Libya: The Return Of The King


March 7, 2012:  Egyptian police believe several thousand weapons a month are being smuggled in from Libya. These include assault rifles, RPG launchers, machine-guns, mortars, small caliber rockets, shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, and ammunition. Only about 20 percent of these weapons are seized by police. The smugglers have been operating along the largely desert border for generations and are quite good at avoiding Egyptian border patrols. Part of the problem is that there is no border security on the Libyan side and no national police force there either.

National elections are still on for June and the best organized groups tend to be Islamic conservatives or radicals. Meanwhile, the NTC (National Transitional Council) is having a hard time restoring government and the economy because of corruption and a shortage of skilled foreign workers. Like all oil-rich Arab states Libya depended on skilled foreigners for key technical jobs (especially medicine and running the oil operations) and unskilled foreigners for the dirty jobs no Libyan wanted to do (garbage collection and unskilled labor tasks). Countries are unwilling to allow their citizens to return until the NTC can assure the safety of the foreign workers. Some foreign workers have returned anyway, relying for safety on the assurances of the company or local government they are working for. The NTC is also changing Kaddafi-era banking and business laws to allow foreign companies to invest in and set up operations in Libya. At the moment foreign companies have to make deals with local militias and keep lots of cash handy for bribes and "security."

A major reason the NTC cannot get the government going is corruption. This bribery and theft was somewhat organized under Kaddafi, but now it's a free-for-all and too much money just disappears before it can be spent on needed goods or services. The NTC is finding that local leaders cannot be trusted, and they will often steal much of the money they have been given for distribution to individuals and families. This lack of "civil society" (enough people willing to work for the public good without stealing or engaging in other forms of corruption) is causing widespread anger and resistance to any new national government. While tribal leaders are more trustworthy, they will also steal. But not as much as strangers and at least you know who the tribal leaders are and who they are related to. Thus the resurgence of tribal politics, for the tribe is an ancient form of government that, in chaotic times, is often the only viable alternative.

March 6, 2012: Leaders of eastern Libya declared autonomy. The new region would be called Barqa and would still leave foreign affairs, the national defense, and managing the oil fields to the central government. This call for federalism was not unexpected, as Kaddafi came from western Libya and favored tribes there at the expense of eastern Libya. The people in the west are accustomed to running things but they no longer have the popular, or military, power to do so. Worse, most of the armed men in the country belong to over a hundred militias, most of them based on tribal affiliation. Meanwhile, the key to eastern autonomy is the oil workers in the area. The east is where most of the oil is and if the 3,000 oil workers agree with autonomy, the situation becomes very serious.

The NTC, which began in the east but has since moved to Tripoli, blamed this new separatism on foreign interference by other Arab countries. Some Libyans still refer to the east by its ancient name, Cyrenaica. Before Kaddafi took over in the 1960s, the monarchy ruled the country as three provinces, each with more autonomy than Kaddafi ever allowed. The eastern group calling for autonomy is led by a great-nephew of the last king of Libya. Compared to Kaddafi, old timers remember royal rule as much kinder and gentler.

This development spotlights some fundamental truths about the country. Libya has three distinct physical regions: the northwest coast, the northeast coast, and the Sahara Desert southern region that covers more than 90 percent of the nation. The northwest coastal region (the old Roman province of Tripolitania) consists of the narrow coastal plain and the Jaffara Plain inland. The northeastern Libyan coastal region (roughly the old Roman province of Cyrenaica) lies to the east of the Gulf of Sidra.

About 85 percent of Libya's six million people live along the coast. About five percent are still nomadic. About 90 percent are Arabic-speakers of mixed Arab-Berber ancestry. Berbers who retain their ancient language and culture, comprise only four percent and most of them live in small villages in the western hill country south of Tripoli. Other minorities comprise about six percent of the population. Nearly 100 percent of the population speaks at least some Arabic and 97 percent are Sunni Moslems.

March 4, 2012: In Tripoli the new Libyan Army graduated its first class of soldiers. The 225 graduates were volunteers from anti-Kaddafi militias and underwent four months of training.

March 2, 2012: A UN report concluded that everyone in Libya behaved badly during 2011, and that the victorious rebels still hold over 5,000 prisoners (Kaddafi loyalists, foreign mercenaries, and sundry suspicious characters). While Kaddafi has more blood on his hands (having killed many more Libyans in just a few months), the rebels sought vengeance on pro-government gunmen and pro-Kaddafi civilians. The UN believes that the current prisoners are being mistreated.

February 27, 2012: Tribal elders have finally negotiated a ceasefire to end the tribal fighting in the southeast. The violence has left over a hundred dead in the last few weeks. This is one of the many expected tribal wars and is taking place in near the borders of Egypt, Chad, and Sudan. There, the dark skinned Toubu tribe, which was persecuted under Kaddafi, is under attack by the larger and lighter skinned Zwai. The Toubu accuse the NTC (National Transitional Council) of backing the Zwai. Like many tribes in Africa the Toubu have branches in Niger and Chad. There has long been racial and ethnic conflict along the southern border of the Sahara Desert (the Sahel region) where light skinned Arabs, Tuaregs, and Berbers bump into darker skinned Africans.

February 25, 2012: Additional pro-government militiamen arrived in the south east to encourage warring tribesmen to settle down.

February 20, 2012: Misarata, the city that suffered the most during the rebellion against Kaddafi, was the first city to hold local elections.

February 17, 2012: Around the country many Libyans celebrated the first anniversary of the anti-Kaddafi revolution. The rebellion officially ended eight months after it began, with the death of Kaddafi last October 20th.


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