Libya: Meanwhile, Out In The Desert


August 19, 2013: The government has threatened the striking security personnel at the Brega, Zueitina, Ras Lanouf, and Sedra oil export terminals with army intervention if they do not surrender control of the facilities they have been occupying since July 25 th . This has cost the country over $1.6 billion in lost oil sales. Other shutdowns this year have cost another $400 million in losses. The government also issued a warning to all oil tanker companies that if any unauthorized (by the Libyan government) tankers tried to enter any of the terminals held by the strikers that ship would be fired on. This warning was necessary because the strikers were trying to sell some of the oil stored at the terminals to replace lost wages of the strikers and other workers there. The strikers are demanding higher pay and investigations into corruption (particularly how oil sales are being handled). The government has been reluctant to use force because of the risk that the strikers would damage the facilities, further delaying the resumption of shipments. In the meantime, there is less money for government benefits nearly all Libyans depend on. Those strikers don’t seem to realize that they are hurting all Libyans by interfering with the oil sales and that eventually creates a powerful public outcry demanding that the strikers be punished.

The strikers get some sympathy for their anti-corruption demands. Libya is one of most corrupt nations in the world. International corruption surveys put Libya among the twenty most corrupt countries (out of 176 surveyed). Most Libyans agree with this but the corruption has been around for centuries and even Kaddafi had to live with it. So far, there have not been enough Libyans willing to step up and halt the practices.

Crime has increased since the 2011 revolution, in part because 14,000 convicts were able to flee their prisons during the fighting and have not been recaptured. Many of these men were in prison for serious offenses (murder, rape, kidnapping, grand theft, assault, fraud) and have gone back to doing what got them jailed in the first place. It is believed that the several dozen attacks on government officials and security personnel in the last few months were contract killings using some of the convicted killers who escaped in 2011.

There’s been less Islamic terrorist activity this year, in large part because of popular anger (and often violent action) against the Islamic radical groups. But there are many (perhaps thousands) of these guys still around. There is less terrorist activity because many of the terrorists have gone into the countryside, which has led to persistent rumors (and some videos) showing terrorist training camps and operational bases in the far south. Many of the Islamic radicals who showed up two years ago for the revolution have since moved on to other battlefields (like Syria). Even many Libyan Islamic radicals have gone to Syria, while others have moved to neighboring Tunisia and especially Egypt. The government is recruiting and training new soldiers and police as quickly as it can, and nearly all these are sent to the cities, where most Libyans and unruly militias live.

There has still been a lot of street violence in the last month, mostly between militias fighting each other and the security forces. Public opinion is decidedly anti-militia and that translates into support for the security forces or local vigilantes who will violently eject militiamen from the neighborhood. The government is deploying more army units, as they become available, to help keep the peace in the cities. The militia leaders know that their time is coming to an end and many are willing to go down fighting.

August 18, 2013: The Interior Minister resigned, complaining of interference by the prime minister and other senior politicians. The Interior Minister, a former colonel in the Tripoli police, took the job last May after his predecessor was forced to resign, largely because of his failure to get a new national police force organized and reduce the growing lawlessness.

August 17, 2013: In Benghazi a bomb went off outside the Egyptian consulate, wounding a security guard and five children playing nearby.

Shipments from the refinery at Ras Lanouf resumed. While the crude oil terminal is still held by strikers, the refinery terminal was shut down by its workers on July 29th and that strike was settled.

August 13, 2013: Several thousand angry Berbers stormed the parliament demanding recognition and autonomy for them in the new constitution. About 90 percent of Libyans are Arabic-speakers of mixed Arab-Berber ancestry. Berbers who retain their ancient language and culture (and use the original name for Berbers, Amazigh) comprise only four percent and most of them live in small villages in the western hill country south of Tripoli. But about ten percent of Libyans consider themselves Berber and many of these live in the cities. While about 85 percent of Libya's six million people live along the coast, some five percent are still nomadic. 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. The Berber are Sunni but were never big on Islamic radicalism. Kaddafi saw the Berbers as a threat because they were not Arab but had, for over a thousand years, resisted Arab domination. The Berber nationalists have also been holding demonstrations outside oil facilities in the West, interfering with oil production.

August 7, 2013: The U.S. government finally indicted someone (Ahmed Khattalah) for the attack on an American diplomatic facility in Benghazi last September 11. This killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Khattalah, an Islamic radical and militia leader, denied the charges. Khattalah has long been a suspect but Libyan security forces have not been able to arrest him.

August 4, 2013: The U.S. ordered its Middle Eastern embassies closed because of the threat of al Qaeda attack. This closure lasted until the 10th.

August 3, 2013: The deputy prime minister resigned, citing lack of cooperation from senior government officials and rampant corruption that interfered with efforts to solve the security and economic problems.

In Benghazi a senior police commander was wounded when a bomb planted in his car went off.

August 2, 2013: In Benghazi a bomb was thrown at a police station, wounding five policemen.

August 1, 2013: In the capital 18 prisoners escaped when the convoy taking them from a courthouse to prison was attacked.




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