[Marxism] Tripoli Divided as Rebels Jostle to Fill Power Vacuum

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 31 07:18:48 MDT 2011

NY Times August 30, 2011
Tripoli Divided as Rebels Jostle to Fill Power Vacuum

TRIPOLI, Libya — Fighters from the western mountain city of Zintan 
control the airport. The fighters from Misurata guard the central 
bank, the port and the prime minister’s office, where their 
graffiti has relabeled the historic plaza “Misurata Square.” 
Berbers from the mountain town Yafran took charge of the city’s 
central square, where they spray-painted “Yafran Revolutionaries.”

A week after rebels broke into Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s former 
stronghold, much of its territory remains divided into fiefs, each 
controlled by quasi-independent brigades representing different 
geographic areas of the country. And the spray paint they use to 
mark their territory tells the story of a looming leadership 
crisis in the capital, Tripoli.

The top civilian officials of the Libyan rebels’ Transitional 
National Council — now styling itself as a provisional government 
to be based in the capital — are yet to arrive, citing personal 
safety concerns even as they pronounce the city fully secure.

There are growing hints of rivalry among the various brigades over 
who deserves credit for liberating the city and the influence it 
might bring. And attempts to name a military leader to unify the 
bands of fighters have instead exposed divisions within the rebel 
leadership, along regional lines but also between secularists and 

They were all signs, one influential member of the council said, 
that point to a continuing “power vacuum” in the civilian 
leadership of the Libyan capital. But the jockeying for power also 
illustrates the challenge a new provisional government will face 
in trying to unify Libya’s fractious political landscape.

The country was little more than a loose federation of regions and 
tribes before Colonel Qaddafi came to power. His reliance on 
favoritism and repression to maintain control did little to bridge 
Libya’s regional, ethnic and ideological divisions. Nor did the 
rebels who ousted Colonel Qaddafi ever organize themselves into a 
unified force. Rebels from the western mountains, the mid-coastal 
city of Misurata and the eastern city of Benghazi each fought 
independently, and often rolled their eyes in condescension at one 

And although the transition so far has been surprisingly orderly — 
almost no looting and little violence — Tripoli has become an 
early test of the revolution’s ability to bridge those divisions 
because in contrast to other Libyan cities liberated by their own 
residents, Colonel Qaddafi was ousted from Tripoli by brigades 
from other regions, and most remain in the streets.

Early steps toward unifying the brigades under a common command 
have brought out latent divisions among rebel leaders. Some became 
apparent when a fighter named Abdel Hakim al-Hasadi, sometimes 
known as AbdelHakim Belhaj, was named commander of a newly formed 
Tripoli Military Council.

Several liberals among the rebel leadership council complained 
privately that Mr. Hasadi had been a leader of the disbanded 
Libyan Islamist Fighting Group, which rebelled against Colonel 
Qaddafi in the 1990s. Some said they feared it was the first step 
in an attempt at an Islamist takeover. They noted that Mr. Hasadi 
was named commander by the five battalions of the so-called 
Tripoli Brigade, rather than by any civilian authority. And they 
complained about the perceived influence of Qatar, which helped 
train and equip the Tripoli Brigade and also finances Al Jazeera.

“This guy is just a creation of the Qataris and their money, and 
they are sponsoring the element of Muslim extremism here,” another 
council member from the western region said. “The revolutionary 
fighters are extremely unhappy and surprised. He is the commander 
of nothing!”

Mixed with the ideological concerns, however, was an equal measure 
of provincial rivalry over who did more to liberate Tripoli. Not 
only was Mr. Hasadi an Islamist, the council member argued, but he 
had done less than the western rebels in the fight for the capital.

“People in the west were saying to each other, ‘What? This kid? 
This is rubbish! What about our top commanders?’ ” the council 
member said.

Mr. Hasadi could not be reached for comment, in part because he 
was attending meetings in Doha, Qatar. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, 
chairman of the Transitional National Council, said he made a 
point to take Mr. Hasadi along to a meeting with their NATO allies 
in Doha to show that despite his background, he poses “no danger 
to international peace and stability.”

Hints of another schism appeared this week after news reports that 
the council’s prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril — who, like Mr. 
Jalil, is not present in Tripoli — was naming a former Libyan Army 
general, Albarrani Shkal, as the chief of the capital’s security.

Fighters from Misurata, considered to the rebels’ most formidable 
force, refused to accept his appointment, arguing that he was 
complicit in Colonel Qaddafi’s vicious crackdown on their city. In 
Misurata, about 500 protesters took to its central square to chant 
that the appointment would betray “the blood of the martyrs,” a 
correspondent for The Guardian reported, noting that the city’s 
local council registered a formal complaint with the national 

By Tuesday night, Mr. Jabril had taken back his decision, said 
Alamin Belhaj, a Tripoli member of the transitional council.

Both conflicts over the selection of military leaders recall the 
uproar sparked by the murder of the rebels’ top military commander 
in Benghazi, General Abdul Fattah Younes. The murder, still 
unresolved, touched off allegations by some rebel leaders that he 
was killed by a brigade of Islamists, which they said sought 
revenge for his previous role as a top aide to Colonel Qaddafi. No 
one has been charged in the case.

Libyan Islamists say they just want a chance to compete in an open 
democracy, and they argue that they are more qualified than the 
liberals to disarm the fighters in the streets.

“They trust us more,” said Mr. Belhaj, the council member and a 
leader of the Muslim Brotherhood here, arguing that many Libyans 
fear that the revolution would be “stolen” by rich, Westernized 
and often expatriate liberals on the council.

All sides agreed, however, that the conquest of Tripoli has made 
it a crucible of regional rivalries. Although the early fighting 
was in the east, the final assault on Tripoli was led by rebel 
groups in the west and finished by seasoned fighters from Misurata.

Now members of nearly every brigade in Tripoli assert their group 
played the most heroic role in taking the city, or in breaking 
into the Qaddafi compound, or in taking the central square.

“We have it on video,” insisted Mahdi al-Harati, the deputy leader 
of the Tripoli Military Council, defending his claim that his 
brigade was first to the central square.

More than pride may be at stake, said Anwar Fekini, a 
French-Libyan lawyer with ancestral ties to the mountains who is a 
member of the national leadership council. “The people in the west 
say, ‘We paid a huge price, and we want to be in charge,’ and 
Misurata the same,” he said, adding that he argued Libyans should 
select their leaders on the basis of competence regardless of region.

Mr. Belhaj had another idea. He said he had asked the other local 
councils to withdraw their brigades from the city limits, to leave 
the capital to the Tripolitans.

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