Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kurds Join Revolt as Free Syrian Army Moves Up

Syrian army launches offensive on Damascus

BEIRUT (AP) – In dozens of tanks and armored vehicles, Syrian troops stormed rebellious areas near the capital Sunday, shelling neighborhoods that have fallen under the control of army dissidents and clashing with fighters. At least 62 people were killed in violence nationwide, activists and residents said.

The widescale offensive near the capital suggested the regime is worried that military defectors could close in on Damascus, which has remained relatively quiet while most other Syrian cities descended into chaos after the uprising began in March.
The rising bloodshed added urgency to Arab and Western diplomatic efforts to end the 10-month conflict.

STORY: Arab League halts observer mission in Syria
STORY: Syria: Crackdown on protesters will continue

The violence has gradually approached the capital. In the past two weeks, army dissidents have become more visible, seizing several suburbs on the eastern edge of Damascus and setting up checkpoints where masked men wearing military attire and wielding assault rifles stop motorists and protect anti-regime protests.

Their presence so close to the capital is astonishing in tightly controlled Syria and suggests the Assad regime may either be losing control or setting up a trap for the fighters before going on the offensive.

Residents of Damascus reported hearing clashes in the nearby suburbs, particularly at night, shattering the city's calm.

"The current battles taking place in and around Damascus may not yet lead to the unraveling of the regime, but the illusion of normalcy that the Assads have sought hard to maintain in the capital since the beginning of the revolution has surely unraveled," said Ammar Abdulhamid, a U.S.-based Syrian dissident.

"Once illusions unravel, reality soon follows," he wrote in his blog Sunday.

Soldiers riding some 50 tanks and dozens of armored vehicles stormed a belt of suburbs and villages on the eastern outskirts of Damascus known as al-Ghouta Sunday, a predominantly Sunni Muslim agricultural area where large anti-regime protests have been held.

Some of the fighting on Sunday was less than three miles (four kilometers) from Damascus, in Ein Tarma, making it the closest yet to the capital.

"There are heavy clashes going on in all of the Damascus suburbs," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who relies on a network of activists on the ground. "Troops were able to enter some areas but are still facing stiff resistance in others."

The fighting using mortars and machine guns sent entire families fleeing, some of them on foot carrying bags of belongings, to the capital.

"The shelling and bullets have not stopped since yesterday," said a man who left his home in Ein Tarma with his family Sunday. "It's terrifying, there's no electricity or water, it's a real war," he said by telephone on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisals.

The uprising against Assad, which began with largely peaceful demonstrations, has grown increasingly militarized recently as more frustrated protesters and army defectors have taken up arms.

In a bid to stamp out resistance in the capital's outskirts, the military has responded with a withering assault on a string of suburbs, leading to a spike in violence that has killed at least 150 people since Thursday.

The United Nations says at least 5,400 people have been killed in the 10 months of violence.

The U.N. is holding talks on a new resolution on Syria and next week will discuss an Arab League peace plan aimed at ending the crisis. But the initiatives face two major obstacles: Damascus' rejection of an Arab plan that it says impinges on its sovereignty, and Russia's willingness to use its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Syria from sanctions.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told reporters Sunday in Egypt that contacts were under way with China and Russia.

"I hope that their stand will be adjusted in line with the final drafting of the draft resolution," he told reporters before leaving for New York with Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim.

The two will seek U.N. support for the latest Arab plan to end Syria's crisis. The plan calls for a two-month transition to a unity government, with Assad giving his vice president full powers to work with the proposed government.

Because of the escalating violence, the Arab League on Saturday halted the work of its observer mission in Syria at least until the League's council can meet. Arab foreign ministers were to meet Sunday in Cairo to discuss the Syrian crisis in light of the suspension of the observers' work and Damascus' refusal to agree to the transition timetable, the League said.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said he was "concerned" about the League's decision to suspend its monitoring mission and called on Assad to "immediately stop the bloodshed." He spoke Sunday at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa.

While the international community scrambles to find a resolution to the crisis, the violence on the ground in Syria has continued unabated.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 27 civilians were killed Sunday in Syria, most of them in fighting in the Damascus suburbs and in the central city of Homs, a hotbed of anti-regime protests. Twenty-six soldiers and nine defectors were also killed, it said. The soldiers were killed in ambushes that targeted military vehicles near the capital and in the northern province of Idlib.

The Local Coordination Committees' activist network said 50 people were killed Sunday, including 13 who were killed in the suburbs of the capital and two defectors. That count excluded soldiers killed Sunday.

The differing counts could not be reconciled, and the reports could not be independently confirmed. Syrian authorities keep tight control on the media and have banned many foreign journalists from entering the country.

Syria's state-run news agency said "terrorists" detonated a roadside bomb by remote control near a bus carrying soldiers in the Damascus suburb of Sahnaya, killing six soldiers and wounding six others. Among those killed in the attack some 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of the capital were two first lieutenants, SANA said.

In Irbil, a Kurdish city in northern Iraq, about 200 members of Syria's Kurdish parties were holding two days of meetings to explore ways of supporting efforts to topple Assad.

Abdul-Baqi Youssef, a member of the Syrian Kurdish Union Party, said representatives of 11 Kurdish parties formed the Syrian Kurdish National Council that will coordinate anti-government activities with Syria's opposition.

Kurds make up 15 percent of Syria's 23 million people and have long complained of discrimination.

JANUARY 29, 2012, 1:35 P.M. ET
Syria Military Moves to Defend Capital

Syria's government moved to defend the capital, the seat of President Bashar al-Assad's power, as its military fought rebel troops around Damascus for a third day on Sunday and activists reported significant military deployment across the city.

Rounds of fighting rocked at least four suburbs for most of the day, residents and activists said. In Douma, a suburb some 15 kilometers (9 miles) away from Damascus, armed fighters nestled control back from the military, while government forces broke a cease-fire they had agreed to last week in Zabadani, the first Damascus suburb to slip out of government control.

The sustained fighting appeared to indicate the government struggling to maintain control of some areas in the belt around Syria's largest city, 11 months into a conflict in which military and security forces had repeatedly crushed protests—and a gradually militarized opposition movement—in cities across the country.

It came amid a surge in confidence by armed opposition fighters loosely grouped under the dissident Free Syrian Army. These fighters say they have obtained effective antitank missiles and are using guerrilla tactics to fight troops from elite military divisions reserved to defend the capital and the president. The intensified fighting has caused dozens of deaths in the Damascus suburbs over the past two days.

The Arab League on Saturday suspended its monitoring mission in Syria, citing a spike in violence that hampered the missions' work. One activist group, the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union, on Sunday said some 1,151 people have been killed since the monitors were deployed in the country in mid-December.

"We can finally say the military balance is starting to shift in our favor," a senior commander with the dissident army, stationed near Syria's border with Lebanon, said.

In a show of force by the armed opposition, dissident troops said they were positioned in a suburb no more than eight kilometers away from the presidential palace in Damascus. Their accounts cannot be independently verified, but residents of two suburbs some six kilometers away from the center of Damascus's old city confirmed opposition fighters continued to fight the army into Sunday night.

While activists also reported tanks guarding central squares across Damascus and the sounds of shooting and explosions near the city center, residents in nearby parts of the capital said the streets appeared to be calm. "We are all on edge, and that's because we know the route the government has decided to take and now know that they're going to be facing tough resistance," one resident said by telephone.

A diplomat in Damascus said there was no fighting, or heightened military or security deployment, in the city's center. "There's certainly a lot of anticipation of an intense potential of military activity across the city, but nothing has cut into the center yet," the diplomat said.

Syria's government last week said it wouldn't give up a military campaign it has said is rooting out armed terrorists.

Many activists in Syria's besieged cities of Homs, Hama, and Deraa—early opposition strongholds in Syria's nearly year-long uprising—said they feared they had become sidelined in what they described as a clear war between the military and the dissident Free Syrian Army.

Write to Nour Malas at

Libyan Judicial Police Take Over Prisons

Libyan police to take over prisons
AP Rami al-Shaheibi
January 30, 2012 - 7:19AM

Libyan judicial police have started taking control of makeshift prisons in the country after human rights organisations complained of rampant torture of inmates, the country's deputy justice minister says.

The deputy minister, Khalifa Ashour, said uniformed police have been dispatched to some prisons where former rebels have been holding people accused of being loyalists of deposed ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

During last year's civil war, former rebels trying to protect their neighbourhoods held anyone deemed suspicious of being a Gaddafi loyalist or mercenary, locking them up in makeshift prisons in schools, homes and empty government buildings.

According to the UN, various former rebel groups are holding as many as 8000 prisoners in 60 detention centres around the country.

Bringing all the prisons under control of the new government illustrates the challenge of reuniting Libya after the ouster of Gaddafi.

Ashour said that on Sunday his ministry took over one prison in Misrata and another in Tripoli but didn't have information on any other prisons that were taken over.

"Some of the prisoners are loyalists of the former regime detained during the revolution, and others were captured after liberation for murder and drug or alcohol possession," Ashour told The Associated Press.

The move comes after the UN's top human rights official said on Friday that Libya's transitional government must take control of all makeshift prisons to prevent further atrocities against detainees.

"There's torture, extrajudicial executions, rape of both men and women," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

Pillay said she was particularly concerned about sub-Saharan African detainees whom the brigades automatically assume to be fighters for Gaddafi.

Aid group Doctors Without Borders suspended its work in prisons in the Libyan city of Misrata on Thursday because it said torture was so rampant that some detainees were brought for care only to make them fit for further interrogation and abuse.

Amnesty International said on Thursday it had recorded widespread prisoner mistreatment in other cities that led to the deaths of several inmates.

The allegations, which come more than three months after Gaddafi was captured and killed, were an embarrassment to the governing National Transitional Council, which is struggling to establish its authority in the splintered nation.

Ashour said the Justice Ministry has sent letters to revolutionary brigades guarding makeshift prisons across Libya, setting target dates for handing over the prisons to the ministry, at which point a group of judicial police will take charge.

He didn't have information on how many notices were sent out or if there was a final deadline for handing over prisons to government control.

