Libya: Observations & Questions

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Libya: Observations & Questions

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Sep 19, 2011 (110919)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

As was the case for Tunisia and Egypt, there has been no shortage of day-to-day news coverage (often contradictory) and impassioned international policy debate on the Libyan component of the Arab Awakening. But there has been much less solid analysis, as the popular overthrow of Libya's dictator was complicated not only by the turn to armed conflict but also by the decisive role played by NATO air power and significant external assistance to the rebels, primarily from France, Britain, and Qatar.

As the open military conflict appears to be in its final stages, there is also no shortage of advice to the new Libyan regime and speculation about its chances of success. But there are still few systematic analyses of what happened which carefully consider the internal dynamics of Libya and the Arab world as well as the significance of NATO intervention.

This series of AfricaFocus Bulletins on the significance of recent events in Libya provides a selection of material that I have found most useful, in three parts:

(1) a long commentary by historian and blogger PT Zeleza (distributed by e-mail and on the web at

(2) shorter commentaries by Mahmood Mamdani and Juan Cole (on the web at


(3) a compilation of links and brief excerpts of additional articles, with short annotations/observations/questions by the AfricaFocus editor (this one, on the web at Suggestions from readers are welcome for links to key analytical articles that might be added to this page.

This last Bulletin is longer and includes links to far more sources than most AfricaFocus Bulletins, much too long to send out by e-mail. And it still doesn't come close to adequately representing the full complexities of the Libyan situation and the diverse viewpoints on different aspects. I've also included some brief "observations & questions" of my own. I've labeled them "observations & questions" rather than "reflections" because they are fragmentary and incomplete, rather than a systematic essay, and I don't claim any special knowledge of Libya or the rest of North Africa apart from following a wide range of news and commentaries. But hopefully AfricaFocus readers may find them useful as food for thought.

So feel free to browse and explore the links you find most interesting. And if there is an article not included that you think provides particularly keen insights, send me the link so that I can take a look and, possibly, add it to the list on this already fairly crowded page.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Libya, including a fundamental historical analysis by Fred Halliday and several Bulletins on issues related to migrants from subSaharan Africa, see

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Observations and Questions on Events in Libya

To go directly to individual topics:

Opinion from Arab and Other Commentators on Middle-East-Focused Blogs and Related Sites

Accounts by Revolt Planners

Counting the Casualties

Migrants in Libya, Xenophobia, and Migration Policy

* Among the factors decisive in this year's events in Libya, which include the external factors of both the wider Arab Awakening and the NATO intervention, the most important and probably the most difficult to analyze and predict are those internal to Libya.

The primary initiative for resistance to the Qaddafi regime in Libya, as in parallel movements in other Arab countries, came from popular opposition to an entrenched and discredited system of privilege and repression. That opposition, now in power, was and is diverse, often disorganized, and reflective of multiple cleavages in Libyan society, leaving its future uncertain. Observers may overestimate the weaknesses and underestimate the determination of Libyans to build a new democratic order, as most underestimated their capacity to organize the uprising in Tripoli. But there is no denying that the uncertainties loom large.

These uncertainties include the widely discussed issues of formation of a government, resumption of oil production, restraining retaliatory violence (including that directed at sub-Saharan African migrants) and military uncertainties, such as the still undecided battles for the remaining pro-Qaddafi-controlled towns and the possibility of a guerrilla insurgency by Qaddafi forces.

But they also include structural issues on which there will be strong pressures to reproduce rather than change the patterns of the Qaddafi years. Whatever the nationality of foreign oil companies involved (and that will be diverse, as under Qaddafi), there will still be the question of corruption in the oil industry and consequently in the state itself, which depends on that revenue. On the issue of migration, the issue is not only the currently publicized issue of violence against sub-Saharan migrants, but also the collaboration with Europe in "managing" that migration established in previous agreements (see below).

* Among external factors, it is the NATO intervention which has attracted most attention and debate, and which was undoubtedly decisive in changing the military balance between the Qaddafi regime and its opponents. At least as important, however, have been the multiple influences from changes elsewhere in the Arab world. The Libyan revolt would not have happened without the precedents of Tunisia and Libya, and without the low-profile cooperation with the rebels from both those countries. Also indispensable were the interlinked effects of social media and of Al Jazeera. These not only connected and continue to connect opinion formation throughout the Arab world, but had an indirect impact on Western opinion as well. It would be a serious mistake to underestimate this factor or to see Qatar's role, whether in its sponsorship of Al Jazeera or its financial and military support for the Libyan rebels, as a surrogate for Western interests.

