FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The New Libya

by PATRICK COCKBURN

Tripoli.

Yassin Bahr, a tall thin Senegalese in torn blue jeans, volubly denies that he was ever a mercenary or fought for Muammar Gaddafi.

Speaking in quick nervous sentences, Mr Bahr tries to convince a suspicious local militia leader in charge of the police station in the Faraj district of Tripoli, that he is a building worker who has been arrested simply because of his color. “I liked Gaddafi, but I never fought for him,” Mr Bahr says, adding that he had worked in Libya for three years laying tiles.

But the Libyan rebels are hostile to black Africans in general. One of the militiamen, who have been in control of the police station since the police fled, said simply: “Libyan people don’t like people with dark skins, though some of them may be innocent.”

Going by Mr Bahr’s experience, any black African in Libya is open to summary arrest unless he can prove that he was not a member of Colonel Gaddafi’s forces.

Fathi, a building contractor who did not want to give his full name and was temporarily running the police station, wanted to know why Mr Bahr had a special residence permit that an immigrant worker would not normally obtain. “You must have been fighting for Gaddafi to have a permit like this,” he said. Mr Bahr said that three years earlier he had walked through the Sahara and crossed the Libyan border illegally with other West Africans looking for work. They had been picked up by the Libyan police, but he had eventually bribed them to get a residence permit. He had been watching television with nine other African immigrants when they were arrested, though no arms were found in the house.

Racism against black Africans and Libyans with dark skin has long simmered in Libya. Before the war there were estimated to be a million illegal immigrants in the country, which has a population of six million and a workforce of 1.7 million.

In 2000 there were anti-immigrant riots in which dozens of workers from countries like Ghana, Cameroon, Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Burkina Faso were killed. The war has deepened racial hostility. The rebels claim that many of Colonel Gaddafi’s soldiers were black African mercenaries. Amnesty International says these allegations are largely unproven and, from the beginning of the conflict, many of those arrested or, in some cases, executed by the rebels were undocumented laborers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But there is no doubt that all black Africans are now under suspicion. The head of the militia in Faraj, a short bearded man in a brown robe named Issam, explained how well-prepared local insurgents had taken over the area on  August 19, telling Colonel Gaddafi’s supporters to hand over their weapons and stay at home. There was almost no resistance from the demoralised regime and few people had been arrested. Then Issam added, as an aside, that his men had also detained “tens of Africans whom we sent off to prison”. He did not explain why they had been jailed.

Black African immigrants in the past benefited from Gaddafi’s aspiration to be a pan-African leader. The position of illegal immigrants was always uncertain, but they were essential to the economy. With the fall of Gaddafi, those who have not already fled face persecution or even murder. Last weekend 30 bodies of mostly black men, several of them handcuffed and others already wounded, were found after an apparent mass execution at a roundabout near Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya headquarters.

Issam, the temporary chief of police, insisted that Mr Bahr had not been mistreated and was being fed well. Any interview with a prisoner must come with a warning, since he or she are unlikely to speak freely about their treatment while still under arrest. Mr Bahr confirmed that he was being well treated, but he did look very frightened.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of Muqtada.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 30, 2017
William R. Polk
What Must be Done in the Time of Trump
Howard Lisnoff
Enough of Russia! There’s an Epidemic of Despair in the US
Ralph Nader
Crash of Trumpcare Opens Door to Full Medicare for All
Carol Polsgrove
Gorsuch and the Power of the Executive: Behind the Congressional Stage, a Legal Drama Unfolds
Michael J. Sainato
Fox News Should Finally Dump Bill O’Reilly
Kenneth Surin
Former NC Governor Pat McCory’s Job Search Not Going Well
Binoy Kampmark
The Price of Liberation: Slaughtering Civilians in Mosul
Bruce Lesnick
Good Morning America!
William Binney and Ray McGovern
The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate: Will Trump Take on the Spooks?
Jill Richardson
Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
Robert Pillsbury
Maybe It’s Time for Russia to Send Us a Wake-Up Call
Prudence Crowther
Swamp Rats Sue Trump
March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail