Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Historical narrative that lies beneath the Gaddafi rebellion

By Robert Fisk

Published 03/03/2011 | 00:05

New Libyan rebel recruits chant slogans during a training session in Benghazi, eastern Libya (AP)
New Libyan rebel recruits chant slogans during a training session in Benghazi, eastern Libya (AP)
Egyptian refugees wait for food after crossing the Libya-Tunisia (AP)
A Libyan boy washes out his clothes in the pool inside a destroyed palace owned by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the eastern town of Beyda, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. The West moved to send its first concrete aid to Libya's rebellion in the east of the country, hoping to give it the momentum to oust Gadhafi. But the Libyan leader's regime clamped down in its stronghold in the capital, quashing an attempt Monday to hold new protests as residents reported skyrocketing food prices from the crisis. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
A Libyan man throws a piece of wood into the pool inside a destroyed palace owned by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the eastern town of Beyda, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. The West moved to send its first concrete aid to Libya's rebellion in the east of the country, hoping to give it the momentum to oust Gadhafi. But the Libyan leader's regime clamped down in its stronghold in the capital, quashing an attempt Monday to hold new protests as residents reported skyrocketing food prices from the crisis. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
Libyan men inspects the grounds of a destroyed palace owned by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the eastern town of Beyda, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. The West moved to send its first concrete aid to Libya's rebellion in the east of the country, hoping to give it the momentum to oust Gadhafi. But the Libyan leader's regime clamped down in its stronghold in the capital, quashing an attempt Monday to hold new protests as residents reported skyrocketing food prices from the crisis. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
Pro-Gadhafi supporters in a car speed past a vehicle used to transport tanks from the Libyan military's elite Khamis Brigade, led by Gadhafi's youngest son Khamis Gadhafi, hours after the Khamis units were deployed on the road in Harshan, 10km east of Zawiya, in Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. Rebel forces in Zawiya were locked in a standoff with Gadhafi loyalists and residents inside the city said they were anticipating a possible attack. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Soldiers and dozens of tanks from the Libyan military's elite Khamis Brigade, led by Gadhafi's youngest son Khamis Gadhafi, take positions and check vehicles after arriving hours earlier on the road in Harshan, 10km east of Zawiya, in Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. Rebel forces in Zawiya were locked in a standoff with Gadhafi loyalists and residents inside the city said they were anticipating a possible attack. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
AJDABIYA, LIBYA - FEBRUARY 27: Opposition militia prepare for battle at a checkpoint February 27, 2011 in Ajdabiya, Libya. Rebel militia there whipped into a frenzy after rumors that government troops loyal to President Muammar Gaddafi were preparing an attack. The opposition has consolidated its power in eastern Libya with President Gaddafi still in control of much of the west, including the capitol Tripoli. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***
A Libyan surveys a jacuzzi inside a destroyed palace owned by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the eastern town of Beyda, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. The West moved to send its first concrete aid to Libya's rebellion in the east of the country, hoping to give it the momentum to oust Gadhafi. But the Libyan leader's regime clamped down in its stronghold in the capital, quashing an attempt Monday to hold new protests as residents reported skyrocketing food prices from the crisis. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
A Libyan man walks as drivers wait in line in their cars for gasoline at a gas station that was just reopened after many days closed because of the fighting between Government and anti-government forces in the southwester town of Nalut, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. The town is currently in control of the Libyan anti-government forces. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Libyan anti-government fighters man a checkpoint in the outskirts of the southwestern town of Nalut, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Libyan anti-government fighters man a checkpoint in the outskirts of the southwestern town of Nalut, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. The town is currently in control of the anti-government forces. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A Libyan anti-government fighter flashes the V-sign as the mans a checkpoint in the outskirts of the southwestern town of Nalut, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. The town is currently in control of the Libyan anti-government forces. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A Libyan boy with an empty ammunition belt surveys destroyed weapons boxes at a burned out army base in the eastern town of Shahat, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. The West moved to send its first concrete aid to Libya's rebellion in the east of the country, hoping to give it the momentum to oust Moammar Gadhafi. But the Libyan leader's regime clamped down in its stronghold in the capital, quashing an attempt Monday to hold new protests as residents reported skyrocketing food prices from the crisis. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
A Libyan man shoots his gun in the air during the funeral of Mohammed Idris in the eastern town of Beyda, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. Idris was shot during the fighting with the Libyan military last week and died Sunday in the hospital. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
A defected Libyan soldier stands near a weapons cache at a maintenance base in the eastern town of Shahat, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. The West moved to send its first concrete aid to Libya's rebellion in the east of the country, hoping to give it the momentum to oust Moammar Gadhafi. But the Libyan leader's regime clamped down in its stronghold in the capital, quashing an attempt Monday to hold new protests as residents reported skyrocketing food prices from the crisis. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
A Pro-Gadhafi supporter simulates the salute portrayed in a photograph of the Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi, as he and others stage a small rally, standing on the stage of the Roman amphitheatre at the Sabratha archaeological site, after following foreign journalists there who visited on a government-provided tour, in Sabratha, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. Gadhafi supporters said Monday that they were in control of the city of Sabratha, west of Tripoli, which has seemed to vacillate between the two camps over the past week, with some anti-Gadhafi graffiti scrawled on walls being painted over by residents. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Pro-Gadhafi supporters stage a rally as foreign journalists arrive on a government-provided tour in Sabratha, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. Gadhafi supporters said Monday that they were in control of the city of Sabratha, west of Tripoli, which has seemed to vacillate between the two camps over the past week, with some anti-Gadhafi graffiti scrawled on walls being painted over by residents. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Libyan militia members who are now part of the forces against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi organize ammunition at a military base in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
Pro-Gadhafi supporters stage a rally as foreign journalists arrive on a government-provided tour in Sabratha, Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. Gadhafi supporters said Monday that they were in control of the city of Sabratha, west of Tripoli, which has seemed to go back and forth between the two camps the past week, with some anti-Gadhafi graffiti scrawled on walls being painted over by residents. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
A Libyan rebel stands in the damaged and vandalized former bedroom that was used by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his family at the terminal of the airport in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
A Libyan rebel that is a member of forces against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi wears ammunition outside a military base in Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
A Libyan soldier from forces that defected against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi guards next to an anti-aircraft battery outside a military base in Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
Soldiers and dozens of tanks from the Libyan military's elite Khamis Brigade, led by Gadhafi's youngest son Khamis Gadhafi, take positions and check vehicles after arriving hours earlier on the road in Harshan, 10km east of Zawiya, in Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. Rebel forces in Zawiya were locked in a standoff with Gadhafi loyalists and residents inside the city said they were anticipating a possible attack. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Soldiers and dozens of tanks from the Libyan military's elite Khamis Brigade, led by Gadhafi's youngest son Khamis Gadhafi, take positions and check vehicles after arriving hours earlier on the road in Harshan, 10km east of Zawiya, in Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. Rebel forces in Zawiya were locked in a standoff with Gadhafi loyalists and residents inside the city said they were anticipating a possible attack. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Soldiers and dozens of tanks from the Libyan military's elite Khamis Brigade, led by Gadhafi's youngest son Khamis Gadhafi, take positions and check vehicles after arriving hours earlier on the road in Harshan, 10km east of Zawiya, in Libya, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. Rebel forces in Zawiya were locked in a standoff with Gadhafi loyalists and residents inside the city said they were anticipating a possible attack. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

After 42 years of Gaddafi, the spirit of resistance did not burn so strongly. The intellectual heart of Libya had fled abroad.

Libyans have always opposed foreign occupiers just as the Algerians and the Egyptians and the Yemenis have done – but their Beloved Leader has always presented himself as a fellow resister rather than a dictator. Hence in his long self-parody of a speech in Tripoli yesterday, he invoked Omar Mukhtar – hanged by Mussolini's colonial army – rather than the patronising tone of a Mubarak or a Ben Ali.



And who was he going to free Libya from? Al-Qa'ida, of course. Indeed, at one point in his Green Square address, Gaddafi made a very interesting remark. His Libyan intelligence service, he said, had helped to free al-Qa'ida members from the US prison at Guantanamo in return for a promise that al-Qa'ida would not operate in Libya or attack his regime. But al-Qa'ida betrayed the Libyans, he insisted, and set up "sleeper cells" in the country.



Whether Gaddafi believes all this or not, there have been many rumours in the Arab world of contacts between Gaddafi's secret police and al-Qa'ida operatives, meetings intended to avoid a recurrence of the miniature Islamist uprising that Gaddafi faced years ago in Benghazi.



And many al-Qa'ida members did come from Libya – hence the frequent nomme de guerre of "al-Libi" which they added as a patronymic. Natural it then was for Gaddafi, who once hosted Abu Nidal's Palestinian assassination groups (who never betrayed him), to suspect that al-Qa'ida lay somewhere behind the uprising in eastern Libya.



It is only a matter of time, needless to say, before Gaddafi reminds Libyans that al-Qa'ida was a satellite of the very Arab mujahedin used by the United States to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Yet Libya's own ferocious resistance to Italian colonisation proves that its people know how to fight and die. In "Tripolitania", Libyans were expected to walk in the gutter if Italians were walking towards them on the same pavement and Fascist Italy used aircraft as well as occupation troops to bring Libya to heel.



Ironically, it was the forces of the British and Americans rather than the Italians that liberated Libya. And they themselves left behind a legacy of millions of landmines around Tobruk and Benghazi that Gaddafi's weird regime never ceased to exploit as Libyan shepherds continued to die on the old battlefields of the Second World War.



So Libyans are not disconnected from history. Their grandfathers – in some cases their fathers – fought against the Italians; thus a foundation of resistance, a real historical narrative, lies beneath their opposition to Gaddafi; hence Gaddafi's own adoption of resistance – to the mythical threat of al-Qa'ida's "foreign" brutality – is supposed to maintain support for his regime.



Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, however, the "People's Masses" of Libya are a tribal rather than a societal nation. Hence two members of Gaddafi's own family – the head of security in Tripoli and the most influential intelligence officer in Benghazi – were respectively his nephew, Abdel Salem Alhadi, and his cousin, Mabrouk Warfali. Gaddafi's own tribe, the Guedaffi, come from the desert between Sirte and Sebha; hence the western region of Libya remains under his control.



Talk of civil war in Libya – the kind of waffle currently emerging from Hillary Clinton's State Department – is nonsense. All revolutions, bloody or otherwise, are usually civil wars unless outside powers intervene, which Western nations clearly do not intend to do and the people of eastern Libya have already said they do not wish for foreign intervention (David Cameron, please note).



But Gaddafi went to war in Chad – and lost. Gaddafi's regime is not a great military power and Colonel Gaddafi is not General Gaddafi. Yet he will go on singing his anti-colonial songs and as long as his security teams are prepared to hold on in the west of the country, he can flaunt himself in Tripoli.



And a warning: under UN sanctions, Iraqis were supposed to rise up against Saddam Hussein. They didn't – because they were too busy trying to keep their families alive without bread or fresh water or money. Saddam lost all but four provinces of Iraq in the 1991 rebellion. But he got them back.



Now western Libyans live without bread or fresh water or money. And Gaddafi yesterday spoke in Tripoli's Green Square with the same resolution to "rescue" Benghazi from "terrorists". Dictators don't like or trust each other; but unfortunately they do learn from each other.

Your Comments

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph