Monday, March 21, 2011

Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series: Libya

The protests in Libya kicked off on February 15, 2011.
See the whole Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series.
I'm really glad I didn't get to Libya on the 16th like I planned. There has been so much in recent developments there that I'm glad it will be a part of the main post on the history of Libya's revolution. This country was one of the ones that early on America and the rest of the world had crappy reactions to. But They've improved and now it seems that the world is behind the correct people in this country's fight for its future.

Basic History
Libya's official name is Libya. Geographically, it is located in northern Africa. Important bordering countries include: Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia. The capital is Tripoli. The population is estimated at 6.4 million people. The official language is Arabic.

Libya's most recent leader is Colonel Mu'ammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (known as Muammar Qaddafi, which is how he'll be referred to in this post). He came to power in 1969 in a coup against the Libyan Kingdom. He's been in charge since. He doesn't even have a title of president or king or sultan. Just Coloenl. Most of the rest of the planet now recognizes the opposition rebels as the government of Libya making the current recognized leader the National Transitional Council. It was declared to be the voice of the Libyan revolution, making the changes necessary to bring the country to its new form of democracy and freedom. They are now referring to Libya as the Libyan Republic. This may become the country's official name. The chair of the National Transitional Council (aka the National Libyan Council) is Mustafa Abdul Jalil. The council is acting as an interim administrative body until Qaddafi is no longer a problem and proper elections can be held in the country.

In terms of  independence, Libya gained its independence from Italy in 1947, from the UK and France in 1951, from its kingdomhood in 1969, and from Qaddafi in 2011 (theoretically). I would go into detail about it, but you can look it up if you really care. I want to move on to the important stuff: the revolution!

The Protests
The main causes cited as the reasons for the protests include: lack of basic human rights, high unemployment, governmental favoritism, corruption, economic disparities, lack of freedom of press and speech, .

The protest actually began in January by families of detainees who were killed by Qaddafi in 1996. The government responded by blocking Internet access to videos that it deemed likely to foment unrest. Quaddafi also warned citizens, opposition leaders, and journalists against doing anything that could create conflict in Libya.

By February 15th, which is seen as the official start of the protests, people were coming out in larger numbers (in the hundreds) and for many more reasons than dead family members, but especially in direct protest of the regime. The police responded violently, setting the stage for what was to be one of the most violent protests in the modern uprisings across Africa and the Middle East. Through social media, the protests were quickly organized and grew in strength. February 17th marked the "Day of Revolt" for Libya.

Throughout February, things have arisen for the first time that represent a new ideal in Libya: free speech, and an army not under Qaddafi's rule. There are radio stations and a newspaper run by the opposition that are not being censored by Qaddafi's government. The army has been formed from men coming to join the fight as well as military units who have joined the rebellion. Their goal is to protect the opposition strongholds and to liberate Tripoli from Qaddadi.

Also in February, on the 27th, the "face of the opposition" was created. Their goal is to coordinate resistance efforts around the country. They are seen as a interim government, but are more concerned with the military coordination required to take away all of Qaddafi's power. They are also working to put in place the plans for a new constitution and a democratic election in the coming months.

By the end of February, it was clear that the opposition stronghold was Benghazi, and the pro-Qaddafi stronghold was Tripoli. People in the opposition of Libya as well as other countries around the world began to call for interference of outside countries to help with the cause in Libya.

Qaddafi began discussing genocide-like tactics to attack his own people in an attempt to hold onto power. He claimed he would die a martyr rather than flee his responsibilities as leader of the country. He also called in paramilitary forces to help battle the rebels. They came from Chad, Niger, and other nearby countries to fire live ammunition and bomb his people. He blamed all of this on the "radical Islamists" who he said were trying to take over his country and take if from the real Libyans.

As February came to a close, the death toll was rising as residents of Tripoli resumed protests in the face of the assault of the government. The formation of the Transitional Council and their call for foreign help gave the other countries interested in helping a chance to form a plan that would help the Libyans decide their own fate.

