Libya: Elections Amid The Gunfire


July 9, 2012:  The voting that began on the 7th is over and results are starting to come in. The Islamic parties have admitted that they lost to the secularist parties in the cities. This is where most Libyans live. But the Islamic groups hope to pick up some seats in the south, where the tribes there are more traditional and religiously conservative. The new parliament will form a government and write a new constitution before the next national elections. The new legislature will have 200 members. While 80 seats are reserved for political parties, 120 seats are contested by individuals. There are 142 political parties and 3,700 individual candidates going after those 200 seats. About 1.7 million of 2.8 million registered voters participated.

In addition to the voters, there are also over 100,000 armed members of over 200 local militias. Some of these are vigilante groups intent on keeping the peace, but many are led by men promising large rewards from the government in return for their men disarming. Some militias have announced that they will never disband and that their demands (Islamic law, autonomy for an area, a guaranteed share of oil revenue) are non-negotiable. The NTC (National Transitional Council) has concentrated on short-term solutions to these militias. Jobs and cash have been handed out freely for temporary peace but this will stop when the elected government assumes power. The new government will have to decide which militias to negotiate with and which to fight. Kaddafi stayed in power for as long as he did by using a combination of rewards and violence against his allies and opponents. This is all most Libyans have known and is likely to return as the primary governing strategy.

The main opponents of the new government will be Islamic radicals and the separatists. Also out there are Kaddafi fans but they will likely keep their heads down because they are still violently hated by most Libyans. The major divisions in the country are ancient. For example, some Libyans still refer to the east by its ancient name, Cyrenaica. Before Kaddafi took over in the 1960s, the monarchy ruled the country as three provinces, each with more autonomy than Kaddafi ever allowed. Many Libyans want a return to this. The eastern group calling for autonomy is led by a great-nephew of the last king of Libya. Compared to Kaddafi, old timers remember royal rule as much kinder and gentler.

This development spotlights some fundamental truths about the country. Libya has three distinct physical regions: the northwest coast, the northeast coast, and the Sahara Desert southern region that covers more than 90 percent of the nation. The northwest coastal region (the old Roman province of Tripolitania) consists of the narrow coastal plain and the Jaffara Plain inland. The northeastern Libyan coastal region (roughly the old Roman province of Cyrenaica) lies to the east of the Gulf of Sidra.

About 85 percent of Libya's six million people live along the coast. About five percent are still nomadic. About 90 percent are Arabic-speakers of mixed Arab-Berber ancestry. Berbers who retain their ancient language and culture, comprise only four percent and most of them live in small villages in the western hill country south of Tripoli. Other minorities comprise about six percent of the population. Nearly 100 percent of the population speaks at least some Arabic and 97 percent are Sunni Moslems.

Islamic conservatives appeal to about 20 percent of the population, and this would be enough to sustain an Islamic terrorist campaign. This is what Libyans fear the most, a replay of the Islamic terror that has already occurred in Egypt and Algeria in the 1990s, and Iraq a decade later. Al Qaeda and their ilk may only appeal to a minority, but the fact that these groups even exist in Libya is alarming to nearly all Libyans. Most of the Islamic conservatives openly denounce terrorism, but some groups do not. The appeal of Islamic conservatism is that they will be less corrupt than more secular rulers. However, the experience is that the Islamic conservatives quickly become corrupt once they gain power and are more inclined to oppose elections and retain power indefinitely.

Western intelligence officials have revealed that there is increasing chatter, and planning, among Islamic radical groups, to try and take advantage of the unsettled situation in places like Libya. The goal remains the same: taking control of the Moslem nation and using that as a springboard for world conquest.

July 7, 2012: For the first time in over 40 years, Libya held national elections. Meanwhile, groups demanding more autonomy for eastern Libya have shut down half of Libyan oil exports.

July 2, 2012:  ICC (International Criminal Court) members were released from jail. On June 7th two members of an ICC team (an Australian lawyer and Lebanese interpreter) were arrested when they showed up in Zintan to discuss having the ICC prosecute Seif al Islam Kaddafi, the son of the former dictator. The local militias want to prosecute Seif, not trusting anyone else to do it right. The ICC has not made itself popular in Libya by claiming superior authority to prosecute Seif. The ICC personnel were accused of spying and were not released until senior ICC officials came to Libya and apologized.

 July 1, 2012:  Separatist groups in the east attacked election headquarters in Benghazi. Pro-separatist militias are the most violent, and determined, in the east (the ancient province of Cyrenaica).

More fighting between black African and Arab tribes around the southeastern town of Kufra has left about fifty dead in the last few days. This violence has been going on for months and has left nearly 400 dead so far. The fighting has been getting worse in the last month. The disputes are largely about control of water and land and are part of centuries old animosity between the Arabs and black Africans. The two tribes involved have a long history of conflict.

June 29, 2012: Near the Libyan border Egyptian police seized 138 122mm rockets (with a range of about 20 kilometers), and some other weapons, that were smuggled in from Libya and apparently headed for a buyer in Gaza. Police are seizing an increasing number of weapons that Libyans have stolen from abandoned (during the rebellion last year) military bases. Smugglers are now trying to get the weapons into neighboring countries where the stuff can be sold.

June 27, 2012:  A Tunisian fishing ship, with a crew of 19, entered Libyan waters and was spotted by a Libyan patrol boat. The Tunisian ship ignored calls to halt and was fired on. The Tunisian captain was killed and two sailors were wounded. The rest of the crew was arrested and the fishing ship brought to a Libyan port.

June 24, 2012: Tunisia agreed to a Libyan request and extradited the former prime minister (Al Baghdadi Ali al Mahmoudi) for the Kaddafi government. Mahmoudi fled to Tunisia about a year ago.

June 20, 2012: Fighting between black African and Arab tribes around the southeastern town of Kufra has left over a hundred dead.

June 16, 2012:  For the second time in the last four months, Islamic radicals have desecrated World War II era graves of Western soldiers in eastern Libya. This is a major embarrassment for the NTC, which knows it needs to work with the West (to sell the oil and import goods and services). At the same time the NTC does not want the local Islamic radicals to declare war on the NTC.  The new government may eventually have to go to war with these Islamic terror groups and trigger a round of terrorist violence.


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