In November, Libya's leaders acknowledged that some prisoners held by revolutionary forces were abused, but insisted the mistreatment was not systematic and pledged to tackle the problem.

Libya's new leaders have struggled to stamp their authority on the country since toppling Gaddafi's regime. One of the greatest challenges still facing the leadership is how to rein in the dozens of revolutionary militias that arose during the war and now are reluctant to disband or submit to the central authority.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Voices 4 Libya - The Book

Voices 4 Libya – The Book

Voices for Libya

This is a book about the Libyan Revolution of 17 February 2011. It is not a day-by-day account of the fighting, nor an analysis of military or diplomatic strategy. It is a collection of voices of ordinary people who became involved in that conflict in many different ways. These are the stories they chose to tell about how the Libyan conflict touched all their lives.

Gaddafi had a collection of gilded guns.

Gaddafi had huge stockpiles of Soviet armor and the elite British-trained Khamis Brigade. The other side were civilians with no military training and no weapons. But what they did possess was such ingenuity, passion and fearlessness that it captured the admiration and support of the entire world.

From the top of their impregnable barracks, Gaddafi’s ruthless murderers used anti-aircraft weapons to gun down unarmed kids. On the other side, it was an ordinary man, a supplies manager named Mahdi Zew, who spent three days burying kids’ bodies, then could stand it no longer. He brought down the wall of this fortress by driving a car packed with a couple of cylinders of cooking gas into a thunderstorm of Gaddafi machine-gun fire. He lost his life and his two daughters lost a father, but the Revolution was saved.

The “Freedom Fighters” the Libyan Revolutionaries, were a collection of civilians, clerks, lawyers, engineers, pharmacists, students and salespeople who learned to weld captured rocket launchers guns to wheelbarrows and beds of their Toyota pickups. Clad in flip-flops and t-shirts, they crafted weapons out of sewage pipes and, lacking an air force, hoisted artillery to rooftops with cranes. The fight for justice which they undertook is a history of endless sacrifice, constant improvisation and incredible bravery.

A pen is mightier than a sword, or so the oft-repeated quotation goes.

As well as his Libyan forces and an army of thousands of mercenary fighters, Gaddafi had a state-run propaganda machine with 42 years of experience and massive financial resources.

But the Freedom Fighter side had Mo Nabbous, a mathematician and founder of Libya Al Hurra TV in Benghazi to bring the world’s attention to the dire plight of Libya. The Freedom Fighter side had Bernard-Henri Lévy who persuaded French President Sarkozy to act, and this brought the United Nations and NATO into co-operation with those seeking to protect the innocent.

And they had a small army of supporters posting on Facebook, on Youtube and Twitter and on Internet blogs. These “Freedom Writers” did everything they could to publicize the plight of the Libyan Revolutionaries, helping with their pens (or keyboards) those unlikely freedom fighters who had followed Mahdi Zew in taking up the sword against Gaddafi.

The stories told here are penned by those who never before wielded anything more menacing than a fork or struck anything more intimidating than a computer key. These are the voices of those who could no longer remain silent and passive in the face of totalitarian injustice. Some are told by Freedom Fighters. Some are told by those who loved them, fed them, cared for them and wrote about them, making sure their flame burnt brightly enough to be seen all across the world. Intertwined with the stories of Libyan people are those of strangers from all over the globe. They came together to care and write about people they had never met and a country most had never visited.

The Libyan struggle for freedom resonated throughout the world. And the place we felt that resonance first and foremost was, of all places, on the internet live blog pages of Al Jazeera English! AJE is the lens through which we’ve all come to see and appreciate the depths of pain and the heights of triumph of these incredibly brave people in Libya.

How is it of all the media outlets, that Al Jazeera English became such a focus for foreign supporters of the Libyan Freedom Fighters?

It is because AJE reported from the very start of the Libyan Revolution, and, when the attention of other news gatherers drifted away, remained so faithful in its continued coverage of the Arab Spring that millions around the world supplemented their news diet with Al Jazeera English. That’s really where this story begins for all of us in this book: AJE and its interactive Libyan blogs.

AJE: veni, vidi, scripsi

The AJE blogs have attracted the most amazing, educated, diverse and caring audience mass media ever gathered. After all, who would read Al Jazeera in English? The English speakers who cannot get their Middle Eastern news from other sources are a pretty sophisticated bunch of primarily American, Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealander readers. There are even more refined groups from among the non-English native speakers: French, Swiss, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and yes, Arabic.

The list goes on to South America, Africa – pretty much everywhere else. The only continent not yet represented is Antarctica. But that’s only a matter of time.

At its peak, the AJE Libya blog was getting over 10,000 comments per day. If you follow Groundswell statistics, that easily represents hundreds of thousands of readers. That is a remarkable accomplishment for Al Jazeera, and one that has gone largely untrumpeted.
Radwan Ziadeh, a member of Syrian National Council, said the best source for accurate news on any Arab Spring revolution is Al Jazeera English and their live blogs. He remarked that this world wide connection and support for democracy is the greatest improvement in human rights the world has ever seen, and it is unstoppable. This connection has and will pull down any dictatorship that opposes it. Ziadeh pleaded with the audience to join it and to do for Syria what was done for Libya.

The Al Jazeera blogs, having established themselves as a forum for the dissemination of unbiased up-to-the-minute information about Libya, inevitably attracted Gaddafi’s propaganda machine. The vehemently anti-Muslim, the defiantly anti-NATO, the reflexively anti-West, it seemed at times as though they wore the Wizard of Oz’s green tinted spectacles as they sought to shout down the Freedom Fighters’ side of the argument and to dominate the information agenda in favour of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. These entertaining folks still believe that the liberation of Tripoli was staged and filmed in Qatar and that Gaddafi forces captured Misurata in late August. For them Gaddafi never died, and the truth never lived.

But first and foremost, it is here, on the pages of the AJE that the caring world community gathered for over half a year to share the news, repost and make sense of often contradictory tweets, to discuss the future of Libya, to try to figure out various ways to help. It is some of these people that gathered and organized on the improbable site who bring you this book. Why Well, that too is in the book. Read on!

Get the book • News • Previews • العربية (Arabic) • Credits

All earnings will be split between the families of the martyred heroes and the children / orphans of the war.

This is the place on the World Wide Web where the Voices 4 Libyaproject soon will publish over 60 short stories from people all over the world who have supported the epic struggle of that country as it overthrew its dictator.

Most of the stories come from all corners of Libya, from freedom fighters, wounded FF ["FF" == thuwar, that means freedom fighters; western media called them rebels instead of revolutionaries], martyrs’ loved ones, family members, doctors and nurses who healed the wounded FF, every day Libyans and their national heroes. We have the stories from Masoud, the epic Libyan guitar hero, who became famous for playing his songs on a guitar in battle. We have the story from Madhi Zew’s daughter and cousin; Madhi Zew gave his life to breach Benghazi Katiba on Feb 20th. We have the story about Mo Nabbous from someone in his family, and many more...

The latter as printed book, too, where all earnings will be split between the families of the martyred heroes and the children/orphans of the war. There will be no shortage of good causes in Libya.

Please stay tuned, and add this page to your bookmarks (CTRL+D).
Thank you!

Actually, we’re still working on the Voices 4 Libya book. It will take a few more weeks to finish editing, translating, proof reading and whatnot. Eventually, you can purchase it at Amazon, deal?

Meanwhile we’ll add story by story to this Web site. Please return often.

One day, very soon, we’ll link the book’s cover on the left to the bookstore. Promised. Stay tuned.

All earnings will be split between the families of the martyred heroes and the children / orphans of the war.

We’re aware that many people, not only in Arab countries, will not be able to purchase the printed book. That’s why we publish the stories here, both in English (some) and Arabic language (all). Our primary mission is to spread the word.

However, if you can, please get yourself a printed copy.
Thank you in advance!

The Voices 4 Libya project team

A Martyr: Mahdi Mohamed Zew

The daughter of martyr Mahdi Zew born in 1993,
Benghazi, Libya

My father was born in 1962 in Benghazi. He lived with his parents, brothers and sisters in the family house. They were a middle class family. He had three brothers, named Nasser, Salem and Abubaker, and four sisters, named Oureida, Suad, Zafeer and Hamida.

When he finished secondary school, he started work with the Arabian Gulf Oil Company, as a member of the supply department. In 1993 he married my mother, Samira Awad Nabous, and two daughters were born to them. I, Zuhur, was born in 1993 and my sister, Sajeeda, was born in 1996.

My father was a simple person who was honest, straight, and religious. He liked his work and was dedicated to it. He was very gentle towards his family. He liked his friends and his way of talking was quiet and polite. He was good at heart. He was known as a social person and he was loved by relatives and neighbors. He never had an enemy. He did not care about politics and he was not a religious extremist. He liked life and had great hope for a good life. He loved to travel and to read historical books about Libya and poetry, and he liked to draw.

He did not like Gaddafi’s despotic regime as he could see from working in the oil company that the oil revenue from the oil fields was going to Muammar and his thugs. He was very affected by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. He was excited by them and followed the events from minute to minute. A few weeks before the Revolution of 17 February, he travelled with my mother to Lebanon and Syria for medical treatment for diabetes. They came back to Libya on Wednesday evening, 16 February.

On 17 February he joined protesters in front of the Court House and was very excited by this revolution, too. I saw the happiness in his eyes. He said, “I have never expected to see that our people could make a revolution”. He did not come back to our home except for lunch or he came very late at night, and then only to sleep. He used to phone us, telling us what was happening and how brave and determined the young men were. He prayed for the martyrs and went to the funerals.

As our house is next to the military camp (katiba) we could see what was happening outside. My father was such a sensitive person that he could not stand to see somebody crying in front of him. So, when he saw so many young men dying, he was very affected because he was a patriot who was dedicated to his beloved country, Libya. He made a final decision because of his love towards his country.

