” I looked up the mentioned flag, it appears to be a black flag with the shahada [Muslim profession of faith] in it. A black flag goes back all the way to the prophet, and the addition of the shahada makes it a Jihadist flag. There have been Jihadists in Libya from day one, and they fought against Qaddafi. But is Al-Qaeda, as in the global network taking over? No.
Between Tripoli and Benghazi, Benghazi has been the center of Islamist activities, and since the beginning of the revolution they’ve had more time to organize. But they’ve not overwhelmed Benghazi and the more radical of them have limited support despite their vocal presence.
The struggle among the big coalitions is mainly between 1) the “Muslim Brotherhood Lite,” 2) Libyan nationalist conservatives (as represented by Abdel Rahim Al-Keeb– though he’s not the leader of this current); and 3) the “Muslim Brotherhood Heavy” represented by Sheikh Ali Al-Salabi and Abdul Hakim Belhaj.
Smaller but still important are the liberals. Mahmoud Jibril, Ali Tarhouni, and Mahmoud Shammam represent the liberals. There are also some leftist liberals.
And of course, there is the tiny faction of Jihadis, who raised the flag in Benghazi.
Salabi and Belhaj, formerly more radical, now want to exit the Jihadi tent. And the end of the revolution has made it less necessary to talk Jihad per se. The square facing the court house in Benghazi is no longer the site of the Friday prayers, so that in itself is causing some diffusion, and represents an attempt to temper the religious rhetoric that dominated the period when the fighting was still going on.
In essence the percentages, as to people’s political alignments, have not changed. But everyone is more demonstrative now (including showing the ability to cause havoc) as ideological and regional jostling begins in earnest.”
Most journalists and Western pundits don’t know much about the actual currents of Libyan Islam now becoming vocal in Libyan politics, and as they used to say in the baseball stadiums, you can’t tell one player from another without a program. This indigenous scholar’s program should be taken seriously.
Moreover, the black flag as a symbol is not a monopoly of al-Qaeda. Revolutionaries raised a black flag in the medieval Abbasid Revolution of 750 AD.
As for jihadis equalling “al-Qaeda,” that is also ridiculous. The Mujahidin who fought the Soviets in the 1980s were jihadis. Ronald Reagan called them “Freedom Fighters” and the “equivalent of America’s Founding Fathers.”
We knew all along that a small group of jihadis fought Qaddafi brigades in the revolution. But there is no evidence that they were a core group or that you can just write off the Libyan revolution as “al-Qaeda,” as Muammar and Saif Qaddafi said.
What this informed observer is saying is that a miniscule group of jihadists put up that flag, in the chaos of the post-revolutionary period, but that they are highly unrepresentative of politics in Benghazi.
It would be as though the small group of Tea Party members who support Occupy Wall Street raised a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag over Zucotti Park. It would not indicate that the Tea Party was taking over the OWS movement, only that they are one small vocal faction within it.
The 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan [pdf], drafted and passed under the rule of George W. Bush in that country, makes Islam the religion of state and forbids any law that contravenes the sharia or Muslim religious law (the official translations on the Web misleadingly render ahkam or religious laws with the word “provisions,” which hides the real intent of the constitution, so I have translated those passages more literally):
“Article One Ch. 1. Art. 1: Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic, independent, unitary and indivisible state.
Article Two Ch. 1, Art. 2: The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.
Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.
Ch. 1, Art. 3
In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and laws [ahkam] of the sacred religion of Islam.
“The Afghan Constitution and Islamic Sharia law both support polygamy, allowing men to take up to four wives. Certain conditions apply to polygamous marriages, such as the equal treatment of all wives, but these are not always observed.”
First: Islam is the official religion of the State and is the primary basis for legislation:
A. No legislation may be enacted that contradicts the established laws of Islam
B. No law may be enacted that contradicts the principles of democracy.
C. No law may be enacted that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in this Constitution.
Second: This Constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the
Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights to freedom of religious belief
and practice of all individuals such as Christians, Yazidis, and Mandean Sabeans.
“As a Muslim country, we have adopted the Islamic Sharia as the main source of law. Accordingly, any law that contradicts Islamic principles with the Islamic Sharia is ineffective legally.” Jalil also urged an end to restrictions on taking more than one wife, and wanted to see Islamic banking principles instead of Western-style interest.
So far, Jalil has said nothing that was not said repeatedly by his predecessor, Qaddafi. He has said nothing that is not in the constitutions and/or legal practice of Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq. But there is no hand-wringing about those two “liberated” countries and Islamic law or sharia. I guess if secular, communist Afghanistan was made fundamentalist by Reagan and Bush, or if the relatively secular Baath Party of Iraq was overthrown by W. in favor of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Islamic Call Party and the Bloc of Ayatollah Sadr II, that is unobjectionable and not even reported on. But if there’s a Democratic president in the White House, all of a sudden it is a scandal if Muslims practice Muslim law.
The final weeks of Muammar Qaddafi’s violent and coercive life reminded me vividly of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple Cult. It was obvious from late last August that Qaddafi had lost. The people in his own capital of Tripoli rose up against him in all but a few small neighborhoods, courageously defying his murderous elite forces.
Qaddafi had on more than one been occasion offered exile abroad, but sneaked off to his home town of Sirte to make a suicidal last stand. His glassy-eyed minions determinedly fired every last tank and artillery shell they had stockpiled right into the city that sheltered them in order to stall the advancing government troops. This monumentally stupid last stand turned Sirte into Beirut circa the 1980s, as gleaming edifices deteriorated into Swiss cheese and then ultimately blackened rubble. Qaddafi had favored Sirte with magnificent conference centers and wood-paneled conference rooms even as he starved some Eastern cities of funds, and in his death throes he took all his gifts back away from the city of his birth, making it drink the tainted Kool-Aid of his maniacal defiance of reality.
Among the attackers were citizen militias from Misrata, the city of 600,000 that Qaddafi had determinedly besieged, subjecting its civilian population to cluster bombs and tank and artillery shells, even bombing it from the air before the UNSC intervened. The Security Council strictly instructed him to cease attacking his own population simply because they had come out to peacefully protest his rule. Qaddafi’s siege turned a Tahrir-like popular uprising into a civil war, as inexperienced young civilians in the surrounded city took up arms to fight off the armored Khamis Brigades and save their parents and younger siblings from the awful ire of the dread enforcers of Qaddafi’s malevolent will.
It is hard to see how the UNSC desire that the civilian population be protected from him could have been implemented solely on a defensive basis. As long as he had an offensive capability he would clearly deploy it, piling up towers of innocents’ skulls. Once he besieged and murdered the non-combatants of Misrata and Zawiya so mercilessly, all bets were off. He began with 2,000 tanks, which he sent against the demonstrators. When he had almost no tanks left, he was done, reduced to secreting himself in a sewage drain.
In contrast to Qaddafi’s encirclement of Misrata for months and use of cluster bombs in areas where children lived, the Transitional National Council troops advancing in Sirte regularly pulled back to allow local residents to evacuate, attempting to convince them to join the new Libya. Qaddafi never did a similar favor to civilians in Misrata or Zawiya.
The last stand at Sirte was very like Jim Jones’s last stand in the jungles of Guyana. Jones was an American religious leader who gradually went mad, demanding more and more sacrifice and obedience from the members of his People’s Temple congregation, which then gradually became a cult. I define a cult as a group wherein the leader makes very high demands for obedience and self-sacrifice, and the values of which diverge from those of mainstream society. When the outside world seemed clearly to be pursuing the People’s Temple into Guyana, with a Congressmen showing up in Jonestown to rescue a handful of adherents who wanted to go home, Jones reacted with fury, first sending a militia to kill the congressman and the defectors, and then instructing his followers to drink poisoned Kool-Aid. Many were injected with cyanide laced with liquids or shot. Those who would not agree voluntarily to be “translated” to the next world together with their messianic leader would be subjected to the ultimate coercion.
