On the edge of the Sahel, Niger — “Sahel” in Arabic means “coast” or “shoreline.” Unless one was present 5,000 years ago when, according to anthropologists, our planet’s first cultivation of crops began in this then plush, but now semiarid region where temperatures reach 125 degrees F, and only camels and an assortment of creatures can sniff out water sources, it seems an odd geographical name place for this up 450 miles wide swatch of baked sand that runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.
Yet, when standing along its edge, the Sahel does have the appearance of a sort of dividing shoreline between the endless sands of the Sahara and the Savanna grasses to the south. Parts of Mali, Algeria, Niger, Chad, and Sudan, all along the Libyan border, fall within this supposed no man’s land.
Today the Sahel is providing protection, weapons gathering and storage facilities, sites for training camps, and hideouts, as well as a generally formidable base for those working to organize the growing Libyan Liberation Front (LLF). The aim of the LLF is to liberate Libya from what it considers NATO installed colonial puppets. The Sahel region is only one of multiple locations which are becoming active as the Libyan counter revolution, led by members of the Gadhafi and Wafalla, make preparations for the next phase of resistance.
When I entered an office conference room in Niger recently to meet with some recent evacuees from Libya whom I was advised were preparing to launch a “people’s struggle employing the Maoist tactic of 1,000 cuts “against the current group claiming to represent Libya,” two facts struck me.
One was how many were present and did not appear to be scruffy, intensely zealous or desperate but who were obviously rested, calm, organized, and methodical in their demeanor.
My colleague, a member of the Gadhafi tribe from Sirte explained “More than 800 organizers have arrived from Libya just to Niger and more come every day”. An officer in uniform added, “It is not like your western media presents the situation, of desperate Gadhafi loyalists frantically handing out bundles of cash and gold bars to buy their safety from the NATO death squads now swarming around the northern areas of our motherland. Our brothers have controlled the borderless routes in this region for thousands of years and they know how not to be detected even by NATO satellites and drones.”
The other subject I thought about as I sat in an initial meeting was what a difference three decades can make. As I sat there I recalled my visit with former Fatah youth leader Salah Tamari, who did good work at the Israeli prison camp at Ansar, south Lebanon, during the 1982 aggression, as the elected negotiator for his fellow inmates.
Tamari insisted on joining some of them at a new PLO base at Tabessa, Algeria, and invited me for a visit.
This was shortly after the PLO leadership—wrongly, in my judgment—agreed to evacuate Lebanon in August of 1982 rather than wage a Stalingrad defense (admittedly, minus the nonexistent expected Red Army) and the PLO leadership apparently credited Reagan administration promises of “an American guaranteed Palestinian state within a year. You can take that to the bank” in the words of US envoy Philip Habib.
Seemingly ever trustful of Ronald Reagan for some reason, PLO leader Arafat kept Habib’s written promise in his shirt pocket to show doubters, including his Deputy, Khalil al Wazir (Abu Jihad) and the womenfolk among others in Shatila Camp who had grave misgivings about their loved ones and protectors leaving them.
At Tabessa, somewhere in the vast Algerian desert, the formerly proud PLO defenders were essentially idle and caged inside their camp and apart from some physical training sessions appeared to spend their days drinking coffee and smoking and worrying about their loved ones in Lebanon as news of the September 1982 Israeli organized massacre at Sabra-Shatila fell on Tabessa Camp like a huge bomb and many fighters rejected Tamari’s orders and left for Shatila Camp.
This is not the case with Libyan evacuees in Niger. They have the latest model satellite phones, laptops, and better equipment than most of the rich news outlets that showed up with fancy equipment at Tripoli’s media hotels over the past nine months.
This observer’s “How did you all get here and where did you secure all this new electronic equipment so fast?” question was answered with a mute smile and wink from a hijabed young lady who I last saw in August handing out press releases at Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel for Libyan spokesman Dr. Musa Ibrahim. On that particular day, Musa was telling the media as he stood next to Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kaim, a friend to many Americans and human rights activists, that Tripoli would not fall to NATO rebels and “we have 6,500 well trained soldiers who are waiting for them.” As it turned out, the commander of the 6,500 was owned by NATO and he instructed his men not to oppose the entering rebel forces. Tripoli fell the next day and the day after Khalid was arrested and is still inside one of dozens of rebel jails petitioning his unresponsive captors for family visits while an international, American organized, legal team is negotiating to visit him.
The LLF has military and political projects in the works. One of the latter is to compete for every vote in next summer’s promised election. One staffer I met with has the job of studying the elections in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the region for possible applications to Libya.
Another LLF committee is putting together a Nationalist campaign electoral theme, plus specific campaign planks for their candidates to run on, and vetting lists of recommendations for specific candidates. Nothing is firmly decided yet, but one Libyan professor told me, “For sure, Women’s rights will be a major plank. Women are horrified by what NTC Chairman Jalil said while seeking support from Al Qaeda supporters who threaten to control Libya, about polygamy being the future in Libya and the fact that women will no longer be given the home when divorced. Under Gadhafi, Libya has been very progressive with women’s rights as with Palestinian rights.” Aisha Gadhafi, the only daughter of Muammar, who is now living next door in Algeria with family members, including her two month old baby, was a major force behind the 2010 enactment by the Peoples Congresses of more rights for women. She has been asked to write a pamphlet on the need to retain women’s rights in Libya which will be distributed if the 2012 elections actually materialize.
