The Great Tripoli Uprising

As dawn broke Sunday in Libya, revolutionaries were telling Aljazeera Arabic that much of the capital was being taken over by supporters of the February 17 Youth revolt. Some areas, such as the suburb of Tajoura to the east and districts in the eastrn part of the city such as Suq al-Juma, Arada, the Mitiga airport, Ben Ashour, Fashloum, and Dahra, were in whole or in part under the control of the revolutionaries.

Those who were expecting a long, hard slog of fighters from the Western Mountain region and from Misrata toward the capital over-estimated dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s popularity in his own capital, and did not reckon with the severe shortages of ammunition and fuel afflicting his demoralized security forces, whether the regular army or mercenaries. Nor did they take into account the steady NATO attrition of his armor and other heavy weapons.

This development, with the capital creating its own nationalist mythos of revolutionary participation, is the very best thing that could have happened. Instead of being liberated (and somewhat subjected) from the outside by Berber or Cyrenaican revolutionaries, Tripoli enters the Second Republic with its own uprising to its name, as a full equal able to gain seats on the Transitional National Council once the Qaddafis and their henchmen are out of the way. There will be no East/West divide. My hopes for a government of national unity as the last phase of the revolution before parliamentary elections now seem more plausible than ever. Tellingly, Tunisia and Egypt both recognized the TNC as Libya’s legitimate government through the night, as the Tripoli uprising unfolded. Regional powers can see the new Libya being born.

The underground network of revolutionaries in the capital, who had been violently repressed by Qaddafi’s security forces last March, appear to have planned the uprising on hearing of the fall of Zawiya and Zlitan. It is Ramadan, so people in Tripoli are fasting during the day, breaking their fast at sunset. Immediately after they ate their meal, the callers to prayer or muezzins mounted the minarets of the mosques and began calling out, “Allahu Akbar,” (God is most Great), as a signal to begin the uprising. (Intrestingly, this tactic is similar to that used by the Green movement for democracy in Iran in 2009).

Working class districts in the east were the first to rise up. Apparently revolutionaries have been smuggling in weapons to the capital and finding a way to practice with them. Tajoura, a few kilometers from Tripoli to the east, mounted a successful attack on the Qaddafi forces in the working class suburb, driving them off. At one point the government troops fired rockets at the protesting crowds, killing 122 persons. But it was a futile piece of barbarity, followed by complete defeat of Qaddafi forces. Eyewitness Asil al-Tajuri told Aljazeera Arabic by telephone that the revolutionaries in Tajoura captured 6 government troops, and that they freed 500 prisoners from the Hamidiya penitentiary. The Tajoura popular forces also captured the Muitiqa military base in the suburb and stormed the residence of Mansur Daw, the head of security forces in Tripoli.

The revolt in the eastern working-class district of Suq al-Juma appears to have begun before the others, on Saturday. All through Saturday Qaddafi security forces attempted to put it down, but they failed and in the end had to flee.

Tripoli


Tripoli Districts controlled by Revolutionaries early Sunday morning Libya Time

Qaddafi released an audio address in which he made his usual fantasy-land observations, said real Libyans liked to kiss pictures of his head, and called the revolutionaries rats and agents of imperial France. It was an incoherent, rambling, disgraceful performance, and was likely among the last such.

At one point an Aljazeera Arabic correspondent was able to get the frequency of the security forces and we overheard them fretting that they were running low on ammunition and fuel for their riposte to the revolutionaries’ advance.

For a map of the fighting, see here.

By 8 am Sunday morning Libya time, fighters from Nalut and elsewhere in the Western Mountain region had begun coming into Tripoli to give aid to the people who made the uprising. The revolutionaries’ advance into the capital is entitled “Operation Mermaid Dawn.”

One way or another, it seems clear that the Libyan Revolution has entered its last phase, and that this phase could well end abruptly in the next days. If Qaddafi’s own capital is so eager to be rid of him, his support is much thinner than many observers had assumed. His troops in Zawiya and elsewhere are increasingly refusing to engage in hand to hand combat, running away when the revolutionaries show up, and at most sitting in a truck and bombarding the revolutionaries from a distance (but thereby making themselves targets of NATO war planes and helicopters). The esprit de corps of the revolutionaries is, in contrast, high.

26 Responses

  1. “(Intrestingly, this tactic is similar to that used by the Green movement for democracy in Iran in 2009)”

    Which was an unsuccessful hijacking of the Iranian Revolution’s tactic from 1979.

  2. [...] Juan Cole, who has steadfastly supported Western aid to the rebels despite his generally non-interventionist views, writes: Those who were expecting a long, hard slog of fighters from the Western Mountain region and from Misrata toward the capital over-estimated dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s popularity in his own capital, and did not reckon with the severe shortages of ammunition and fuel afflicting his demoralized security forces, whether the regular army or mercenaries. Nor did they take into account the steady NATO attrition of his armor and other heavy weapons. [...]

  3. You should add Abu Sitta ( in the map ) has been under rebel control since last night and it is the main GSM and Internet exchange center in Libya ( Fiber exchange site is still to be secured ).

  4. That definitely was a surprise. If Tripoli has the kind of sprawl that lets mountain tribesmen drive their tacticals in from the desert and link up unchallenged, then Gadafi did a lot less to prepare than I expected. How many African laborers does it take to build a stupid trench line?

