Interviewee: Mary Fitzgerald, The Irish Times
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor
October 3, 2014
Three years after the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya is unraveling at a pace and scale few analysts expected, says Mary Fitzgerald, a Tripoli-based journalist. She says the violence which teeters on the brink of civil war, is rooted more in regional, economic, and social cleavages than religious differences. “Libya’s crisis is too often reduced to a narrative of Islamist versus non-Islamist,” she explains. “It’s less an ideological battle than a scramble for power and resources.” Meanwhile, she says that international efforts to stem the crisis, which are often viewed suspiciously in Libya, have achieved little.
Supporters of Operation Dawn wave Libyan flags in Tripoli as they demonstrate against the new Libyan parliament, September 2014. (Photo: Ismail Zitouny/Courtesy Reuters)
There are constant reports of violence in Libya. How bad is it?
Libyans talk of their country being at its most serious juncture since the uprising against Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011. The scale and speed of the unraveling this summer has taken many by surprise. The ensuing power struggle has deepened polarization not just in the political sphere but also on the street, and even within families. Many Libyans fear their country could tip into civil war. Continue reading →
An affable gentleman, “Mahmoud” ushered this observer into the Benghazi People’s Court (Mahkamat al-Sha’b) and showed me the freshly painted courtroom where on December 19, 2006, the current NTC leader and long term CIA favorite, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, twice upheld death sentences by firing squad against a Palestinian doctor, Ashraf al-Hujuj, and five Bulgarian nurses Kristiyana Valtcheva, Nasya Nenova, Valentina Siropulo, Valya Chervenyashka, and Snezhana Dimitrova.
The death sentences were requested by the Libyan prosecutor in his opening statement four months earlier, in the final appeal in the fake HIV show trial case # 607/2003 held at the criminal court in Benghazi.
The appellate judge in the case was none other than the current head of the NATO-installed Libyan National Transition Council (NTC) Mustafa Abdul Jalil, whose formal legal education consisted of sitting in on some Sharia law classes. Following his appellate decision in the case, and for other services rendered to the former regime, Jalil was rewarded with the post of Minister of Justice. He served loyally in that position until American associates encouraged the intensely ambitious Minister to resign on February 24, 2011, the day he joined the Benghazi based uprising, as “leader.”
Rebel fighters killed former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Oct. 20 outside the town of Sirte. His body was then brought back to Misurata, where it was filmed being dragged through the streets. Several close aides, including family members, have been reported killed or captured as well.
Gadhafi’s death is symbolically important for the rebels, but the fall of Sirte is even more significant for the effect it will have on the future stability of Libya. With the final holdout of the pro-Gadhafi resistance overtaken, the National Transitional Council (NTC) can now move to form a transitional government. But multiple armed groups across the country will demand a significant stake in that government, which will have serious implications for the future unity of the people who heretofore were referred as the Libyan opposition. Continue reading →
For exclusive photos from the Qaddafi family scrapbook, click here.
The glass crunched under our boots as we walked through the abandoned compound of Muammar al-Qaddafi’s military intelligence headquarters in Tripoli. It was late August, and the city had just fallen. Pancaked buildings destroyed by NATO airstrikes littered the grounds, and we entered one of the remaining undamaged buildings. For months now, we had followed the rebel offensive in Libya, monitoring the conduct of both the rebels and the Qaddafi loyalists, as well as NATO. Along the way, we were also working to ensure that the intelligence archives of the Libyan state were quickly secured and not looted or burned, as we knew they contained important answers about what had happened in the secretive country over the past 42 years of Qaddafi rule.
Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
President John F. Kennedy once mused that limited military interventions are like taking a drink–once you take one and the effect wears off, you have to take another. Kennedy was employing the metaphor to rebuff calls from his hawkish advisers about how a circumscribed military deployment in Vietnam would prove decisive. Libya is neither Vietnam nor Iraq, and the case for intervention in Libya has to be discussed on its own terms and on its own merits. However, proponents of a more muscular policy do disservice to their own humanitarian cause by not asking the probing questions that architects of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq in 2003 so irresponsibly avoided. Continue reading →
A poster promoting the now retreating Libyan revolution adorns a car in downtown Benghazi as the city braces for a siege on Monday, March 14, 2011 (Derek Henry Flood)
On Sunday, March 13, Jamestown met with quarrelsome, nervous, mid-level Libyan rebel commanders underneath the double green arches that mark a police checkpoint on Ajdabiya’s western approach. The commanders fell into a vigorous argument that verged on fisticuffs when asked if the road to the front line town of al-Burayqa (also known as Brega) was passable for either rebel technicals – pickup trucks fitted with .50 caliber machine guns or portable anti-aircraft guns – or foreign journalists. Non-combatants were immediately ordered away from the checkpoint, told their security could no longer be guaranteed, and were urged to return to Benghazi. A man who appeared to be an imam wearing a crisp white robe and knit skull cap paced back and forth repeating instructions to young volunteer fighters in street clothes in a belated attempt to create mission cohesion. Continue reading →
Beyond the battle for the towns and cities of Libya, there is another battle raging over the legacy of Sidi Omar al-Mukhtar, Libya’s “Lion of the Desert.” The symbol of Libyan nationalism and pride, the inheritance of this stalwart of the Islamic and anti-colonial struggle against Italian fascism has been cited as the inspiration of both the Qaddafi regime and the rebels who oppose it. Al-Mukhtar’s heritage is also cited by the foreign Islamists who would seek to influence events in Libya.
Omar al-Mukhtar and the Roman Riconquista
An Islamic scholar turned guerrilla fighter, Omar al-Mukhtar was a member of the Minifa, a tribe of Arabized Berbers. Educated in the schools of the powerful Sanusi Sufi order, al-Mukhtar joined the Sanusi resistance to the Italian invasion of Libya in 1911. Unable to control little more than the coastal strip, the Italians turned to a series of treaties in an effort to expand their presence in the interior. These accords were abrogated when the fascists came to power in Italy in 1922. In the following year Mussolini’s forces embarked on the riconquista, the ruthless “reconquest” of the ancient Roman colonies of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. Drawing on his experience fighting both Italians and British under Sayyid Ahmad al-Sharif al-Sanusi, al-Mukhtar organized the armed resistance in Cyrenaica and launched an eight year campaign against Italian rule using the slogan “We will win or die!” Combining lightning raids and widespread popular support, al-Mukhtar was soon in control of what Libyans referred to as “the nocturnal government.” Continue reading →