Qaddafi’s stand at Sirte underlined the cultish character of his politics, with the Revolutionary Committees and Khamis Brigades resembling the enforcers in Jim Jones’s encampment. The tragic episode highlights the irrationality, fanaticism, violence and tyranny of his acolytes.
It would have been better had Qaddafi been left alive to stand trial. The exact circumstances of his death are murky, but it appears that some of his loyalists may have attempted to rescue him from government troops and he died in the firefight or was dispatched lest he be sprung from captivity and serve as a rallying point for the remaining handful of cultists.
Those who expect Libya now to fragment, or to turn into a North African Baghdad, are likely to be disappointed. It is improbable that Qaddafi’s cult will long survive him, at least on any significant scale. Libya has no sectarian divides of the Sunni-Shiite sort. Almost everyone is a Sunni Muslim. It does have an ethnic divide, as between Arabs and Berbers. But the Berbers are bilingual in Arabic, and are in no doubt as to their Libyan identity. The Berbers vigorously joined in the revolution and more or less saved it, and are very likely to be richly rewarded by the new state.
The east-west divide only became dire because Qaddafi increasingly showed favoritism toward the west. A more or less democratic government that spreads around the oil largesse more equitably could easily overcome this divide, which is contingent and not structural.
Libyan identity is not in doubt, and most Libyans are literate and have been through state schools. Most Libyans live in cities where tribal loyalties have attenuated.
There will be conflicts, and factionalism is a given. The government is a mess, with only a small bureaucracy and limited pools of persons with management skills. But oil states in the Gulf facing similar problems back in the 1960s and 1970s just imported Egyptian bureaucrats and managers, and Egypt and Tunisia have a surplus of educated potential managers who face under-employment of their skills at home. Oil states most often generate enough employment not only for their own populations but for a large expatriate work force as well. Just as the pessimists were surprised to find that post-Qaddafi Tripoli was relatively calm and quickly overcame initial problems of food, water and services, so they are likely to discover that the country as a whole muddles through.
The final defeat of Qaddafi and Qaddafism is a victory for the Fourth Wave of democratization that began in Tunisia and continued in Egypt. There is now a contiguous bloc of 100,000,000 Arabs in North Africa who have thrown off dictatorship and aspire to parliamentary government (Tunisia’s elections are coming up on Sunday). Those who dismiss this movement because Muslim religious forces will benefit are exhibiting a double standard. Roman Catholicism benefited from Third Wave democracy movements like those in Poland and Brazil, as did Eastern Orthodoxy. Were democracy to break out in Burma, Theravada Buddhism would benefit. So what?
The Arab League, President Obama and NATO have been vindicated in their decision to forestall the massacre of eastern Libyan cities such as Benghazi. The region’s remaining bloodthirsty tyrants, who have not scrupled to massacre non-combatants for exercising their right of peaceable assembly and protest, should take the lesson that mass murder is a one-way ticket for them to the sewage drain of history. As I told the NYT today, ““The real lesson here is that there is a new wave of popular politics in the Arab world… People are not in the mood to put up with semi-genocidal dictators.”
I saw George Friedman of the Stratfor group on Erin Burnett’s CNN magazine show rather apocalyptically predicting a Baghdad on the Mediterranean in Libya. Those with investment capital who short Libya out of such overblown concerns will only be missing a big opportunity. The Transitional National Council needs our support now, and the new, liberated Libya will remember who befriended it in these uncertain times. The bulls are running in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.
A pro-Baath mob in Damascus attacked the convoy of US ambassador Robert Ford, pelting his and other vehicles with tomatoes and eggs. Ford has visited dissident cities as they protested the regime of President Bashar al-Asad, and been denounced by the government for interfering in Syrian politics. The regime has consistently attempted to paint the protesters as agents of sneaky foreign intelligence services. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the regime of Bashar al-Asad for the incident, calling it “intimidation.” Euronews has video:
Meanwhile, in the small Syrian town of Rastan in Homs Province, loyalist troops appear to have run into heavy fire from defectors to the rebels, leaving 7 Syrian troops dead and at least 3 civilians, maybe 7 according to Aljazeera Arabic. Homs Province had been a recruiting ground for the Baathist Regime seeking to bring Sunnis into the military, and it is so far unusual in seeing significant defections and consequently a militarization of the political conflict there.