While their beloved country lay in substantial NATO-bombed ruin, the pro-Gadhafi LLF has some major pluses on its side. One is the tribes who during last summer were starting to stand up against NATO just as Tripoli fell before they launched their efforts which included a new Constitution. The LLF believes the tribes can be crucial in getting out the vote.
Perhaps an even a more powerful arrow in the LLF’s quiver as it launches its insurgency is the 35 years of political experience gained by the hundreds of Libyan People’s Congresses long established in every village in Libya along with the Secretariats of the People’s Conferences. While currently inactive (outlawed by NATO, truth be told), they are quickly regrouping and are expected to be able to dominate any forthcoming election in terms of getting out the vote.
Libya’s Peoples Congresses have sometimes been the objects of ridicule by some under informed self-styled Libya “experts”, the People’s Congresses, based on the Green book series written by “Baba” Muammar, in fact are actually quite democratic, and a study of their work makes clear that they have increasingly functioned not as mere rubber stamps for ideas that were floated from over the walls of Bab al Azziza barracks.
A secretary general of one of the Congresses, now working in Niger, repeated what one western delegation was told during a fascinating late-June three-hour briefing at the Tripoli HQ of the national PC Secretariat. Participants were shown attendance and voting records as well of each item voted on, for the past decade and the minutes of the most recent People’s Congress debates. They illustrate the similarities between the People’s Congresses and New England Town Meeting in terms of the local population making decisions that affect their community and an open agenda where complaints and new proposals can be made and debated. Libyan leaders, including Muammar Gadhafi, lost plenty of votes on items they favored or had originally proposed. In the last few years, the Guide declined to take public positions on the items to be voted on in the PC’s because he preferred not to influence or interfere with what he called “the decisions of the masses.”
This observer particularly enjoyed his 4-year term representing Ward 2A in the Brookline, Massachusetts Town Meeting while in college in Boston, sometimes sitting next to neighbors Kitty and Michael Dukakis, who I am told still live on Perry Street. While we both won a seat in the election, I received 42 votes more than Mike in our Irish and Jewish neighborhood (actually winning my seat wasn’t all that complicated, I simply took my friend Rachel Cohen with me door to door at Jewish homes seeking votes and Mary O’Malley with me to Irish homes) but Michael rose politically while it should be said that I sort of sank, following my joining Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the ACLU, and the Black Panthers all in one semester as an undergraduate at Boston University. My quick political evolution in politics followed an inspiring meeting with Professor Noam Chomsky and Professor Howard Zinn in Chomsky’s office at MIT. An admittedly simple fellow from a small Oregon town, I left our 90-minute meeting with a book bag full of political epiphanies and have not been the same since.
The Brookline Town Meeting debates were interesting and productive and “Mustafa”, the National Secretary of the Libyan People’s Congress, who studied at George Washington University in WDC and wrote a graduate thesis on New England Town Meetings, claimed his country patterned their People’s Congresses on the New England model. Unfortunately, “Mustafa” is also now incarcerated by the NTC, according to mutual friends.
Who LLF candidates will be if an election is actually held is unknown but some are suggesting that Dr. Abu Zeid Dorda, now recovering from his “guilt driven suicide attempt”, according to an NTC spokesman (the former Libyan UN Ambassador was thrown out of a second floor window during interrogations last month by NATO agents, but he survived in front of witnesses, so is now recovering in prison medical ward), as the credibility of yet another NTC media release crumbles.
Contrary to media stories, Saif al Islam is not about to surrender to the International Criminal Court and, like Musa Ibrahim, is well. Both are being urged to lay low for now, rest, and try to heal a bit from NATO’s killing of family members and many close friends.
Some legal and political analysts think the ICC will not proceed with any trials relating to Libya for reasons of the ICC’s convoluted rules and structure and uncertainly of securing convictions of the “right” suspects. Whatever happens on this subject, if a case goes forward, researchers are preparing to fill the ICC courtroom with documentation of NATO crimes during its 9-month, 23,000-sortie, and 10,000 bombing attacks on the five million population country.
Some International Criminal Court observers are encouraged by the ICC Prosecutor’s office pledge this week, as reported by the BCC, “to investigate and prosecute any crimes committed both by rebel and pro-Gadhafi forces including any committed by NATO.”
As one victim of NATO crimes, who on June 20, 2011 lost four of his family members, including three infant children, when five NATO American MK-83 1,000 lb. bombs were dropped and two missiles fired on the Tripoli suburb family compound in a failed assassination attempt against his father, a former aide to Colonel Gadhafi wrote this observer yesterday from his secret sanctuary, “This is very good news if it is true.”
As NATO moves its focus and recalibrates its drones to the Seral, it is possible that its nearly 300 days and nights of carnage against this gentle country and people will not in the end achieve its goals. The Libyan people may yet defeat NATO’s neo-colonial project both by armed resistance and at the ballot box.
A rejuvenated national resistance has begun on Libya’s borders.