FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Convulsions in Libya

by VIJAY PRASHAD

Fifteen days from now, the Libyan people will go to the polls. It will be the first election of its kind in Libya, but not the first election in the country. Qaddafi’s Jamahiriya held elections, but these turned out to be very large rubber stamps for a regime that conducted the spectacular trick of centralization in the name of de-centralization. But this is going to be a fraught election. The social and political conditions are unprepared for the niceties of electoral democracy. At the Rixos Hotel, the US democratic consultants have been trying to “guide” the country to democracy, and to offer their wisdom about elections. Part of their guidance has been to suggest in the strongest terms that parties be set aside in favor of independent candidates. This means that one mechanism to create a robust political society is to be foregone, and in its place strongmen with strong purses are to be favored. The Muslim Brotherhood, obviously, is the target of this guidance, and it (with its Qatari backers) is furious. There are already rumbles that this election will be more a selection, with the neo-liberal elements from the Libyan Diaspora favored over the more earthy fighters who shed blood since the 1990s in the revolts against Qaddafi’s regime.

On Sunday, June 3, the commander of the Awfeya battalion from the town of Tarhuna, Abu-Ajilah Habshi, was restrained. The first report in the Benghazi newspaper Corina suggested that he had been kidnapped on the road to the Tripoli airport. Then, the Libyan authorities said that Habshi had been arrested. No reason for an arrest was given at that time.

Tarhuna is a quiet town forty miles southeast of Tripoli. It is known for its production of what used to be one of Libya’s main exports before oil, esparto grass. Qaddafi favored a section of the town’s elite, and had close links with the Tarhuna tribal leadership. From among this leadership, Abu-Ajilah Habshi broke with the Qaddafi regime in the first weeks of the rebellion in 2011. Pressured by his kinsmen, Habshi left for Tunisia and then returned to Libya through Egypt. In Benghazi, he formed the Awfeya battalion, which fought along the Mediterranean Road under cover of NATO bombardment. It would make sense, then, if his kinsmen decided to kidnap him out of retribution for turning against Qaddafi. A resurgent “Green Resistance” has begun to assert itself in the margins of Libyan society. It is not clear how much this resistance is made up of revenge killings, or is motivated out of fear for the new order.

It appears, however, that Habshi was not kidnapped, but was arrested by the government. Unable to get verification of his whereabouts, the Awfeya battalion seized the Tripoli airport on Monday. This is not the first time that the airport has been used as a pawn in a battle for power. In December 2011, the forces loyal to General Khalifa Hifter (who I had called “America’s Libyan” in March last year) commandeered the airport road after unknown gunmen shot at Hifter’s car at a checkpoint. At the time the military authorities placed the blame on thuwar (revolutionaries) from Zintan. The army shelled their positions, obliterating them. The airport itself had been in command of the Zintan thuwar until April of this year, when the government’s forces finally took control of it.

The Awfeya battalion held the airport for several hours before the government’s armed forces arrived, fought with the battalion and retook the airport by Monday evening.

Tarhuna tells us a great deal about the fragile state of Libyan politics. This town is divided in its loyalties. A considerable section remains loyal to Qaddafi, and has found no space to develop its allegiances in the political domain. A ban on the “glorification of Qaddafi” extends to offering any position words of the past forty years of Libya’s history. Such a ban, and a de-Qaddafication, has alienated this section of the population. In April, according to the Libya Herald, there was a failed attempt to murder the deputy head of the Tarhuna Military Council, Colonel Abdullah Hussein and his colleague Colonel Salim Souissi. In May, when the Misrata thuwar attempted to go to Bani Walid to flush out pro-Qaddafi militias there, armed forces from Tarhuna blocked the road.

Armed checkpoints are back on the streets of Tripoli. Fighting in west Tripoli late into Monday night resulted in the death of at least one militia member. Mohamed Nasr Hrizi of the National Transitional Council finally gave a reason for al-Habshi’s arrest. Hrizi told a televised press conference that al-Habshi had been driving armed vehicles without authorization. His future is in question.

The black vomit of oil profits seep into coffers that are absent popular control. Oil contracts have to be doled out with the NATO member states first in the queue. A salty Islamist, Belhaj, is the most popular figure amongst the masses and his political ambitions must be denied. There is too much at stake for the US, its European allies, and the neoliberal clique that runs the National Transitional Council. They are alert to their responsibilities to themselves as the political grammar is written for Libya. Considerations of geo-politics prevent the views of the Libyans from coming to the surface. Bans on political parties are only one part of the muzzle. An amnesty for the crimes of the thuwars means that their victims feel like strangers in their land, and they hold tighter to their guns. This amnesty is of a piece with NATO’s refusal to allow an evaluation of its bombardments on Libya.

Abu-Ajilah Habshi has vanished into the pit of the Libyan prisons. He joins the almost seven thousand detainees who have not been brought before a court. They are on the other side of the line drawn by the Libyan authorities: those on their side are good, and the others are bad.

Vijay Prashad’s new book, Arab Spring, Libyan Winter , is published by AK Press. He will be appearing at the Brecht Forum in New York City this Thursday at 7:30.

 

Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Martha Durkee-Neuman
Millennial Organizers Want to See An Intersectional Understanding Of Gun Violence
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
December 08, 2016
John W. Whitehead
Power to the People: John Lennon’s Legacy Lives On
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail