Glimpses of life: Intervention-devastated Libya

A Journal of People report

Life in Libya, devastated with imperialist intervention, is difficult: factional fights, blood spilling, death, destruction. Fighting factions have carved up the fourth largest country in Africa into fiefdoms. Uncertainty is permanent company of citizens there in Libya. Many wonder: is the economy operating?

A few media reports present a glimpse of life in the vast and oil-rich country embroiled in violence since the 2011 imperialist intervention toppled and killed Mummar Gaddafi.

The Libya Observer reported on May 28, 2017:

Misrata Brigade aligned with the Salvation Government of Khalifa Al-Ghawiel has pulled back from Tripoli International Airport after two days of fierce fighting against rival groups loyal to the UN-installed Presidency Council.

The “Tripoli International Airport taken by Tarhuna Brigade, Tajouri rejects” headlined report said:

The airport was taken by Al-Kani Brigade from Tarhuna as a neutral side. Tarhuna Municipality has confirmed the takeover by the 7th brigade of the Presidential Guard (Al-Kani) “in support for the legitimacy of the Presidency Council”.

Commander of the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade Haitem Al-Tajouri rejected the takeover and demanded Al-Kani Brigade to withdraw immediately. He describes the takeover as “exchange of roles between two armed groups.”

Tripoli International Airport was completely destroyed during Libya dawn Operation against the Zintani Brigades in 2014.

An earlier report by The Libya Observer said on May 26, 2017:

Heavy clashes between rival armed groups broke out in the Libyan capital of Tripoli on May 26, 2017. Brigades loyal to Fayaz Sirraj-led Presidency Council and rival brigades aligned with the Salvation Government of Khalifa Al-Ghawiel exchanged heavy fire in the morning in Abu Salim, Hai Damascus, Al-Hadba, Salah Eddine, Hai Akhwakh, Hai Nasir and Bab Ben Ghasir neighborhoods.

The “Fighting erupts in Libyan capital” headlined report said:

Plumes of smoke billowed from the areas of clashes while intermittent loud explosions could be heard across the capital. A random shell hit the Libyan branch of Mellitah Oil Company (ENI) in Dahra district causing fire in the upper floor. The fire was extinguished. Rockets also fell on Hadba Prison, where senior Gaddafi officials are held. No casualties were reported. Prison officials said they came under attack by armed gunmen trying to free the inmates, but they managed to repel them.

A video shared by social media activists showed tanks and armored vehicles moving in Abu Salim.

The Libyan Red Crescent advised the locals in the areas of clashes to stay at home, and published telephone numbers for emergency.

The Tripoli Herald reported:

Heavy battles continue to rage in Tripoli as rival factions duel for control of the Libyan capital. The assault on the UN-backed government is led by a Misrata commander whose success in the anti-Gaddafi rebellion was secured by the 2011 NATO intervention.

Clashes persisted in Tripoli on May 27, 2017 between militias loyal the self-proclaimed National Salvation Government (GNC) and forces loyal to the internationally-recognized Presidential Council (PC) which presides over the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

Fierce fighting erupted on May 26, 2017 after the GNC’s militia’s top commander, Salah Badi, launched an attack on the GNA-allied Central Security militia in an attempt to recapture parts of the capital,

The gunfire and artillery explosions continued in the districts of Abu Salim, Salahedeen, and Qasr Bin Ghashthen through May 27, 2017.

Forces supporting the UN-backed government announced they lost 52 of their fighters by Saturday morning while “dozens” had been injured.

GNC forces lost at least 14 of their fighters from the city of Misrata as well as an unknown number of local militants.

The health ministry said at least 47 people were killed while 183 others were wounded. It is unclear how many of those were civilians or combatants.

Other media reports datelined May 28, 2017 said:

Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Libya condemned the violence in Tripoli, calling on all sides to cease hostilities, protect civilian lives and to work towards national reconciliation.

The UN official expressed full support for the PC as the “sole legitimate executive authority in Libya,” as stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 2259 (2015) and 2278 (2016).

The assault of the capital is led by Badi – one of the Misrata’s top militant commanders who, actively supported by NATO’s aerial campaign, led his men against the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Some voices in Egypt – who on Friday struck militant targets in neighboring Libya in retaliation for the murder of Coptic Christians by Islamist gunmen – believe that Misratan fighters are also terrorists.

“We should annihilate Misrata along with all those who people in it,” Egyptian MP Murtada Mansour said Saturday. “Qatar and Turkey are sending weapons to Misrata fighters… Misrata, our target is Misrata, and all Libyans know that. We should support Khalifa Haftar and his army to help annihilate Misrata.”


Three power centers

Libya has three major centers of power at present.

The first is the Presidential Council (PC), which has been based in Tripoli since March 30, 2016 and created following the signing of the UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in December 2015. The Presidential Council presides over the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

The second ‘government’ is the rival National Salvation Government (GNC) headed by prime minister Khalifa Ghwell. The GNC was installed after a coalition of armed groups supporting it won the battle for control of Tripoli in 2014.

The third center of power is based in Tobruk and is aligned with Egypt. It completely rejects the GNC, partially recognizes the authority of GNA, and is headed by an anti-Islamist general Khalifa Haftar, who leads the Libyan National Army (LNA).


Ten dinars only: Cash shortage, price hike

An AFP report datelined Tripoli said:

“The holy Muslim month of Ramadan began Saturday with a bitter taste for residents of Libya’s capital, as a cash shortage bites, prices rise and deadly clashes returned to Tripoli.

“Dawn queues outside banks just to withdraw a few tens of dinars have become routine for most Libyans, whose chaos-plagued North African country faces a persistent liquidity shortfall.

“But despite the difficulty of getting by on a daily basis, the small Tomzini grocery store was still crowded on the eve of Ramadan.

“However shoppers were cautious and extra-careful about their purchases this year, with cutbacks the order of the day.”

The report cited Mariem, a young mother whose little girl gazed imploringly at large baskets of multi-colored sweet treats: “Instead of buying three kilos of almonds, I’m buying three dinars’ worth, just for decoration.”  The report said:

“Prices have multiplied by three or four times this year in Libya, including at Tomzini which is famed for its fresh spices.

“Most Libyans these days are trying to adapt and change their spending habits so they are still solvent by the end of the month.”

The AFP report said:

“People no longer buy in the large quantities of the past.”

The report cited a number of residents:

“I have to be careful. I’m not sure I can replace every dinar that leaves my pocket,” 59-year-old civil servant Moftah al-Barrani told AFP.

“We haven’t been paid for months, and even if I still have money in the bank I can’t get at it because there is no cash,” he said.

“Retired teacher and mother of three Halima, 54, counts her cash carefully to ensure she does not have to come shopping again during the first week of Ramadan.

“In a market in Tajoura, an eastern suburb of Tripoli, Sabri al-Bouechi who lives on his salary as an official recognizes that ‘living conditions are below zero’. ‘I’m just an ordinary guy like those who queue up outside the bank,’ he said, adding: ‘Officials should have pity on people.’

“Because of the cash shortage, the businesses that do best are those that accept cards and cheques.

“With such lofty ideals in mind, residents of Tripoli have been helping others to cope with a country in crisis.

“For the past two months, throughout the city and on social networks, associations have mobilized to collect food supplies for needy families.

“‘There’s no point in praying and fasting when a neighbor goes hungry,’ said Samer Fayyadh, who runs a fast-food restaurant in Tripoli.

“In an attempt to counter the effects of the economic crisis, the central bank decided to spend more than $550 million (500 million euros) on food imports for Ramadan.

“This is despite the constant risk of subsidized products being diverted by unscrupulous traders.


Inundated by the wounded

A May 26 datelined report by The Washington Post said:

“Today, militias have carved up the oil-producing country into fiefdoms, each aligned with one of three competing governments. And Tripoli, as expected, has been a major battleground with armed groups fighting for control of neighborhoods, even streets and buildings.”

The “A day in Libya’s capital, just as the civil war reignites” headlined report by Sudarsan Raghavan, The Post‘s Cairo bureau chief, described a situation:

“The young militia fighters carried in a comrade who was covered in blood and motionless. It was 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Al Mokhtar Clinic, and Libya’s civil war had just reignited in this fractured capital.

“‘Move on, clear the way,’ one fighter screamed. ‘He’s dying.’

“Five hours earlier, on the eve of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, fierce clashes erupted between rival militias. They tore apart a two-month lull in the violence and upended the lives of countless Libyans in neighborhoods that turned into battle zones overnight.

“The fighting also underscored the security and logistical challenges British investigators could face if they consider visiting Libya to pursue clues in the Manchester concert suicide bombing that killed 22 people this week. The bomber, Salman Abedi, was of Libyan origin, and his father and brother were arrested in Tripoli. Both are in the custody of a counterterrorism militia aligned with the Western-backed government.

“Those challenges were evident during an hours-long drive Friday in a city fragmented as much by politics, ideology and geography as it is by violence and the thirst for power. In the southeastern enclaves, militias deployed tanks and used heavy artillery, leaving families trapped inside their homes and sending many civilians and fighters to hospitals with injuries. Authorities could not provide reliable casualty figures.”

