February 26, 2011

EDITOR: The Libyan endgame is nearing its end

Despite the mass murder by Gaddafi mercenaries, more and more of Libya has turned over to the rebel civilian revolution. Many of the army, airforce and special forces, as well as the civilian workers in most of the country are now fighting to rid the country of its diseased tyrant. One hopes the end of the Gaddafi rule is very near.

Gaddafi ‘losing grip’ over Libya: Al Jazeera online

Demonstrators remain on the streets as leader’s power may soon be confined only to the capital, Tripoli.
26 Feb 2011

Most of Libya is out of control of the government, and Muammar Gaddafi’s grip on power may soon be confined only to the capital, Tripoli, Libya’s former interior minister has said.

General Abdul Fatteh Younis told Al Jazeera on Saturday that he had called upon Gaddafi to end his resistance to the uprising, although he does not expect him to do so.

The embattled Libyan regime passed out guns to civilian supporters, set up checkpoints and sent out armed patrols, witnesses said in Tripoli.

Some of Libya’s security forces reportedly have given up the fight. Footage believed to be filmed on Friday showed soldiers joining the protesters.

The footage showed demonstrators carrying them on their shoulders in the city of Az Zawiyah after having defected — a scene activists said is being repeated across the country.

Al Jazeera, however, is unable to independently verify the content of the video, which was obtained via social networking websites.

Our correspondent in Libya reported on Friday that army commanders in the east who had defected had told her that military commanders in the country’s west were also beginning to turn against Gaddafi.

They warned, however, that the Khamis Brigade, an army special forces brigade that is loyal to the Gaddafi family and is equipped with sophisticated weapons, is currently still fighting anti-government forces.

Our correspondent, who cannot be named for security reasons, said that despite the gains, people are anxious about what Gaddafi might do next and also because his loyalists were still at large.

Interim government

Mustafa Mohamed Abud Ajleil, Libya’s former justice minister, has led the formation of an interim government based in the eastern city of Benghazi, the online edition of the Quryna newspaper reported on Saturday.

Quryna quoted him as saying that Muammar Gaddafi “alone” bore responsibility “for the crimes that have occurred” in Libya and that his tribe, Gaddadfa, were forgiven.

“Abud Ajleil insisted on the unity of the homeland’s territory, and that Libya is free and its capital is Tripoli,” Quryna quoted him as saying in a telephone conversation.

Abu Yousef, a resident from the town of Tajoura, told Al Jazeera that live ammunition was being used against anti-government protesters.

“Security forces are also searching houses in the area and killing those who they accuse of being against the government,” he said.

Anti-government protesters have attacked black Africans in Libya, mistaking them for mercenaries.

“The situation is very dangerous. Every day there are more than a hundred who die, every day there are shootings. The most dangerous situation is for foreigners like us and also us black people. Because Gaddafi brought soldiers from Chad from Niger. They are black and tey are killing Arabs,” Seidou Boubaker Jallou told Al Jazeera.

Jallou and his friend, both from Mali, fled by night to the Tunisian border. They said the roads out of the West are still in the hands of those loyal to Gaddafi.

Zawiya, a town 120 km from the Tunisian border, is now in the hands of the people. Egyptians who arrived at the border described a bloody massacre on Thursday which left many dead.

“I was in Zawiya’s martyrs square. There was a group of army men in the square who attacked the protesters. It was a very fierce confrontation. They were shooting using heavy weaponry. There were at least 15 to 20 dead and I had footage of what happened but the Libyan authorities on the Tunisian border took even my phone. Gaddafi wants to commit a crime with the absence of any media,” Ahmed, an Egyptian, told Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri.

‘Civil war’

Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s son, said people in “three-quarters of the country are living in peace”.

In an interview on Al-Arabiya television, Seif said that the protesters are being manipulated and that the situation had “opened the doors to a civil war”.

He denied that African mercenaries had been recruited to attack the protesters in a crackdown that the United Nations say has killed at least 1,000 people.

“Show us the mercenaries, show us the women and children who were killed,” he said. “These reports about mercenaries are lies.” The protests were being led by “small groups, armed groups,” according to Seif al-Islam.

“Those provoking these people are terrorists,” he added, echoing his father who in a televised address last week blamed al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden for manipulating the country’s youth with drugs.

The eastern region of the oil-rich North African nation is now believed to be largely free of Gaddafi control since the popular uprising began on February 14 with protests in the city of Benghazi.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from the town of Al-Baida in eastern Libya, said that while many parts of the country’s east is no longer government controlled, local residents do not want to separate from the rest of Libya.

“They still want a united Libya, and want Tripoli to remain its capital,” she said.

Our correspondent added that many in the country’s east have felt abandoned by the Gaddafi government, despite the vast oil wealth located in the region.

The crackdown has sparked international condemnation. The United States said it was moving ahead with sanctions against the regime.

Barack Obama, the US president,  issued an executive order, seizing assets and blocking any property in the United States belonging to Gaddafi or his four sons.

The European Union also agreed to impose an arms embargo, asset freezes and travel bans on Libya.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said on Friday that decisive action by the Security Council against the crackdown must be taken, warning that any delay would add to the growing death toll which he said now came to over 1,000.

The official death toll in the violence remains unclear. Francois Zimeray, France’s top human rights official, has said that it could be as high as 2,000.