It was also important that even almost all the states that criticized the NATO intervention were not unhappy to see Qaddafi go. He had long ago alienated any supporters in the Arab world. And foreign ministries elsewhere, including in China, Russia, and sub-Saharan Africa, had mixed experiences with and considerable doubts about the man who called himself "king of kings."

And it is useful to remember, by comparison, that Western policies, in the form of the decision not to support repression by supporters of Ben Ali or Mubarak, were also decisive in Tunisia and Egypt.

* There were not a few reasonable grounds for opposing the NATO decision to launch an air campaign to support the Libyan revolt. The legal bases for the action, whether in U.S. law or in interpretation of the UN mandate, were undoubtedly questionable, and highly dubious precedents for the future. Among the most convincing cases for ambivalence was the "slippery slope" argument that stalemate would lead to escalated Western involvement, including "boots on the ground" engaged in combat. That argument has been diminished, but not entirely eliminated, by the uprising in Tripoli and the retreat of pro-Qaddafi forces to a few remaining strongholds.

Having close to zero or zero credibility, in my opinion, are not only the critique from the right calling for more aggressive Western military action but also that coming from some commentators in Africa or the Western left who still see Qaddafi and his supporters as a progressive force.

In addition, any argument against the intervention, however valid for the general points raised, loses credibility if it does not also acknowledge that the intervention was called for by a popular movement having wide support within Libya, or make a credible case that this is not true. Seeing popular support for the revolt as an illusion created by the "mainstream media" (now apparently including Al Jazeera as well as Western meida) is just not credible. The fact that Qaddafi's opponents appealed for Western support does not make them surrogates of the West, nor does it mean that their political future is any more or less ambivalent than that of their neighbors in Tunisia or Egypt. This limitation is apparent in many of the articles opposing the intervention published in Pambazuka News (, including some by analysts whose opinions on other topics I generally respect.

What such arguments ignore is the point emphasized by PT Zeleza in his commentary ( "Our peoples' struggles and fundamental interests for well-being and freedom should be our only principled guide in supporting struggles for change." Whether the greatest threats to those interests may come from external powers (including but not limited to Western countries) or internal oppressors is not necessarily easy to discern in any particular case, nor will the people in any country be in full agreement. But it is surely a mistake simply to look at what the West is supporting, and automatically support the opposite.

* While supporters of the African Union's mediation efforts have blamed its failure on the NATO intervention, I have not seen any analysis which even tries to make a serious argument that those efforts were seen, even by African Union leaders themselves, as having any chance of persuading Qaddafi to share power rather than simply serving as a fig leaf while he reinforced his repressive regime. Nor, for that matter, have I seen any comprehensive analysis of why it was, as I think likely to have been the case, doomed to fail regardless of what NATO did or did not do.

* Whether one approves or disapproves of NATO actions in Libya, and with whatever degree of ambivalence, it would be foolish to generalize any "lessons" as either desirable or predictable replications of a "Libyan model." There is no plausible argument and certainly no consensus sufficient for a United Nations resolution, for emulating the Libyan precedent in other conflicts in the Arab world (such as Syria, Libya, or Bahrain), much less in any other African country. Despite the fact that other regimes might be identified as comparable to Qaddafi's in terms of their abuses and alienation from their own people, internal conditions, practical military realities, and regional opinion are all unlikely to be comparable to those in the Libyan case. Certainly such an extension would find significant opposition within the ranks of Western military as well as diplomatic circles.

Despite the potential for future abuse of the Responsibility to Protect(views will undoubtedly differ on whether this has already happened in Libya or not), it is likely that the greater danger for escalation in Western military intervention in Africa still lies in the "war on terror," with many U.S. counter-terrorism officials advocating more active intervention in Somalia, the Sahel, and potentially in other countries. But that's a subject for another discussion.

In the list below, the text after each article link consists of a brief quotation from the article itself. Comments by the AfricaFocus editor, if any, are in square brackets.

Opinion from Arab and Other Commentators on Middle-East-Focused Blogs and Related Sites

[Like Issandr El Amrani, most of these commentators are ambivalent about the NATO intervention, and recognize the uncertainty about Libya's political future under the forces whose unity lies primarily in opposition to Qaddafi rather than a unified organization or ideology. But they also see the victory of anti-Qaddafi forces as part of the wider Arab Awakening, with its visceral opposition to dictatorships whatever their ideological pretensions.]

Issandr El Amrani, "Libya after Qadhafi", Aug 22, 2011

Additional posts from, run by Issandr El Amrani are at

Following the entry of Libya's rebels into Tripoli last night was exhilarating. A civil war 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.