It described:

“At the Al Mokhtar Clinic, the toll of the fighting was obvious. Doctors and nurses were inundated by the wounded. One man arrived with blood splattered on his legs.

“‘My brother was injured,’ another man said as he waited outside. ‘He was just standing in front of his house when the shells landed.’

“But the militia fighters were most visible at the clinic.

“‘I want to get inside the room,’ one fighter screamed, as others held him back from accosting the doctors and nurses.

“Other fighters, clad in black and clutching AK-47 rifles, stood outside.

“At 1:53 p.m., screams filled the room. Some militia fighters cried, their faces now filled with anguish.

“Their comrade had died on the operating table.”

The report describes two citizens:

“An hour later, Aldabaa and Salim were in the cafe. As they have done during previous clashes, they called friends and family around the city to make sure they were safe. They also checked Twitter and Facebook to see which neighborhoods had turned into no-go zones.

“Salim had just spoken to a friend who was stuck in his home as fighters pummeled each other outside.

“He and Aldabaa had both taken part in the revolution. Salim said he did not regret fighting against the Gaddafi regime, but “regretted the people who came after the revolution.”

“Aldabaa blamed the Western countries for helping the rebellion that ousted Gaddafi, and now regrets that the revolution happened at all.

“‘We were expecting to take the country in a better direction,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately, we left it in a worse condition.’”

The report concludes with the following description:

“At 3:15 p.m. near the Rixos Hotel, militia fighters in pickup trucks waited for the next offensive. Graffiti on the wall of the complex read: “Free Libya.”

“By 4:30 p.m., drivers were in lines at gas stations around the city, preparing for shortages that usually come after each clash.

“And the people of Tripoli were certainly expecting more fighting.”


Major humanitarian crisis

Libya’s population is suffering a major humanitarian crisis. This involves poverty, insecurity, gender-based violence, mass displacement, shortages of food and cash in banks, and frequent power cuts.

The World Food Program has said:

Of the 6.4 million population, 1.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Libya while 60 percent of internally displaced people are vulnerable to food insecurity.

According to the 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview, food insecurity among the affected population is increasing due to protracted displacement, disruption to markets and lower food production. As a result, the most vulnerable are exposed to a high risk of inadequate food consumption. Unable to meet their food needs, many families are forced into negative coping strategies such as spending savings, cutting their number of daily meals and reducing non-food related expenses, particularly in health and education.

WFP’s October 2016 Rapid Food Security assessment indicated that some 17 percent of internally displaced people are food insecure. This represents an 11 percent increase since 2015. Overall, 60 percent of IDPs are vulnerable to food insecurity. IDPs, returnees and refugees are among the most vulnerable population groups in need of food assistance

Before the crisis, the WFP had a minimal presence in Libya, with the country operating only as a logistics corridor between Sudan and Chad. Today, the WFP aim “to support the most affected and vulnerable people, whose food security has been compromised by the fighting.”

Before the intervention, Libya maintained large trade surpluses. Although the country’s oil wealth did not percolate down to the wages of ordinary citizens, until 2011 the cost of food at household level was offset to some extent by a welfare state that offered free education and healthcare. Now, the country has a trade deficit.


Libya is on its knees

A September 16, 2016 datelined Mail Online report said:

‘Life in Libya is worse than ever!’ Cameron’s ‘ill-conceived’ military action has created ‘six million little Gaddafis’ and turned country into ISIS hotbed – say people who once hated the dictator.

The report said:

Five years on from the 2011 execution of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is on its knees.

Country is crippled by power cuts, sky high food prices, and threat of ISIS.

Salaries are unpaid for months, and there is chronic cash shortage.

Citizens who took up arms against Gaddafi now say their quality of life was better under the feared dictator. Libyans who hated Gaddafi say life was better under him.

The report by Tom Westcott from Tripoli and Nick Fagge from London cited citizens in Libya:

Tebu Mohammed told MailOnline: ‘Libya died with Gaddafi. We are not a nation anymore, we have become just warring groups of tribes, towns and cities.’

‘I joined the revolution in the first days and fought against Gaddafi,’ former revolutionary fighter Mohammed, 31, told MailOnline, from the southern city of Murzuq.

‘Before 2011 I hated Gaddafi more than anyone. But now, life is much, much harder, and I have become his biggest fan.’

Taxi driver Mahmoud added: ‘Before Libya was much better.’

Oil worker Haroun, 41, said: ‘Getting rid of Gaddafi was clearly a mistake because we weren’t ready for democracy and we needed support from the international community, which just wasn’t there.’

Activist Fadiel added: ‘It should be better than Gaddafi’s time now but, because of the chaos and everyone fighting each other, it’s just a mess.’

Fadiel, from Ras Lanuf, told MailOnline: ‘[Under the Gaddafi regime] you could buy 20 loaves with one dinar but now you can only buy five, and they are smaller.

Cooking oil was subsidized under Gaddafi and cost 1.75 dinar per 1 litre but because of shortages, some businessmen buy it from warehouses and resell it for 5LYD. Bread and oil are the most basic commodities.’

He added: ‘Hospitals are running out of basic medicines, for epilepsy and diabetes, and people are now buying them from private pharmacies at double their previous prices.

‘And we are struggling to get our children vaccinated because of shortages, particularly in rural areas.’

Nuri, 34, a businessman from Tripoli said: ‘It’s just that people’s lives are so difficult now compared to under Gaddafi.’

Medical student Salem, 26, from Tripoli, said; ‘We thought things would be better after the revolution, but they just keep getting worse and worse.

‘Far more people have been killed since 2011 than during the revolution or under 42 years of Gaddafi’s rule combined.

‘We never had these problems under Gaddafi.

‘There was always money and electricity and, although people did not have large salaries, everything was cheap, so life was simple.

‘Some of my friends have even taken the boat to Europe with the migrants because they feel there is no future for them here.

‘I would like to escape this mess and study abroad but I have been waiting a year for a new passport and, even when I do get one, it will be hard to get a visa because all the embassies left in 2014.

‘So now I feel like a prisoner in my own country. And I have started to hate my own country.’

An ex-pat British housewife, who moved to Libya with her Libyan husband 20 years ago, says it is no longer safe to go out at night.

Sara, 50, a mother-of-one, told MailOnline: ‘I used to walk home alone at midnight with no fear.

‘But now I don’t like to go outside alone after dark. I don’t feel safe.’

The report said:

The Libyans’ “comments echo the findings of influential British politicians who have condemned former prime minister David Cameron’s ‘chaotic’ 2011 intervention in Libya.”

It said:

“Cameron claimed the intervention was necessary to prevent a massacre of civilians, but the new report says that, despite appalling human rights abuses over 40 years, Gaddafi had no record of large-scale attacks on Libyan civilians.”

The situation is so bad some Libyans, previously among the richest people in the Arab world, are considering fleeing the country on migrant boats to start a new life in Europe.

It added:

Libyans described their daily battles to survive.

Ordinary people now face daily electricity cuts of up to nine hours, and shortages of medical supplies.

Widespread corruption has also prompted the black-market rate for foreign currency to triple against the increasingly worthless Libyan dinar.

A lack of security the very fabric of Libyan society has broken down with provinces, towns and tribes retreating into themselves.

Successive post-revolutionary governments, parliaments and leaders have all failed to provide ordinary Libyans with basic security, let alone address their daily struggles.

‘We have had seven governments since 2011 and what have they achieved?’ asked Mahmoud. ‘The only thing we can see is new dustbins because one of the early governments installed these new large bins across Tripoli. We still point to them and laugh, saying it’s the only achievement of the revolution.’

Former Libyan diplomat Abdusalem, 48, said: ‘The so-called revolution was lies, all lies. We Libyans did not even know what the word revolution meant. We had been sheltered under Qaddafi for 42 years. It was not Libya’s revolution, it was NATO’s revolution because they wanted to get rid of Gaddafi.’

Riots have broken out at banks in Libya as people are forced to queue for hours in the stifling heat at banks to withdraw a restricted amount of money – equivalent to £219 or $290 – due to an extreme shortage of cash.

Many ATM cashpoint machines have not worked for months. Bank security guards shot and killed three people in a bank queue in May this year.

Banks have refused to issue businesses letters of credit for imports and shipping company insurers have classified Libya as a war zone, sending the price of basic goods through the roof. And food subsidies have been cut.

The price of basic goods including imports have gone through the roof as shipping company insurers have classified Libya as a war zone. And food subsidies have been cut.

As their dreams of a prosperous post-Gaddafi Libya lay in the dust most people say now they only want peace.

One said: ‘I cannot see how there will be peace in this country for another ten years, but peace and stability is all that ordinary Libyans want.’


Extrajudicial killings

Sirte was where Gaddafi and his loyalists made a last stand in the 2011 civil war. The city, Gaddafi’s hometown, was almost completely destroyed in the fighting. Furious over the city’s loyalty to Gaddafi, anti-government rebels punished the city’s residents with extrajudicial killings and revenge attacks.

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