Ban’s call, as well as an emotional speech by the Libyan ambassador to the United Nations, prompted the council to order a special meeting on Saturday to consider a sanctions resolution against Gaddafi.

Libya: Gaddafi in spotlight at UN Security Council: BBC

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has demanded “decisive action” from the Security Council

The UN Security Council is meeting to consider action against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s government in Libya over its attempts to put down an uprising.

A draft resolution calls for an arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze.

It also proposes referring Col Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, one of Col Gaddafi’s sons has said the Libyan people “have no future” if agreement on ending the rebellion is not reached.

Much of Libya, especially the east, is now controlled by anti-Gaddafi forces but the Libyan leader still controls the capital Tripoli, home to two million of the country’s 6.5 million population.

The UN estimates more than 1,000 people have died in the 10-day-old revolt.

The global body’s World Food Programme has warned that the food distribution system is “at risk of collapsing” in the North African nation, which is heavily dependent on imports.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has demanded “decisive action” over the Libya crisis by the Security Council. The draft resolution it is considering is backed by Britain, France, Germany and the US.

Checkpoints are operating at major crossroads and on arterial roads into the city. Some are run by the army, at others armed men in civilian clothes are stopping cars.

The authorities here admit there’s been trouble in Tripoli, but picking up the line used by Colonel Gaddafi himself they say it was caused by youths who’d been using drugs or by al-Qaeda supporters who are said to have hijacked the protests.

Small but very noisy crowds of Gaddafi loyalists surrounded the BBC team wherever we went.

Everywhere I went in Tripoli was calm except for the airport where there was chaos.

The security forces at the airport are tense and jumpy, struggling to control the crowds at the terminal entrances, sometimes using various kinds of clubs to keep them in line.

The Libyan delegation at the UN has sent a letter to the Security Council backing measures to hold to account those responsible for armed attacks on Libyan civilians, including action through the International Criminal Court.

The BBC’s UN correspondent Barbara Plett says the main point of contention in the draft resolution is the proposal to refer Libya to the court, so the Libyan delegation statement will put pressure on those in the council who oppose the reference or want to water it down.

The US has already imposed sanctions against Libya, and closed its embassy in Tripoli.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Friday freezing assets held in the US by Col Gaddafi, members of his family and senior officials. The president said he was also seizing Libyan state property in the US, to prevent it being misappropriated by Tripoli.

Thousands of foreign nationals – many of them employed in the oil industry – continue to be evacuated from the country by air, sea and land.

Saturday saw two British military transport aircraft pick up about 150 foreign nationals in the desert south of the second city, Benghazi, and fly them to the Mediterranean island of Malta.

Britain also announced it had temporarily closed its embassy in Tripoli and pulled out its staff on the last UK government-chartered aircraft because of the deteriorating security situation.

Airport chaos
BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, at Tripoli airport, reports that about 10,000 people remain outside the terminal building and several thousand more are inside. He saw piles of discarded luggage and personal possessions, even TVs, abandoned by people who’ve been desperate to get out.

Most of the people trying to leave are Egyptians, and many of them told our correspondent they had been waiting there for seven days.

Friday saw Col Gaddafi make a defiant address to supporters in Tripoli, but in an interview with the al-Arabiya TV network broadcast on Saturday, his son Saif al-Islam appeared to strike a more cautious note.

“What the Libyan nation is going through has opened the door to all options, and now the signs of civil war and foreign interference have started,” said Saif Gaddafi.

“An agreement has to be reached because the people have no future unless they agree together on a new programme.”

Friday saw reports of anti-government demonstrators in several areas of Tripoli coming under fire from government troops and pro-Gaddafi militiamen, but on Saturday the capital city was calm, with shops open and people on the streets.

A Libyan journalist told the BBC that supporters of Colonel Gaddafi were occupying central Green Square in a public show of support.

Outside the capital, anti-Gaddafi protesters are consolidating their power in Benghazi. Leaders of the uprising are setting up committees to run the city and deliver basic services.

It is believed that rebels are fighting units of the regular army in the western cities of Misrata and Zawiya.



Defending civil society in Israel and abroad: The Electronic Intifada

Ishai Menuchin,  25 February 2011

Activists and civil society organizations protest in Tel Aviv for human rights, December 2010. (ActiveStills)

If it has not become clear by now then we should make no mistake: Israeli civil society organizations (CSOs) working in the fields of human rights, peace and solidarity are in an increasingly hostile and precarious position in the Israeli public sphere. Similarly, our partner organizations working on issues of Israel and the Palestinians in the Netherlands report an increasingly hostile environment.

These organizations, which operate with a variety of mandates and in a number of similar but diverse fields, all share a common understanding that democracy, peace, social justice and human rights must be protected for all persons at all times and that working for such values is becoming increasingly difficult in Israel. Israeli civil society is not monolithic. The CSOs often share common goals while at the same time differ in their opinions and methods about how to achieve them. In common, however, is the clear desire to create or promote a democratic approach to supporting peace and human rights.

