Libya: Days of Rage

by GARY H. JOHNSON, JR. March 2, 2011
 
Less than a week after the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, a revolutionary wave of youth-led peaceful protests, aimed at unseating the 42-year totalitarian rule of Muammar Gaddafi, was met with live ammunition in Libya. The February 17th “day of rage” was a direct response to the February 15th arrest of Fathi Terbil, a human rights attorney representing the families of 1,200 detainees killed in a 1996 massacre at the infamous Abu Salim prison in Tripoli. Within three days, peaceful protests escalated into armed rebellion. By February 20th, where this chronicle picks up, the Gaddafi regime had lost its hold on the eastern city of Benghazi.
 
 
February 20, 2011
 
By Sunday the 20th, the Gaddafi regime had established a communications blackout throughout Libya to slow the mobilization of anti-government demonstrators through social media networks. Al Jazeera was blocked. Hospital staffers in the second largest city in Libya, Benghazi, reported the deaths of at least 200 in the city, while independent reports indicated that an unspecified number of Libyan security personnel in the city had defected from the Gaddafi regime and joined the protestors. The Libyan permanent representative to the Arab League, Ambassador Abdel Moneim el-Huny, resigned his post to express solidarity with the protestors. By Sunday, Human Rights Watch had placed the three day death toll in Libya at 233. Also, in a dramatic turn on Sunday, a representative of the highly influential Warfallah tribeannounced it was throwing in its lot with the anti-government protestors.
 
February 21, 2011
 
On Monday the 21st, as protests escalated and hit the streets of Libya’s capital, Tripoli, the son of Muammar Gaddafi, Saif-al Islam Gaddafi, warned of civil war in which “rivers of blood” would flow if the protestors did not stand down, offering conciliatory terms for changing the Libyan constitution through dialog. Libya’s ambassador to India, Ali al-Essawi, resigned in protest as the Arab League’s Secretary General, Amr Moussa, called for an end to violence, giving a nod to the legitimacy of the protestor’s cause. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined British and French counterparts in denouncing the violence taking place throughout Libya. Also, an international coalition of human rights organizations called for Libya’s removal from the UN Human Rights Committee; and two Libyan pilots defected to the island of Malta after being given orders to fire on the protestors. By Monday, buildings at the gates of a Benghazi security compound were on fire; while in Tripoli’s Green Square, the parliament building and two state media outlets were set ablaze by opposition forces. Several key officials, including the Minister of Justice stepped down from their posts, while at the UN, Libya’s deputy ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, broke with Gaddafi, accusing his regime of committing “genocide against the Libyan people.” 
 
Abdul Fattah Younis al Abidi, the Interior Minister, resigned his post following reports of Benghazi mass killings; the Gaddafi regime reported falsely on Monday that the minister was kidnapped by protestors. Eyewitnesses reported African mercenaries off-loading from cargo planes near Tripoli and immediately attacking unarmed protestors; reports also indicated helicopter gunships and warplanes were firing on protestors. In reaction, oil prices shot up to over $100 per barrel and gold jumped to $1400 an ounce.
 
February 22, 2011
 
By Tuesday the 22nd, Libya’s ambassador to the United States, Ali Aujali, called for Gaddafi to step down. The Libyan ambassadors to Indonesia and China resigned in protest, and the Libyan embassies in Malaysia and Australia claimed to no longer represent Gaddafi’s regime. U.S. Senator John Kerry and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called for Libya’s removal from the UN Human Rights Council. Lehtinen called for an asset freeze and travel ban for Libya’s leading regime, and Kerry called on international partners to place Libyan military commanders on notice that they could be brought up on international war crimes charges. 
 
Hillary Clinton refined her message on Tuesday, saying “We will take appropriate steps in line with our policies, our values and our laws, but we are going to have to work in concert with the international community." The 15 person U.N. Security Council issued a statement, calling for an end to violence in Libya, underlining the need for the Libyan government to meet the basic rights of its people. The U.N. Security Council met with Libya’s U.N. Ambassador Abd-al Rahman Shalgham and UN Political Chief Lynn Pascoe for a closed door briefing, Tuesday. Calling the protestors “gangs” and “terrorists”, Muammar Gaddafi made a Libyan state television in an address threatening with the death penalty all those who take up arms or join in espionage against the Gaddafi regime.
 
 
 
February 23, 2011
 
On Wednesday the 23rd, the Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini confirmed that Cyrenaica, the eastern half of Libya, was no longer in Gaddafi’s control, and expressed concern over credible reports that the death toll had reached 1,000 in Libya’s uprising. Mass evacuations of foreign nationals caught headlines – 25,000 Turks, 33,000 Chinese, 60,000 Bangladeshis, 18,000 Indians, 26,000 Philippines citizens, as well as thousands of European, American and African nationals sought refuge from the violence. Thousands poured out through the Egyptian and Tunisian borders, and Egyptian planes were flown into Tripoli since the airport in Benghazi was in ruins; the U.S. State Department chartered a ferry and began closing its embassy, while the British sent two Royal Navy warships to help with evacuations. 
 