On the night of 19 February, he took us to my grandfather’s house because of the fierce shooting. On Sunday morning, 20 February, he came to us, drank coffee and talked about what had happened the night before. When he left, I had no idea what was in his mind. On the same day, at 2pm, we heard an explosion and saw black smoke far away, but it never crossed my mind that this explosion was made by my father.

He entered the katiba from which snipers were killing and wounding the young men. He put two cylinders of cooking gas and bottles filled with petrol in his car and lay down in the driver’s seat so as not to be killed by snipers. He entered at high speed through the first door of the katiba, they shot at him with anti-aircraft guns and the car exploded in front of the second door.

Nobody knew what he was going to do. That night we did not know that my father was martyred. We were looking for him everywhere, asking his friends and relatives about him. We did not find him at any place. We called him by mobile and his phone was off. On the second day, early in the morning, we went back to our house hoping to find him there. But we did not find him in the house.

My uncle came and we went with him to my grandfather’s house and then we knew that my father was martyred. My mother, me and my sister were shocked because he was very gentle and loved us very much. He could never leave us. He was always by our side, even supporting us in our study. At the beginning of the Revolution we had never imagined what our father could do because he was a very sensitive person who was gentle and caring with people.

Gradually we became aware of the value of his dead. He did not open only the door of the katiba, he also opened the hearts of Libyan people because they realized that the man left behind two daughters when he rushed his car to open the katiba’s door. Now, we know that he woke up the patriotic feelings of all Libyans and entered into history through the widest door with this brave act. We know that he is a hero and a real man because he did not want to watch young men dying and yet do nothing to stop it.

I am proud of his act but at the same time he left a big emptiness in our lives. I had never imagined that my father had valued anything more than he valued us, but he valued his motherland.

My father was to me friend, brother and mate. He went away and we stayed without him, but I see him on Libyan faces every day.

The departure of my father makes me cry but the present he gave to me removes the sadness from my heart. He gave to us two very big things. He taught us moral responsibility and love for our motherland.

God inspire me to pass over the separation from my father.

Benina Airport Project on the Outskirts of Benghazi, Libya, February 2011
John Macnab

Field Engineer
Benghazi, Libya

On 28 December, 2010, I travelled from Tunisia back to Benghazi, after a brief holiday, to continue work on the new Benina Airport Terminal. We had been constructing this project since 2009 and were on target to finish the job by year’s end 2011. The uprising in Tunisia was just gaining momentum and the mood amongst the Tunisian workers was upbeat though I could sense an underlying concern for their families back home. On 14 January, Ben Ali fled Tunisia and the celebrating began amongst the Tunisians at Benina.

17 January: Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi says he regrets the fall of Ben Ali, which has left the country in “chaos with no end in sight.” When protests began in Egypt the Libyan air force started flying daily reconnaissance missions from Benina Airport to the border area. Till this point nobody had discussed the possibility of protests spreading to Libya as we were certain Gaddafi would crack down very hard on any dissention amongst the population especially in Eastern Libya.

As the days passed and Egypt’s revolution remained mostly peaceful we hoped that Mubarak would do the right thing and step down which he did on 11 February, 2011. It wasn’t lost on us that Libya sat dead centre between these two revolutions but we just couldn’t conceive the possibility of a Libyan uprising against the Gaddafi regime. How wrong we were! Internet service was disrupted so we were unable to receive any news as to what was happening on the streets of Benghazi.

18 February: Our Filipino office clerk received a message from his wife who worked in a Benghazi school that a doctor had been shot dead at the next door medical clinic and the Filipino nurses were too afraid to continue working. There was also word of mercenaries roaming the streets killing unarmed protestors.

19 February: We were aware that Benghazi was in chaos and mid afternoon I witnessed a Russian Hind gunship flying low to the west of the airport firing on targets. Later that afternoon, I was told by an SNC Lavalin employee who had been at the airport arrivals gate that a plane load of African mercenaries had landed. We set up a survey instrument to get a closer look at what was happening around the airport terminal. I could see a large contingent of soldiers (+/- 200) in a defensive pattern around the west side of the runway. We didn’t know if these were mercenaries or Libyan government soldiers.

Three aircraft landed at Benina in the afternoon including Turkish, Afrikiyah, plus a large unmarked Russian transport plane and they flew scores of passengers out. The four Mig fighter jets based at Benina had taken off as usual that morning but never returned. Two Russian Hind gunships were active patrolling Benghazi and adjacent military installations. We decided it was time to retreat back to camp for safety reasons as there was much smoke rising to the west of the airport where the gunship had been concentrating its attack.

Just before dinner we witnessed a large aircraft with unlit running lights attempting to land. The soldiers at the airport opened fire with a massive barrage from machine guns and the plane veered away to the north and disappeared.

After dinner a co-worker and I went to the main SNC Lavalin office to see if we could connect to the internet. The state authorities had disconnected Libyan internet, phone, and cell coverage for the past week so our only contact with the outside world was via a direct internet connection through our Tunis office. I was able to logon the internet and sent out several messages and my co-worker was able to contact his son on Cyprus, who just happened to be a member of SAS, to give him our GPS coordinates. These would be our last messages sent via the office computers.

We could hear continuous machine gun fire at the airport at a distance of approximately 1km. I noticed a tank coming up the highway towards the end of the airport perimeter. As we left the office there was a convoy of trucks coming towards us and as they passed by we noticed the machine guns and AK47s. We hurried back to the compound where many of the Thai and Filipino employees had gathered.

Suddenly there was a flurry of gunfire and everybody scattered. We told everyone to get back to their cabins and keep out of sight. The invaders then proceeded to ransack our offices taking everything including hundreds of computers, furniture, and all our pickup trucks, heavy duty equipment and buses. Our main office in Ganfounda was overrun and burned to the ground so those employees travelled by bus to Benina for shelter. Our food and drinking water cache was also ransacked leaving us with only limited supplies for the 2500+ people now in camp. We spent the night hunkered down in our cabins listening to a continuous barrage of machine guns and AK47s. With no security it made for a very long sleepless night.

20 February: The shooting stopped at 4 a.m. and we were able to confirm that nobody had been injured. We surveyed what remained of the food and started distributing rice and whatever meat was left to the Thais & Filipinos. They began cooking on open fires around camp and generously offered us pancakes and meat dishes. Gaddafi sent fighter jets to bomb Benghazi on Sunday and our fear was he would bomb the runways.

We were surrounded by military installations to the southeast, to the northwest and probably other sites that we weren’t aware of. The ridge behind our camp was a massive network of bunkers and radar installation so we were in a very vulnerable situation with no cover other that our metal cabins. That afternoon a group of locals came to the camp and offered us protection. Many of the men had worked for Lavalin in the past, or knew somebody who had, and commented that they had been treated fairly and wanted to offer support. This development was a big relief for us as now the perimeter of the camp would be patrolled. It was another day of constant gunfire which kept us indoors and again the shooting continued throughout the night.

21 February: There was constant gun fire around the airport but we managed to get some rest. The Thais were very concerned about the situation and wanted assurance that SNC was working on an evacuation plan to get everybody out. All I could do was confirm that the Montreal office was working on a plan to have several planes flown from Europe that would evacuate everybody. The stumbling block to this plan was the airport runway being blocked by our heavy duty equipment to prevent more mercenaries from landing.

SNC had somebody negotiating with the General who had defected to the rebels’ side and was now directing the defence of the airport. We soon realized that the runway would not be opened any time soon and therefore flying out of Benina would not be an option.

22 February: The military set up anti aircraft guns at the airport and started firing over us towards the bunkers on the ridge above. As we were sitting in the kitchen we heard aircraft overhead and then bombs being dropped at a distance. We found out later the pilots had dropped the runway bombs to the north and south of the runway but had refused to follow orders to destroy the runways. We knew the importance of controlling the airport which added to our stress level. By now most of the food was gone and we were eating meals with the Thais & Filipinos who spent their days collecting firewood and cooking over open fires.

23 February: Security was busy with intruders and in the middle of the night somebody tried to enter our cabin. This night the first seven buses left Benina to attempt the 700km journey to the Egyptian border. Amongst the passengers were a Canadian and a Brit. Three of the buses broke down before even getting through Benghazi. The majority of us refused to travel by bus as it was a long, dangerous journey in poorly maintained vehicles. It must have been a horrific journey of two plus days with constant breakdowns and road blocks. I was told later that the buses had no glass in the windows and it was very cold throughout the night. They were stopped at roadblocks and armed men would board and intimidate the travellers. Eventually all the foreign workers would escape Libya via this long journey to the Egyptian border where they were met by buses to be driven to Alexandria and then to Cairo for flights home.

24 February: Early in the day we received word that the British frigate HMS Cumberland would be arriving in Benghazi harbour and evacuating us to Malta. By this point the food was consisting of rice and whatever else could be scrapped together so we were eager to vacate. The bus ride to the port took us past the army barracks now occupied by the Freedom Fighters and what an amazing sight that was. The gates were open and dozens of people milled around the guard post. We noticed much graffiti on concrete walls and the tri-coloured flag had replaced the green Gaddafi flag. We encountered several road blocks but were waved through politely by the soldiers. The best sight in days was seeing HMS Cumberland docked at the port with the Union Jack fluttering in the breeze. We were quickly processed onto the ship and within the hour were on the 34 hour journey on rough seas to Malta. Many thanks to the crew of the Cumberland for such a warm welcome aboard.

It was such a relief to be out of Benghazi and in the coming days I would travel to Malta, Italy, France and eventually North America.

In early May I received a message from a friend in Jalu, Libya, saying they were being attacked by hundreds of Gaddafi soldiers. I had been following the Libya blog on Al Jazeera and out of desperation contacted a popular blogger to seek help for my friends in the desert. The guys would forward the GPS coordinates of the location of the Gaddafi soldiers and a description of the surrounding area, for example, “They are in Waha oil field in a grove of palm trees”. I would confirm the coordinates on Google Earth then forward them to my contact. This worked very well and continued well into July when the final attacks were repelled and peace was restored to the desert oasis.