Libyans will decide the fate of their country once the dust settles. In the meantime, the wider debate about what role outsiders should have in the Libyan civil war continues. For those who opposed NATO intervention [for the record I was and remain very ambivalent], the fall of Qadhafi can still be celebrated, and I was aghast to still see some who condemned what was happening last night, either defending Qadhafi's record or muttering about oil interests. If the rebels had succeeded in bringing down Qadhafi without external intervention, would they still be saying the same thing?


Yet, [that the victory] might not have taken place were it not for NATO's air cover does not mean the critics were wrong. ...

"First Thoughts on the Fall of Qaddafi" The Moor Next Door, Aug 25, 2011

It seems reasonable to assume that the Libyans have the single greatest opportunity of all the Arabs who have risen up thus far to build a wholly new political order. Not only have the torn down an idiosyncratic and bizarre regime's leadership, they have also broken the majority of its coercive institutions -- its army, intelligence services, and so on -- and gained the recognition of the most relevant international actors in the Arab countries and the west. The Libyans have plenty money and will have a reliable source of more money (from oil and gas sales) once they get on to setting up a unity government and re-establishing order. They are fortunate for having so small a population, too, which should be an economic and political advantage. Qadhafi built a personalized state with few durable institution and so Libya lacks Egypt's labyrinthine bureaucracy and military infrastructure which have helped slow change; the Libyans will have the advantage and the obstacle of being able to fashion new state institutions with hindsight and perspective.

Larbi Sadiki, "Libya's New Harvest: The Seeds of Democracy" Al Jazeera, Sep 13, 2011

Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter.

Libyans triumphed through a war of liberation aided by outside parties, and some observers have rushed to make irrelevant comparisons to Iraq. However, unlike Iraq, Libya has been spared the problem of having to deal with foreign boots on its ground - luckily for them the war did not last long enough for that to happen.

NATO's mission must be re-defined or even ended - and this time the decision should be made with a wider debate that includes voices outside of the National Transitional Council (NTC).

Very often war introduces a whole new set of problems - and Libya is no exception. Local agency must be reasserted, giving way to an indigenous search for a smooth transition along four paths: democratic transition, transitional socio-economic reconstruction, transitional reconciliation, and transitional justice.

Marwan Bishara, "A liberated Libya remains haunted" Al Jazeera, Aug 29, 2011

Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera's senior political analyst.

In order for Libya to liberate itself from four decades of the Gaddafi rule, it must also free itself from his persona.

Gaddafi no longer presents a political or even a tribal weight in the country. He's more of a nuisance, a security challenge; a background noise that will go away sooner rather than later.

A liberated Libya 2011 is no occupied Iraq 2003. Contrary to certain sensationalist estimates, Gaddafi cannot seriously fight back long-term with a gold- or dollarsfinanced insurgency. The old man is finished, and neither he nor his family will be able to mount any serious challenge to reborn Libya.

Indeed, Gaddafi's fate is bound to take similar path to his predecessors among the Arab dictators, whether exile, death, or prison.

Libya's future, on the other hand, will be defined by more than bricks and ballots.

Psychologically and politically bruised, it will need a true reconciliation - including with its past - in order to build a better future.

Most of the civilians and fighters leading the revolution have either served under Gaddafi, served time in his prisons, or been forced into exile because of him. They are haunted by the image of the domineering and sadistic paternal figure who continuously molested his nation.

Omar Benhalim, "Libya Can't Start Afresh by Sticking with Corrupt Contracts"
Guardian, Sep 11, 2011

The crumbling of the Gaddafi regime has intensified discussion of the challenges that lie ahead for Libya. Democracy, pluralism, national reconciliation and religion are all critical issues that will need much work. In my own opinion, though, re-establishment of the rule of law is the most pressing of all issues. Corruption, left unchecked, constitutes a threat to the future security of Libya.

A few years into its existence, the Gaddafi regime began to morph into a criminal enterprise that siphoned off Libya's wealth either for personal enrichment or to buy friends for the regime both at home and abroad.

Naturally, the government controlled all revenues flowing into the Libyan treasury and maintained a vice-like grip on contracts. Over the years, the percentage "commission" on any given contract grew exponentially and, in many cases, was reported to exceed the actual value of the base contract.

Much of the corruption in Libya is institutionalised in long-term contracts signed by the Gaddafi regime with companies all over the world, most notably in Russia, China, Italy, Germany, the UK and the US. The National Transitional Council has been under tremendous pressure from these countries to publicly state that these contracts will be honoured -- which it has done, perhaps because of its dependence on the goodwill of the international community. It seems to have done so without placing any condition or reservation. To renew contracts without removing the embedded fraud, where it exists, is a huge mistake.

Marc Lynch, "Libya Inspires the Arabs"
Abu Aardvark, Aug 22, 2011

The scenes of the joyous reception for Libyan "Freedom Fighters" entering Tripoli with little resistance yesterday sent an electric shock through the Arab public. The Jordanian blogger Naseem Tarawnah beautifully captured this regional effect: "Staying up last night to watch the events unfold on the streets of Tripoli, I cannot help but feel the sense of confidence that swept across the region last night; radiating from TV, computer and mobile screens." My Twitter feed could barely keep up with the rush of excited declarations that Assad must be watching Tripoli on TV and seeing his own future.

The reactions yesterday once again show the potent and real demonstration effects which characterize today's highly unified Arab political space. I don't see how anybody watching al-Jazeera, following Arab social media networks, or talking to people in the region could fail to appreciate the interconnected nature of Arab struggles. It's the same sense of shared fate and urgency that those who follow the Arab public sphere could feel in February and March. I supported the NATO intervention in Libya in large part because of that powerful Arab popular demand and the likely impact of the outcome in Libya across the region.


A significant portion of American and Western commentators were quick to assume that Arabs would view the Libya intervention through the lens of Iraq. I assumed that too, at first. But the debate that I saw unfold in the actual Arab public sphere was entirely different and forced me to change my mind. While there were certainly Arab voices warning of imperialism and oil seizures and Israeli conspiracies, the overwhelming majority actively demanded Western intervention to protect the Libyan people and their revolution. The urgency of preventing the coming massacre mattered more to them, and despite all the legacies of Iraq they demanded that the United States and the international community take on that responsibility.


Nobody would claim that the intervention went smoothly or according to some master plan, but on the whole it has thus far avoided most of the worst case scenarios and now has the chance -- still only a chance -- for a positive outcome.

I hope that people do pause for at least a moment to acknowledge all of these points before they leap from "it's a quagmire" to "now comes the hard part." Nobody is under any illusions that post-Qaddafi Libya will have an easy path; I would say that the ratio of people warning against declaring "mission accomplished" to those actually doing so is extremely high if I could find a single one making the latter case. The dictator's fall does not bring a resolution to all of the problems. The NTC has major challenges ahead of it, and the international community has to do what it can to help Libya make the transition to a democratic and tolerant regime. That help, by the way, absolutely should not include any U.S. military presence -- no peacekeepers, transitional stability forces, or anything else.

Nicolas Pelham, "Libya, The Colonel's Yoke Lifted"
Middle East Research and Information Project, Sep. 7,2011

The sense of local ownership of the revolution is important: No one has stripped the electricity cables from pylons for their copper, as Iraqis did after the US invaded their country and toppled Saddam Hussein. Libyans, who before the uprising depended on an army of foreign labor, farm their own allotments, run their own shops, sweep the streets and volunteer as hospital nurses. Homeowners with private wells open their doors to those with none. On their own initiative, policemen in Fashloum, a working-class district in the center of town, met in the mosque on the first Friday after the colonel's flight and agreed to reestablish a local force. By midday the following day, a score of its hundred policemen had reported for duty.

Residents of housing estates who rarely spoke to each other under Qaddafi have created neighborhood councils, merging elders from the traditional conflict resolution mechanisms, the lijan al-sulh (reconciliation committees), with the underground leadership that planned the revolt, as well as respected men from the mosque. Within a week, their subcommittees were supplying better services than the city's five-star hotels. The mosque in Hadaba's Haddad quarter, a poor district of rural migrants, offered air conditioning and so much water it spilled into the streets. Ironically, in the colonel's absence, Tripolitanians created the very social system he had taught but never realized -- a jamahiriyya, a decentralized network of grassroots, non-partisan people's committees.

Yet now that the mission of ousting the colonel is accomplished, the composite forces that combined to unseat him are starting to judder. The official narrative of a synchronized three-pronged campaign, called Operation Mermaid, in which locals launched their own intifada while NATO bombed a path for rebel brigades sweeping down from the mountains no longer sounds as smooth in the retelling. Tensions are manifest in the competing accounts of how the capital shook off its shackles. Both rebel fighters and local mutineers agree that NATO took a back seat -- in the face of evidence of an upswing in NATO bombardments -- but that is about all.

Accounts by Revolt Planners

[Those who have followed the events of the last seven months on Al Jazeera or even in the Western press have more than enough detail of the fighting on different fronts. These articles are exceptional in giving a glimpse of the less visible aspects of strategic planning and clandestine operations, particularly those involved in preparation of the final rebel uprising and advance on Tripoli.]

Eileen Byrne, "Revolutionary Road - On the Nafusa Highway" The Moor Next Door, Sep 9, 2011

Waheed Burshan had driven along the same highway the previous day, heading for his family's hometown of Gharyan, south of Tripoli.

