Eight years of chaos later, Libya marks anniversary of Gaddafi's overthrow

Country still divided between internationally-recognized government in Tripoli and loyalists of Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army in the east.

By SHERIF ELHELWA/JACOB WIRTSCHAFTER/THE MEDIA LINE
February 18, 2019 12:23
4 minute read.
Libyan displaced from the town of Tawergha protest in their camp in Benghazi, Libya

Libyan displaced from the town of Tawergha protest in their camp in Benghazi, Libya. (photo credit: REUTERS/ESAM AL-FETORI)

 
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TRIPOLI - Residents of Tripoli tried this weekend to overcome widespread cynicism and exhaustion to mark the eighth anniversary of the 17 February Revolution that brought to an end forty years of rule by strongman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

A crowd of several hundred young men set off fireworks and chanted slogans in the capital’s Souk al Gouma district—an area currently controlled by the Tripoli Protection Force—a coalition of militias led by Haitham Tajouri, a former warlord trusted by the Emiratis and Egyptians to challenge the authority of Islamists.

On Sunday morning, celebrations spread to Benghazi and were marked by a parade by a band of military veterans and a cavalry procession by tribesmen in white robes and black fezzes.

The post-Gaddafi national anthem was sung, including the verse “my country, my jihadis, against the murderers! May my noble country be protected from the evil enemies.”  The lyrics embody the nation’s trauma and urges continued battle against unnamed opponents while appealing for protection and security.

“The revolution has already brilliantly succeeded in bringing down the entire Gaddafi regime paving the way for the establishment of a democratic and modern Libya,” said Ahmed Shebani, President of Libya’s Democratic Party. “We are not going to be held back by dictatorship nor by backwardness and demagogy.”

“The Democratic Party affirms that there will be no return to military rule in Libya as is the case in Egypt," Shebani told The Media Line.

But despite the vows of Shebani and other Libyans placing hope in next month’s United Nations-sponsored National Conference—billed as a transition to a civilian-led, pluralistic future—Khalifa Haftar has launched an operation in southern Libya ostensibly aimed at rooting out "terrorists" and foreign fighters but which could result in the emergence of an Egypt-like security state with popular participation in government symbolic at best.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army—which remains at odds with the internationally-recognized government—is focused on securing control of critical oil infrastructure in Fezzan province where there were no signs of Revolution Day celebrations.

“Looking back, the revolution became chaotic and allowed for ISIS and criminals to get a very strong footprint in Libya,” Salem El Senoussi, a resident of the eastern city of Al Baidaa, told The Media Line. “And it also allowed for foreign states and their greed to interfere with our politics and security.”

Up to one-third of Libya’s proven petroleum reserves are located near Fezzan’s el Sharara Field and there are increasing signs that Washington is aligning militarily with Haftar in the south, even as American officials maintain rhetorical support for the UN political process focused on the more heavily populated West.

“The United States is committed to using all available tools to sustain pressure against terrorist groups, at the request of and in coordination with the [Tripoli-based] Government of National Accord,” said Deputy State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino.

Abdelsattar Hetieta, an Egyptian security analyst and a member of the Awlad Ali tribe—with kinsmen in the Eastern Tobruk region—told the Media Line that eight years after former U.S. president Barack Obama formulated his “lead from behind” Libya policy, Libyans want and need more intensive and direct American support to rebuild their fractured nation.

“I am telling the United States that this is the right opportunity to prove your goodwill to the Libyans,” said Hetieta. “While ultimately only Libyans will solve their problems, the U.S. can lead a real peace process in Libya and keep small players from Europe and the Middle East from interfering and prolonging the conflict.”

This week U.S. Africa Command said it “is not involved in the reported raid of an al-Qai'da site in Ubari, Libya.” The attack, according to some unconfirmed reports, was carried out by French fighter jets.

Paris also officially denies any military intervention in Libya, but French authorities openly stated that their Mirage 2000 fighter jets targeted armed elements that tried to cross the border into Chad on February 5 and 6.

President Emmanuel Macron has made clear that France wants a united national army that includes Haftar, thus joining the Egyptians and Unite Arab Emirates in backing the 75-year-old general as the most effective leader to battle Libya’s Islamist militants.

“The next several months may end up being dominated by a sense of euphoria as the Haftar camp makes dramatic progress through military and financial means,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a geopolitics lecturer at the University of Versailles near Paris.

“But the old 'secular army versus political Islam' trope has very little to do with the current reality which is a pure struggle over which factions in Libya control the resources,” he told The Media Line.

For more stories, visit www.themedialine.org.

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