I wish I could have written this more as a story than words from my diary but this is okay. It is hard to put into words the fear we were feeling at this time in February; and it is just as hard to describe my resentment about the Gaddafi family for damaging so many lives and forcing us to leave, my reaction to the many threats I received and my sleeplessness on many nights as I thought of my friends being attacked. There is so much to say. I tell some people, “It was like watching a movie...except we were in the movie”.

We are all hoping for a peaceful transition to democracy for Libya and soon I hope to return to Benina to finish construction of the new airport that is so desperately needed. It would also be very nice to welcome to Benghazi some of the many bloggers who have offered so much support to Libya.

How I became Moussa Koussa

Ilya posting as Moussa Koussa

Minnesota, United States of America
Moussa – dresser very snazzy!
To prepare for Benghazi!
Moussa go atelier!
To spruce up his derriere!
Moussa jump at hand of tailor!
Is hand more like horny sailor!
Moussa pinched by nasty pinch
Moussa buttock painful clinch!
Very awkward situation!
In the midst of alteration!
No Moussa fancy suit!
Because pervert man pursuit!
Moussa got Benghazi blues!
These are Mousa Koussa news!

I wrote that. I posted it on AJE Libyan blog as Moussa Koussa in April, 2011.
Who the heck is Moussa Koussa?

He sounds quite like a nuisance.

Moussa Koussa was Gaddafi’s Foreign Minister whose notorious defection hours before April Fools’ Day made his the most tweeted name for the next 48 hours. He is a scumbag of the highest order, a man implicated not only with the Lockerbie bombing but also with the deaths of tens of thousands of Libyans in the decades since the ’60s. MK is probably the most identified and hated name in the Libyan world outside of a Gaddafi.

So why would anyone chose that moniker?

‘Cause it’s funnier than “2nd Harmonica” (who is also a member of our group.)

But there’s more to it than that. His name sounds downright Seussean. It begs to be rhymed and alliterated. Maybe his name trended so long on Twitter for the same reason. There are deeper reasons, sure. But first and foremost, the handle Moussa Koussa held comedic literary value. I chose to “become” MK as a joke, to ridicule the man.

And who are you?

A Russian Jew!

I’m a Russian Jew, one of a million my former motherland traded for sacks of wheat back in the ’70s. I came to America as a 13-year old, went to high school, college and graduate school here. I’m a scientist and a bleeding heart liberal. You might think involvement in social justice causes like supporting a struggle for human rights in Libya a natural fit. But if you think about it, being liberal could’ve just as easily made me anti-war, period. So, how did a Russian Jew become so involved in Libya? Well, that’s what this story is about.
OK, but what’s this blog on Al Jazeera?

Read! And answer will be clear!

That’s the easy part. Where does one get his news fix? American mass media blonds down its news. Fox started it, and CNN all too eagerly grabbed the baton. BBC coverage of the Arab Spring was great, up until the natural tragedy in Japan went nuclear. Then, the only place I could get my news fix became Al Jazeera.

So, since late February I’ve been reading AJE and, being a Russian Jew, I very hesitantly at first posted innocuous comments there under an innocent penname. That changed when the notorious scumbag Moussa Koussa defected. On the threshold of April Fools’ Day at that! As soon as I grabbed that moniker and started posting my Seussean “News O’Moussa Koussa”, for reasons still unclear AJE dramatically curtailed its coverage of Libya. Live interactive blogs stopped being updated on a daily basis, the news became sparse, my virtual friends started feeling uneasy.

In mid-April I launched our site almost on a whim. Late one night, one my friends from across the globe jokingly pitched the idea of reserving an MK site. Again, for the shear humor value, I did a quick search to find out that all the good moussa’s were taken, all the good moussakoussa’s were gone, but inexplicably was still up for grabs. For under two bucks a year! That was a no-brainer.

Reader know what she in for

When she visit

With an initial half a dozen virtual friends we set up an authentication procedure and began dropping hints for AJE posters we liked to join. We turned away as many as we authenticated, and in a matter of 4 months, we had grown to 100 “certified” members and nearly 100,000 visits.

So, how and why did a Russian Jew get so involved?

Russian Jews tend to get involved in the most unexpected undertakings.

In short, I got involved to keep the friends I made on AJE, but more importantly, because others wanted to as well. The long answer is complicated, and involves spending my formative years as refugee, which resonates within my heart with the similar, yet more difficult, universal struggle of the Libyan people.

35 years ago my family was traded for a sack of wheat.

We may never find out how big a sack, but the exchange rate doesn’t really matter. Back then, how much grain per Jew the Soviets got fluctuated with the annual magnitude of the collective farming fiasco.

Fast forward three dozen years.

Hop over the Iron Curtain and into the Sahara. Look at Tunisia, Libya, Egypt. Hug the Mediterranean Coast NE, and take a right into Syria.

Look around.

Until this year, human life still had no value at your local dictatorship.

This is why I feel so connected with the Arab Spring.

Their struggle for basic dignity and universal freedoms resonates in me. It simmers in all our hearts. When that simmer comes to boil, look out dictators! In the end, our shared passions and fears connect us simply and personally in this increasingly sophisticated and impersonal world.

Libya Feb17, 2011 Revolution – Links and Resources

The Web resources below provide you with background information about the Libyan #Feb17 revolution. Now, in 2012, one could even say that these sites define the historical context of the year 2011 with regard to Libya’s struggle for freedom. We’ve included news aggregators here, but all listed resources were and are run by Libyan revolutionaries (except of Al Jazeera, of course).

Although many news outlets, like Al Jazeera, New York Times, Guardian and countless others, produced literally tons and tons of coverage, most of these media weren’t able to deliver the news without following a quite distanced view on Libya and its brave revolutionaries, despite their reporters on the ground.

The best example showcasing the failure of all the mainstream media is the term “stalemate”, which was dominating the headlines and reports on Libya constantly. Reporting mostly from behind (Benghazi, Tripoli, even Cairo, Tunis, London or wherever far away), western journalists depended on maps of Libya to track the progress of the revolution. What they didn’t see, despite their personnel on the ground, were the changes from within.

Whilst the trackable front lines didn’t move much for months in most areas, the revolutionaries strengthened their positions, and gained reach, continuously. On the other hand, Gaddafi’s forces were thinned out just as well so continuously, and the whole regime lost its grip on power day-by-day, what eventually became visible in August 2011 (at the latest), when it finally imploded in a big bang.

So the Libyan revolution told the mainstream press a lesson. It’s not possible to cover a popular uprising, where the majority of the people struggles to topple a ruthless regime over many months, applying criteria that were invented to judge loss and gain in a conventional war. Front lines are rather meaningless. It’s way more important to measure the support for the revolution on one side, and the actual standing of the tyrannic regime on the other side. The mainstream media still has to develop this approach. That’s a huge challenge, with regard to the ongoing Arab Awakening.

As a side note, the above said goes for the post-revolution coverage, too. Just because the Libyan revolutionaries won the bloody war which a cruel dictator launched on his very own people, that doesn’t mean that a country without democratic –or even working!– structures can switch over to a full-blown democracy, western standards applied, a day after the last thug fighting for the former regime died or got captured.

So all the wannabe saints, who condemned the well deserved death of the deceased dictator, as well as other events during the fighting or directly after the victory of the Libyan people, that didn’t exactly follow a human rights watchers view on political correctness, should better shove the truth about their very own government’s actions –which were dealing with Gaddafi over decades for the sole sake of their GDP, strategic interests, or whatever– down their hypocritical throats, and shut the fuck up.

Better follow Libya how it creates itself as a free country out of the ashes of the war that ended four decades of tyranny, and praise the Libyan people for their achievements. Despite very few incidents, there’s peace in Libya, and the reconciliation process has been started.

I (Sebastian) wrote that from an outsider’s point of view. I may be totally wrong. Of course I followed the western media, especially journalists who reported from inside Libya, and Al Jazeera’s live stream was opened in a pinned tab during the conflict, but I also read tens of thousands of tweets, posts, blog comments and so on from Libyans who actually participated in the revolution, as well as I followed many expats who even in the diaspora had better sources than the western press.

Every serious reporter could have done that, too. Unfortunately, it seems as if the big media companies don’t allow their staff to invest much time in research. It’s way easier to rewrite a Reuters feed. As for Reuters –reiterating mostly lies from the mouth of Moussa Ibrahim al-Gaddafi annoying and verbally torturing journos jailed in the Rixos hotel in Tripoli–, in my humble opinion that was the best source of disinformation about Libya, ever. Of course, there were occasional exceptions, thanks to very few brave and honest Reuters journalists on the ground.

Anyway, surf the links below, follow their navigation that takes you back to 2011, to create your own picture. Thanks for your time listening to my rant!

There’s no particular order, just pick a link and jump into the very recent history of a now free country, Libya.

Shabab Libya, operated by the Libyan Youth Movement, not only was, and is, the most comprehensive news aggregator compiling nearly every bit and byte published on the Libyan revolution across the planet, it comes with tons of insider information, too, including a forum, fundraising campaigns, and whatnot.

Feb 17th Libya News acted as a news aggregator, re-publishing many articles from newspapers all over the world, but also maintained, and still maintains, sections like a huge archive of videos and images covering the Libyan revolution, documents, and more.

Alive in Libya is a blog that not only published background stories during the revolution, it also reports regional events and provides lots of video coverage.

Al Jazeera English clearly was the most timely as well as (usually) accurate source of information during the Libyan revolution. Their Libya Live Blogs, in depth articles, news items and live stream deeply covered the revolution from the very beginning on February 15th, 2011, over the victory, until today. Their blog posts attracted over 10,000 comments per day, another great resource if you can manage to navigate through the Disqus system which clearly got overwhelmed by that much user interaction.

If you read Arabic, please proceed to the corresponding links page in the Arabic section. Thank you.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Free Syrian Army Assassinates Opposition Financer

Free Syrian Army Assassinates Opposition Financer


Published: January 27, 2012

SAQBA, Syria — If the scene here on Friday was anything to judge by, the armed opposition to the Syrian government was making inroads and had won control of this town at the doorstep of the capital, Damascus, and perhaps of several other neighborhoods, signaling an escalation of violence in this beleaguered country.