Crossing over from Tunisia at Dehiba, he had looked like an American soccer dad on a family outing, with supplies of mineral water in the back of the car. He hadn't been back to Gharyan -- liberated from pro-Qadhafi forces the previous week -- for 16 years. And he hadn't been lived in Libya for more than 30.

As a teenager he had been active in the students' union, and with military service looming, his father packed him off to Italy. There had been reprisals against the family -- travel restrictions and an uncle in prison -- and threats against himself, but his activism continued through studies in the US (telecom engineering), raising a family in Chicago, and project management in the Qatari state sector.

Since April, he explained, he had been "project managing" the rebel push from the Nafusa mountain area for the Transitional National Council (TNC), working between Benghazi and Tunis. Once the Americans and others had been won over to the plan, senior Libyan military figures who had defected to the TNC in Benghazi had to be persuaded to let the grassroots take the initiative, in what was a genuine popular uprising, he said.

"A lot of the youth here in the Nafusa are very, very smart. They had no military experience, they're not very rugged and some of them were not very strong," said Burshan. "But they learn quick and adapt. And their heart is in the right place. They really wanted to be do something about this regime."

Something between 5,000 and 10,000 were trained in the area, and "sometimes we inflated the numbers just to scare the heck out of [the pro-Qadhafi loyalists]". Women and children from the region's towns and villages were sent over the border into Tunisia to let the men focus on their fighting.

With NATO, in the air, "taking out" the Grad missile launchers and other armaments used by pro-Qadhafi forces, and with weapons flown in from Benghazi to an airstrip improvised on a widened section of the highway, the rebels gradually found themselves on the offensive. The cost was maybe some hundreds of deaths among their own ranks, more on the pro-Qadhafi side, said Burshan. By May, "the TNC in Benghazi was recognising the Nafusa as part of the new Libya".

He is not very polite about the old-school military in Benghazi who felt they had "ownership" of the revolution: they were out of touch with the thuwar (revoluntiony) way of doing things and were best given offices, a salary, and consigned to "an advisory role". Nor is he overly respectful of the few British ex-commandos who arrived as trainers. There were also a few Qatari instructors who arrived along with sophisticated weaponry sent by their government, he adds.

Nicolas Pelham, "Libya: How They Did It"
New York Review of Books, September 29, 2011

"Hatched in capitals across Europe and the Arab world, as well as in rebel operation rooms secretly organized in Libya itself, the military campaign took four months of planning. In May, exiled opposition leaders abandoned their jobs as lecturers in American colleges and established an intelligence-gathering bureau on Djerba, the Tunisian island across the border from Libya. Led by Abdel Majid Biuk, an urbane mathematics teacher from Tampa, Florida, the team interviewed four hundred Qaddafi security officers who defected following the loyalist defeat in Misrata; using Google Earth, they analyzed the colonel's defenses. "We went through the whole city building by building to ascertain its fortifications," Biuk told me on his arrival in Tripoli.

He passed the data on to a military operations room elsewhere on Djerba whose staff included representatives of NATO and Gulf allies as well as Libyan army veterans who had defected to the US and formed the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), an opposition group that led a series of aborted coups in the 1980s and 1990s, before branching into website campaigns. Under the eyes of Tunisian customs officials, they smuggled satellite phones, which are banned in Tunisia, in ambulances across the border into Libya, and set about supplying the rebels. Chevrons were daubed on a straight stretch of road at Rahebat in the Nafusa Mountains, turning it into a landing strip. Military supplies began arriving by the planeload, including 23-caliber tank-piercing bullets.

Tunisia provided a conduit for fighters as well as arms. With Qaddafi's continued control of the center of the country blocking access over land, Benghazi volunteers took a circuitous route, flying from Egypt to Tunis, before crossing the border at the Tunisian town of Dehiba into the Nafusa Mountains. By mid-August they had established five brigades each with its own mountain training base, and together formed a two-thousand-man battalion under Hisham Buhajiar's command as well as that of Abdel Karim Bel Haj, a Libyan veteran of the Afghan jihad. Trainers included NFSL veterans. Younger Libyans raised in the US, including the son of a Muslim Brotherhood activist from a US-based company, provided close protection. As they prepared the final stages of their assault, a host of Berber irregulars drawn from towns across the mountains jumped on board. Meanwhile, a collection of local traders, engineers, students, and the jobless from Misrata, battle-hardened by their seventy-day defense of their city, reassembled their brigades and prepared to join the attack on Tripoli from the east, by both road and sea.

Finally, the planners on Djerba divided Tripoli into thirty-seven sectors, and appointed local security coordinators to recruit, train, and arm local cells, using Muslim Brotherhood leaders to bless an armed uprising. "Our first slogan was 'no' to the militarization of the intifada," says Ali al-Salabi, a Muslim Brotherhood politician in exile who worked with the planners, and who was among the first to arrive in Tripoli after Qaddafi's inner sanctum fell. "But after protesters were gunned down, we realized armed revolution was the only way."

