[Marxism] Berbers decisive to rebel victory
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
More information about the Marxism