In one form or another, our actions, views and ideologies are seen as “anti-Israel.” We see such interpretations as a shallow effort to avoid discourse and to rule by power. We do not believe that there is but “One Israel” composed of one social and political identity and we refuse to reduce the very society that we struggle to preserve to such levels. As active members in the Israeli public sphere we seek out ways to promote values that cannot be interpreted in any other way than universal, democratic and human rights-based. Attempts to paint our actions otherwise are disingenuous, biased and based in a clear political agenda designed to preserve the status quo, demonize our community and to shut it down.

This is unacceptable in any society considered to be democratic. In Israel there is a clear and disturbing effort to go beyond challenging what we do to making our legitimacy contingent on abiding by restrictive guidelines that we have had no part in authoring. We need not look too far in order to remind ourselves of the dangers of a society cleansed of active civil society organizations in which discussion about human rights is chilled because those same organizations are being forced to defend their very existence and, at times, CSO workers are forced to defend their physical safety and freedom.

For this reason it is unfortunately necessary to raise this red flag and once again make arguments that in a proper democratic sphere would be taken for granted. There is more than a belligerent wind blowing through Israeli and Dutch societies. Increasingly, in the Netherlands and in Israel political discourse is turning hostile, intolerant and even violent. Whereas in the past the claims made by organizations like ours were sometimes answered by the state or challenged in the — up to now — healthy and vibrant public sphere, now we are finding that we are not only not being responded to in a less than democratic fashion but that the extremist discourse of some organizations in the public sphere has been adopted and implemented by arms of the state, be it in the executive or in legislative branches.

Conscious efforts are being made to affect funding and to legislate a more restrictive and hostile space for our community. The situation has even reached such a level of the absurd that Israel’s Knesset (parliament) is preparing itself to establish an investigative committee directed specifically at our community. Aggressive language is used by officials at the highest levels of the Israeli government to dehumanize specific human rights organizations and similar language is increasingly being reported in the Netherlands by members of civil society connected to Israeli CSOs.

We can only hope that as Uri Rosenthal, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands who recently visited Israel and his counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, will heed a call for a return to reason in both countries and for a commitment to protecting the rights and integrity of civil society organizations working cooperatively for a better future for all persons. Civil society activists do not expect the state to agree with what we do, but neither do we expect to be attacked by the state, at least not in a democracy. It is up to all of us to ensure that democratic values are protected, especially when governments refuse to do so.

Dr. Ishai Menuchin is the Executive Director of The Public Committee against Torture in Israel. He is the 2003 recipient of the Rothko Chapel Oscar Romero Award for Commitment to Truth and Freedom, one of the founders of Yesh G’vul (the soldiers’ refusal movement), a long time peace and human rights actist, author and editor.

Clipping the presidential wings: Al Ahram Weekly

The newly amended constitution will curtail presidential powers in order to guarantee the smooth rotation of power, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
The committee, tasked on 15 February by the Higher Council of the Armed Forces with amending the constitution, is expected to finish its job tomorrow.

Tarek El-Beshri, the reformist judge and appointed chairman of the committee, said on 20 February that the eight-member committee’s main job was to amend articles that grant the president of the republic sweeping powers.

Members of the youth movements which occupied Tahrir Square and eventually toppled president Hosni Mubarak have made it clear that his resignation was only a beginning.

“We seek to dismantle the entire autocratic political system over which Hosni Mubarak presided and that means introducing a constitution that empowers parliament to hold the president and the government, accountable,” says Ziad El-Oleimi, a member of the Coalition of the 25 January Revolution Youth Movement.

The 1971 constitution is heavily weighted in favour of the president at the expense of the legislative and judicial authorities. The president’s powers are regulated by the fifth chapter of the constitution, comprising articles 73 to 85. Articles 73, 74 and 75 delineate the main roles of the presidency while articles 76 and 77 deal with the mechanics of any transfer of power.

“Articles 76 and 77 form the backbone of the constitution and the political system in Egypt,” says Rifaat El-Said, chairman of the Tagammu Party. “When the constitution was first drafted in September 1971, Article 76 allowed the president to be ratified via a public referendum after he had gained the approval of two thirds of the deputies of parliament, marginalising the public while allowing the process to be dominated by MPs loyal to the regime.”

It was amended in 2005 to allow for multi- candidate presidential election, but in a manner that ensured only the National Democratic Party’s (NDP) candidate could win.

Article 77, which in the original 1971 constitution restricted the tenure of the president to two terms, was amended in 1980 under president Sadat to allow for additional terms. Mubarak took advantage of the changes to stay in power for 30 years.

Hatem Bagato, the committee’s rapporteur, has said that Article 77 will be amended to allow just two presidential terms, of either six or five years.

“If a presidential system is maintained the term will remain six years or be reduced to five. In the event of a switch to a parliamentary system it could be reduced to four.”

Bagato also said that many of the conditions imposed by Article 76 on presidential candidates will be eliminated.

“The article will be amended to state simply, in clear-cut terms, the conditions presidential hopefuls must meet in order to be eligible to stand,” said Bagato.

Changes to Article 76, forced through parliament by the NDP in 2005, were, say commentators, tailored to serve Mubarak and the presidential ambitions of his son Gamal.

Informed sources suggest that Article 82 will also be amended making the appointment of a vice president mandatory ahead of any presidential election campaign.

Yehia El-Gamal, a liberal and reformist lawyer who was appointed deputy prime minister, says Article 88 will be redrafted to reinstitute full judicial supervision of polls, and Article 93 changed to give the Court of Cassation the final say on any election appeals.

Article 189, which determines who is empowered to amend the constitution, is also expected to be changed. In its current form it gives the president of the republic and a third of parliament’s members the right to ask for one or two articles of the constitution to be amended.

“The text limited any initiative to amend articles to Mubarak and his majority party,” says El-Said.

Article 179, which allows the president to refer civilians to military tribunals, will be revoked, says El-Beshri, thus paving the way for the abrogation of the 30-year-old emergency law, while the first four chapters of the constitution regulating the performance of the state, indicating the basic constituents of society and the liberties and rights of citizens, will be maintained.

This means that Article 2, which states that Islamic Sharia is the principle source of legislation in Egypt, will remain. Liberal-oriented parties such as the Wafd and Democratic Front had asked that it be revoked, arguing that it was introduced by late president Sadat in 1980 to curry favour with Islamists and had since inflamed sectarian tension.

Osama El-Ghazali Harb, chairman of the Democratic Front Party, argued that “we should return to the pre-1980 years when the constitution simply stated that Islam is the official religion of the state of Egypt.”

Muslim Brotherhood leaders have warned that eliminating Article 2 could open the “gate of sedition”.

El-Beshri has made it clear that regulating the powers of the president and parliament will also entail amending the 1956 law on the exercise of political rights, the 1972 law regulating the People’s Assembly and the 1980 law regulating the Shura Council.

Palestinians say two wounded in IDF strikes on Gaza: Haaretz

IDF confirms that IAF planes bombed Gaza targets after rocket originating from the strip hit a Be’er Sheva home on Wednesday.

Israel Air Force planes bombed at least three targets in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, medics in the coastal territory said. As a result of the strike, a Palestinian man and a seven-month-old girl were wounded, the medics said.

Medics said a strike launched on a Hamas national guard post in Rafah, a town near Gaza’s border with Egypt, hit near a home and the baby was wounded in the head by shrapnel. The injury was not listed as serious and was described as slight.

A Palestinian man, described as a civilian, was wounded moderately in an earlier strike on a militants’ training camp in Gaza, the medics said.

Palestinian medics also reported two earlier Israeli air strikes before dawn on Saturday against targets of the Islamic Jihad group. There were no injuries.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed the attack, saying the IAF bombed a smuggling tunnel and two more terror targets in the southern Gaza Strip.

Islamic Jihad had been blamed for a rocket fired on Wednesday from Gaza that struck the deepest in Israel since a Gaza war of two years ago, damaging a home in the city of Be’er Sheva.

Libya’s tragedy, Gaddafi’s farce: The Electronic Intifada

Nouri Gana, 22 February 2011

by Nidal El-Khairy

If you think Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is stupid, much less crazy, think twice. He was the first to sense and assess correctly the ripple effects of what happened in Tunisia on 14 January 2011. He was fully cognizant and apprehensive of its implications for Libya and, above all, for his 42-year record of autocratic rule. To understand Gaddafi’s overall manipulative tactics of the Libyan uprising, namely his attempt to deflect its homegrown roots, it is worthwhile to revisit his reaction to the Tunisian revolution.

On 15 January 2011, one day after Tunisians ousted long-time dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Gaddafi was the first Arab head of state to comment on the Tunisian revolution. Wearing a black shirt, and showing a haggard, pallid face, weighted by anguish, he appeared on the national Libyan TV channel Aljamahiriya and addressed himself directly to the Tunisian people.

As customary of his improvisational style, which literally embodies the absurdities and eccentricities of his entire regime, Gaddafi’s remarks were random, disjointed and unpersuasive even though his warnings to Tunisians were partly right, particularly if judged against the backdrop of the manipulative practices of the current interim government in Tunisia which has shamelessly co-opted the revolution and slighted the spirit of the revolutionaries. Let’s pray and hope, though, that the ongoing, around-the-clock sit-in mass protest in the Qasbah Government Square in Tunis succeeds in putting the revolution back on the right track.

Gaddafi said he was pained by Ben Ali’s unceremonious exit and spoke at length about the shortsightedness of Tunisians who wasted their lives for nothing, just to get rid of a corrupt president. He chided them for being misled by WikiLeaks (which he called “Kleenex”) into destroying their country and putting the future of their children on the line. After expressing his distrust of any form of social media, Gaddafi turned to pay homage to Ben Ali, whom he refers to as “Zine”:

“I do not know anyone from Bourguiba [Tunisia’s first post-independence president] to Zine, but Zine for me is the best for Tunisia. He was the one who gave Tunisia pride of place [in terms of economic growth]; I don’t care whether you like him or not, whether you’re against him or not; I tell you the truth, regardless; do you think that Zine gives me money, glory or any kind of reward for saying this? He gives me nothing, but I tell you the truth. I’m usually candid with the Arab public, pointing out the truth to them. No one is better than Zine at the moment. What I wish is not for Zine to remain in power till 2014 [which is one of the concessions/promises Ben Ali made in his third and last speech before his flight to Saudi Arabia] but for him to remain in power for life, okay! If anyone close to Zine is corrupt or if Zine himself is corrupt, they should stand trial. Bring your evidence and try them; this is usually a normal practice. But it’s inadmissible that whenever there is corruption, we burn our country and kill our children at night. Ala Tunis al-salaam.”