Samia Nakhoul, "The Secret Plan to take Tripoli" Reuters, Sep 6, 2011

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime was delivered by a caterer, on a memory stick.

Abdel Majid Mlegta ran the companies that supplied meals to Libyan government departments including the interior ministry. The job was "easy," he told Reuters last week. "I built good relations with officers. I wanted to serve my country."

But in the first few weeks of the uprising, he secretly began to work for the rebels. He recruited sympathizers at the nerve center of the Gaddafi government, pinpointed its weak links and its command-and-control strength in Tripoli, and passed that information onto the rebel leadership on a series of flash memory cards.

The first was handed to him, he says, by Gaddafi military intelligence and security officers. It contained information about seven key operations rooms in the capital, including internal security, the Gaddafi revolutionary committees, the popular guards -- as Gaddafi's voluntary armed militia was known -- and military intelligence.

The data included names of the commanders of those units, how many people worked in each center and how they worked, as well as crucial details like the number plates of their cars, and how each unit communicated with the central command led by intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi and Gaddafi's second son Saif al-Islam.


Planning began in April, two months into the uprising. Rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril and three other senior insurgents met in the Tunisian city of Djerba, according to both Mlegta and another senior official from the National Transitional Council (NTC), as the alternative rebel government calls itself.

The three were Mlegta, who by then had fled Tripoli and joined the rebels as the head of a brigade; Ahmed Mustafa al-Majbary, who was head of logistics and supplies; and Othman Abdel-Jalil, a scientist who became coordinator of the Tripoli plan.

Before he fled, Mlegta had spent just under two months working inside the regime, building up a network of sympathizers. At first, 14 of Gaddafi's officers were prepared to help. By the end there were 72, Mlegta says. "We used to meet at my house and sometimes at the houses of two other officers... We preserved the secrecy of our work and it was in coordination with the NTC executive committee."

Counting the Casualties

[The Qaddafi regime press spokesman Moussa Ibrahim was particularly notorious for unverified claims of large casualties from NATO air attacks. But all parties in the conflict were inclined to exaggerated and unverified claims for the number of casualties. In fact, no one really knows the numbers killed by whom in these seven months. It is likely that civilians killed by air attacks, although certainly more than a few, were in fact far less those in operations such as those in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The documented cases by human rights groups to date (see links below) make it clear that the largest number of systematic killings of civilians were by pro-Qaddafi forces. But they also show that those by rebels, including arbitrary executions of prisoners and suspects (including sub-Saharan African migrants targeted on the basis of stereotypes) were and still are significant.

The articles in links below include both verified reports and comments on the need for attention to verified reports on casualties, both for the families of the victims and for the future of Libya]

Rod Nordland, "Libya Counts Its Martyrs, But the Bodies don't Add Up"
New York Times, Sep 17, 2011

Officially, according to Libya's new leaders, their martyrs in the struggle against the government of Col. Muammar elQaddafi should number 30,000 to 50,000, not even counting their enemies who have fallen.

Yet in the country's morgues, the war dead registered from both sides in each area so far are mostly in the hundreds, not the thousands. And those who are still missing total as few as 1,000, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Those figures may be incomplete, but even if the missing number proves to be three times as high, and all are dead, the toll would be far short of official casualty totals.

Jonathan Steele, "After Libya, Let Us Learn to Count Every Casualty of War"
Guardian, Sep 15, 2011

States who claim to fight to protect civilians must surely agree to register the names and fates of all victims of armed violence.

It is good if civil society in a particular country starts to record and keep alive the fate of victims, but the main duty must rest with governments. They are accustomed to keeping lists of dead soldiers and erecting war memorials. Do civilian victims deserve less?

More than any other recent western military intervention, the Libyan campaign was explicitly based on the need to protect civilians. While the true purpose was regime change, the mission the UN security council approved cannot be passed over now that change has been achieved. Many of the civilians that Nato came to protect are dead, as are hundreds of combatants, some killed in detention.

An Amnesty report on Libya published this week shows that beside the atrocities committed by Gaddafi's forces, scores of pro-Gaddafi supporters were rounded up and killed after the fall of Tripoli. Dozens of sub-Saharan Africans were wrongly accused by rebel forces of being mercenaries and then detained, tortured or murdered.

Amnesty International, "The Battle for Libya: Killings, Disappearances and Torture"
Sep 12, 2011

The 107-page report The Battle for Libya: Killings, Disappearances and Torture reveals that while al-Gaddafi forces committed widespread crimes under international law during the conflict, forces loyal to the NTC have also committed abuses that in some cases amounted to war crimes.

"The new authorities must make a complete break with the abuses of the past four decades and set new standards by putting human rights at the centre of their agenda" said Claudio Cordone, Senior Director at Amnesty International.

"The onus now is on the NTC to do things differently, end abuses and initiate the human rights reforms that are urgently needed."

"A top priority must be to assess the state of the justice sector and start its reform, to ensure due process and deliver access to justice and reparation for victims."

Amnesty International found evidence that during the conflict al-Gaddafi forces committed war crimes and abuses which may amount to crimes against humanity, including indiscriminate attacks, mass killing of prisoners, torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests. In most cases it was civilians who bore the brunt of these violations.

But the organization also documented a brutal "settling of scores" by some anti-Gaddafi forces when al-Gaddafi forces were ejected from eastern Libya, including lynchings of alGaddafi soldiers after capture.

Human Rights Watch, "Mass Grave Yields 34 Bodies" Sep 14, 2011

Thirty-four bodies exhumed from a mass grave near the town of al-Qawalish in western Libya seem to be those of men detained by pro-Gaddafi forces in early June 2011, Human Rights Watch said today.

The evidence strongly suggests the detainees were executed at that time, before the pro-Gaddafi forces fled from the area, in the Nafusa mountains. The bodies of another three who seem to have been executed by the same perpetrators have also been discovered nearby. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch the victims hadbeen detained from or near their homes or at a major checkpoint in the area, and included at least nine men aged over 60, including an 89year -old man. The majority were from the nearby town of alQal' a.

"The mass grave at al-Qawalish contains further evidence strongly suggesting that Gaddafi loyalists carried out mass executions of detainees as they struggled to suppress the uprising," said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch.

"New Report on War Crimes in Libya Details Use of Civilians as Human Shields and Other Violations"
Physicians for Human Rights, August 30, 2011

The report, Witness to War Crimes, sheds light on Qaddafi's brutal two-month siege of Misrata, whose residents reportedly suffered some of the most egregious abuses of the civil war. Witness to War Crimes includes reports of civilians being used as human shields to guard military munitions from NATO attacks and documentary evidence of torture and the disappearances of elderly civilians.

"The evidence of war crimes that we documented is not only for the historical record, but it is essential for securing justice and accountability for all Libyans. For its future government to succeed, Libya must confront the legacy of severe human rights violations committed by Qaddafi's tyrannical regime and the reports of human rights violations committed by rebel forces and NATO."

Migrants in Libya, Xenophobia, and Migration Policy

[This is a topic that AfricaFocus has covered in previous Bulletins, in 2006 and 2010 as well as this year (see, as well as on the AfricaFocus Facebook page (

Although coverage of this issues has been sporadic in the media, this is also one of the key issues on which the new Libyan rulers will be judged not only by African but also by world opinion. Nevertheless, systematic information rather than isolated reports is still lacking. No one in fact knows how many migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were in the Qaddafi security forces, how many of them were naturalized Libyans, how many forcibly recruited this year, and how many may actually have been trained mercenaries similar to the Serbians and Croatians whose presence has also been documented. What is certain is that the vast majority of sub-Saharan Africans in Libya were simply migrant workers, and that xenophobia against them was already a structural feature of Libyan society and government under the Qaddafi regime.]

Human Rights Watch, "Stop Arbitrary Arrests of Black Africans"
Sep 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. Both the NTC and those who are supporting it need to prioritize setting up a justice system capable of providing such review of detainees as quickly as possible.

The NTC should also implement its stated commitment to human rights by ensuring the security of tens of thousands of migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa, who face harassment and violence from both armed rebel fighters and Libyan citizens who accuse them of having fought as mercenaries for Gaddafi, Human Rights Watch said.

Martin Chulov and David Smith, "Gaddafi's Army of Mercenaries Face Backlast"
Guardian, Sep 2, 2011

Many black Africans have been arrested and accused of fighting for dictator, but claim they were press-ganged.

Hundreds of thousands of Africans fled Libya to their home countries, mainly Chad, Mali, Niger, Sudan and Somalia in the early days of the revolution in late-February and March.
Yet there is evidence that as they left, small numbers of men from the same countries were travelling in the other direction. Late last week at Abu Selim hospital, Dr Sami, a trauma surgeon, walked the Guardian around the grounds. ...
Sami took us to a hut near the hospital entrance, where cleaners had kept a memento -- a wallet-sized card issued to a man from Chad. On one side it said in Arabic and English: "Carry this with you at all times and you will be safe." On the other side it said: "I am here to protect the king of kings."