The rest of the world wanted to stop Qaddafi's slaughter of civilians in his country, but they didn't want to interfere in the country's revolution. They had done a good job of not getting involved in the protests and revolutions going on in other countries. Most agreed that keeping the uprisings homegrown and without foreign military involvement would legitimize the fight and make it likelier to succeed with democracy and freedom because they people involved saw it as a fight they had won for themselves by themselves. This concept worked in most countries, but it wouldn't work for Libya with the death toll rising. No one wanted a repeat of Rwanda from the 1990s.

While the United Nations and leaders from countries around the world were considering their options, a full fledged civil war was breaking out in Libya. The opposition, now organized under one umbrella and better able to coordinate attacks and weapons, fought to expand the territory under their control. Qaddafi's forces did the same. There were battles for Marsa Brega, Ghadames, Ajdabiya, Zawayia, Tripoli, and other cities. Overall, the rebels seemed to be doing a good job of holding onto their strongholds and increasing the areas under the Libyan Transitional Council umbrella.

After requests from Hugo Chavez to engage in talks with Qaddafi, the Libyan opposition solidified their stance that the only option was for him to leave. They expressed that there would be no talks with Qaddafi or negotiations with his government.

After this, Qaddafi stepped up his assault on the rebels. Airstrikes, tanks rolling in, snipers, and machine guns were used in an effort to topple the opposition in Zawiya. This continued for days into March. March 9th is seen as the day that some European and American countries began to recognize the National Council as the government of Libya.

March 12th marked a true turning point in the response of other countries to what was happening in Libya. The Arab League met and didn't allow representatives from Qaddafi's government to attend the meeting. They changed their stance and began calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. The most brutal of Qaddafi's attacks on the rebels were from the air, so this was called for to reduce the large number of civilian casualties. The Arab League encouraged the United Nations to support this proposal and begin to act to enforce it.

From March 13th on, there were lots of reports of progress on both sides. pro-Qaddafi forces reported taking cities and repressing rebels. The opposition movement reported repelling those attacks. Also during this time, there were several notable defections of pro-Qaddafi forces and also from more established figured within the Libyan army.

On the 17th of March, the US let the Libya Transitional Council setup an office in Washington, DC, further solidifying their support of the opposition government as the true internationally recognized government of the Libyan Republic. Also that day, the UN adopted a resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. They spent the next couple of days coordinating how exactly that plan would be carried out.

Qaddafi announced a cease-fire on March 18th, but reports quickly came out saying that the same forces attributed to him in attacks before were still attacking. There were interesting developments throughout the day, such as Qaddafi's government accusing the rebels of breaking the cease fire. Also, they claimed that an interior minister who had defected to the opposition was back on Qaddafi's side. The reports about the rebels were not of them attacking Qaddafi forces. And the defected minister was still on the opposition's side.

At 4 pm Libyan time, French fighter jets entered Libyan airspace in the first attempt by the UN to impose a no-fly zone cease fire. [Side Note: I personally was pleasantly surprised to see the French going first. The French? I knew Sarkozy was a thug at heart] The rest of the United Nations coordinated how the rest of the attacks would go between the French, the British, the Americans, and the other countries from the Arab League.

The UN resolution calls for a stop of clashes between the rebels and pro-Qaddafi forces. It also calls for the pro-Qaddafi forces to stop interfering with allowing aid and help to civilians in the country who are cut off from important resources because of the fighting. Obama also specifically requested that the United States not take the lead of the military intervention in Libya. With our country already in two wars, someone else needed to be the leaders of this coordinated fight.

Since the airstrikes have begun by UN forces to enforce the cease fire, there have been a number of casualties, both armed forces and civilians. The pro-Qaddafi forces are still trying to advance in rebel-held cities and the casualties are mounting. The airstrikes have been effective to a point of destroying tanks and armored troop carriers.

This is definitely still an ongoing conflict, but the world in on the Libyan Council's side and I hope it will only be a matter of time before Qaddafi had no choice but to end the violence and let his his country rebuild itself without him at the helm.
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