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Posts Tagged ‘Tripolitania’

Fezzan (wikipedia.org)

Fezzan

It has been asked recently, why, after thousands of articles on Libya and the uprising, there has been almost nothing published about the Fezzan, the southern of the three regions of Libya.  Every journalist has reported breathlessly on each skirmish and every village on the coast – from Benghazai in Cyrenaica to Tripoli in Tripolitania, but not a word on the Fezzan… why?

The short answer is: no one is protesting – they generally support the government. Absence of protest does not make for good copy in the New York Times or the Times of London. While this blog has posted a number of articles on Fezzan here and here, few others have.
Fezzan is the south-western region of Libya with a population of one-half million people (one-tenth of the country) living in the few habitable locations between expansive desert: in the north by the Ash-Shati Valley, in the west by the Irawan Valley and spots in the Tibesti Mountains near the Chad border.
Libya Regions
Many of the tribes in Fezzan stretch across the southern borders and many there have dual Chadian/ Libyan citizenships.  The tribes do not conform to colonialist boundaries that the Italians (and Ottomans) used to create Libya (as do few nation-states in Africa).  The two largest groups in the Fezzan are the Tuaregs and the Tebus.
The Tuareg people are Berbers (the largest group in Fezzan) and their population spans from southwest Libya through Niger, Algeria and Mali. In general they speak Tamasheq, rather than Arabic, and have historically been nomadic.
Colored regions showing the locations of Tuareg confederacies & territories (Temehu.com).
The black-skinned Tebu tribe extends from eastern Fezzan deep into Chad and somewhat into eastern Mali.  They have been caught up in various disputes during the rebellion, mostly at the insistence of the ‘rebels’ that they were foreign African mercenaries. The acceptance of this rumor as fact has been denounced by Human Rights Watch.  Confounding the issue has been the dual-citizens between Libya and Chad, and numbers of sub-Saharan migrant laborers that have many years ago taken up residence in Libya and now have Libyan citizenship.
http://www.african-tribes.org/map-of-african-tribes-2502x2984.jpg
There are many North Africans and sub-Saharans who have settled in Fezzan after Qaddafi’s open-boarder invitations to Africans and after his futile dallyings in conflicts in Chad and elsewhere.  But Fezzan has benefited from Qaddafi’s pan-Africanism, and economic development.
“Recent growth here is associated instead with massive new irrigation facilities and with road-building and other infrastructural projects undertaken by the Libyan government. Some of this activity has been aimed at linking Libya more closely to sub-Saharan Africa, one of the cornerstones of Gaddafi’s ambitious foreign policy agenda.

“As of March 1, 2011, Fezzan remained firmly under the control of the Gaddafi regime, with no indication of rebel activity in any of its cities or towns.”

Center-Pivot Irrigation in Dessert near Aqar, Libya (Google.com)

Man Made River And Irrigation Fezzan (Google.com)

Time magazine quoted some Fezzan Gaddafi troops that had been sent to quell the uprising in Cyenaica:

“We were afraid to go out because we are dark-skinned and we thought they would think we’re mercenaries and attack us.”

And this from NowLebanon, which recognized Qaddafi’s opposition to racial discrimination against Tebu tribes:
“There are dark-skinned Libyans in the south of the country who are largely loyal to Qaddafi because he did take steps to end systematic discrimination against dark-skinned Libyans,” said Bouckaert.
And so, we hear little of this segment of modern Libya – it is remote, and most especially does not conform to the desired image of a population in revolt against a ‘tyrannical despot’.
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Will the uprising in Libya be “just like” Egypt and Tunisia? That is, popular youth uprisings with strong (perhaps critical) backing of the labor movement? Wide-scale opposition to a brutal regime backed only by a crust of the military?

This seems unlikely as Libya is a nation not at all like Egypt, nor Tunisia. Muslim, yes, but very diverse with myriad competing tribes, ethnicities, and dialects – each played against each other by every ruler since the nation was formed. Perhaps Libya is more like Iraq in its ethnic regions or like Yemen in its tribes than like Egypt or Tunisia. In no way is it a united modern nation-state. And therefore both the opposition to, and supporters of, Gaddafi take on a mottled, complex hue. Not surprisingly, these complexities could even push the uprising into a trajectory wholly different than the others – even into an internecine and degenerative one.

A thousand years of history weigh on Libya today. One-hundred forty tribes stretch across three formerly separate kingdoms of what is now Libya. First controlled separately by the Ottoman empire, the three were merged into a state by Italian colonialists only in the 1950s. For over a millenium, the three kingdoms, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan, were separated by desert and had little in common. The ethnic divides were between Arabs, Arab-Berbers, Berbers and Tuareg cultures and their many tribes. When finally merged into modern Libya, the Cyrenaica kingdom, the eastern-most region led by King Idris, won control, leaving the other regions in the cold. He instituted the neocolonial Kingdom of Libya in the 1950s, to the advantage of Cyrenaican tribes – the Zuwayya and others, which are today revolting.

