Nic Pelham on Libya

Our friend Nic Pelham — who intrepidly went to cover war-torn Libya with a broken arm! — has a good long piece in MERIP on the situation post-Tripoli, in which he finds thatmost Libyans don't care much about catching Qadhafi. They're too busy making sure that their neighborhoods run and keeping the rebels from outside at bay:

But while the incoming fighters rake the night sky with triumphal volleys from anti-aircraft guns, locals decry them as impostors, intent on stealing their credit. By their telling, the capital’s conquest was an act of self-liberation, an intifada launched by residents on 820/820 -- 8:20 pm on August 20 -- or the twentieth of Ramadan, the day the Prophet is said to have liberated Mecca from unbelief. A fighter recalls how four sentries shared one Kalashnikov, rotating guard duty every six hours, maintaining eight shifts before the rebels arrived. An NTC member from Tripoli claims Operation Mermaid never happened. “NATO didn’t bomb its 40 pre-designated targets, and the fighters from the mountains turned up 48 hours late,” says ‘Abd al-Razzaq al-Radi. “By the time they arrived in the early morning of August 22, Tripoli was a liberated city, and they could march all the way to Green Square without a fight.”

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On Libya in Internazionale

My blog post from a couple of weeks on the fall of Tripoli to rebel hands has been published in Internazionale, the Italian international affairs magazine. Italian readers can read it here [PDF, 10MB].

Incidentally, I will be speaking at Internazionale's journalism festival in Ferrara, held on 30 September - 2 October. Our friend Hossam El-Hamalawy should also be there.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

A thought-provoking piece on Libya

Of all places, in the New York Times. Steven Erlanger does a magnificent job of raising many important points. In order of appearance:

Libya has been a war in which some of the Atlantic alliance’s mightiest members did not participate, or did not participate with combat aircraft, like Spain, Turkey and Sweden. It has been a war where the Danes and Norwegians did an extraordinary number of the combat sorties, given their size. Their planes and pilots became exhausted, as the French finally pulled back their sole nuclear-powered aircraft carrier for overdue repairs and Italy withdrew its aircraft carrier to save money.

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Libya: Mass arrests of black people

A masked armed man from the Old City argues with the wife of a detainee, who is seeking information about her husband. © 2011 Fred Abrahams/Human Rights WatchOne of the Libyan civil war's relatively under-reported features has been the rebels' attacks on dark-skinned people — migrants and Libyan nationals — who were lumped together as "mercenaries". Considering Libya had hundreds of thousands of foreign works from sub-Saharan Africa (who already experienced much racism in their everyday life), this meant many innocents got attacked because there were a few hundred foreign soldiers recruited by the Qadhafi regime. It also helped the rebel narrative to claim that those defending the regime were foreigners, downplaying the civil war aspect of the conflict (i.e. that not all Libyans were against Qadhafi.)

Human Rights Watch had this release out today:

Libya: Stop Arbitrary Arrests of Black Africans
Vulnerable Migrant Workers in Tripoli Need Protection

(Tripoli, September 4, 2011) – The de facto authorities in Tripoli, the National Transitional Council (NTC), should stop the arbitrary arrests and abuse of African migrant workers and black Libyans assumed to be mercenaries, Human Rights Watch said today. They should release those detained as mercenaries solely due to their dark skin color, Human Rights Watch said, and provide prompt judicial review to any for whom there is evidence of criminal activity.

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The UAE's global ambitions post-Libya

This post was contributed by Jenifer Fenton.

It is a dot on a map dwarfed by its neighbors, but it is also an influential and stable country in a rough neighborhood. The United Arab Emirates is an increasingly sought-after ally, one with an ambitious foreign policy that it can finance with its rich resources. 

Do not underestimate the power of a small state, said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at UAE University. The UAE (and Qatar) is saying we “are determined, ready to play an unusual leading role in events…We are daring enough. We have the capacity, the ability and the desire to play a bigger role,” he said. 

