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Posts Tagged ‘Tuareg’

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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Last week, the Libyan rebels opposed outside intervention in their ‘revolution’. However, today Council spokesman Abdel-Hafiz Hoga said the council urged airstrikes on the “strongholds of the mercenaries …. used against civilians and people.”

But who are these mercenaries we here so much about?  And why does a patriotic group want western military to attack the ‘mercenaries’?

Black-skinned mercenaries are blamed by the ‘rebels’ for attacking the lighter-skinned Libyan from the Cyrenaica region.  In fact, Time magazine found a detention center in Shehat that held 200 supposed ‘mercenaries’:

“A group of men from al-Baida executed 15 of the suspected mercenaries on Friday and Saturday in front of the town’s court house. They were hanged, says the country’s former Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abd Al-Jalil (who recently quit and joined the revolution)… Indeed, many of the prisoners at the Aruba School are dual nationals — Libyans with roots in Chad or Niger.”

Some days later Time demurred on the captives actually being ‘mercenaries’:

“But the question of who exactly the mercenaries are has yet to be answered. Opposition members in Benghazi have said they are holding hundreds of suspected mercenaries from the battles, but the press has been denied access to them.”

The reporters actually interviewed only one suspect – who, it turns out, was from Fezzan Libya, not foreign.  And only 5 out of the 200 were determined to be Chadian (who also could have held dual citizenship):

“Omar, like many others who were held here, was captured at the army base in al-Baida. All of the prisoners at the Aruba School had southern Libyan or foreign origins; they were dark-skinned, from towns deep in the Sahara desert. At least five were from Chad.”

“Esbak has personally arrested and released a number of individuals in recent days. But… ‘We’re not sure they were mercenaries.’ […] ‘After what happened here, we lost faith in every black guy that’s walking around,’ says one soldier in Benghazi. ‘So especially if he doesn’t have a passport, we just grab him.'”

One ought not to be surprised, given the history of race mixed into the tribal conflict in Libya.  The ‘rebels’ are in fact of lighter skin and have battled many opposing tribes in the past, particularly the Tuareg and Tebu in southern Libya, which borders on Chad.  And some of these have dual citizenship in Chad and Libya.  The viciousness of this Berber-Fezzan hatred reared its head only 11 years ago in the same areas that are ‘liberating themselves’ today:

“Some of Libya’s indigenous 1m black citizens were mistaken for migrants, and dragged from taxis. In parts of Benghazi, blacks were barred from public transport and hospitals. Pitched battles erupted in Zawiya, a town near Tripoli that is ringed with migrant shantytowns. Diplomats said that at least 150 people were killed.[…] The all-powerful security forces intervened by shooting into the air.”

That is, the racial attack was stopped by Qaddafi’s security forces.

Today, the racial attacks are ballooning, but apparently only in the ‘liberated’ areas not controlled by Qaddafi.  And the ‘revolution’ is daily looking more like civil war between opposing regions and alliances. So again one wonders, why would the self-described patriotic leaders of a Libyan rebellion call for airstrikes on  Black opponents – who seem to be mostly Libyans?

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