Gaddafi ended his speech by saying ala Tunis al-salaam, which is a pun on “peace upon Tunisia,” but practically means in this context, “Tunisia’s doom is upon us.” Ala Tunis al-salaam is a corruption of ala al-duniya al-salaam, which is a common idiomatic expression that originates in Islamic theology on the end of days and is used to evoke a sense of the approaching end of times. The gist of Gaddafi’s speech is twofold: to debunk the rationale on which the Tunisian revolution hinges and to profess the collapse of Tunisia as a nation state.

Gaddafi’s unsolicited comments on the Tunisian revolution constituted a travesty of the will of the Tunisian people and of the memory of its martyrs; Tunisians felt insulted and angered by what he said and, therefore, vindicated when they saw many Libyans in al-Bayda city taking to the streets the following day to protest against socioeconomic malaises created by his regime and by the decades-long unbalanced distribution of oil revenues. It’s worth noting here that Libyans were indeed the first who felt compelled and inspired by what happened in Tunisia; these early demonstrations, however, were somewhat visceral and hesitant; they lacked the assurance and confidence that the Egyptian revolution brought in its wake.

The importance of Gaddafi’s speech on the Tunisian revolution lies ultimately not in terms of what it said about Tunisia but in terms of what it did not say about Libya. Inversely, what Gaddafi did not say about Libya, he projected on Tunisia. Consider, for instance, his insistence on the exceptionality and exemplarity of Ben Ali: “There is not anyone better than Ben Ali at the moment for Tunisia and if it were up to me I would want him to continue not till 2014 but for life.” What holds the key to this statement is the “if it were up to me” hypothesis that underwrites it. Gaddafi implies that while it is not up to him to appoint Ben Ali president for life in the case of Tunisia, it is certainly up to him in the case of Libya to stay in power for the rest of his life, or so, at least, he hoped to plead with or make clear to Libyans.

The fact that Gaddafi reacted immediately to the overthrow of Ben Ali in ways that contradicted the will of the Tunisian people is expressive of his fear that what happened to Ben Ali might very well happen to him. Thenceforth he was obsessed and bedeviled by what might be called the curse of Ben Ali. He identified with Ben Ali not in order to redeem him but in order to justify his own longevity in power. He trivialized the value of the Tunisian revolution not because he felt Libya is immunized against it but because he reckoned how ripe Libya is for it after 42 years of his rule, almost twice as long as Ben Ali’s. He went on and on discrediting social media and WikiLeaks not because they were negligible and untrustworthy but because they charted new fields of mobilization and dissent that he can neither overcome nor completely disregard.

Gaddafi knew then that he was not immune to Ben Ali’s curse and he did not leave any stone unturned to immunize himself against his fate. His overall strategy revolved initially around the vilification of the Tunisian revolution. He not only undermined its accomplishments but also was proactive in highlighting its negative repercussions. The rumors that swirled around his involvement along with Leila Trabelsi, Ben Ali’s wife, in staging the influx of clandestine migrants to Lampedusa, Italy, have a ring of truth to them. While Trabelsi wanted to create a state of turmoil in Tunisia so as to smuggle the rest of her family out of the country, Gaddafi wanted to show Libyans a fresh example of the ugly byproducts of popular unrest in Tunisia, particularly after the fall of Mubarak.

No wonder, then, that the boats used by the clandestine migrants (who self-identified as political refugees) were sent from Libya; no wonder that most of these refugees were either runaway prisoners or mercenaries who were all asking for political asylum or refugee status in Italy, and no wonder that Gaddafi felt reassured that the psychological war he was waging against his people was effective; at any rate, there were no other protests of note anywhere in Libya since the al-Bayda protests that took place after his speech on Tunisia until widespread protests broke out last week.

Tarnishing the Tunisian revolution went hand-in-hand with his attempt to point to a foreign conspiracy against Tunisia. In an interview on Nessma TV on 25 January, on the very same day that the Egyptian revolution officially started, Gaddafi alluded to certain foreign forces preying on Tunisia but did not give any further specifications; when he was pushed to name names, he pointed out that those should be understood from his allusions. The usual suspects in the case of Tunisia are France and the United States, but that is not the case with Libya. Despite his preemptive campaigning against the contagiousness of the Tunisian revolution, Libya is now swept by the same revolutionary current that transformed both Tunisia and Egypt.

As peaceful demonstrations in Libya continue to spread across the country, Gaddafi is doing exactly what he implied he would do in his speech on Tunisia. First, he’s terrorizing the population, killing as many Libyans as he can, not only because he wants to show he is willing to do this but also because he wants to dare Libyans to willingly pay the price for their revolt. Second, Gaddafi is deflecting the genuine grievances at the origin of the popular uprising and is instead pointing fingers to Tunisians, Egyptians and Palestinians as the architects of the widespread demonstrations.

At the very same time that Libyans were being burned alive by fighter jet rockets and bombs on 21 February, national Libyan TV, Aljamahiriya, was running staged confessions by Tunisians who were involved in circulating leaflets inciting Libyans to rise up against their government or distributing so-called “demonstration pills,” that is, pills that would propel those who take them to engage in demonstrations and to destroy government buildings, etc. Clearly, Gaddafi’s men/mercenaries are preying on foreigners in Libya: they capture them, beat them up and bring them in front of a camera and force them to say what they want them to say. In addition to terrorizing Libyans from the skies, Gaddafi is defusing the legitimate and homegrown forces that are leading Libya’s glorious revolution.