The UAE sent a dozen aircrafts to support the no-fly zone over Libya and the country was arguably (along with Qatar) one of the biggest contributors on the humanitarian and diplomatic fronts. Now as the NATO campaign is winding down, the Emirates’ contributions to Libya will “continue and become much more prominent in the post-Gaddafi era,” Abdullah said.

But Libya is just one of the many arenas in which the UAE is currently operating. For the past eight years, the UAE Armed Forces have been in Afghanistan — the only military force from an Arab country. (Previously, the Emirates assisted with peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Kosovo.)

“The US, UK, France, see in the UAE an Arab state that thinks strategically, and one with which they can cooperate,” said John Chipman, director general and chief executive of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “The contribution of UAE Special Forces to the operation in Afghanistan and of air assets to the coalition effort in Libya demonstrated that the UAE had no strategic aversion to direct cooperation with Western militaries when strategic perspectives and aims were aligned,” he added. “This case by case, but unemotional, strategic cooperation is likely to continue.”

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Libya: Prisoners held in shipping containers


From Amnesty International:

Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011

Amnesty International Reveals Detainees in Libya Left to Suffocate in Blazing Hot, Cramped Metal Containers

Survivors Describe “A Day From Hell” as Detainees Drink Urine and Sweat to Try to Stay Alive

(New York) – Libyan forces loyal to Colonel al-Gaddafi forces left 19 detainees to die of suffocation while locked inside metal containers in the sweltering June heat in northwestern Libya, Amnesty International has discovered.

Three survivors described how al-Gaddafi loyalists tortured them and then imprisoned them along with 26 others in two cramped cargo containers on June 6 at a construction site in al-Khums, 75 miles east of Tripoli.

The detainees endured temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit and drank their own sweat and urine when the limited water supply ran out. Their captors shouted “rats, shut up," ignoring their cries for help.

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Podcast #10: Libya and its consequences

We delayed this week's podcast to bring you two guests with expert knowledge of the Libyan war and its regional consequences: Steve Negus, who just returned from Tripoli and Benghazi, and Middle East correspondent for The Economist Max Rodenbeck. (Ashraf Khalil is off this week dealing with a looming book deadline.) We talk about why Tripoli fell so fast and how secure it is now, what might happen in Sirte and Sebha, the last Qadhafi strongholds, and what governance might look like in Libya for the foreseable future. We also discuss whether there is a Libyan model for humanitarian intervention, what it might mean for Syria, Qatar's steroid diplomacy, and still more. Finally, we discuss Libyan novelist Hisham Matar's novels and play a song from Libya's reggae-influenced pop music.

Links for this week's show:

As always, do write in to podcast [AT] with your comments.

The Arabist Podcast #10

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Colonel Qadhafi's Tech Support

This is a guest post by Paul Mutter. 

Reporting from Tripoli, The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne and Margaret Coker reveal the depths of collusion between Colonel Qadhafi’s spooks and their foreign tech support:

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."

Amesys of Bull SA was just one of those whose wares were on display. Narus, a subsidiary of Boeing, the ZTE Corporation of China and a small (but apparently important) South African firm called VASTech SA (Pty) were all represented. Other names will likely follow. But so far, they all are following the warning on the Amesys sign, offering limp responses to the WSJ’s inquiries, or just declining to comment.

But the HQ records speak for themselves: the government recorded thousands of online conversations, phone calls and web histories, from regular citizens to human rights activists (those who had overseas contacts were priority targets, of course).

In the end, Colonel Qadhafi’s tech support was a waste of money, even after his government killed the internet in March to try and cut off Libyans from each other and the outside world. Libya’s uprising has apparently succeeded in toppling Qadhafi’s government, and his IT department is nowhere to be found.

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Will Sirte be the new Benghazi?

One of the greatest ironies of the Libya war may soon unfold before our eyes — or hopefully not.

