baghdadi and Matouk Mohammed Matouk, for conspiracy to cause Pc Fletcher’s death.

The report alleges they “assumed leadership roles” inside the embassy and Baghdadi in particular “advised that the demonstrators would be fired on, directed their positioning outside the bureau and gave instructions as to what they were to do when the firing stopped”. Graeme Cameron, the Canadian author of the report, declined to comment on his review yesterday but said that the current chaos in Libya presented “an opportunity for the Metropolitan Police” to gather more evidence.

He praised the police investigators for their “dogged” pursuit of the killers, despite being frequently frustrated by Gaddafi’s regime.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “Helping the Metropolitan Police Service conclude the investigation is a priority for this government.

“It will be an important element of the UK’s relations with the new government of Libya. We are in contact with the Met and stand ready to assist them in returning to Tripoli when the conditions on the ground allow.”

Detectives were last allowed into Tripoli in July last year after heavy lobbying by David Cameron. They have not been back since. A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “The case remains open and we remain committed to identifying those responsible for killing Pc Yvonne Fletcher.”

Libyan Students Blog and Tweet Revolution

Tasbeeh Herwees, 19, right, and her sister Huda, 14, tweet about Libya from their Cypress home. Their parents are both Libyan immigrants. (Christina House, For the Times / May 18, 2011)

Libya As I Know It
Tasbeeh Herwees | August 26, 2011
Senior Staff Reporter Annenberg Digital News

If you had told me seven months ago that I’d see an uprising bring down the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, I wouldn’t have believed you.

As I watched Libya’s revolutionaries storm Gaddafi’s compound of Bab Azaziya, ransacking his home and beheading the gold statue made in his likeness, I was still in a state of disbelief.

Where Gaddafi stood just a few months ago calling them “rats” drugged by their hallucinogen-laced Nescafe threatening to cleanse them of their homes “zenga zenga,” the revolutionaries now stood, waving Libya’s independence flag. Triumphant, they chanted and yelled and took Gaddafi’s golden head under their feet.

Their faces seem permanently stuck in smiles.

This was a moment we’d all talk about, my family and me. It was a scene that played itself in our dreams for a thousand and one nights. And now that it was manifest in reality, we were almost too afraid to be happy.

For the past few months, I’ve watched the country of my forefathers -- the peaceful, provincial lands that bore the sweetest fruit of my summers spent there -- made into a war zone. I’ve watched my brothers pick up arms to defend themselves against a steely rain of bombs and bullets and be vilified for doing so, labelled “rats” and “rebels”. I’ve watched tanks drive across the familiar dusty landscape of my homeland, past palm trees swaying in a gentle Mediterranean breeze.

I watched Libya become a different place from the one where I spent hot July days lazing on my grandfather’s porch, gelato melting in my hands. Libya’s picturesque ocean shores were replaced by trenches and front lines. Libya gave up dusty knolls for battlegrounds peppered with unexploded ordnance.

These were the images that flooded TV screens, newspapers and websites around the world: bearded Libyan men wielding guns and straddling tanks, cigarettes hanging lackadaisically from their lips. These were the images by which the world would judge the country I call home: bloody hospital rooms where bright futures were unjustifiably snatched away from the young; a war-torn country marked with thousands of freshly dug graves.

For 42 years, the defiant image of Muammar “Mad Dog” Gaddafi has been invariably linked to any discussion on Libya. Rarely did such discussion center around the crimes of his regime, but rather his many eccentricities -- one day, a voluptuous Bulgarian nurse and his botox sessions; the next day, a rambling U.N. speech and a tent in Central Park.

In a country that managed to avoid the kind of international attention that other Middle Eastern countries like Iran or Iraq captured, it was easy for Gaddafi to hijack the narrative of the Libyan people. To introduce myself as a Libyan meant I had to suffer the inevitable associations. “Oh, Gaddafi!” strangers would reply in recognition.

Despite Libya’s rich Greco-Roman history, the fine contributions of Libyan authors and artists like Ibrahim El Koni and Fathi El Areibi and Mediterranean beaches that would put Malta’s to shame, it seemed we would never escape the legacy of our unhinged dictator.

But as the Libyan people rose up against him, they found themselves plunged into a war with their own government, and it seemed we’d have to suffer a different reputation.

War-torn. Battle-ravaged. Rebels. So-called Middle Eastern analysts were given free reign to pontificate on Libya’s “tribal divisions” and there were the inevitable musings about the “rebels’ Islamist factions.” This is the vocabulary that controlled the dialogue about my country and my people.