Misrata, the third largest city in Libya, fell to the opposition advance, while heavy fighting between government forces and rebellious opposition elements was heard in Sabratha, 80 kilometers from Tripoli. Though the streets in Tripoli were silent as pro-Gaddafi forces solidified their defensive positions, the Eastern city of Tobruk, on the Egyptian border, erupted in mass demonstrations. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed grave concern over the severity of human rights violations at the hands of the Libyan regime. Secretary General Ibrahim Abdulaziz Sahad of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), a leading opposition group in Libya, expressed concern over the slow reaction of the United States to the mass violence, noting that the Air Force Academy in Misrata and some units in Zawiya had joined the protestors.
 
Reports have surfaced of Libyan pilots ejecting from their warplane and letting it crash in the desert rather than firing on the Libyan protestors of Benghazi. Police stations, intelligence buildings and other Gaddafi installations in the eastern city of Bayda lay in ruins as celebrations broke out under the pre-Gaddafi era flag. Residents of Benghazi vowed to liberate Tripoli in a mass rally. 
 
Joining condemnation from the EU, OIC, AU, and Arab League, President Obama, speaking from the White House, strongly condemned the Libyan government-sanctioned violence against demonstrators, pushing forward a vigorous international response by dispatching U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns to multiple venues in Europe for consultations and Secretary of State Clinton to Geneva for a meeting with the United Nations Human Rights Council. Iranian President Ahmadinejad also expressed concern over the “bad behavior” of Gaddafi’s regime, slanting the demonstrations that have hit the entire Greater Middle East as an “Islamic awakening.”
 
 
Burned-out building in Benghazi.
 
February 24, 2011
 
On Thursday, Muammar Gaddafi called for parents to control their children, blaming the uprising on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, dismissed high casualty figures, inviting international journalists to tour Libya on Friday, challenging them to find evidence of brutality or bombings. Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, a close aid of Gaddafi, defected over the crackdowns on protestors. Anti-government forces moved into Zawiya on Thursday. Gaddafi loyalists clashed with protestors pinned down near a Zawiya mosque, destroying its minaret with anti-aircraft missiles. In east Libya, checkpoints and rudimentary government committees were established to maintain order. 
 
February 25, 2011
 
By Friday, the entire Libyan delegation to the UN announced they were defecting from the Gaddafi regime, choosing to serve instead as representatives of the Libyan people and their free will. With discussions of international military intervention on the table, Ambassador Abdel Rahman Shalgham told Al-Arabiya TV that “It is time for courageous decisions to be made.”
 
Questions of whether NATO would enforce a no-fly zone over Libya loomed large; and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen noted he is working on a plan “involving the EU and NATO sharing resources” to help purchase military equipment, underscoring previous plans by European defense ministers to increase cooperation with NATO. After two days of delay due to bad weather, a U.S. chartered ferry carrying 167 US and 118 foreign nationals left Tripoli for Malta. The U.S. also suspended embassy operations in Tripoli, evacuating the last 19 U.S. diplomats.
 
February 26, 2011
 
On Saturday, Germany’s Ambassador to the UN, Peter Wittig, noted that the international community owed the people of Libya “swift and quick action,” saying “We heard the call yesterday of the Ambassador. I think it is important that this council decides strong and clear measures according to Chapter 7,” to guarantee there is accountability for the perpetrators of the Libyan violence. Also on Saturday, as sanctions and travel bans were decided upon on the international stage, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the former Gaddafi justice minister, formed a transitional government based out of Benghazi with 13 committees to serve for three months until elections could be had.
 
The Road Ahead
 
 
British and German airlifts rescued hundreds of oil workers stranded in Libyan deserts as forces loyal to Gaddafi encircled the liberated city of Az-Zawiyah. In response to the growing humanitarian crisis, UN Security Council Resolution 1970 was passed unanimously. UNSCR 1970 delivered four primary functions in support of the aspirations of the Libyan people by: 1) referring the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court; 2) imposing an arms embargo on states and businesses working with the Gaddafi regime; 3) imposing targeted sanctions and travel bans on 17 Gaddafi loyalists; and 4) providing for assistance to agencies and states positioning to deliver relief to the refugees, internally displaced, wounded and hungry affected by the violence.
 
As the Western world watches the confusing upheaval in the Greater Middle East, the saga of a desperate population in Libya overthrowing their dictator without the aid of a no-fly zone proves that an iron curtain of Islamic supremacy exists in the region. As I wrote earlier:
 
Behind this Islamic iron curtain, a host of absolute monarchies, autocrat dictators and Islamist regimes were working in tandem with jihadist elements and Islam’s supremacist movements.”
 
Proof of this working relationship was revealed this past week when the former justice minister of Libya, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, revealed to reporters that he had proof of Muammar Gaddafi’s direct involvement in the 1998 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 which resulted in the deaths of 270 people.
 
Though Abdel-Jalil’s “evidence” has not yet been revealed, Atef Abu Bakr, a former chief of the Palestinian terrorist organization Abu Nidal, in an interview with the Arabic daily Al Hayat, confessed his group’s involvement in the bombing of Pan Am 103, saying “I can assure you categorically that the two processes [making the bomb and destroying the plane] were the outcome of a partnership between the Abu Nidal group and the security of the Libyan Jamahiriya.”  Bakr also claimed that Gaddafi ordered the assassinations of many involved to cover his tracks.
 
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Gary H. Johnson, Jr. is the Senior Advisor for International Security Affairs at the Victory Institute and is host of The Elemental Struggle on the Radio Jihad Network at 6pm every Wednesday.
 

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