The Libyan civil began because of an uprising in Benghazi, and the NATO intervention (supposed to be limited to a no-fly zone) was justified by the prospects of an aerial bombardment of the city. Now, as (with Sebha) the last urban bastion of Qadhadi loyalists, it is the key next target of the rebels. In the WSJ:

BRUSSELS—North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials said Tuesday their main focus has shifted to preventing a bloody battle for control of the north-central Libyan town of Sirte, where troops loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi have taken refuge.

The town of 75,000, 245 miles east of Tripoli and Col. Gadhafi's hometown, seems to be shaping up as one of the final stands by Gadhafi loyalists. "It is the last bastion," said NATO Col. Roland Lavoie.

The looming battle between rebels and loyalists poses a tricky question for the coalition: What to do if rebels start killing civilians inside Sirte?

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You say Gathafi, I say Qadhafi

"Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?"Running into this Moor Next Door post on the spelling of Qadhafi's name, and this Atlantic report that his passport spells it "Kathafi", reminded me of a meeting I a few months ago. I was meeting with a bunch of business people who know no Arabic and little about the Middle East. The conversation turned to Libya and one of them turned to me and asked why there were so many spellings of Qadhafi's name. What follows is what I said, which is very much what Kal of TMND argues, except I put it in laymen's terms, without the phonetics.

In Arabic, Qadhafi's name is spelled القذافي which if you drop the article, means
ق - ذ - ا - ف - ي or q - dh - a - f - i. The "q" letter is almost unique to Arabic (sometimes called "the language of the qaf" — sorry, it's the language of the dhad, not qaf!) and often transliterated as a "k", since its pronounciation can be difficult for non-Arabic speakers. It is standard in classical Arabic and places like Fes in northern Morocco, but northern Egyptians, urban Syrians and others often pronounce this letter as a glottal stop, while southern Egyptians and Bedouins most often pronounce as a "g", as in "go". (This is why in Syria upscale Damascenes call the regime "the government of the Qaf", because pronouncing the letter is a country bumpkin thing to do, and Eastern Sunnis and Alawites — long dominant in the regime — often do it). Hence you see Qadhafi, Kadhafi or Gadhafi. The "dh" sound also has no equivalent in many languages as a standalone letter, and to top it off is made emphatic by a shedda — a kind of accent that indicates the letter should be doubled, which is why academics use the unwieldy "Qadhdhafi." And the "dh" is often not pronounced as such — in most colloquial Arabics, it is pronounced "d". I'm not sure why it might be pronounced "th", but perhaps this was used in Qadhafi's passport because it is close to the English sound in "the", which sounds very much like "dh".

I always write Qadhafi because it's simple and faithful enough without being completely anal, like Qadhdhafi. 


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

The man with Qadhafi's hat

" So I was like, Oh - My - God. I'm in Qadhafi's bedroom." 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Libya: do tribes matter?

An argument against the narrative that tribalism will be a major problem in post-Qadhafi Libya, by Mohamme Bamyeh in Muftah:

As a matter of fact, in Libya, actual tribal allegiance, understood as the loyalty that members of one distinct tribe have to their fellows, has never been unconditional. Just as during the Italian occupation of Libya from 1911-1943, contemporary tribal discourse blends with and is clearly subordinate to a collective patriotism, which forms the root of the current national struggle. Since the current uprising began, Libya’s various tribes have issued numerous statements about the situation, which largely reflect the patriotism that pervades these groups.  My personal examination of a sample of 28 tribal declarations, issued between February 23 and March 9, 2011, reveals that the vast majority highlighted national unity or national salvation rather than tribal interests. These declarations also demonstrate that Libya’s tribes are not homogenous entities, but rather are comprised of diverse members with varying social and economic backgrounds. This reality reflects the nature of Libyan society as a whole, which has a 90% urban population and in which inter-marriages across tribal lines are common.