At a funeral for one of the more than 5,400 victims of Syria’s unfolding civil war, fighters from the opposition Free Syrian Army kept a menacing watch, their faces covered with scarves and balaclavas as they stood at the edge of a square, carrying assault rifles and grenade launchers.

Thousands of demonstrators marched behind the coffin beneath the green, white and black banner of the opposition — not the Syrian government’s flag. Suspected state security agents were grabbed by the crowd.

The growing violence and assertiveness of the loosely organized military force hinted at the expanding role of armed fighters in a movement that began peacefully more than 10 months ago and that now seems to attract more defectors from Syria’s military by the day. After months of a withering government crackdown on the opposition, many protesters have come to welcome the fighters as a bulwark against the security forces loyal to PresidentBashar al-Assad.

The Free Syrian Army’s leadership is based over the border in Turkey. It is unclear whether it has any organizational control over the local, ad hoc militias in Syria that one person described as “franchises.” The scene in the square in Saqba showed that the ranks of the fighters had been buttressed by army conscripts and others, including air force veterans. In some places the militias are filled with local men, and in others, like Saqba, many of the defectors come from other parts of the country, welcome but somewhat mysterious guests.

“We don’t know who their commanders are,” said Rafaat Obeid, 37, one of the demonstrators. “We know they protect us.”

The growing numbers of armed rebels — and the determination of the government crackdown — has led to a rising tide of violence. The leader of the Arab League’s observer mission acknowledged on Friday that killings had accelerated despite the delegates’ presence. In a statement, the mission chief, Lt. Gen. Muhammad Ahmed al-Dabi of Sudan, warned of the “significant” escalation of violence in the previous three days and said it threatened negotiations aimed at ending the conflict.

Few of Syria’s opposition strongholds were safe on Friday as a government offensive unfolded across the country. The streets of Homs, Hama and Idlib came under shelling and sniper fire and were choked by clashes with opposition activists.

In the Free Syrian Army, the government faces what is surely a gathering threat. The rebels have fanned out across the country, forming militias that seem to be organizing mostly at a local level.

Khaled Abou Salah, a spokesman for the Homs Revolution Council, said brigades of Free Syrian Army soldiers in the city answered to neighborhood commanders who coordinated their efforts with officers in other parts of the country. The corps included engineers specializing in explosives and civilians, often men wanted by the government. Their ranks were growing, he said.

“Each time they bring new forces here, some of them defect,” he said.

In interviews last week, some residents of Homs, including several Christians and Alawites, expressed fears that hard-line Sunnis known as Salafis were forming armed groups and stoking violence. Those fears — which some said were overblown and ignored similar Sunni worries — reflected mounting concerns among secular activists that as the conflict drags on, an Islamist presence in some militias was giving the uprising an increasingly sectarian character.

One prominent leftist activist in Homs, heeding the concerns, said he was pressing his fellow activists to renounce the armed movement and stick to peaceful protests.

The tensions played out this week between secular and Islamist activists, with the Islamists pushing to name the weekly Friday protests “Al Jihad,” as other activists pushed for “the Right to Self Defense.” The secular activists won.

“The Syrian uprising is not a Sunni jihad against unbelievers,” said Rami, a protest leader in Damascus. “It is a Syrian uprising against a dictator’s regime, and for that reason there are protesters from Alawite, Christian, Druze, Ismaili and other sects,” he said.

In Saqba, a Free Syrian Army commander echoed that sentiment, saying that the fighters in the city crossed sectarian lines. “My colleagues’ names are George, and Joseph,” he said.

They had defected from military bases all over the country, with many saying they had fled after being ordered to fire on the protests. Men from Saqba had begged to join the brigade, usually motivated by revenge after the death of a relative.

Increasingly, the opposition movement seems to be facing a cornered but resilient foe. Arab and Western nations have intensified their efforts in the last week to isolate Mr. Assad’s government, demanding that he hand over power.

At the United Nations on Friday, Morocco presented a new draft Security Council resolution echoing the Arab League’s stance that Mr. Assad cede power to pave the way for a national unity government. The measure was opposed by Russia — and Syria — for hinting at sanctions and an arms embargo, and what the Assad government said was an effort to impose a solution from the outside.

“They deal with us as if we are a former colony that should subjugate itself to their will,” said Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador. “Syria will not be Libya; Syria will not be Iraq; Syria will not be Somalia; Syria will not be a failed state.”

Instead, the government promised to strike “firmly” at the armed gunmen, like the army defectors in Saqba, who it says represent the true face of an opposition it has branded as terrorists. The message has found sympathetic ears, not only among Mr. Assad’s large base of supporters but also other Syrians who fear that a growing armed insurgency will destabilize the country.

Within the past few days, the security forces have descended on Douma, 10 miles from Damascus, to take back neighborhoods they had ceded to armed gunmen. They did the same in Hama, where the bodies of dozens of executed prisoners were found on Thursday.

In another sign that the conflict might be escalating, there were unconfirmed reports on Friday of large protests in Aleppo, the country’s second largest city and a center of commerce that has stayed largely quiet.

Activists said that at least nine protesters were killed when plainclothes security officers attacked the demonstrations.

Homs was the site of the worst bloodletting. Activists said at least 40 people, including children, had been killed in sectarian killings and government shelling there since Thursday.

Increasingly, the opposition is meeting violence with violence. Opposition figures have warned about the new direction of the uprising as some militias have attacked the security forces as well as people seen — rightly or wrongly — as its supporters.

In Aleppo, Free Syrian Army officers were behind the recent assassination of a prominent businessman who was widely believed to be one of the main financiers of the shabiha, or plainclothes security officers, said Col. Ammar Alwawi, a Free Syrian Army officer in Turkey, who said the militia had been warning the government’s supporters for months to “return to the people.”

“There’s no other option now,” he said.

A Free Syrian Army member who identified himself as Lt. Sayf, said 35 soldiers from the militia were behind a bombing at a checkpoint near Idlib on Friday that killed at least two members of the government’s security forces.

Speaking of his role in the attack, Lieutenant Sayf said, “I thank God, with his blessings, no one from our army got injured and all security at the checkpoint were killed.”

Sabqa itself was hardly safe on Friday. In recent weeks, beneath the tall, dingy apartment blocks of the city, the fighters have fought off government attacks from snipers and tanks. More recently, mortar rounds have landing in the neighborhood, they said. At one point, there was a stampede, after rumors of a government attack.

Residents were mostly at ease in the square, where they talked about the violence of recent months, saying that more than 30 local residents had died.

“I’ve never felt safe in my house — in my country,” Jamal Attaya said as thousands marched past him. “The protests couldn’t go on without them,” he said, referring to the fighters.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Back to Beni Walid

Gaddafi loyalists seize Libyan city

Associated Press

Libya, January 26, 2012

Muammar Gaddafi loyalists have seized control of a Libyan mountain city in the most serious challenge to the central government since the strongman's fall.

It underlines the increasing weakness of Libya's Western-backed rulers as they try to unify the country under their authority.

The taking of Bani Walid, one of the last Gaddafi strongholds captured by the new leadership late last year, was the first such organised operation by armed remnants of Gaddafi's regime.

A simultaneous outbreak of shootings in the capital and Libya's second largest city Benghazi raised authorities' concerned that other networks of loyalists were active elsewhere.

The security woes add to the difficulties of the ruling National Transitional Council, which is struggling to establish its authority and show Libyans progress in stability and good government. Bani Walid's fall comes after violent protests in Benghazi, where Libyans angry over lack of reform stormed the NTC headquarters and trashed offices.

In Bani Walid, hundreds of well-equipped and highly trained remnants of Gaddafi's forces battled for eight hours on Monday with the local pro-NTC revolutionary brigade, known as the May 28 Brigade, said Mubarak al-Fatmani, the head of Bani Walid local council.

The brigade was driven out and Gaddafi loyalists then raised their old green flag over buildings in the western city.

Four revolutionary fighters were killed and 25 others were wounded in the fighting, al-Fatmani said.

There were no immediate signs that the uprising was part of some direct attempt to restore the family of Gaddafi, who was swept out of power in August and then killed in the nearby city of Sirte in October.

His sons, daughter and wife have been killed, arrested or have fled to neighbouring countries.

Instead, the fighting seemed to reflect a rejection of NTC control by a city that never deeply accepted its rule, highlighting the still unresolved tensions between those who benefited under Gaddafi's regime and those now in power.

Those tensions are tightly wound up with tribal and regional rivalries around the country.
The May 28 Brigade had kept only a superficial control over the city, the head of Bani Walid's military council, Abdullah al-Khazmi, acknowledged.

"The only link between Bani Walid and the revolution was May 28, now it is gone and 99 per cent of Bani Walid people are Gaddafi loyalists," he said.

He spoke to The Associated Press at a position on the eastern outskirts of Bani Walid, where hundreds of pro-NTC reinforcements from Benghazi were deployed with convoys of cars mounted with machine guns, though there was no immediate move to retake the city.

A powerful sense of deja vu grips the men of Libya's national guard as they mass for battle in the freezing desert outside Bani Walid, the new frontline of a war most had thought was long over.

Last October many of these same fighters battled their way into this desert town, one of the last pro-Gaddafi redoubts to hold out against the rebels.

Now they are back again after fighting this week killed four soldiers and forced the closure of a small government garrison. Several dozen former Gaddafi administration officials arrested for war crimes by the garrison in recent weeks were sprung from jail during the uprising.

The town, home to the powerful Warfalla tribe, has become a no-go area for government units and the militias, drawn from units across Libya, are ready to launch a new offensive unless local leaders allow them back in - and round-up war crimes suspects.
"There are three hundred pro-Gaddafi guys in that town," says Suleiman Hatir, a fighter from the eastern town of Tobruk. "They have committed crimes and they are living in Beni Walid."

Fighters here agree with the assessment UN special envoy Ian Martin delivered to the security council in New York on Wednesday in which he said the fighting is not part of a pro-Gaddafi uprising.

The real problem, Martin said, lay in the weakness of the ruling National Transitional Council, which has faced protests against its perceived lack of transparency, most notably concerning the destination of the country's swelling oil revenues.

The frontline is the same as it was last October, a small desert settlement named al-Estada, no more than a collection of sand coloured huts, a mosque and a shop, 30 miles north of Beni Walid.

Pro-Gaddafi graffiti has long been whitewashed out, replaced by revolutionary slogans rendered in red, black and green paint.

The weather, however, is very different. The fighters now look fat in winter combat jackets of as many different camouflage patterns as the origins of their units, hunched against a freezing wind that whips off the desert scrub.

Alerts come and go. A convoy of 14 armed jeeps rumbles past towards Beni Walid and a white helicopter lands amid clouds of dust on the road, awaiting the wounded. But with no sounds of battle audible, the helicopter flies away again and the fighters resume their chilly vigil.

Hadir explains that the fighters hail from units from Tripoli, Misrata, Benghazi, Tobruk and Beni Walid itself, but that they have no dealings with the official national army, an anaemic force staffed by former Gaddafi-era officials. The national army, perhaps wisely, is keeping well out of the way, manning a few roadblocks to the north.

The fighters also say they are at one with demonstrators in the cities demanding more accountability and democracy from the government. "We are with the protesters," Hatir says. "The militias are united."

Across the street from the shop a group of migrant workers from Nigeria sit against a wall, having been arrested a few hours before on suspicion of being mercenaries. "We were not in the army," says 21-year-old Sunday Sienda, wearing a grubby Barcelona football shirt. "I am telling you, I have been in Libya two years. I work. I was trying to get to Tripoli."

Their guards suspect otherwise, but there is no sign of mistreatment. Finally, after a discussion among commanders, it is decided that the captives are innocent. An hour later two white Red Cross jeeps arrive to collect them.

Civilians leaving Beni Walid insist they are not pro-Gaddafi and accuse the former rebels of theft and vandalism when the town fell in the autumn. Bani Walid's elders are more circumspect, saying they are in no position to confront the pro-Gaddafi elements who have made the town their home.

Abdul Aziz Guma, a fighter from Tripoli who wears blue leggings under his combat trousers to keep warm, says the war criminals, not the local population, are the target. "We do not want to harm innocent people."

But Osama el-Hadi, a fighter in a grey Wranger hoodie, is more gloomy. "I am from Beni Walid and I can tell you the reality, which is that 90% of the inhabitants of Beni Walid are pro-Gaddafi. It's just their mentality, it is the way they are."

In some ways neither the political orientation of Beni Walid matters, and nor do edicts from central government. What matters is whether the elders hand over their war crimes suspects. Failure to do so is likely to see a full-blown assault, meaning further destruction for both the town and the crumbling reputation of Libya's new government.

By Oliver Holmes and Taha Zargoun

SADADA, Libya | Fri Jan 27, 2012 6:37pm EST

(Reuters) - A militia commander whose troops were driven out of the Libyan tribal stronghold of Bani Walid this week said on Friday that his forces were massing to recapture the town but were holding back at the government's request.

"It is our right to reenter Bani Walid and nobody can prevent us," Imbarak al-Futmani said in an interview with Reuters at his desert camp near Sadada, 30 miles east of Bani Walid.

Futmani's troops were pushed out by angry townsmen who he accuses of being the remnants of loyalists of Muammar Gaddafi, the former dictator who was overthrown then captured and killed in October.

Eight hundred of his men were now massed along the eastern flank of the town awaiting his orders to enter by force, said the elderly warrior, who was dressed in an ornate black and gold waistcoast, a skullcap and a white blanket over his shoulder.

Bani Walid, 90 miles south of Tripoli, was one of the last towns to surrender to the anti-Gaddafi rebellion last year.

Hundreds of fighters loyal to the interim government have surrounded the isolated town after hearing word that a pro-Gaddafi uprising had broken out.

Futmani said he faced a couple of hundred "criminals" nostalgic for Gaddafi's time in power, rather than large battalions of organized loyalists.

"We have all the revolutionary fighters with us and we can take Bani Walid in a matter of hours."

"If they don't hand themselves in, they will face what they cannot imagine," he added, his eyes hidden by thick-rimmed, amber Ray-Ban sunglasses.


On Monday, armed residents surrounded Futmani's brigade, who named themselves the "28th of May," after the date last year when Gaddafi loyalists executed a number of pro-democracy protesters in Bani Walid.

After a battle in which Futmani lost six fighters, his men fled the barracks in the dark of the night.

"Once the Gaddafis broke through the gate and entered the barracks, all they cared about was stealing our tanks. We just walked right out," said one of Futmani's men.

Echoing complaints by residents that the 28th of May Brigade had been harassing people and abusing prisoners, the town elders said they were dismissing the government-backed local council on which Futmani sits and appointing their own local government.

They said they were not Gaddafi supporters but just tired of the militia pushing its weight around their town.

Futmani says the elders profited from Gaddafi and were trying to reclaim their town from its rightful rulers, the western-backed National Transitional Council (NTC) government.


With hundreds of fighters waiting at the gates of Bani Walid, drinking tea and oiling their weapons in the cold desert, why have they have not pushed forward?

Sitting in his base, a former Gaddafi holiday mansion on the top of a rocky hill, Futmani said the prime minister had asked him to hold off to allow civilians to leave the town and, hopefully, for the assailants to surrender.

"The prime minister called me and asked me not to move and I accepted," he said.

"(Prime minister Abdel Rahim) El Keib promised that the government would use force to maintain security, if necessary."

Troops from the nascent National Army, composed of revolutionary fighters who have signed up to the government force, had joined the militias around Bani Walid.

The NTC has been unable to fully establish control over armed revolutionary groups in Libya and has only incorporated a few brigades into a national security force. All of the militias claim loyalty to the government but most are still unwilling to disarm. Instead, they adopt a wait-and-see approach to who comes to power, and if they like them.

Futmani's men cruise around the base in dirty pick-up trucks with machineguns mounted on the back.

He is skeptical of any peaceful solution and saw more violence ahead.

"These pro-Gaddafis, they see us a rats, like Gaddafi did," he said. "They are murderers and criminals, they will never integrate into the new Libya because they know they will face justice now."

Libya Football at Africa Cup

Libya need to end winless streak
24 January 2012

Fairytale qualifiers Libya have not won at the Africa Cup of Nations since defeating Zambia when they hosted the tournament 30 years ago.

The Mediterranean Knights must repeat that feat when they face the Copper Bullets at the 35 000-seat Estadio de Bata on Wednesday to retain a realistic chance of reaching the quarterfinals from Group A at the 2012 championship.

Libya conceded a late goal and lost 1-0 to co-hosts Equatorial Guinea at the same venue last Saturday in the opening match of the biennial three-week African football showcase.
A few hours later at the same stadium Zambia caused the first shock of the mini-league phase by scoring two early goals and conceding only one against fancied Senegal as they defended desperately under relentless second-half pressure.

Brazilian coach Marcos Paqueta was part of an amazing chapter in Libyan football history as the team risked their lives travelling abroad to play elimination matches last year while civil war raged in the country.

Midfielder Walid El Khatroushi joined the rebels who ended the four-decade rule of Moamer Kadhafi before being persuaded to exchange an assault rifle for football kit.
"This is not the end of the story," insisted former Saudi Arabia handler Paqueta, "because we still have two group matches to play and every game is a different story."

"We are going to face Zambia and Senegal – the best two teams in our group – and it is going to get harder. My team wants to bring joy to the Libyan people after all the suffering they went through last year."

Zambia are jubilant after a win that meant so much because the 1993 national squad was flying to Senegal for a World Cup tie when their air force plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean not far from here and all 30 on board died.

"I can assure our nation we will not underestimate Libya, who we failed to defeat in two qualifiers for this tournament," stressed long-serving Zambia midfielder Isaac Chansa.
"The atmosphere within our camp is very good," he added, "and we are confident of going very far in this tournament with the coach (Herve Renard) demanding nothing less than a semifinals place."

While Libya fight to survive, Zambia know maximum points could seal a last-eight place and give them a genuine chance of topping the table and avoiding co-favourites Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals.

Life with the Libyan football team

BATA, Equatorial Guinea: Libya are the fairytale competitors at the Africa Cup of Nations but the journey from bloody civil war to the continental showcase has not been easy, as one of the team’s medical staff can testify.

Helvecio Pessoa linked up with the Libya team in July 2010, working with his Brazilian compatriot, coach Marcos Paqueta and the almost entirely Brazilian staff.

The 55-year-old, in an interview with AFP after Libya’s opening loss to co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, recounted the trauma of having to flee the country at the start of the revolution to topple dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

And he told of the remarkable efforts made to keep the Libya team operating against the back drop of the bombs and bullets so successfully that they ended up qualifying for the 2012 Cup.

Reflecting on circumstances before civil war erupted Pessoa said: “Life in Tripoli was normal, and safe.

“We lived amongst ourselves, eating churrasco. We never had any problem with Mohammmed (Gaddafi’s eldest son and the ex-president of the Libyan Football Federation).”

Then Libya erupted, with Pessoa recalling: “At the start of the uprising we were scared, but my family back in Brazil were even more concerned.

“I’ve got a son in the United States, we were speaking via Skype, then all of a sudden the connection was cut. I found out later that he broke down in tears as he was so scared.”
In February 2011 he and the rest of the Brazilian staff decided it was time to leave Libya.
“We went to the Libyan Football Federation’s headquarters – the building was destroyed.
“We went to see the Brazil ambassador, who gave us support. All the travel agencies were shut, we booked tickets on the internet.

“We went to the airport, but it was as if all the foreign population of Libya was there too.
“We returned the next day, each of us taking one small bag, some had their wives and children with them, only to find even more people there.

“A Libyan working for the embassy helped us through check-in and we managed to board the last two commercial flights on Alitalia for Rome.

“Since that day we’ve never returned to Libya.”

He and his compatriots on the Libyan team’s staff have been living in Brazil since, meeting up with the team in Tunisia.
“We spoke to the coach who stayed in Libya via Facebook.

