Although I support the Libyan military intervention on the grounds that it averted humanitarian disaster, is limited, is international, and was UN-instigated, there are two huge elephants in the room. The first is the unclear goal of the mission (for more on that, see here). The second is that we don’t even know who the Libyan rebels are exactly, and what they want…
That’s actually a pretty big problem. In the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, it was clear to everyone with eyes to see that the protesters consisted of modern, peaceful, secular people from all sections of the population, who wanted to exercise their political rights (even though conservatives immediately painted them as fundamentalists). In Libya, though, demonstrations have turned into something that’s more like a civil war between two parties, of one of which relatively little is known. Who are the people taking over when Ghadafi’s gone?
The NYT addresses this problem. Although the article doesn’t really answer the question, a picture of a society that is way different from its neighbours emerges. While the rebel council makes rhetorical commitments to democracy and the rule of law, tribal strife also seems to play a big role in their struggle against Ghadafi. And they don’t always necessarily behave nicely either.
The question has hovered over the Libyan uprising from the moment the first tank commander defected to join his cousins protesting in the streets of Benghazi: Is the battle for Libya the clash of a brutal dictator against a democratic opposition, or is it fundamentally a tribal civil war?
The answer could determine the course of both the Libyan uprising and the results of the Western intervention. In the West’s preferred chain of events, airstrikes enable the rebels to unite with the currently passive residents of the western region around Tripoli, under the banner of an essentially democratic revolution that topples Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
He, however, has predicted the opposite: that the revolt is a tribal war of eastern Libya against the west that ends in either his triumph or a prolonged period of chaos.
“It is a very important question that is terribly near impossible to answer,” said Paul Sullivan, a political scientist at Georgetown University who has studied Libya. “It could be a very big surprise when Qaddafi leaves and we find out who we are really dealing with.”
The behavior of the fledgling rebel government in Benghazi so far offers few clues to the rebels’ true nature. Their governing council is composed of secular-minded professionals — lawyers, academics, businesspeople — who talk about democracy, transparency, human rights and the rule of law. But their commitment to those principles is just now being tested as they confront the specter of potential Qaddafi spies in their midst, either with rough tribal justice or a more measured legal process.
Like the Qaddafi government, the operation around the rebel council is rife with family ties. And like the chiefs of the Libyan state news media, the rebels feel no loyalty to the truth in shaping their propaganda, claiming nonexistent battlefield victories, asserting they were still fighting in a key city days after it fell to Qaddafi forces, and making vastly inflated claims of his barbaric behavior.
Read more (the second part of the article kinda nuances the importance of tribal culture to contemporary Libyan society, which today is predominantly urban and also educated).
Completely leaving the question of US military intervention aside, back when the Libyan Revolution first turned violent I turned pessimistic about its prospects. You can understand why people take up arms against violent repressive regimes. But the fact of the matter is that armed conflict is generally a poor basis on which to establish a liberal democratic political order. Successful political transitions to democracy generally take place through exercises of non-violent “people power” as in the American South, the Philippines, Chile, Central Europe in 1989, and the general template followed in Tunisia and Egypt. Once a conflict is settled by violence and you’re in a dynamic where political power grows from the barrel of a gun, then you’ve either laid the groundwork for further civil conflict or a new authoritarianism under new bosses.
This is pretty significant news I think. In the great tradition of revolutionary France (not to mention that of the Free French), France is the first country to recognise Libya’s oppositional National Council as the legitimate representative of the nation. An ambassador will be sent to the rebel-held town of Benghazi, and a Libyan oppositional representative will set up shop in the Libyan embassy in Paris. Chapeau Sarkozy! Who follows?
France has become the first major European power to recognise Libya’s opposition National Council as the country’s legitimate representative.
The move, which will see an ambassador sent to the rebel-held town of Benghazi, was announced during a meeting between envoys from the council and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, in Paris on Thursday.
Sarkozy plans to re-open the Libyan embassy in Paris and implement a reciprocal arrangement where France will open an embassy in Benghazi, Tim Friend, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the French capital, said.
“This is a very significant statement of intent which reinforces France’s recognition that the Libyan transitional National Council is the legitimate body now representing Libya, they’re the people they want to talk to,” he said.
“I think France has gone further than anyone else so far in doing that.”
Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, has also urged partners in the European Union to follow suit and engage with Libyan opposition leaders.
Interesting stuff. Check Al Jazeera’s coverage of today’s events here (the most noteworthy, it seems, are the fact that the resistance now controls two of the largest cities, Benghazi and Tobruk, while all kinds of armed brutal thugs are roaming the streets of Tripoli).
Libya is one of the most tribal nations in the Arab world – a country where clans and alliances shape the political landscape. Tribal structure has played a crucial role in the country’s history. Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari takes a look at the country’s tribal system.
Andrew Sullivan gathers ideas on what the West can do to help here.
(Colonel Gaddafi, Mubarak, Ben Ali, and Yemeni president Saleh in for them better days)-
- For reports on the situation in Libya on March 2, go here -
- Update: Al Jazeera’s liveblog of Wednesday February 23th: here. Al Jazeera’s liveblog of Thursday February 24th: here.
- Update: Canada’s The Globe and Mail has put together a solid infographic summarizing the sources of some of the influence Gaddafi enjoys in other parts of Africa:
- Update: A group calling itself with Libya Outreach Group is calling on the international community to undertake a series of concrete steps to show solidarity with the Libyan people in the face of what they are calling “war crimes against Libya”. They “ask all nations to stand with the Libyan people by”:
1. Establishing a no-fly zone to prevent Gaddafi from using the air-force against the Libyan people.
2. Calling on the United Nations Security Council to take decisive action and invoke Chapter 7 to stop the massacre of innocent civilians, and deployment of International Peace-keeping troops.
3. Facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid and relief supplies such as medicine, blood, food, and other basic provisions to the people of Libya.
4. Freezing the international assets of the Gaddafi family as well as senior officials.
5. Indicting Gaddafi for crimes against humanity and trying him in the International Criminal Court.
6. The immediate deployment of U.N. troops to confirm reports of crimes against humanity.
Will the western world respond? While the Europe and the US have been much quicker to condemn Gaddafi’s murderous ways, they have been reticent to move beyond that, falling far short of any action under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. Meanwhile, reports of violence and killings continue.
- Update: Gaddafi is now speeching (watch on Al Jazeera). Like many dictators, he is known for his long speeches, so it could take a while. Among a lot of jibberish, he has said “I will die as a martyr”.
In addition to the once again striking setup of this speech – a brownish gold robe, a model airplane above his head, and a crumbled bathroom-like setting – what’s notable are the long, seemingly nervous silences as he’s gathering for words. The great dictator Gaddafi looks pretty stricken to me.
- Update: Lol, a technical fault, and some employee comes in! What a weird, rambling speech.
- Update: Ok, that was it. That stuff about drugged youth inciting protests seems like a bit of projection on the part of Gadaffi to me. Compared to this guy, Mubarak was an example of sobriety.
- Update: Ben Wedeman, the only foreign journalist in Libya, reports the eastern part of the country is in the hands of the opposition. Parts of the army have defected to the opposition and government troops have retreated, burning ammunition depots on their way.
- Update: Al Jazeera reports a Libyan naval ship has been spotted on the coast of Malta. Italian and Malta marine are monitoring the ship. No information on what kind of ship it is or what it’s doing on the coast of Malta.
- Update: Apparently Gaddafi is soon going to address the people of Libya again. Watch Al Jazeera’s livestream. We will take wagers in the comments here as to 1) is it shorter or longer than the 15 second appearance of last night; and, 2) what video will today’s appearance be most easily mashed up with?
- Update: Libya’s ambassador to the United States Ali Aujali has defected from what he calls a ‘dictatorship regime’ among what Al Jazeera are now calling ‘en mass defections’ of Libyan foreign diplomats. In addition to the US, diplomats have Libyan diplomats have resigned from posts in the United Nations, the Arab League, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Poland, India and Bangladesh and reportedly other countries. Al Jazeera has complied some of their statements about their resignations here. Some of the best include the Ambassador to Malaysia stating plainly: ”We are not loyal to him, we are loyal to the Libyan people”. The Ambassador to Indonesia has also weighed in forcefully: ”Soldiers are killing unarmed civilians mercilessly. Using heavy weaponry, fighter jets and mercenaries against its own people. It is not acceptable. I have enough of it. I don’t tolerate it anymore.” They worth a look to see just how strongly these close allies of the regime have turned against, including calling for Gaddafi’s prosecution.
The Qaddafi regime has made several strategic errors since (…) 2006. The most obvious has been the retreat from Seif’s plans for reform. (…)
A second mistake has been the lack of attention to the poverty of the population. (…)
A third mistake has been to ignore the needs of the young. When a third of the population is under fifteen and a further large proportion is under twenty-five, the young become central to coherent governance. (…)
It is striking that the protests began in the eastern part of Libya. The area around Benghazi has always been the one least under Qaddafi’s thumb, and most of his problems have originated there. (…)
A post-Qaddafi Libya could easily be roiled in internal battles, ultimately dividing into several smaller countries, each dominated by local tribes. (…) Modern Libya is an artificial construct, a remnant of colonialism. The glue holding it together is failing, and the warnings of chaos are real. (…)
We all understand that there is strong opposition to Qaddafi, but it’s not clear whether there is any internal coherence to that opposition. (…) Libya does not have any real opposition leaders; it hardly has any internal opposition as we generally define the word. If these protests are successful, and if Qaddafi flees, as there are already rumors he has, then who will take over? Libya has another important difference from Egypt: it’s a tiny country, with a population of just over six million. Even Tunisia has a population of over ten million. All the educated and competent people in Libya know one another, and most of them have worked in one way or another with the Qaddafi regime. If Qaddafi goes, there are not enough trained bureaucrats or statesmen to construct a new Libyan government that is not an extension of the old one, and this fact alone could propel Libya back into some form of tribalism.
- Original post: After a Monday of protests and an extreme crackdown by Colonel Gaddafi employing fighter jets, marine vessels and armed thugs, bordering on genocide, the Libyan uprising continues today. Diplomats and senior officials have defected, army officers as well, and important tribes have joined the protests. Check yesterday’s liveblog here. Today, we’ll continue to cover events as time allows it by providing links and posting remarkable happenings here.
For the best, up to date coverage, however, check the following links:
Liveblog Al Jazeera here, livestream Al Jazeera here, Al Arabiya here
Live/protest blog Libya February 17th here, Twitter hashtag #feb17 here
The NYT reports that the protests – which could perhaps now better be called civil strife – are continuing today.
Libya appeared to slip further from the grip of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi on Tuesday, as opposition forces in eastern Libya moved to consolidate control of the region, arming themselves with weapons taken from security warehouses, and fighting continued in Tripoli, witnesses said.
In Tripoli, the capital, the government was striking back at protesters challenging Colonel Qaddafi’s 40-year rule. Security forces and militiamen backed by helicopters and warplanes besieged parts of the city overnight, according to witnesses and news reports from Tripoli.
Fighting was heavy at times on Monday night, witnesses said, and the streets were thick with special forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi fighting alongside mercenaries. Roving the streets in trucks, they shot freely as planes dropped what witnesses described as “small bombs” and helicopters fired on protesters.
Hundreds of Qaddafi supporters took over the central Green Square in the capital after truckloads of militiamen arrived and opened fire on protesters, scattering them. Residents said they now feared to leave their houses.
With pro-government security forces either absent or defecting to join the opposition in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the center of the week-long rebellion, citizens armed with guns organized into informal security committees, a resident reached by telephone said. Supermarkets and warehouses were open, as were local hospitals, caring for hundreds of people wounded during the government crackdown of the weekend, before defections to the people from the military brought a lull in the violence.
- For reports on the situation in Libya on March 2, go here -
- Update: And, so it appears that the violence will continue tomorrow (check Tuesday February 22 coverage here). The UN has raised its rhetoric considerably this evening, but at the moment it is still rhetoric. There has been some talk about convening an emergency meeting of the Security Council to respond to the situation on the ground. It will be interesting to see whether any action is actually considered under the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. With that we will sign off for the night.
- Update: All internet access has been shutdown in Libya
- Update: Saif Gaddafi denies any airstrikes on Libyan cities reportedly saying that warplanes were targeting ammunition depots and not populated areas.
- Update: According to Al Arabiya, Gaddafi is set to make a speech soon. Keep watching the Al Jazeera livestream.
- Update: One of the interesting things about this revolutionary epoch in the Middle East and North Africa (in addition, of course, to the extreme political importance and the human drama) is that you learn so much about countries. F.e., I never knew that much about the make-up of Egyptian society until the uprising there. Libya, then, of 6.4 million people, is apparently a country of tribes; there’s really no such thing as a Libyan national identity. Heads of these tribes, moreover, are represented in military divisions in the army (a way for Gaddafi, originally a socialist revolutionary, to keep control). One by one, now, these tribes seem to be defecting. Al Jazeera now reports, for example, that the Migraha tribe has abandoned Gaddafi, following the Tuareg and Warfela tribes, who have come out in support of the protests yesterday. This means that, on the one hand, the army can not play the stabilizing/suppressing role it can in Egypt; on the other hand, civil war could ensue.
- Update: A good overview, as usual, from the NYT.
The faltering government of the Libyan strongman Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi struck back at mounting protests against his 40-year rule, as helicopters and warplanes besieged parts of the capital Monday, according to witnesses and news reports from Tripoli. (…)
The rebellion is the latest and bloodiest so far of the uprisings that have swept across the Arab world with surprising speed in recent weeks, toppling autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia, and challenging others in Bahrain and Yemen.
As the conflict spread to Tripoli, Colonel Qaddafi’s long hold on power appeared to be weakening, too, as key advisers and diplomats broke with his government and Libya’s second-largest city remained under control of the protesters. (…)
In a sign of growing cracks within the government, several senior officials — including the justice minister and members of the Libyan mission to the United Nations — broke with Colonel Qaddafi.
- Update: Fighter planes seem to be defecting on Malta.
- Update: Check out this Flickr stream of photos from the Libyan uprising.
- Update: I find it almost impossible to believe, but only 10 days after Mubarak’s resignation (and Ben Ali’s resignation before that), reports are coming in that Gaddafi has left the capital Tripoli. There are unconfirmed, however. Apparently, moreover, the minister of Justice and other senior officials have defected.
1437: A number of Libya’s senior government officials and diplomats have now quit. Libya’s envoy to the Arab League, Abdel Moneim al-Honi, announced earlier he was “joining the revolution” and its ambassador to India, Ali al-Essawi, told the BBC he was resigning in protest against his government’s violent crackdown on demonstrators.
1428: Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil has resigned over the “excessive use of violence” against protesters, the privately-owned Quryna newspaper reports.
- Original post: After Egypt, Bahrein and Yemen, the shit seems to be very much hitting the fan in Libya, where the fashion-sensitive Colonel Gadaffi has ruled with an iron fist since 1969. Given the nature of the Libyan regime, press reports are scattered, but as usually Al Jazeera is very much on it.
1:19 pm The folks at Alive in Libya have posted another audio clip of a phone call from Tripoli overnight on Sunday. It confirms what we’ve been hearing: Protesters have burned, looted and destroyed a number of government buildings in the Libyan capital, including several police stations and “revolutionary committee” headquarters.
“Every so often we get news that an area has fallen in the hands of the protesters,” the man said.
After protesters briefly took the capital’s central square, they were confronted by by cars and land cruisers whose passengers opened fire “like it was a war”.
12:07 am Reports from news agencies, Twitter and witnesses speaking directly to Al Jazeera are painting a picture of semi-chaos overnight in Tripoli. It appears that some protesters from nearby towns converged on the city, and thousands from the capital itself turned out as well. They were allowed to march to the central Green or Martyrs’ Square, which they occupied briefly before being confronted by security forces and pro-Gaddafi protesters, who came out in force after a late-night speech by Saif al-Gaddafi, the leader’s son.
During the night, protesters have broken into and burned a number of government buildings, reportedly including: State television; the main courthouse; a large, centrally located bank; an intelligence agency building; at least two police stations – one in Souq Jamaa and one in Zawadahmany.