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The fall of Tripoli in the Islamist imagination

Reza Pankhurst, of New Civilisation, an interesting UK-based Islamist website (apparently close to Hizb ut-Tahrir), on the parallels between the conquests of Mecca and Tripoli:

The fall of much of Tripoli on Sunday was greeted with joy by many, especially the crowds of thousands who were gathered in Liberation Square in Benghazi. The chants in unison were the calls “There is no God except Allah” and “We hear and Obey O Allah”. The revolutionary commander in Tripoli linked the event to the victory of the Prophet Mohammad over his tribe that had rejected his message and fought against him more than 14 centuries earlier which is known literally as the opening or conquest of Mecca. The parallels mentioned were numerous, from the timing (both the opening of Mecca and that of Tripoli occurred during the last ten nights of the holy month of Ramadan, just one day separating the two), the nature of the vanquished (the Prophet Mohammad and his companions faced oppression, torture, and death at the hands of those they came to conquer, and the abuses of the Gaddafi regime are open knowledge in Libya where thousands of mostly Islamic opposition have been tortured and killed while in captivity over the years), and the morality of the victors (in line with the Prophet’s general amnesty, the Libyan rebel official position is that those of the former regime who do not resist will not be killed).

That's probably what at least some Libyan Islamists are thinking, and no doubt they will be building a narrative around these lines.

Who "owns" Libya?

A very interesting blog post on Libya by the Economist's Bagehot:

Speaking from outside Britain, a senior official told me that—after the fall of the Qaddafi regime—NATO air patrols and a no-fly zone would certainly have to remain in place as a deterrent to fighting between different factions or tribes, and to fulfil NATO's mandate from the United Nations to protect civilians. How long might that last? Well, he said, the current plan is for elections within 240 days, so perhaps until then at least: "We need an open-ended, low-intensity no-fly zone."

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Accountability in Libya

From the end of a WSJ piece on Turkish support for the TNC:

The defiant appearance of Seif el-Islam, who is wanted for crimes against humanity, in front of western video cameras in Tripoli has significantly undermined the credibility of Mr. Abdel-Jalil and has shocked rebel supporters in Benghazi. Some are already speaking about a conspiracy between the rebel leadership and Col. Gadhafi and his family to facilitate their escape from Tripoli. Many also see the rebel leadership as being out of touch for staying put within the relative safety of Benghazi while the decisive battle for Libya rages more than a 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) to the west.

As if offering a dose of belated consolation to his supporters, Mr. Abdel-Jalil said all those who collaborated with Col. Gadhafi would face trial, including himself for serving four years as justice minister before the start of the uprising in February.

"I will submit myself to trial for the four years I spent as a minister with Moammar Gadhafi," said Mr. Abdel-Jalil before pleading with the Libyan people to show mercy and forgiveness.

I wonder how that's going to work out.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Seif Qadhafi teaches us a lesson

The pic above (via FLC) must be the biggest double-take of recent times. After all, not only had the TNC and the (more unforgiveably) the ICC confirmed Seif's capture, but apparently he's free to roam Tripoli in his motorcade and drop by for a chat with journalists at the Rixos. Chapeau!

I suppose this shows (as does the continuing street warfare in Tripoli) that enthusiasm about the fall of Tripoi was premature. It also shows what anyone who has followed the Libyan civil war, no matter how supportive of the rebels, has known about them for a whiie: they are notoriously unreliable. It may be out of malice or simply because they seem so disorganized, but they hardly have a good track record. I hope the transitional government gets better about this.

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Libya: Can the rebels rule?

There's been a lot written about the difficulty that the rebel National Transitional Council may have consolidating control over a post-Qaddafi Libya, and the likelihood of splits — possibly bloody ones — between the different factions of the rebel movement. I think that the fears are legitimate, but the situation is not quite as dangerous as some might believe. I'm currently in Benghazi, where the rebel government had a fairly easy time establishing its authority in February and March thanks largely to a region-wide sense of neglect and persecution by the Qaddafi regime, so maybe I'm underestimating some of the difficulties. But here are my thoughts.
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An anecdote about Khamis Qadhafi

Khamis Qadhafi

As I write these lines, Khamis al-Qadhafi, the most militarily-connected of Muammar al-Qadhafi's sons, is said to be leading his Khamis Brigade to the center of Tripoli in what may very well turn out to be his last stand. Khamis, the seventh and youngest son of the Brother Leader, operated discreetly at the repressive core of his father's regime for years, the military counterpart to his brother Seif's diplomatic role, tasked with protecting the family.

