[Marxism] Berbers decisive to rebel victory

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 22 06:46:06 MDT 2011



Libya's gritty mountain rebels may have turned tide in Tripoli
With attention focused on important cities and bigger battles to 
the east, Moammar Kadafi may have underestimated the tenacity of 
the uprising in the western mountains.

By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times

August 22, 2011

The revolt against Moammar Kadafi was born in the eastern city of 
Benghazi, long a caldron of discontent with the autocratic ruler.

The uprising gained traction during bloody spring battles in 
coastal Misurata, Libya's third-largest city, where residents 
barricaded streets with shipping containers in ferocious urban 

But it is a rebel thrust from the west that may prove decisive in 
bringing an end to Kadafi's more than four-decade reign.

The push by guerrilla fighters from Libya's isolated Berber 
highlands, the rugged Nafusa Mountains near the Tunisian border, 
was one front too many for Kadafi's depleted and sometimes 
demoralized forces.

Before the mountain fighters made major gains, Kadafi's troops 
were already facing grave threats in the east, as well as 
intensive NATO bombardment that targeted the capital, other key 
locations and equipment.

NATO bombings made it almost impossible for the government to move 
large concentrations of troops. Airstrikes by the alliance on 
Kadafi's armored units in March prevented government forces from 
retaking Benghazi.

The regime successfully managed to thwart rebel advances into the 
cites of Port Brega and Zlitan, east of Tripoli, but its ranks 
were stretched thin, despite reported additions of young conscripts.

That was partly the result of Kadafi's own choices. His army never 
reached the size of those of Middle Eastern autocrats such as 
Iraq's Saddam Hussein or the Assad dynasty in Syria. Rebels often 
said that Kadafi, who led a coup as a junior officer, didn't trust 
military commanders.

It now seems possible that Kadafi's government, its forces 
overtaxed, lacking coordination and without any centralized 
command and control, underestimated the threat from a western 
rebel force that for weeks has been no more than 50 miles from the 

The uprising in the Nafusa Mountains was so little noticed early 
on that the fighting often barely merited mention as the world 
focused on dramatic events in and around Benghazi and Misurata.

In the end, however, the western rebels' tenacity and proximity to 
Tripoli seemed crucial in breaking down what the government had 
long boasted was a virtually impregnable wall of security around 
the capital.

As insurgent offensives stalled near Benghazi and Misurata, 
fighters made up of Arabs and ethnic Berbers, or Amazigh, 
tenaciously gained ground in the west. There is no indication the 
western fighters possessed superior firepower or were better 
trained than their undisciplined comrades in the east. But 
geography was certainly an ally.

In the east, rebels struggled to move forward in flat desert 
terrain that proved advantageous for Kadafi's artillery and rocket 
launchers, often well concealed from allied aircraft. In contrast, 
the western fighters engaged in a guerrilla war on turf that was 
intimately familiar to them. Supplies arrived via a captured post 
on the Tunisian border.

By June, the mountain fighters had largely gained control of the 
highlands and were filtering into the plains that led to the coast 
and the capital, the ultimate prize. Tribal links to lowland 
populations probably aided their advance. Government officials in 
Tripoli betrayed no sense of alarm.

The western insurgent ranks bulged with new volunteers from places 
such as Zawiya, a city just west of Tripoli that sits astride the 
crucial supply route between Tripoli and the Tunisian border. 
Kadafi's troops had brutally crushed a rebellion there in March.

In June, when renewed fighting erupted near Zawiya, the government 
dismissed it as the work of a handful of mountain infiltrators who 
would find no allies in the coastal areas.

It appears the opposite happened. Volunteers from Zawiya and other 
towns and villages joined the advancing mountain fighters. And the 
recent capture of Zawiya, which severed Kadafi's supply line, 
signaled that his days were numbered.

Throughout the conflict, Kadafi's government seems to have 
rejected the notion that a motley group of mountain dwellers could 
move on the leader's inner sanctum.

"We're not worried about these so-called rebels," Musa Ibrahim, 
the government's chief spokesman, said in June after clashes with 
western rebels erupted anew near Zawiya. "What is a problem for us 
is NATO."

Still, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization strikes near 
Benghazi and Misurata ultimately did not trigger what seems to be 
the final assault on the capital. That task would fall to the 
fighters from Libya's rugged west.

patrick.mcdonnell at latimes.com



Joint fight with Arabs against Kadafi spurs Berber hopes of 
equality in Libya

As the two ethnic groups in the mountainous portion of Libya's 
west put aside long-held differences, at stake may be more than 
the fate of the communities along a sparsely populated range.

By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times

3:04 PM PDT, July 16, 2011

Reporting from Zintan, Libya

Before the Libyan uprising this year, Salah, a proud Arab, never 
would have approved if his sister had decided to marry a Berber, a 
long-oppressed ethnic group populating large parts of western 
Libya and the rest of North Africa.