    Problem is, NATO’s slowness and clumsiness will prevent it from quickly establishing airdrops and even boat landings to get in supplies to the uprising. Once you’re the neighborhood that has all the food and gasoline, you become very popular. It would be a tragedy to miss this opportunity to avoid a prolonged seige, like the day in 1864 when Union forces dithered outside Petersburg, Virginia because the generals didn’t trust the black troops they had available, and when white reinforcements arrived it was already getting dark. That cost America another 9 months of war.

  5. May you be right that a government of national unity will coalesce before Daffyduck the Common Enemy leaves the stage. One keeps hoping that some magical transformational change in the way humans organize and manage themselves will materialize (or is it spiritualize?) out of the current crop of revulsion-and-aspiration driven regime changes. One also hopes that the slimy little jackals and sneaks from the “security services” of fading empires like our own will fail to gain any kind of hold or influence in a move to Something New and Something Better.

    But then a cynic, which I obviously an one of, is sometimes defined as “a disappointed romantic.” Plenty of precedent for serial disappointment, as individuals in pursuit of their own private pleasures and position pervert those around them. Maybe this time…?

  6. I would have preferred a touch more coordination between the underground Tripoli freedom fighters, and those from Misrata and the Nafusa Mtns. It seems many extra hundreds may die unnecessarily because of lack of strategic patience.

    Oh well, may it all be over soon.

  7. I’ll rejoice for five minutes and then hope that Damascus is the next venue for the liberation of Arabs from tyranny.

    • Makes one kind of wonder if there will ever be a net map of the advance of Freedom Fighters working their way in from Alexandria to Crystal City and up from Baltimore and down from Silver Spring, converging on the Capitol, at the point, wherever it may be, that people here get to that same point of revulsion and the desperate knowledge that things are never going to get better with the current set of rulers and their hereditary successors and the current power connections and flow of wealth…

  8. [...] against him in Tripoli itself to go with the advance of the Free Libya forces. Juan Cole recounts how just that occurred: “The underground network of revolutionaries in the capital, who had been violently repressed [...]

  9. I find myself curious as to what someone like Professor Cole *does* on a day like today.

    • Obsessive watching of Arabic satellite television, Arabic web surfing, twitter imprisonment. Not enough excercise. Danger of a little dehydration. Nothing to titillate the Bushies.

      • Thanks professor! Sounds not unlike the rest of us, but in Arabic (and with actual prior knowledge/experience to put things into context).

        (Not sure I understand “Titillate the Bushies”?)

  10. Hooray! Congratulation Juan on your prescient atypical (for you) support of NATO actions, and your support of the opposition.

    The speed of collapse is fascinating to me, but not surprising. All dictators exist on fear in the opposition, each dictator bathing regularly in the bath of quite unsupported egotism and self-importance; yet somewhat secure in sensing that most potential opposition are too weak, too lacking in character, to erect a sustainable rebellion.

    But then there comes a point where that opposition gains the character necessary to sustain, and takes actions that manifest that durability. And at some point the dictator realizes his victory through fear is over, he faces the inherent cowardice present in all such people, and whoosh the strength of him and his followers collapses (like the collapse of a ballon that is pricked), and they fade away, each pursuing his personally chosen path of escape.

    Now on the Syria, and the rest of the non-democratic Arab region. And in time maybe the very necessary American Spring.

    • “… prescient atypical (for you)…”

      which leaves the question: what rock have you been under over the past (oh, say) ten years? I am certain you have not been paying attention to the good Professor Cole.

  11. Daveinboca: “I’ll rejoice for five minutes and then hope that Damascus is the next venue for the liberation of Arabs from tyranny.”

    Libya is what it is, and on the whole it seems to have turned out positively (pending seeing how the TNC actually governs). But Damascus terrifies me. The al-Assad regime is one of senseless tyranny, but if/when it falls, the Alawid ethnic group is likely to go down with it. Sort of an inversion of the revolution against the Sunni overclass that brought the Assad regime to power a generation ago.

    Given the dynamics of Syria’s Sunni/Alawi history, I’m genuinely concerned about the possibility of genocide there. Which would drag in outside powers and possibly throw us into a reprise of the foreign policy of the 2000′s. Whether the Syrian regime stays or falls, I don’t see anything very hopeful there.

  12. Great, Juan. NATO can chalk up a “success” story. Now what can be done to prevent Washington, Britain, and Saudi from sinking their wicked claws into this new Libya? Do you support true Arab independence, or will you do that only once another Texas Republican is in the White House?

  13. I cannot believe that this circus has managed to sell these many tickets. Nato involvement was a gross mistake. We will see the negative side the side effects of these kinds of involvements in 30 years. You can cheer up as much as you want, but this only shows how short sighted the cheering crowd is.

    I am not a supporter anyone, and I am against the tyranny as most of you are, but this is not the way to fix problems in my view.

    • People in Benghazi would have seen the negative side of non-intervention in about 30 minutes, were it not for the UN Protective Mission.

  14. If this means that there will be peace now, this is excellent news.

    My heart goes out to the victims of this war–not only the rebels and the civilians caught in the cross-fire, but also government soldiers who were killed in large numbers by the most powerful air forces in the world.

    Behnam

  15. Aljazeera English listeners may have noted a passing reference to the death of Younes. It was cast as a ‘possible’ turning point in this campaign to liberate Libya. Professor Cole, do you think that this can be so? I would be fascinated with your thoughts on this matter.

    The time-frame seems to coincide.

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