Several months ago, I heard a chilling story about Khamis. It came from an Egyptian acquaintance of mine who has done business in Libya for many years and was well-introduced with regime figures. The Egyptian's company, involved in construction and various state-financed projects, operated in Libya the way most foreigners did. They had regime-connected figures on the payroll, whose role was to smoooth out any problems with the government and make sure hurdles could be removed. It was just the cost of doing business in Libya, where the government could often prove unwilling to honor agreements and everyone needed a little help from a part of the mafia state the Qadhafis ran. 

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Libya after Qadhafi

Following the entry of Libya’s rebels1 into Tripoli last night was exhilarating. A civil war2 that had lasted much longer than initially expected seems to be finally nearing an end, even if Tripoli is still not fully controlled and other parts of the country remain in the hands of Qadhafi loyalists. Whether or not you supported NATO intervention in Libya, it’s a magnificent moment to see another dictator fall, especially one like Qadhafi who for 42 years ran one of the most brutal regimes in the region. Libyans have never really had a chance at defining their own identity and forging their own future — not under the monarchy, and certainly not under Qadhafi — and like in Tunisia or Egypt, the most amazing thing is that this is now more possible than it ever was.

Taking early stock of the Libyan civil war of 2011 (hoping it will soon be over), the first priority is how to carry out this transition. The TNC has the advantage of having been formed over six months ago, incorporating former members of the regime and figures from across the country, and having planned for this moment for some extent. It has diplomatic recognition, and enough credibility to secure aid, cash, weapons and other help foreign partners. In the eyes of the oil companies that are likely to be key in financing Libya’s post-war reconstruction, it also has enough credibility to be seen as an entity one can do business with.

There is already much hand-wringing about how this transition might take place. The truth is the rebels, once they had secured Western backing, never had any incentive to negotiate with the Qadhafi regime. There were multiple diplomatic attempts at doing so, but they were scuttled by the rebels and key Western powers much more than by Qadhafi. We can leave it to historians to argue whether this might have saved lives or provided a better blueprint for a Libyan transition to a post-Qadhafi regime. But the question of negotiating with the regime’s remnants now becomes more crucial. TNC officials have given some signs that they were not interested in revanchisme, although it’s hard to know how much control they can really exert over what amounts to a large, diffuse coalition of anti-Qadhafi forces that — once the Brother Leader is killed, exiled or arrested — may have less common cause. There are a lot of light weapons in the hands of volunteer fighters in Libya, and like in any conflict, it’s hard to predict what they might end up doing with them in the coming transition.3

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Libya Dispatch: Lies, Damn Lies and Government-sponsored Trips (3)

Abu Ray reports from Tripoli as the NATO airstrikes and rebel insurgency loom ever closer. See his previous dispatches here.

As the bus pulled up to what was described as the site of a NATO airstrike, we could see the burly cameraman from Libyan state TV hurriedly stashing khaki military uniforms onto the roof of a nearby shed ahead of our arrival. It was the culmination of a truly farcical day.

Perhaps the collapsed building was just, as they said, an office and some apartments hit by a NATO missile, killing… one person? At least two people, said a bystander trotted out for the visiting journalists, others were not so sure. Maybe it was, but then why did someone have to run ahead and hide a bunch of tattered military uniforms and, as we later discovered, a helmet. Was it perhaps actually a military target?

We were in the town of Zlitan on another government organized trip, in what should have been a fascinating journey to a front line town facing an assault of rebels who had broken out of the besieged city of Misrata and were headed towards Tripoli with vengeance on their minds.

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