Two broad coalitions of Egyptian political parties have threatened to boycott the elections set for November 29 if the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) does not ban high officials and politicians of the old National Democratic Party of Hosni Mubarak from running for parliament. In nearby Tunisia, the interim government forbade some 16,000 persons closely associated with deposed president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from participation in politics. The Egyptian parties appear to want something of this sort. At the moment, not only can NDP poobahs run for parliament, they have some advantages and could well end up dominating it. Parties are effectively excluded under the current electoral law from running for one third of seats reserved for independents, many of which may well be NDP members who can exploit being well known and well-connected, as compared to the unknowns in most of the new political parties. Even the Muslim Brotherhood, earlier the military’s teacher’s pet, has joined in the boycott call, though they are not supportive of the demonstrations called for today at Tahrir Square by the New Left organizations.
Heavy fighting broke out again on Friday in Yemen around the southern city of Taizz and in the north, between rebels and forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who returned to the country last Friday. In the past week, Yemeni security forces have killed 100 protesters, so that the Saleh regime is now displaying a brutality similar to that of the Baath in Syria. Tom Finn reports for VOA from the ground in Sanaa, arguing that the conflict in Yemen is becoming more violent.
The Bahrain government covered itself in further shame by sentencing 20 physicians on trumped up charges. The real reason they are being targeted is that they treated dissidents during last spring’s protests, which were crushed by the Sunni monarchy. Punishing physicians for treating people is barbaric.
The forces of the new Libyan government claimed to have made some progress toward taking the hold-out city of Sirte, announcing that they had retaken the city’s airport. They made a similar claim two weeks ago, only to be pushed back by Qaddafi loyalists, but this time say they have a stronger position. The Transitional National Council forces also said that they had cleared a corridor allowing two wings of their forces to link up. Most Libyans live along the Mediterranean in a string of small cities, along with the metropolises of Tripoli and Benghazi. The TNC has authority in 97 percent of Libya now, with a couple towns of 100,000 each yet to fall. As might be expected in a revolutionary situation, it has been difficult for the TNC to arrive at a consensus about the shape of a new interim government, and it has decided instead to hold elections sooner than originally envisaged.
On the other hand, Daniel Serwer reports from Tripoli on the fastest post-war recovery he has ever seen. A month ago Tripoli lacked water, food and services and there were fears of turmoil. Now, it has provisions and public order is passable. The achievement of the Libyans in this regard is astonishingly little recognized in the world press, which for some reason has a bias against the revolution and against the TNC, having decided that it likely will fail. The Libyans have put the lie to such pessimism repeatedly,including when they made a popular uprising against dictator Moammar Qaddafi in Tripoli itself, even before rebel troops could enter the city. The country faces severe challenges, but give it a little credit for these achievements so far.
Aljazeera English reports on the reign of terror by Qaddafi forces in the city of Bani Walid. Escaped dissidents say 90% of the city actually hates Qaddafi, but are repressed by the well-armed and -organized pro-Qaddafi fighters.
The USG Open Source Center sums up Libya radio broadcasts on Monday:
‘ FYI — Libya: Anti-Al-Qadhafi Radios Say Forces Seize Southern Surt, Take Bani Walid Soon
Libya — OSC Summary
Monday, September 19, 2011 …
Document Type: OSC Summary…
The anti-AlQadhafi radios, Voice of Free Libya (VOFL) from Misratah, VOFL from Benghazi, and Libya FM on 19 September discussed the anti-Al-Qadhafi troops’ endeavours to seize the cities of Surt and Bani Walid and the postponement of formation of a new interim government.
Monitored from 1000 to 1700 GMT, the radio stations mainly carried discussion programs and religious and patriotic songs.
Libya FM quoted Hisham Abu-Hajar as saying that Al-Saraya al-Hamra (Red Brigade), which includes 600 fighters, was tasked to pursue and arrest ousted leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. He said that he had devoted all his wealth to finding Al-Qadhafi alive or dead. He said that Al-Qadhafi was near Sabha, the stronghold of tribes that were very loyal to the former regime.