“For the (qualifying) match against Mozambique held in Cairo we didn’t know the players.

“Most of them had come from Benghazi.

“The new political authorities had a black list (one of the names on that list was captain Tarek El Tayab, a Gaddafi supporter).

“It was difficult for Paqueta, because these were good players.”

He put Libya’s “miraculous” Nations Cup qualification down to the spirit of the squad.
“They never complain, I observed a big difference in the young players who earn lots of money and get up to no matter what – in contrast this squad were very serious and motivated.”

The only player attached to a regular club was midfielder Jamal Abdallah, who plays for Sporting Braga in Portugal.

“For all the others we had to work on their strength, with lots of work in the gym, but also work with the ball.”

We had to prepare in Qatar and in the United Arab Emirates, with 40 degree heat, humidity and during ramadan.

“Einstein would have gone mad with that equation!”

He says he and and the other staff with the team haven’t been paid for up to five months.
“We’re in the process of negotiating the backpay, it’ll be sorted out after this Nations Cup, the people at the Federation are correct.

“At the moment there aren’t the necessary security conditions to return to play in Libya. We don’t know when the Libyan league will be able to resume.

“In truth, we would have preferred not to have experienced all of that.”

Libya’s second match at the 2012 Cup is against Zambia in Bata on Wednesday.

African Cup of Nations: Libya 2 – 2 Zambia

Having been beaten 1-0 in their opening game to group winners and conquerors of Senegal Equatorial Guinea, Libya now sit on the brink of elimination after Zambia snatched a draw on a water-logged pitch in a game that kicked off an hour and fifteen minutes late thanks to torrential rain.

Unsurprisingly, Zambian coach Herve Renard endured with the same team which overcame Senegal in the opening group game 2-1, while his Libyan counterpart Marcos Paqueta made two changes to the team which lost to Equatorial Guinea, bringing Muhammad al-Maghrabi and Abubakr al-Abaidy in.

Despite an almost unplayable pitch (which shouldn’t have been given the approval of referee Koman Coulibaly), Libya came out strongly, scoring the first goal of the day when Ahmed Saad Osman ran onto a Walid Elkhatroushi’s excellent through ball and finished into the corner to Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene’s left.

The conditions played a massive part in the game, throwing game plans out of the window, especially for the Zambians, whose impressive passing approach that did them so well in the Senegal game was never an option, though the Libyan first goal sparked them into life, creating a number of chances heading towards half-time that ultimately went unconverted.

But then, just after the 30th minute mark, Emmanuel Mayuka scored his second of the tournament to bring the scores level, with a great right foot volley at the far post from Rainford Kalaba’s floated cross into Samir Abod’s goal. Another fine goal from Mayuka, who has quickly made a big impression, and will surely be attracting some more top-flight European interest after the competition ends.

Half-time brought a welcome respite from the conditions in what had been a far more entertaining game than the weather should have allowed – both teams coping quite well not to be too bogged down in the quagmire.

The second-half started at an even more frenetic pace than the first, with the Libyans this time needing only two minutes to get their noses back in front; Ahmed Saad Osman collecting substitute Ihab Albusaifi’s pass, evading Zambia’s defence, and shooting well past Kennedy Mweene to make it 2-1.

With the crowd just about settling back in their seats, another moment of magic from Mayuka gave Christopher Katongo the chance to get his team back on level terms almost immediately – Mayuka further showing off his acrobatic skills to send a wonderful overhead kick onto Katongo’s head, who scored from close up. Game on.

With stalemate on the cards, but plenty of time remaining on the clock, neither team looked happy to accept a draw, with chances at both ends, notably for Osman of Libya and Katongo, as well as his brother Felix for Zambia. But ultimately, the game ended a draw, with Zambia heading into second int he group behind Senegal’s conquerors Equatorial Guinea, and Libya holding onto the hope that they can beat the Senegalese and the group winners again triumph over Zambia by more than 2 goals.

Libya: 01-Samir Aboud (captain), 02-Rabea Aboubaker, 05-Younes Shibani, 06-Mohamed Esnani, 10-Ahmed Osman, 11-Mohamed El Mughrabi, 4-Ali Salama, 16-Abubaker Suiueinei, 17-Walid El-Khatroushi, 19-Ahmed Zuway, 23-Jamal Mohamed.

Zambia: 16- Kennedy Mweene, 02-Francis Kasonde, 03- Chisamba Lungu, 04- Joseph Musonda, 05- Hichani Himoonde, 08 – Isaac Chansa, 11- Christopher Katongo, 13- Stoppila Sunzu, 17 – Rainford Kalaba, 19- Nathan Sinkala, 20- Emmanueal Mayuka

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Libyan Take Time Out from Revolution for Football

Libyans can play without pressure

January 20, 2012
By Firdose Moonda

Group A: Equatorial Guinea | Zambia | Senegal | Libya

Libyan footballers and Australian cricketers have as much in common as a red card and a diamond necklace but the Mediterranean Knights may enter Equatorial Guinea with the words of Aussie all-rounder Keith Miller echoing in their ears.

Libya's players are playing for a country fully behind them

"Pressure, I'll tell you what pressure is," he said. "Pressure is a Messerschmitt [aircraft] up your a***. Playing cricket is not."

Miller is considered of the greatest players to ever wear a Baggy Green. He was also a fighter-pilot in the Second World War, which meant he knew there was more to life than playing games. So do the Libyan team. Revolution has ripped their country apart and even though regime change is underway, normal life has been severely interrupted. The Libyan league has been suspended since fighting began and has been in disarray.

Against the backdrop of chaos, the team's qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations is as close to a fairytale as the nation has had. For the first time, football represents hope after spending years grovelling in darkness and, as far as some are concerned, flirting with evil. Much like Iraq, Libya's football was held in the hands of the country's rulers as a political tool. Colonel Muammar Gadaffi's son Mohamed ran the national football federation while Saadi Gaddafi played for Al Ahly Tripoli.

During one of Saadi's matches against rivals Al Ahly Benghazi, an incident occurred to demonstrate the extremes of the ruling party's stranglehold over the game. Benghazi decided to abandon the match at half-time because of what they considered dodgy refereeing and made it all the way to the airport before Saadi caught up with them and threatened them. They returned and lost 3-0 but also lost their training ground after the Colonel Gaddafi ordered it be burnt down as punishment. Saadi also captained the national team and under him they fell to 186th in the FIFA World Rankings. When the war broke out in February, football took the side of the status quo. Former captain Tariq Tayib, supported the Colonel, told the world that the team did also after beating Comores in a qualification match in March and called the rebels "rats and dogs".

But 17 influential people in Libyan football thought otherwise. One of them was Abdel bin Issa, the coach of Al Ahly Tripoli, who declared that he would like to see Gaddafi dead. Two others were goalkeeper Juma Gtat and midfielder Walid el Kahatroushi. Both the players fought on the frontline, motivated to do so by friends who had suffered injuries and wanted to contribute to the country's greatest cause. Gaddafi was toppled in August, a week before the team were due to play in Mozambique in a fixture that had been moved to Cairo. The lack of order in the country's footballing systems means that their Brazilian coach Marcos Paqueta, who has not been paid since the war began, had to buy his own plane ticket to Cairo and somehow bring the team back together.

Mohamed Gaddafi was impressed by the Brazilian's plan for Libyan football and Paqueta said he accepted the job because he "did not know about the country" and its politics. He has changed his tune and now speaks like a revolutionary himself. The match was significant in more ways than just the 1-0 result in Libya's favour. The team donned a new national kit white shirts with the black, white and green striped flag with a crescent moon - instead of the Gaddafi green they had previously worn. They also sang a new national anthem, real signs that the man who was once their leader no longer had control over them.

Only one more step had to be taken to qualify and it was against Zambia, which was a must-win game if Libya were to avoid relying on other results. Their journey to the game was far from perfect and they were held to a goalless draw in Chingola which required them to wait and see if Guinea could stave off Nigeria. That match also ended in a draw, clearing the path for Libya to reach the finals. That day the squad forgot their troubles.

They sang a chant with the words "the blood of the dead will not be spilt in vain". Their new captain Samir Aboud dedicated their qualification to "all Libyans and our revolution". The Libyan people took to the streets, celebrating an unlikely success in a time of turmoil. Since then, the team have had more time to concentrate on football. They held a warm-up camp in the United Arab Emirates, where they lost a training match 1-0 to Ivory Coast. Most of their players are still based at home and have not had enough match time but that is of little concern to Paqueta who believes that their driving force will be to achieve something for the people at home. The upheaval of the last 11 months has also not stopped the squad from enjoying some of the finer things in life, like food.

Libya have taken their own chef with them to the tournament armed with 25 kilograms of couscous to cook traditional meals throughout the event. For the next three weeks, the only fighting the team will do will be on the football field as they aim to topple the likes of tournament favourites Zambia and Senegal. Likening sport to war is a comparison made all too often. Most of the time, it is crass and inconsiderate because like members of Libya's national team will testify, real war is a much more serious matter.

Even though Paqueta said the team is now "not only playing for football success but for a new government and a new country", in truth, it probably won't matter how far Libya progress in the continental showpiece. Like Miller said, the country has real pressure on its mind. But, the further they get, the more pride they will be able to take back with them.

Kahatroushi put it best before they had qualified: "At least to bring them some happiness after all the sadness the Libyan people have been through."

Libyans Demonstrate - Attack NTC

Libyans storm transitional gov't HQ
January 21, 2012

BENGHAZI, Libya — Hundreds of angry Libyans on Saturday stormed the transitional government's headquarters in the eastern city of Benghazi, carting off computers, chairs, and desks while the country's interim leader was still holed up in the building.

Libyans have grown increasingly frustrated with the pace and direction of reforms in the country more than three months after the end of the civil war that ousted longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Those concerns spurred residents in Benghazi, where the uprising against longtime leader Muammar Qaddafi broke out in February, to begin protests nearly two weeks ago to demand transparency and justice from the country's new leaders.