Sami said: "This is what was given to the mercenaries. There were dozens like this. We had many, many of them in this hospital in the past few days. Most couldn't speak Arabic, or English. They would just point at their injuries. They didn't want to be admitted even if they were in agonising pain. Most of the bodies we had here were black Africans. And most of them were not claimed by anyone."


[These accounts have] been supported by interviews with many other officials over the past week who suggest an unknown number of non-military men took up arms to support Gaddafi in the dying days of his regime. Some were compelled to do so. Others apparently volunteered. In a police station in Tripoli, where 34 alleged soldiers of fortune are being held, Abdalla Beid, 31, from Niger, said he had been living in Libya for seven years and working as a cleaner. He claimed he was recently deceived into joining Gaddafi's army with the promise of a job as a security guard for 400 dinars a month.

"A Libyan man came to Sabha and said there is a job in Tripoli providing security for a house but he needs five people," he said. "He took us to Tripoli and put us in a house. Then he said, 'This job is not a security job. Now we are fighting for Libya. We need people to fight the rats.'

"He tried to give us guns. He tried to force us to do the job. He said, 'I brought you here to do this job and you have to do it, whether you like the job or not.' I tried to refuse. He said, 'If you refuse, I will kill you.' One man, who was from Chad, agreed to fight but the rest of us refused. He locked us in a room for six days. Then he drove us outside and, on the same day, I was caught."

Mohammed Abbas, "African Workers Live in Fear after Qaddafi Overthrow"
Reuters, Aug 31, 2011

Tens of thousands of foreign workers have fled Libya since the armed revolt against Gaddafi's 42-year-rule began in February, with Africans afraid they have become targets for fighters who accuse them of being mercenaries for Gaddafi. This antipathy appears to have spread to all Africans, leaving them vulnerable to attacks, robbery and other abuse by the gun-toting, mostly young, fighters who ousted Gaddafi.

Identity cards of nationals from Chad, Niger, Mali, Sudan and other African states have been found on the bodies of gunmen who anti-Gaddafi fighters say were paid to confront them.

Reporters saw the bodies of 22 men of apparent African origin at a Tripoli beach Saturday, people who locals said were mercenaries killed by anti-Gaddafi fighters.

Polly Pallister-Wilkins, "Criticism of EU-Libya Migration Policy is Too Little, Too Late"
Open Democracy, Aug 29, 2011

An EU-Libya framework agreement signed in 2010 is only the tip of the iceberg of shameful EU extraterritorialised migration-management, argues Polly Pallister-Wilkins

The agreement reached between the EU and Libya in October 2010 is nothing new within the history of EU-North African collaboration over issues of migration. The use of Libya is part of the extraterritoriality of EU migration-management that has been established over the last decade. Libyan detention centres are used for the incarceration, processing and removal of third country nationals, while its security forces are used for patrolling the Mediterranean for migrant boats.

All of these policies have been undertaken with the full knowledge of the European Commission and funded through financial assistance packages from the EU and individual member states. Thus, the Commissioner should answer questions on the accountability and transparency of the Commission's foreign relations, as the EU is predicated on the ideas and practice of good governance. We as citizens have a right to know how, with whom and for what the EU is spending our money. And yet for all of this, why are these concerns being raised now?

This concern over transparency and accountability in the policies of migration-management in Libya seems to be a reaction to the presence of Libya in the media and the final collapse of the Gaddafi regime. If we really cared these questions should have been asked years ago when the EU first began bilateral relations in 2004, after Gaddafi's miraculous reinvention as a partner for peace. As it stands the EU has been spending money in Libya since 2004 with no transparency or accountability.

This money, as seen above, has been used principally for policies and practices that fall under the umbrella of security, including the prevention of terrorism, organised crime and migration-management. Meaning Libya has been effectively drafted in as the EU's policeman to carry out its security work in the southern Mediterranean in return for financial reward. A situation that has been exploited by Libya and the Gaddafi regime, time and time again, with Gaddafi playing the EU and individual member states such as Italy off against each other for increased financial gain. In 2008 Libya and Italy signed a "Friendship Pact" ostensibly built around the idea that Libya would become Italy's bouncer in the southern-Mediterranean, keeping out migrants and 'dealing' with organised crime. All in exchange for $5 billion (to be spent over 25 years) and an apology from Silvio Berlusconi for Italy's colonial past. How Libya deals with organised crime, terrorism and migration-management -- something that 'greatly troubled' Commissioner Malmstrom -- is best kept in Libya and out of sight of European liberals, human rights groups and NGOs. Thus, transparency and accountability is really not what the EU wants because its fancy liberal rhetoric concerning human rights, democracy and good governance would be shown up for the shell that it is. A shell containing cold, hard strategic interests.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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