But the battle against Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's rule has 
fused the destinies of the two people, especially in the Nafusa 
Mountains where Arab and Berber towns rely on one another for 

"There is one particular Berber who I got to know after the 
revolution," said Salah, who asked that his last name not be 
published because of the sensitivity of the issue. "I would be 
proud if my sister married him."

As the two ethnic groups put aside long-held differences, at stake 
may be more than the fate of the communities along this sparsely 
populated western mountain range.

Removal of social barriers between the disparate groups in these 
mountains, and elsewhere in the Arab world, could counter claims 
by leaders such as Kadafi, Syrian President Bashar Assad and 
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh that Arab states divided along 
tribal, ethnic or religious lines would explode without a 
strongman at the top.

North Africa's Berbers have been key, if unsung, players in the 
Arab uprisings.

In Morocco, where Berbers constitute nearly half the population, 
King Mohammed VI made their Tamazight language an official one in 
part to appease a smoldering protest movement. Tunisia's tiny 
Berber minority hopes that the toppling of longtime strongman Zine 
el Abidine ben Ali might pave the way for language and cultural 

Kadafi has ruthlessly denied the existence of Libyan Berbers, even 
insisting on calling them Arabs during a rare June 2008 visit to 
the mountains and allegedly orchestrating a violent attack on the 
town of Yafran later that year.

"You can call yourselves whatever you want inside your homes — 
Berbers, children of Satan, whatever — but you are only Libyans 
when you leave your homes," a contact of the U.S. Embassy said 
Kadafi had privately told the leaders of the community, according 
to a State Department document published by WikiLeaks.

"Tamazight was forbidden. You might lose your life or freedom if 
you spoke out for your rights," said Abdullah Funas, a Libyan 
Berber who previously served as a diplomat and now is an 
opposition leader in the mountain town of Jadu. "We spoke it in 
our homes and that's it."

Kadafi and his deputies tried to play the two groups against each 

"When he's coming to us, he was saying, 'Watch out for the Berber; 
he wants to run you out of the western mountains,'" said Mokhtar 
Fakhal, a town elder in Zintan. "When he went to the Berbers, he 
would say, 'Watch out for the Arab; you were here first.' That's 
why we hated each other."

Zintan, a farming hub of 25,000, served as Kadafi's primary tool 
for keeping the Berbers in line.

"He made Zintan his right hand," said Magdis Bouzakher, a Berber 
rights activist in Yafran. "He armed all the Zintanis and gave 
them high positions."

Berbers in these mountains said they were inspired to 
wholeheartedly join the uprising that began in mid-February when 
they saw the Arabs put aside decades of privileges Kadafi had 
bestowed upon them and join the rebellion that began in the 
country's east.

Zintan and Kikla, another Arab town, "from the very first day 
decided they would use their weapons against Kadafi," Bouzakher said.

Now Arabs openly call for Berber language rights. Arabs and 
Berbers train together on military bases in preparation for 
battle. They join up on front lines.

"Where I was training, it was all Berber," said Abdul Taif, 19, a 
London engineering student from the Arab city of Gharyan, at the 
eastern edge of the mountains, who has joined the fighters. "It 
doesn't matter anymore."

And in an extraordinary moment, the leaderships of the Arab and 
Berber towns joined to criticize a Berber town, Nalut, for 
launching an ill-fated attack on Kadafi's forces without proper 

"A reason for the revolution against Kadafi was to get rid of the 
divisions he tried to impose on us," said Col. Mokhtar Milad 
Fernana, commander of overall forces in western Libya and the 
primary military liaison to the rebel leadership in the eastern 
hub of Benghazi.

Still, tensions remain between the two groups, even over simple 
issues such as the name of the place they call home. Berbers call 
the mountain range by its Tamazight name, Nafusa; Arabs insist on 
calling it the Western Mountains, a name some say was first used 
by Kadafi to whitewash the region's Berber heritage.

Arabs and Berbers acknowledge that there's very little intermarriage.

"I would not like my sister to marry an Arab because of our 
traditions," said Muhannad Abdul Salaam, 27, a Berber activist in 
the city of Qala. "I don't want to lose my language."

Berbers accuse the Arabs of not being prudent with their money and 
being less educated and successful despite the advantages they 
have had under Kadafi.

"Don't get me wrong, but the Arab people got good opportunities 
because of Kadafi's support," said Salem Omar Muqsa, 38, a Berber 
Justice Ministry employee in Qala. "We, on the other hand, were 
deprived, so we strive harder."

Community leaders dismiss such sentiments as poisonous and 
fast-fading remnants of Kadafi's divisive rule.

"Kadafi wants us to kill each other," said Fakhal, the town elder 
from Zintan. "But we have to show everyone that we can live together."

daragahi at latimes.com

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