[Marxism] Tripoli Divided as Rebels Jostle to Fill Power Vacuum
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
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and ROD NORDLAND
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
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
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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