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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Friday, June 1, 2012

Jamming Tripoli: how insurgents fought back against Gaddafi’s spy network

Libya was in an uproar. It was 10 February, 2011, the beginning of the Arab Spring -- a series of uprisings, revolutions and civil wars that would radically alter the politics of the Middle East. In Libya, opponents of the Gaddafi regime had called for a day of protest on 17 February, to mark the anniversary of a 2006 protest in the city of Benghazi, where security forces had killed 11 demonstrators and wounded dozens more.

Tawati was one of the most outspoken dissidents blogging openly from inside Libya. The 34-year-old had come to political consciousness during the mid-2000s. Her parents had divorced when she was young; in Libya, growing up with a single mother made her a social outcast. The injustice she experienced as a child led her to critique the injustice of the regime, particularly on women's issues, and over time she won a modest online following. As 17 February approached, she blogged that if Libyans failed to turn out for the demonstrations she would set fire to herself just as Mohammed Bouazizi had done two months earlier on the streets of Tunisia. Gaddafi himself had heard news of this threat and decided he needed to meet her.

Despite the dictator's haggard appearance, his manner remained confident and effusive. Gaddafi could be a legendary charmer, a man deeply at ease with ordinary Libyans. He seemed sympathetic to Tawati's request for more openness in Libya. Finally she worked up the courage to ask him why the government had blocked YouTube several months earlier.

She complained to him about the way that allies of his regime had treated her. Ever since she'd started blogging under her own name in 2007, Tawati had been harassed -- and worse. "Ghaida al-Tawati, the goat of the internet," read one Facebook page her attackers created; a string of graphic sexual comments was posted underneath her photo. More bewildering, though, was the invasion of privacy: somehow, emails of hers had been leaked on to the internet, even displayed on state television. She had been accused of working with foreign agents. Her reputation as a woman had been smeared, she told Gaddafi.
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Obama Doctrine: Syria vs. Libya Intervention

Obama went on to explain why Libya passed that test. The country, he said, was at risk of “violence on a horrific scale”—specifically because of what he described as an impending slaughter in the city of Benghazi. Allowing that slaughter, he said, would have “stained the conscience of the world.” That was the values part. The reason that taking action met our interests, Obama said, was because the U.S. enjoyed “a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.”

The Obama administration argues that the same criteria don’t apply in Syria. The killing there has been undeniably terrible, with estimates running as high as 13,000 dead since the uprising began. But in Libya, Obama was acting specifically in response to the imminent storming by Gaddafi’s forces of Benghazi, a city of 700,000, where Obama predicted an indiscriminate massacre. Meanwhile, there’s a consensus that military action in Syria would be far riskier than it was in Libya, thanks to Syria’s more sophisticated military forces and air defenses.

The Syrian opposition is also even more splintered and inchoate than were the Libyan rebels, and Assad is more popular than was Gaddafi. International bodies like the United Nations and Arab League haven’t called for intervention, and Syria’s ties to Russia–and Iran–also introduce all sorts of strategic complications that didn’t exist in the case of Libya, which had few reliable friends and little geo-strategic import. Merely arming the opposition, as Romney has proposed to do, eliminates the risk to American soldiers, but the other concerns still apply.
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Libya says it is ready to try Gaddafi loyalists

At the beginning of May, I wrote about the challenges surrounding Libya’s June 18 National Assembly elections. At the time, there was significant confusion over a proposed election law that would have banned political parties based on religion, ethnicity, or tribe. Since then, the National Transitional Council (NTC) has scrapped the law, but the elections could still be postponed. Last week, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the NTC, announced that the transitional government may delay the elections while some would-be candidates appeal their disqualifications in court (in February, Libya finalized a fairly complex set of eligibility laws for the National Assembly).

As we’ve seen in Egypt, questions of candidate eligibility close to an election can spark confusion. Libya’s pool of candidates for the National Assembly is already large and unwieldy—over 4,000 candidates have registered, including more than 2,600 independent candidates. Libya’s lack of many basic institutions, such as a constitution and an independent judiciary, compounds the confusion since it is not clear how decisions on matters like candidate eligibility are made. From my perspective, this is all the more reason for Libya to hold elections in a timely manner and begin building up the country’s political infrastructure. A potential delay adds to the likelihood that ongoing civil unrest will continue to foment. Moreover, risk-averse companies will continue to sit on the sidelines of Libya’s economy until a government is formed. Already, talk of delay has Libyans grumbling about a possible power grab by the NTC, whose legitimacy as a governing body is declining by the day.

The trials are being seen as a test of the new government's ability to try higher-profile Gaddafi loyalists and family members, including his son, Saif al-Islam - who could yet be tranferred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

"The trial of Buzeid Dorda and the other symbols of the former regime will begin on June 5 in a courthouse in Tripoli," Prosecutor-General Abdul Azizi al-Hassadi told Reuters.

Dorda, who was arrested last September in Tripoli, would be the first senior Gaddafi official put on trial in Libya since a popular revolution ousted the former government last year.

A transitional government appointed in November to lead Libya to elections is struggling to impose order on the myriad armed groups that toppled Gaddafi last year.

The government has been keen to try Gaddafi's family members and loyalists at home, but human rights activists worry that a weak central government and a lack of rule of law could rob them of the right to a fair trial.

If the International Criminal Court rules Libya is unwilling or unable to try Saif al-Islam, who is accused of crimes against humanity over the killing of civilian protesters, it says it will take jurisdiction of the case.

Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's most prominent son, was captured by militia fighters in November.

Dorda had been with Gaddafi since he first seized power in a 1969 coup. He was known as a technocrat, and not an intelligence officer by training. Libyans do not associate him with some of the earlier and bloodiest periods in Gaddafi's autocracy such as the 1980s. He is believed to have taken on his job in 2009.
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