Perhaps this could explain some of the strange images arising from the current ‘democratic’ revolt:

“Opposition demonstrators to Colonel Gadaffi used the old tricolour flag of the monarchy and some carried portraits of the king.”

Libyan protester

King Idris, who was overthrown by Qaddafi in 1969, had banned all political parties, signed 20-year leases for American and British military bases, constantly reshuffled administrative regions to destabilize tribal challenges, and was generally considered a puppet of British and American oil companies.

The Free Officers Movement in 1969, of course, overthrew not only the King, but the control of Libya by the Cyrenaican tribes in the east of the country. Qaddafi rose to leadership, replacing previous tribes with his own small Gadhadhfa tribe from central Libya, and the larger Warfalla and Maqariha tribes, originally from the southwest. These three tribes have held key positions in Qaddafi’s armed forces, police and intelligence services.

However, as is common in tribal societies, allegiances come and go. Qaddafi, like King Idris before him, tried to rule by supporting, then undercutting various tribes over time. Leaders of an attempted coup by members of the 1-million-member Warfalah tribe was purged by Qaddafi in 1996, and the tribe denounced him. When the revolt broke out this year, the head of the Warfalah defected to the opposition, leaving only Qaddafi’s tribe and the Maqariha tribe (which dominates Fezzan and some parts of Tripolitania) supporting the government. The areas dominated by these tribes are currently steadfastly supporting Qaddafi, including the city of Sirte, Qaddafi’s birthplace. Sirte has repeatedly stopped today’s rebel forces attempting to pass it on their march from Cyrenaica to Tripoli.

Again, there is no love lost between feuding tribes in Libya:  today’s rebel leader Colonel Tarek Saad Hussein from Cyrenaica said he would “finish” the people of Sirte (mostly the Gadhadhfa tribe) if they opposed the rebels:

“I want to deliver a message to the people of Sirte: You are with us or against us. Because when we move to Tripoli, you either join us, or we will finish you.”

Is today’s battle for national liberation or for tribal domination?  Both are in evidence, but only one can succeed.

“[The domination by the tribes] led some to worry that the seizure of the eastern third of Libya last week would lead to the creation of a secessionist state with Benghazi as its capital. This wouldn’t be surprising: Until the 1930s, the three major Libyan provinces of Tripolitania in the northwest, Fezzan in the southwest and Cyrenaica in the east were independent kingdoms, and Cyrenaica has always had a distinct culture and politics.

But is there no homogeneous democratic opposition to Qaddafi?  While there may be some strong unifying currents, there are still widely differing motivations for opposing Qaddafi.

Firstly, there are many unemployed and disaffected workers and youth who have seen none of the benefits from the newly privatized oil wealth or billions of foreign investment. ConocoPhillips, the third-largest U.S. oil company, holds a 16.3 percent interest in the Waha concessions; Marathon Group has a 16 percent in operations in the Sirte Basin; the list goes on… Hess, Occidental, BP, Shell, Standard Chartered.  But vast sections of the working class, especially youth, have been shut out and have watched others enrich themselves.

Libyan investments

But there are other motives:  the families of Islamists sympathizers, 1200 of whom were massacred by Qaddafi’s men in a prison riot in 1996.  There are thousands of Libyan army officers, who after two decades of defunding by Qaddafi, quickly jumped ship to the opposition, hoping for a better future.  There are leaders of former coup attempts.  There is Libyan opposition leader Ibrahim Sahad of the CIA-funded National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) who gives interviews in front of the White House in Washington D.C. There are over a million foreign workers (one-sixth of the population) from Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Sudan who have no allegiance to Qaddafi.  There are even those who want to restore the Monarchy.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are simply tribes who wish to return historical control to Cyrenaica, as describe by one Libyan:

“When Qaddafi overthrew the King he essentially was taking away power from the tribes in Cyrenaica and placing the power with his tribes in Tripolitania.

“What’s going on today is that those tribes and and indigenous Berbers located in the Eastern half of Libya known as Cyrenaica have decided to take back what is rightfully theirs and what Gaddafi and the tribes backing him have stolen from them.  These are no ‘protesters’ but Libyans belonging to oppressed classes and tribes that are willing to fight to return back to the seat of power of the country that was once theirs. This is why Gaddafi is fighting so strongly. He doesn’t consider them part of ‘His’ Libya and is frightened at Cyrenians gaining control of the country.”

The battle cry of “Freedom for Libya” may mean one thing to a Zuwayyan from Benghazi but the opposite to a Gadhadhfan from Sirte.

The 1969 Young Officers Movement’s vision of a “united socialist society”, of “free brothers” along the egalitarian model of Egypt’s Nasser was abandoned. The “path of freedom, unity, and social justice, guaranteeing the right of equality to its citizens, and opening before them the doors of honorable work” devolved into medieval tribalism over forty years. Perhaps nothing changes until tribalism is washed away by a new unity of one national working class in Libya.  This is a lesson that could be well-taught by Egypt and Tunisia.

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