Libya FM said that OPEC had recognized the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the representative of Libya in the organization.
Battles in Surt, Bani Walid
VOFL in Misratah said that the anti-Al-Qadhafi forces in Misratah controlled the southern area of Surt. It quoted a field commander as saying that the forces seized an airbase and some military vehicles in the city. Misratah hospital said 10 fighters were killed and 54 wounded during the troops’ advance to Surt, the radio reported.
The radio station quoted a field commander as saying that “the biggest problem is that there are children and civilians in the city and we do not want to use Grad missiles or heavy artillery”.
The radio station said that the anti-Al-Qadhafi forces intercepted a phone call by a commander of the Al-Qadhafi troops that indicated that Al-Qadhafi’s son Al-Mu’tassim was in the southern suburbs of Surt. The troops loyal to the TNC also advanced to Surt from the eastern front and were 8 kms from the city, VOFL reported.
VOFL quoted the TNC forces’ official in charge of negotiations in Bani Walid as saying that there were fierce battles there. He expected that the anti-Al-Qadhafi troops would control the city within the next two days. VOFL quoted him as saying that there were talks with Al-Qadhafi forces in Bani Walid to allow more families to leave the city.
Libya FM said that anti-Al-Qadhafi troops in Sabha had seized several districts in the town.
VOFL in Benghazi said that fierce battles had broken out between pro-Al-Qadhafi forces and forces loyal to the TNC in Waddan town.
VOFL in Misratah quoted Mahmud al-Nakku, the TNC diplomatic representative in London, as attributing the decision of postponing the announcement of a new interim government to disagreements on ministerial portfolios.
VOFL quoted the general official of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Libya, Sulayman Abd-al-Qadir, as denying holding any official talks with the movement on the formation of the interim government. He said: “We want the voice of all the political forces to be heard without exclusion”. He said that MB members’ presence in the line-up of the government or the TNC was part of full citizenship rights and this applied to all political groups.
A speaker called Salim in a discussion programme on Libya FM called for introducing a multi-party system based on citizenship and equality away from any quota system in the allocation of official posts.
Libya FM quoted the British newspaper Financial Times as saying that the leaders of Misratah were behind the postponement of the announcement of the new interim government because of “their insistence on having a distinguished position in the new government line-up”.
Presenters of Benghazi radio station’s daily discussion and phone-in program “Free Men on Air” called for rejecting tribalism. They urged unity and warned of conflict between tribes.
Libya FM quoted the commander of the Tripoli Military Council, Abd-al-Hakim Bilhaj, as saying that “we aspire to establish a democratic civil state”. He said that stability was being restored gradually in Tripoli.
A VOFL programme discussed “conceit and its danger to the revolution, Muslims’ beliefs and its role in fomenting conflicts”. Studio guest cleric Abu-Bakr al-Mabruki warns against any town taking great pride in their achievements in the battles against the Al-Qadhafi forces.’
Yemeni security forces killed 24 protesters on Sunday as the conflict between partisans of wounded president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his detractors escalated. Anti-Saleh protesters in Sanaa are taking their demonstrations to new neighborhoods, and are meeting sniper fire from security forces. On Saturday, thousands of protesters headed toward the university campus in the capital.
Demonstrations continued this weekend in Syria, despite security forces raids on neighborhoods of Deraa and Hama. Four persons injured by security forces died on Sunday. The opposition selected a council on Saturday, though it is not the only claimant to being an alternative voice to that of the regime. Syrian protesters continued to reject the idea of foreign military intervention in their country.
Five Tunisians trying to commit suicide were rescued by crowds, after the former tried and failed to get jobs as teachers in the rural southwest. Tunisia’s revolution, which inspired the rest of the Arab Spring, began with the suicide of Mohammad BuAzizi, who was reduced to selling vegetables from a carte despite being educated. The turmoil in Tunisia has hurt the country’s economy, ironically if very many of last winter’s protesters were complaining about lack of jobs. Tourism is way off, and even factory production is down.