Bordering On Disaster

Lebanon

“War has stopped time here. It often does that in the Levant. Here in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, a refugee mother is nursing her 17-month-old son, the youngest of her six children. She sits cross-legged on a thin, stained mattress covering one of the three rickety, rusted single beds pushed against the breeze-block walls. This scene and this woman, with her black hijab and brown abaya, could be from any decade in the past half- century—from any of the wars that have repeatedly savaged this region. The knowledge is no comfort to Samr or her family.” Read my report here in the Daily Beast on the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Visit Tripoli See Fireworks…Including RPGs

Hard not to chuckle at the ill-timing of a Daily Telegraph travel piece that extolled the virtues of Libya as a destination for tourism. The article was posted online on the night of Nov 4/5 and opened: “Tripoli, Libya’s capital, is known for its walled medina and relaxing old-world ambience, and is home to a number of grand mosques, statues and fountains.”

It is home also to several unruly militias. As the article was posted a couple of rival state-sanctioned militias started skirmishing — it lasted  for more than 12 hours — in Tripoli, firing rocket-propelled grenades at each other, leaving nearly a dozen wounded and adding to ordinary Libyans’ sense of powerlessness.

The puff piece was part of a PR effort encouraged by the Libyan government to entice tourists to the North African country. A few months ago USA Today ran a similarly premature travel article urging tourists to visit the country.

Question: Do travel editors pay any attention to what is actually happening in a country?

Stevens Part II: An Inside Job?

“After his men had tied up the morgue supervisor, who had refused to hand over the body, Febrayir, fearful of an attempt to snatch the corpse, ignored instructions about what route to follow to the airport and misinformed his superiors with false updates. His caravan traveled fast, driving straight onto the runaway. Six Americans approached. “They looked totally fatigued. Their faces were blackened,” Febrayir says. “I think they had been in the consulate. One of them clambered onto the back and uncovered Stevens’s face and started to cry.”

From the second part of my Stevens’ investigation for Newsweek. Read here.

Ali Zidan’s Fate May Be The Same As Abushugar’s

Tripoli

Late blogging this because of a trip to Benghazi.

Ali Zidan now faces the challenge of forming a government that can gain the support of fractious lawmakers, a task that proved elusive for former academic, Mustafa Abushugar, whose list of cabinet nominees sparked protests and led to his downfall.

The narrowness of Ali Zidan’s win over the Muslim Brotherhood-supported candidate, Mohammed Harari to secure the job as Libya’s prime minister suggests he could face serious difficulties in finding nominees who can attract the backing of a majority of Libyan lawmakers. Zidan won 93 of the 179 votes cast in the General National Congress. Abushugar, his short-lived predecessor, also only managed a small majority over his challenger, Dr. Mahmoud Jibril, and lasted just 25 days as prime minister-elect. See my article in the Daily Beast published the evening of Zidan’s win.

A Series On Christopher Stevens And Ansar al-Sharia

Tripoli

Under the pressure of events and filing a couple of stories a day on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and its aftermath I have neglected sadly my personal bog. Below are the links to the series of articles I filed for the Daily Beast and Voice of America between September 12 and September 18.

September 12

The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three State Department officials were killed last night in a targeted rocket attack, after riots over a U.S. film depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud.

September 12

Despite President Obama’s pledge that the violent assault on the Benghazi consulate that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens would not “break the bonds” between the U.S. and Libya, it would appear to have weakened them. A U.S. official told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that U.S. diplomats are to be evacuated in the coming days. It was not clear whether a skeleton staff would remain, and the embassy could not be reached for comment.

September 13
Heavily-armed assailants waged a five-hour firefight against Libyan and American guards—at two locations. Fury over a film or a planned mission?

September 13

For many Libyans the deaths are shocking enough—and apologies are spontaneously offered to Americans—but underlying the condolences is a fear that the U.S. will reduce its commitment to the Arab Spring.

September 14

Shifting explanations from Libyan officials and contradictory recollections by survivors and witnesses are hampering U.S. officials’ efforts to reconstruct the night of the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

September 15

America and Libya should share responsibility for the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, according to the spokesman of Libya’s new Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur. He says that so far no evidence has turned up that suggests al Qaeda had a hand in the attack.

September 17

An amateur video appearing to show a motionless but apparently still alive Ambassador Christopher Stevens was posted Sunday on YouTube. The video focuses on a window of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where some members of a crowd—it is not clear if they are protesters, looters, or nearby residents drawn to the scene after the attack—discover the mortally injured Stevens and celebrate that he’s still alive.

September 17

Another day and more clashing explanations from different Libyan officials about who was behind the assault on the consulate in Benghazi that left U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens dead along with three other Americans. Not only are the accounts of what happened and who was involved contradictory, so too now are the number of arrests made and whether they are real arrests or just questionings of people known to have been at the protest before the shooting started.

September 18

Senior U.S. security and intelligence officials met secretly on Monday with Libyan counterparts to share information that the Americans have gathered, through electronic surveillance, on the assault on the U.S. consulate that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

September 18

Sharp disagreements between senior Libyan officials over who was behind the U.S. Consulate assault in Benghazi are a sign of a “leadership deficit” in Libya that’s undermining the credibility of the newly elected authorities, diplomats and analysts warn.

And Voice of America

September 13

The call to prayer sounded over a subdued Tripoli Thursday as residents of Libya’s capital tried to understand the killings of the U.S. ambassador and three diplomats during the storming of the American consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Libyan Politicians Haggle Over Who Will Be Prime Minister

TRIPOLI —”In the dimly lit gardens and sumptuous restaurants of the city’s Rixos Hotel, Libya’s newly minted politicians are bargaining furiously over who will be the country’s first elected prime minister since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi.” Read my VOA story examining who might be Libya’s first post-election prime minister.

Trying Saif al-Islam

“After nine months of preparing a case, Libya still appears ill equipped to give Saif al-Islam, the 40-year-old son and accomplice of slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a fair trial.

The trial is slated to take place in Zintan, two hour’s drive from the capital, instead of Tripoli itself, part of a deal with the obdurate town’s militia that captured Saif…The fact that the trial will be in one of the strongholds of the revolution is adding to alarm, prompting further questions about the credibility of the procedure.” See my piece in the Daily Beast.

 

 

 

 

 

Pre-Election Violence Surges In Libya

This is my log of recent violence in Libya and highlights the instability of the country as elections loom. The incidents have been gleaned from various reliable sources. It is not exhaustive.

June 9

Nighttime clashes between Libyan military units and Tibu tribesmen in the city of Al Khufra, near Libya’s borders with Chad and Sudan. Reports of five dead and a dozen wounded. Tibu tribesmen say they came under attack first — an accusation denied by the Libyan military.

Al Khufra has seen several clashes in recent weeks mainly between Tibu and Zwai tribesmen. In February, the transitional government dispatched Libyan armed forces units to the town.

June 10

Thirteen people killed in a second day of clashes between Libyan soldiers and Tibu tribesmen.

Armed thieves ransack a couple of office containers in Tripoli belonging to the Libyan Coast Guard then destroy them with RPG fire.

June 11

Grenade is thrown at two vehicles ferrying a British delegation around Sabha in the Southern region of Libya. No injures. Not clear if the assailant was targeting the British – the vehicles sported UN logos.

British diplomatic convoy comes under an RPG attack in Benghazi. Two security guards injured but the British ambassador unscathed.

Zintan militiamen seize several government vehicles in Tripoli. The action they say is a response to the government’s failure to settle their wage demands.

June 12

Heavy fighting reported in Mizdah between Zintan militia and Mashasha tribesmen, leaving 20 dead. There have been frantic appeals by locals to the government to put an end to the fighting.

June 13

Sixty-nine anti-aircraft missiles found discovered inside a fishing boat on Egyptian-Libyan border.

Two dead and a dozen left wounded after clashes in Sabha involving the “national army”.

A small mob gathered in Tripoli outside a courthouse near the Radisson Blu Hotel to demand the release of the former Gaddafi-era Minister of External Affairs Abu Zaid Omar Dorda, whose trial started that day. A nervous guard responded by firing into the mob, killing a driver working with a European Union delegation. The delegation responded by decamping from the Radisson for a day.

Several left dead and wounded in clashes in Al Khufra involving the Libya Shield force and members of armed groups.

Former Gaddafi-era internal security official Ibrahim Laaribi killed in a car bombing.  He is the second former intelligence officer to be assassinated.

June 17

Libyan government declares a military zone in the west of country (which will presumably mean that journalists and independent observers will be prohibited officially from visiting the area) after days of clashes between rival militias and tribes.

The zone includes the towns of Zintan, Mizdah and Shegayga, about 150 kilometres south of Tripoli. Most of the fighting in these towns involves Zintan militiamen backed by Guntrara tribesmen from the Mizdah pitched against Mashashya tribesmen based out of the town of Shegayga.

Sources have told me there are dozens of dead.

 

Libyan Reflections


Gaddafi's Compound

Col. Gaddafi’s compound at Bab al-Azizia or the “The Splendid Gate” located in the southern suburbs of Tripoli served as the main base for the Libyan leader until his ouster. The 6-square-kilometre base was somewhere most Libyans didn’t want to go when Gaddafi was in power but since his fall and mainly at weekends families and out-of-towners like to walk around the site and stare. They still seem amazed that the uprising was successful – at least in the sense that it got rid of Gaddafi.

One of the biggest attractions is the byzantine network of underground tunnels that connect all of the buildings. Some tunnels stretch to adjoining districts. Gaddafi liked to sleep in a Bedouin-style tent pitched on the grounds. Of course, it was air-conditioned.

Increasingly a visit to the base is perilous because it has been turned into one of the biggest fly tips in North Africa. With garbage collection at best unsure in the capital the base has become the preferred dump. And then there is the added bonus of feeling that you are insulting the former leader by fouling his home.

International workers – and this correspondent – like to criticize the transitional government for lack of coordination between its various ministries and parts. Certainly it is utterly dysfunctional. Spokesmen contradict each other and even themselves several times in the space of a day and the same with ministers and the leading members of the National Transitional Council.

From the bottom up and the top down there is confusion. But it is worth noting, too, that the various international missions and foreign NGO groups also lack coordination. Various UN agencies hardly talk to each other, for instance. And the domestic NGOs are no better: there are three umbrella organizations for domestic civil society groups that I know of alone.

My exclusive in the Daily Beast on the new NGO legislation caused a stir both in Libya and overseas, especially on Capitol Hill apparently, according to a friend of mine at the National Democratic Institute. Not that it made much difference or caused the Libyan authorities to rethink or pullback. Five days after publication, on June 1, they issued the new law anyway. In it there were some details I didn’t have, which, I think, make the regulatory framework they want to impose on civil society even more sinister.

The long and short of it is that funding by foreign NGOs of domestic NGOs is going to be difficult and the Ministry of Culture can always hold funding up by delaying or declining the registration of a foreign NGO. Another worrying area is the inexact wording of what constitutes a “grant”. The legislation bans open-ended cash “contributions” but allows “grants”. The ministry says that grants means project-specific funding. But they don’t define it. How will that play out? Can a project be extended and so too the funding?

Foreign NGOs will have to register in Libya if they want to fund a project and they are required to provide a tremendous amount of detail about themselves – the source of their money, the names and background of senior officers and board members, etc. Many foreign NGOs – and that includes charities, by the way — are just not going to go though all of that. This is how the crackdown on civil society began in neighboring Egypt in the winter.

Apologists for the NTC say that they can’t have just anyone funding domestic civil society and whisper of dark and dangerous forces: the ultimate purpose of the law is to hinder the Qataris just flooding the place with cash or the Russians or Al Qaeda. I can understand the worry about Qatar: the Emirate has been playing hard and fast and expects to get some reward for supplying the rebels with arms and training fighters during the uprising. The NTC has pushed back on the Qataris and refused some of its cash to fund various projects.

But I see the NGO regulations as having a wider purpose than shutting the door on just Qatar. They are part of a Gaddafi-era control reflex that remains deeply embedded in Libya’s body politic.

That control reflex is behind some other disturbing laws – the so-called Glorification law that until the Supreme Court nullified it made it an offence punishable with up to life imprisonment to say anything in praise of the Gaddafi regime or to be detrimental about the uprising; a law that grants immunity to rebels for any crimes committed during the insurrection; and another law, described by Amnesty as “encouraging carte blanche abuse”, instructing the country’s courts to accept as evidence confessions extracted through torture.

Libya’s transitional Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Kib said during a recent trip to London that some of the laws international NGOs have criticized will “disappear from the scene” following the national election. It is a line several members of the NTC have been pushing on visiting American and European officials. They have told them the laws were a mistake.

But if the laws are such a mistake why aren’t they being withdrawn now? And why did the Justice Ministry bothered to defend the Glorification Law before the Supreme Court?

Further, how can the Prime Minister or any NTC member guarantee anything that the next national assembly or government decides to do?

Of course, it is not just on the big public things that you see the control reflex playing out. Journalists have found securing visas very difficult. CNN’s Nic Robertson told me the other day that he applied for a visa back in January and it only came through in March after he asked the interior minister on camera about it.

Foreign NGO workers are also having difficulty. And that was before their visas and journalist visas started to come under the authority recently of the Ministry of Culture, the authorizing authority under Gaddafi. Of course, that ministry is still run by Gaddafi-era bureaucrats.

It isn’t the only one. Go to any ministry and you find the old boys are still in charge. Of course, that in some ways has been helpful in the transition: at least they know how things work (or don’t). But there are no signs, alas, of change in the ministries in terms of fresh approaches and ideas or new ways of doing things.

The control reflex also plays out on the streets with various militias insisting on seeing your permission to film or to take photographs. A Libyan camera crew working for a foreign broadcaster tried to resist this the other week when militiamen told them they couldn’t film in Martyrs Square near the main souk and across the street from Libya’s national museum. A Libyan female member of the crew screamed at them that she had fought in the revolution for a new Libya not the return of the old. Apparently unidentified militiamen tell people that foreigners taking pictures are almost certainly western spies.

Depressingly, not even the NTC spokesman Mohammed al-Hareizi is a fan of the free press. The other week at his regular midweek news conference he lambasted the irresponsibility of the media and talked about how he hoped a future government would crackdown on the press and punish those who didn’t put national unity first, etc. Disturbingly, some local journalists agreed with him – including a reporter from the English-language Tripoli Post, who had urged the spokesman on by denouncing another newspaper for publishing a false report.

What To Tell The Children

A U.S.-educated woman here in Tripoli told me that during the Libyan revolution when NATO was bombing targets in Tripoli her three children – ages, 12, 8 and 5 – were very excited. “Weren’t they scared?” I asked. She responded: “No, because we told them the bombing was hurting bad people and was being done by people who were coming to help us. Our parents were saying, ‘don’t tell them that, we don’t know who will win and Gaddafi could come back.'”