The melee at the National Transitional Council's headquarters began after protesters broke through the gates using hand grenades and streamed into the grounds of the headquarters. They banged on the building's doors and demanded officials meet with them.

In a bid to calm tensions, NTC chief Mustafa Abdul-Jalil tried to address the crowd from a second-floor window, but protesters began throwing bottles at him.

Protesters then torched Abdul-Jalil's armored Land Cruiser and broke into the headquarters itself, smashing windows to get inside and cart off furniture and electronics.

A security official in the building said a team of some 50 guards dressed as civilians were trying to calm the protesters.

The official, who served as a revolutionary commander during the civil war, said Abdul-Jalil was still in the building and was refusing to leave. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Some of the protesters pitched tents weeks ago outside the NTC's headquarters to protest a set of election laws they say were drafted by the interim leaders without consulting the public.

"The election laws have not been approved by thousands of Libyans and do not honor those who died for our freedom," said Tamer al-Jahani, a lawyer taking part in the protest. "We don't want to replace one tyrant with another."

The NTC is expected to soon pass the packet of laws, which specify how elections for a transitional parliament will be held. The council only took into account public suggestions through an online survey.

The NTC's handling of the draft laws has sparked criticism that the council is not living up to its democratic ideals.

Last week, NTC official Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga was assaulted in Benghazi by protesters angry at what they said is the NTC's lack of transparency.

Some demonstrators were demanding more rights for fighters wounded during the civil war.
Protester Ahmed Boras accused the NTC of sidelining anti-Qaddafi fighters.

"It seems to us that these people are no different than Qaddafi and they only speak the language of force," he said.

BENGHAZI, Libya – The deputy head of Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) was roughed up on Thursday by university students in the eastern city of Benghazi, in a rare incident that indicates a growing popular discontent with Libya’s new rulers.

Benghazi, the cradle of Libya’s uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, has witnessed a number of protests over the past few months demanding the new rulers sack officials who served under Gaddafi.

The protesters in Benghazi also called on the NTC to be transparent about its financial dealings, including how billions of dollars in Libyan assets were being spent.

Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice president of the NTC, was surrounded by a crowd of angry protesters and jostled before he was pulled away to safety.

“Some people pulled me away from the mob,” he said. “I think this incident is aimed at tarnishing the standing of the National Transitional Council.”


He was attending a memorial ceremony at a Benghazi university for those killed during the civil war that overthrew Gaddafi.

Ghoga said the incident was a result of what he described as an incitement campaign against him. He said he came to the event without a security detail except for his driver.

Attiya al-Ojeli, a university professor at the Benghazi University, said a group of students outside the hall chanted “Go away, Go away!” as Ghoga entered the hall.

He said Ghoga insisted on facing the crowd against the advice of the university.

The incident is particularly embarrassing for the NTC because Benghazi was where the revolt against Gaddafi started in February last year, it was for months the NTC’s base, and it is the main powerbase for many of Libya’s new rulers.

The new Libyan government is grappling with a number of issues, including disbanding the militias who have carved the country up into rival fiefdoms, forming police and military forces and creating jobs for thousands of jobless youths.

Most Libyans still back their new rulers but some are starting to express the view that, five months after Gaddafi’s rule ended, more progress should have been made.

© Thomson Reuters 2012

Throw Out the Playbook on Libya Elections

Throw out the playbook for Libya's elections
Posted By Sean Kane Friday, January 20, 2012 - 5:00 PM

After over 40 years of Muammar al-Qaddafi's Jamahiriya -- a by design stateless society of purported direct rule by the popular masses -- Libya's political transition was always going to be sui generis. Other Arab autocrats may have subverted elections and ignored their constitutions, but in most cases at least the motions of representative democracy existed. This was not the case in Libya, where the law organizing the country's first elections is scheduled for publication this weekend. As Othman El-Mugirhy, the chair of the committee that drafted the law eloquently put it, "Libya has no institutions, it is a state of ashes."

One legacy of the almost perpetual administrative flux that Qaddafi's unique governing model engendered is that individuals rather than political parties will likely contest Libya's forthcoming elections. This has all sorts of unusual consequences, not least of which is potentially turning on its head the widespread belief in the region that early elections favor the Muslim Brotherhood.

Political parties come in for a particularly hard time in Muammar al-Qaddafi's Green Book, which lays out his Third Universal Theory (the Brother Leader's proposed alternative to capitalism and communism). Describing political parties as the abortion of democracy and their members as traitors, the Green Book makes the case that parties split society by ensuring "the rule of the part over the whole" and are the "contemporary model of dictatorship" intended to rob people of their right to govern themselves directly.

The decades of demonization of political parties by Qaddafi have left a lasting impact on the Libyan political scene. Many of the nascent political entities in the new Libya seem to prefer to call themselves "movements" or "alliances" rather than use the word party, which still frequently draws a visceral negative reaction.

Countrywide focus group research conducted in Libya by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in November 2011 tends to confirm this anecdotal impression. NDI found participants' reactions to the idea of political parties "range from ignorance to skepticism to outright hostility." Many were concerned that political parties are potentially divisive and could cause conflict among Libyans at a time when the country needs to be united. One participant repeated word for word a Green Book bromide that the larger the number of parties, the greater the divisions and struggle within society.

It is perhaps unsurprising then that the electoral law prepared by Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) is widely expected to propose a system in which voters would choose from individual candidates rather than party lists in selecting representatives for the country's constitutional assembly. The closest international analogue to this type of electoral system is that used in Afghanistan, where its application has contributed to a parliament of individuals rather than parties.

In Libya, such a system makes it likely that candidates in June's elections for the country's constitutional assembly will rely on social institutions other than parties to attract votes. In other words, tribal, regional, and family networks are likely to trump political and ideological visions in the coming polls.

This has real implications for the prospects of Libya's best-organized political party and the only one that scored name recognition in the NDI focus groups -- the Muslim Brotherhood. Simply put, being the only political party that ordinary people can name might not be such a good thing among a population that has been acculturated to view parties as synonymous with hidden agendas and narrow interests.

Paradoxically, the picture for the Brothers is further complicated by the conservative and pious nature of Libyan society. Libyans have enormous respect for and close observation of the precepts of Islam. Even those political actors who might self-identify as liberal support a central role for Islam in Libyan public life (very few Libyan actors with serious political aspirations would want to brand themselves as "secular"). To wit an October public opinion poll conducted in eastern Libya by the International Republican Institute (IRI) found that 69 percent of respondents disapproved of the notion of a secular state and 85 percent agreed that religion should be part of government.

In this environment, a political platform by the Brothers calling for an Islamic reference for the new Libyan state is unremarkable and perhaps even redundant. This is because a substantial role for Islam in the public square is broadly taken for granted by the public. In fact, it already exists in Libya to a significantly greater extent than it does for the country's Egyptian and Tunisian neighbors. Therefore, the Libyan public may end up more focused on how candidates propose to govern transparently and effectively rather than whether their new representatives will pass laws in conformity with Islam (which many Libyans take as given).

Moreover, the Islamic faith of most Libyans is earnest and straightforward. In this setting, the appearance of attempting to exploit religion to attract votes runs the risk of causing offense and politically backfiring. This is perhaps also reflected in the IRI poll, in which even in the presumed Brotherhood stronghold of Libya's conservative east support for the Brothers (9 percent strongly positive and 22 percent somewhat positive) does not approach that of revolutionary fighters (67 percent and 24 percent) or the 17th of February youth movement that launched the revolution (76 percent and 20 percent).

There are signs indicating that the Muslim Brothers and other Islamists understand the formula for electoral success will be different in Libya than elsewhere in the region. One of Libya's leading clerics has stated that Islamists should not run on an ideological platform but rather a national and patriotic one. Along these lines, other political movements in Libya's east claim that the Brothers have initiated exploratory talks with them on possible electoral alliances and recruitment of candidates.

The Brotherhood's focus on electable individuals rather than ideological purity and reaching out to local movements makes sense as part of a strategy to enhance the Libyan bona fides of an organization that is said by some of its opponents to be overly dependent upon external support. Prominent Libyan Islamist figures have dismissed this talk as cynical political scaremongering and a"big lie," that along with the choice of an individual candidate based system is intended to blunt their electoral prospects.

Be this as it may, it does appear that the Brothers have some work to do in building a grassroots political network inside Libya. Many of the Brotherhood's members were first introduced to the movement while studying abroad during the 1970s and 1980s. More recently most of the movement was forced into exile during the 1990s after a brutal campaign by Qaddafi's security forces crushed the organization. Meanwhile last November in Benghazi, during its first public meeting in Libya for decades after being banned by Qaddafi, the Brotherhood may have inadvertently bolstered its internationalist reputation by emphasizing regional Islamic solidarity and giving prominent speaking roles to Tunisia's Ennahda Party and a Syrian Muslim Brother.

None of this is to say that the Brothers will not perform well in next June's elections. They are universally acknowledged as the best-organized political movement in the country and are likely to be well financed. But the unique landscape of post-Qaddafi Libya means that the Brothers will not be able to simply follow the fraternal campaign playbook from the more socio-culturally diverse Tunisia and Egypt. Like other Libyan political contenders, the Brothers figure to rise and fall in the coming elections based on the social capital of their individual candidates rather than a strong ideological party platform.

This makes it difficult to predict what Libya's constitutional assembly will look like. Political Islamists, many who were in exile and are urban based professionals, may need time to establish the local networks necessary to succeed in an individual based electoral system. This is especially because the system will likely have a geographic spread that intentionally over represents small towns and rural areas. Given the necessary space to bring their resources and organizational advantages to bear the Brothers could undoubtedly achieve this, but will they have the time to do so?

What does seem certain is that conventional wisdom is unlikely to apply in Libya's polls. A strong party brand could well be something to run away from. Locally prominent figures heretofore unknown in Tripoli and the outside world could emerge and triumph. Most startlingly, and counter to the experience in the rest of the region, Libya's tight electoral calendar could conceivably work against rather than for the Brothers.

Sean Kane is a Truman Security Fellow and the Deputy Team Leader for Libya at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, an independent mediation organization based in Geneva. This article represents his personal views.