When Gaddafi first commented on the Tunisian revolution, he pointed out the yawning gap between the high price paid for it (the hundreds of men and women killed) and the meager gains brought through it (changing one president for another and appointing one government in place of another). In other words, he questioned whether it was worth it for Tunisians to bring tragedy and grief upon themselves only to reap nothing but a farcical reshuffling of the same old system. Gaddafi’s strategy in Libya is to blur completely the dividing lines between the tragic and the farcical. This holds true even for the latest TV appearances of Gaddafi and son, which add nothing but farcical insult to tragic injury.

To use heavy artillery and fighter jets (Mirage and Rafael) to attack unarmed civilians might seem absurd when you ponder it for a while, yet it is tragic when you see it actually happening. By playing on the constant slide of the tragic under the farcical, Gaddafi does not only want to hold on to his 42-year long omnipotence, but to force Libyans along with the international community to submit to it. To be able to understand and support our Libyan brothers and sisters today, let’s take the farcical out of Gaddafi. Libya’s tragedy can no longer continue to be Gaddafi’s farce.

Nouri Gana is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles. His book, Signifying Loss: Toward a Poetics of Narrative Mourning, was just published by Bucknell University Press, 2011.

Robert Fisk: The destiny of this pageant lies in the Kingdom of Oil: The Independent

Saturday, 26 February 2011

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia offered his citizens $36bn to keep their mouths shut

The Middle East earthquake of the past five weeks has been the most tumultuous, shattering, mind-numbing experience in the history of the region since the fall of the Ottoman empire. For once, “shock and awe” was the right description.

The docile, supine, unregenerative, cringing Arabs of Orientalism have transformed themselves into fighters for the freedom, liberty and dignity which we Westerners have always assumed it was our unique role to play in the world. One after another, our satraps are falling, and the people we paid them to control are making their own history – our right to meddle in their affairs (which we will, of course, continue to exercise) has been diminished for ever.

The tectonic plates continue to shift, with tragic, brave – even blackly humorous – results. Countless are the Arab potentates who always claimed they wanted democracy in the Middle East. King Bashar of Syria is to improve public servants’ pay. King Bouteflika of Algeria has suddenly abandoned the country’s state of emergency. King Hamad of Bahrain has opened the doors of his prisons. King Bashir of Sudan will not stand for president again. King Abdullah of Jordan is studying the idea of a constitutional monarchy. And al-Qa’ida are, well, rather silent.

Who would have believed that the old man in the cave would suddenly have to step outside, dazzled, blinded by the sunlight of freedom rather than the Manichean darkness to which his eyes had become accustomed. Martyrs there were aplenty across the Muslim world – but not an Islamist banner to be seen. The young men and women bringing an end to their torment of dictators were mostly Muslims, but the human spirit was greater than the desire for death. They are Believers, yes – but they got there first, toppling Mubarak while Bin Laden’s henchmen still called for his overthrow on outdated videotapes.

But now a warning. It’s not over. We are experiencing today that warm, slightly clammy feeling before the thunder and lightning break out. Gaddafi’s final horror movie has yet to end, albeit with that terrible mix of farce and blood to which we are accustomed in the Middle East. And his impending doom is, needless to say, throwing into ever-sharper perspective the vile fawning of our own potentates. Berlusconi – who in many respects is already a ghastly mockery of Gaddafi himself – and Sarkozy, and Lord Blair of Isfahan are turning out to look even shabbier than we believed. Those faith-based eyes blessed Gaddafi the murderer. I did write at the time that Blair and Straw had forgotten the “whoops” factor, the reality that this weird light bulb was absolutely bonkers and would undoubtedly perform some other terrible act to shame our masters. And sure enough, every journalist is now going to have to add “Mr Blair’s office did not return our call” to his laptop keyboard.

Everyone is now telling Egypt to follow the “Turkish model” – this seems to involve a pleasant cocktail of democracy and carefully controlled Islam. But if this is true, Egypt’s army will keep an unwanted, undemocratic eye on its people for decades to come. As lawyer Ali Ezzatyar has pointed out, “Egypt’s military leaders have spoken of threats to the “Egyptian way of life”… in a not so subtle reference to threats from the Muslim Brotherhood. This can be seen as a page taken from the Turkish playbook.” The Turkish army turned up as kingmakers four times in modern Turkish history. And who but the Egyptian army, makers of Nasser, constructors of Sadat, got rid of the ex-army general Mubarak when the game was up?

And democracy – the real, unfettered, flawed but brilliant version which we in the West have so far lovingly (and rightly) cultivated for ourselves – is not going, in the Arab world, to rest happy with Israel’s pernicious treatment of Palestinians and its land theft in the West Bank. Now no longer the “only democracy in the Middle East”, Israel argued desperately – in company with Saudi Arabia, for heaven’s sake – that it was necessary to maintain Mubarak’s tyranny. It pressed the Muslim Brotherhood button in Washington and built up the usual Israeli lobby fear quotient to push Obama and La Clinton off the rails yet again. Faced with pro-democracy protesters in the lands of oppression, they duly went on backing the oppressors until it was too late. I love “orderly transition”. The “order” bit says it all. Only Israeli journalist Gideon Levy got it right. “We should be saying ‘Mabrouk Misr!’,” he said. Congratulations, Egypt!

Yet in Bahrain, I had a depressing experience. King Hamad and Crown Prince Salman have been bowing to their 70 per cent (80 per cent?) Shia population, opening prison doors, promising constitutional reforms. So I asked a government official in Manama if this was really possible. Why not have an elected prime minister instead of a member of the Khalifa royal family? He clucked his tongue. “Impossible,” he said. “The GCC would never permit this.” For GCC – the Gulf Co-operation Council – read Saudi Arabia. And here, I am afraid, our tale grows darker.

We pay too little attention to this autocratic band of robber princes; we think they are archaic, illiterate in modern politics, wealthy (yes, “beyond the dreams of Croesus”, etc), and we laughed when King Abdullah offered to make up any fall in bailouts from Washington to the Mubarak regime, and we laugh now when the old king promises $36bn to his citizens to keep their mouths shut. But this is no laughing matter. The Arab revolt which finally threw the Ottomans out of the Arab world started in the deserts of Arabia, its tribesmen trusting Lawrence and McMahon and the rest of our gang. And from Arabia came Wahabism, the deep and inebriating potion – white foam on the top of the black stuff – whose ghastly simplicity appealed to every would-be Islamist and suicide bomber in the Sunni Muslim world. The Saudis fostered Osama bin Laden and al-Qa’ida and the Taliban. Let us not even mention that they provided most of the 9/11 bombers. And the Saudis will now believe they are the only Muslims still in arms against the brightening world. I have an unhappy suspicion that the destiny of this pageant of Middle East history unfolding before us will be decided in the kingdom of oil, holy places and corruption. Watch out.

But a lighter note. I’ve been hunting for the most memorable quotations from the Arab revolution. We’ve had “Come back, Mr President, we were only kidding” from an anti-Mubarak demonstrator. And we’ve had Saif el-Islam el-Gaddafi’s Goebbels-style speech: “Forget oil, forget gas – there will be civil war.” My very own favourite, selfish and personal quotation came when my old friend Tom Friedman of The New York Times joined me for breakfast in Cairo with his usual disarming smile. “Fisky,” he said, “this Egyptian came up to me in Tahrir Square yesterday, and asked me if I was Robert Fisk!” Now that’s what I call a revolution.

‘Libya’s ex-justice minister forms interim government in Benghazi’: Haaretz

Former Libyan minister says Gadhafi ‘alone’ bore responsibility for crimes that occurred, Qurnya newspaper reports.

Libya’s ex-justice minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Ajleil has led the formation of an interim government based in the eastern city of Benghazi, the online edition of the Libya’s Quryna newspaper reported on Saturday.

Quryna quoted him as saying that Muammar Gadhafi “alone” bore responsibility “for the crimes that have occurred” in Libya and that his tribe, Gaddadfa, were forgiven.

“Abud Ajleil insisted on the unity of the homeland’s territory, and that Libya is free and its capital is Tripoli,” Quryna quoted him as saying in a telephone conversation.

Much of eastern Libya, including Benghazi, is in opposition forces’ hands. Benghazi has been the center of the Libyan uprising, inspired by Egypt and Tunisia and frustrated by Gadhafi’s more than 40 years of authoritarian rule.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Gadhafi’s strongest European ally, said Saturday that the Libyan leader does not seem to be in control of his country anymore, and  German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Saturday that he believes Gadhafi’s rule is over in Libya.

The Gadhafi government, who has been carrying out a violent crackdown on anti-Gadhafi protests, was arming civilian supporters on Saturday to set up checkpoints and roving patrols around the Libyan capital to control movement and quash dissent, residents said.

Moreover on Saturday, the UN Security Council met for the second time in two days to discuss ways to punish the Gadhafi government for the deadly crackdown against anti-government demonstrators in Libya.

During the meeting, UN Security Council envoys clashed over a proposal to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

It was unclear whether the call for an immediate ICC referral would be cut to get unanimous agreement on the other draft’s other punitive measures.

New Leftist party being assembled in Egypt: Ahram online

A meeting held on 26 February at the Syndicate of Commercial Professions is expected to result in the announcement of a new Leftist party

Ibrahim El-Eissawy, the party’s preparatory committee coordinator, said ” the new Leftist party is a product of the January 25 revolution and that all of the party’s members have taken part in it one way or another”. He added that “the preparatory phase will need more understanding between the members, especially considering they belong to different schools of thought and organisations”.

If approved, the party would be the first official leftist party since Tagammu – widely accused of securing agreements with ex-president Hosni Mubarak’s government – although several leftist organisations have been unofficially operating in Egypt. Currently, the most recognised leftist organisations include: the Egyptian Communist Party, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Socialist Renewal Currant.

The new Left party is supposed to act as a platform for all interested leftist activists and operating leftist organisations.

The January 25 uprising encouraged many to build new parties in the hope that the political arena will open up and encourage increased political participation.

Prior to 25 January 2011, most parties were banned and often forced to operate unofficially as a result. On 19 February 2011, after Mubarak’s ouster, the Supreme Administrative Court approved the establishment of the Wasat Party (Centre Party), which has been trying to secure an official licence for 15 years.