Victory has come and we’ve paid a heavy cost -- thousands of lives, homes destroyed and buildings fallen. But the spirit of the revolutionaries, after more than six months of battling, is not broken. Reclaiming Tripoli as their own, as the land of the people and not of Gaddafi, they received vindication of a struggle that took life and limb of the people they loved.

In the same streets Gaddafi once dragged the mangled bodies of dissidents to his regimes, the youth of Libya now danced, their faces sparkling with hope and opportunity. You couldn’t find a young person in those crowds who didn’t look like he’d just peered in on heaven. Victory was theirs. The streets belonged to them.

How do you define a people? For too long, in a vicious narrative of oppression and victimization, the Libyan people were defined by Gaddafi by others who were outside looking in. But Feb. 15, the Libyan people stood up and they said, "No more."

They poured out of their homes to show the world, here we are. We have shed blood and sweat for God and country. We are proud, courageous and possess a strength and resolve that has toppled one of the longest-running dictatorships in history.

We are Libyans. And Libya belongs to us.

Reach Tasbeeh here. Follow on Twitter here.

Libyan Students Blog and Tweet about Libyan Revolution

When the U.N. Security Council voted in March to authorize international airstrikes on Libya, the women of the Herwees household in Cypress erupted in cheers and ululations.

Within minutes, Tasbeeh Herwees, a 19-year-old USC student, posted on her blog: “group hug everyone seriously so much love right now.”

“My friend called me and we were like ‘God is great.’ It was like someone had just gotten married,” said Herwees, whose parents are both Libyan immigrants. “It was a very jubilant atmosphere.”

In the weeks leading up to that vote, which authorized the U.S. and its allies to mount airstrikes in support of the uprising against Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, Herwees had tried to reconcile herself to the odd position in which she and other Libyan Americans found themselves.

“It was some weird alternative reality where you’re asking people to throw bombs on your own country,” she said.

Beyond the conflicting emotions, Libyan Americans also have had to contend with anger from other Arab Americans who, mindful of the continuing U.S. role in Iraq, are wary of Western intervention in another oil-rich Middle East country.

As uprisings against decades-old dictatorships, along with a feeling of Arab unity, spread across the region this spring, U.S. immigrants from various Middle Eastern nations attended rallies supporting the revolutions. But disagreement over the Western intervention in Libya, which both the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council voted to support, has divided Arab Americans.

Given the brutal history of Libya under Kadafi, many Arab Americans were excited when the revolution began, said Jamal Nassar, who serves on the editorial board of the Arab Studies Quarterly, an academic journal focusing on the Middle East. But as the call for a no-fly zone grew louder, many began to have doubts.

“Because of the long history of Western colonialism, there is a lot of baggage that comes from the last few decades,” said Nassar, a political scientist who is dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Cal State San Bernardino. “Actually, the last century.”

Esam Omeish, head of the political committee of the Libyan Council of North America, a group formed to support the Libyan uprising, said its members knew their advocacy of intervention would invite criticism from fellow Arabs, but that such criticism was still disheartening.

He said he and other anti-Kadafi activists met with members of President Obama’s security council several times to lobby for intervention, but he worried that others opposed to military action would drown them out.

“We even engaged many of them to say, ‘Listen, back off, we need all this support,’ ” said Omeish, who grew up in Tripoli and immigrated to the U.S. when he was 15. “We expected some hesitancy, but what should not have happened was any outspoken opposition to it, because that’s not consistent with the necessities on the ground. This is about saving lives.”

Before and after NATO airstrikes began March 19, James Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute, cautioned against U.S.-led involvement in Libya, a position he said reflected concerns in the Arab American community.

“If the Arab League had sent troops in, I think people would have been completely unambivalent about it,” Zogby said. “The fact that it’s the colonial powers who were responsible for the mess the region is still fighting itself out of does create some problems.”

And Western involvement in Libya changes the empowering narrative of the revolutions, one that had been about Middle East reform through popular uprisings, he said.

“This isn’t people liberating themselves. This is a very different situation,” Zogby said. “It alters the course of the movement.”

Asma Saad of Irvine is a founder of the Southern California Libyan Task Force, a newly formed anti-Kadafi organization. She said she had heard from many Arab American friends who support the Libyan rebels but not the NATO airstrikes, especially since some civilian casualties have resulted.

But Saad, who was born in Benghazi and left when she was 2, said without the intervention, many more would have been killed.

“The people who have been the least understanding have been the Arabs. They are in shock that Libyans want intervention,” she said. “There were days I would actually cry about it: Why would people not understand our situation?”