In the past, the parties’ committee, part of the Shura Council and headed by the General Secretary of the ruling National Democratic Party, was responsible for approving the formation of any proposed political party. However, since the January 25 uprising, new laws guiding political practice in Egypt are expected to be introduced.

Rebels lay siege to Gaddafi stronghold: The Independent

Desperate dictator tells faithful: ‘We can crush any enemy’

By Donald Macintyre, Terri Judd and Catrina Stewart in Benghazi
Saturday, 26 February 2011

View the frightening video smuggled out of Tripoli and handed to The Independent below

The beleaguered Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi defiantly appealed to his hardcore supporters to “defend the nation” against an uprising which was last night closing in on Tripoli after thousands of protesters braved gunfire to try to march through the capital.

Standing on the ramparts of a fort overlooking the city’s Green Square, Colonel Gaddafi pumped his fist and told 1,000 pro-regime demonstrators: “We can crush any enemy. We can crush it with the people’s will. The people are armed and when necessary, we will open arsenals to arm all the Libyan people and all Libyan tribes.”

Urging the crowd to “retaliate against them, retaliate against them,” the 68-year-old President was shown on state television calling on them to “prepare to defend the nation and defend the oil”.
In signs that Tripoli was coming under pressure from the protests that had spread from the east of the country, anti-regime protesters were emboldened to attempt to march to the city’s central Green Square, amid unconfirmed reports that a vital airbase on the outskirts of the capital had fallen into opposition hands. Armed militia backing the embattled Libyan President fired on the marchers from roofs as they emerged from Friday prayers chanting anti-Gaddafi slogans, killing at least four people in several parts of the city, according to some witnesses. In a video given to The Independent, gunmen are seen apparently shooting at protesters.

Some residents claimed there were now neighbourhoods of the capital under opposition control. Others, including the area where the dictator is thought to have a fortified bunker, remained under regime control. Witnesses claimed that armed Gaddafi supporters were also driving at speed through Tripoli’s streets.

“The government is panicking and retreating more and more into the centre of Tripoli. There is fear on both sides,” one man who fled the city told The Independent. “The government militias are fearful and so are the demonstrators. They will just continue to shoot all the demonstrators and a lot more people will die.”

Last night, the President’s son, Saif Gaddafi, seemed to take a more conciliatory tone, suggesting the army may pull back. He told foreign journalists in Tripoli: “We are dealing with terrorists. The army decided not to attack the terrorists, and to give a chance to negotiation. Hopefully we will do it peacefully and will do so by tomorrow.”

Earlier, the Mitiga military airbase in the north-east of Tripoli, used earlier for launching helicopter gunship attacks on civilian protesters, was rumoured to have passed to the control of anti-government forces. Witnesses later reported heavy police and troop deployments on the road between Mitiga and the capital’s centre.

None of the events in Tripoli could be independently verified. But there were increasing signs that the opposition was in control of towns in north-western Libya, near Tripoli, after the failure of heavy attacks by pro-Gaddafi forces on Thursday to dislodge them. The attacks reportedly killed around 30 people. One Libyan who had returned to the capital from Zawiya said the town was “fully controlled by the opposition. There are no troops there”.

In the opposition-controlled east of the country, there was jubilation with anti-regime protesters planning for life after Gaddafi following the defection forces.

The mounting series of defections of senior Libyan officials also continued yesterday. The country’s delegation to the UN in Geneva announced, to applause, during an open session of the UN Human Rights Council, that it was siding with the opposition. The defection followed those already made by the justice and interior ministers in Libya itself, along with one of Colonel Gaddafi’s cousins and closest aides, Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, who has sought asylum in Egypt.

Last night, the US closed its embassy in Tripoli and announced that it was imposing sanctions on Libya in coordination with its European allies. The White House had yet to specify what the measures would be, but they could include a “no-fly” zone, the freezing of assets and a travel ban on members of Colonel Gaddafi’s government.

Brutality caught on film

*A frightening video smuggled out of Tripoli and handed to The Independent (above) appears to show gunmen firing on demonstrators as they emerge from afternoon prayers in the Ben Ashour district of the Libyan capital. Gunfire is heard as people start running for their lives. But the cameraman also points out that some of the younger men appear to be goading the sniper to show himself to the crowd.

What next for Libya?

*Peaceful resolution

Colonel Gaddafi made desperate attempts to claw back support yesterday with promises of pay rises and cash hand-outs, but general consensus says he has pushed Libyans too far for this option to work.

*Military coup

The Libyan army could overthrow Colonel Gaddafi and his sons, if it was united. Most top-level units remain operational, but defections have caused key splits, which render a coup unlikely.

*Tribal war

Long-standing enmities, common between armed tribes, pose the gravest risk for internal conflicts. However, groups in areas of eastern Libya, which has declared itself “free” of Colonel Gaddafi’s rule, have already proven that co-operation is possible.

*Foreign intervention

Intervention is a contentious issue. However, if the international community were to issue arrest warrants for high-profile figures, there is a possibility subordinates would defect in fear.

*Chemical weapons attacks

Libya’s former justice minister has warned that Colonel Gaddafi has biological and chemical weapons, and would not hesitate to use them against protesters.


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