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OPINION: Quo Vadis? Post-Benghazi Libya

Christopher Occhicone is a New York-based U.S. photojournalist who recently returned from Libya.

NEW YORK, Jan 4 2015 (IPS) - A concerted disinformation campaign is being conducted to manufacture consent for military action against the government in Tripoli and the town of Misrata, which has been at the forefront of toppling the despotic Gaddafi dictatorship.

It is ironic that the very same people who called in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) led airstrikes on satellite phones in 2011 are now being labeled as dangerous ‘Islamist militants’.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

chris o 300It looks like Western policymakers and legislators in the U.S. and Europe, and the United Nations may all be misinformed, which in turn could unleash catastrophic consequences for the people of Libya.  Undoubtedly a protracted civil war in Libya will swell the numbers of refugees fleeing to Europe manifold.

Impact of Benghazi

To understand the difference between fact and fiction, I spent several days interviewing senior members of the government of Libya and Fajr Libya known in English as Libya Dawn (LD).  My main subject on the side of the government was Mustafa Noah, director of the Intelligence Service of Libya.

What was very clear throughout the interview is that both Noah and his supporters in the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn are very much pro-U.S. and pro-NATO who they say are “the saviors of Libya”.

The Libya story in 2015 is about disinformation, lies and a power-grab in motion clandestinely supported by the Egyptians and their Saudi and Emirati counterparts.

They are genuinely upset at the murder of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and his three colleagues in Benghazi.  Ambassador Stevens is considered “an honourary Libyan who loved the country and its peoples” and who was “above all, a guest whose murder is sacrilege”.

Noah said that the “perpetrators have been paying a heavy price for their crime that is being slowly but surely being exacted upon them”.  He stated categorically for the record that “extremist Takfiri Islamists are clearly rejected by Libya Dawn and the government in Tripoli”.

In my four-hour interview, Noah made it clear that he was happy to talk about any issue, but did not want to be the focus or want it to appear as though he may be vying for power. This was something he came back to later on in the recorded conversation.

In fact, he spoke little about himself and his role despite several attempts to steer the conversation in that direction.

The major point Mustafa Noah made is that the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn (as it stands now) is/are in the process of trying to set up an inclusive government for all Libyans.  His opinion is that opponents – specifically retired Libyan General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar – were “concerned about consolidating their own personal power base”.

There is mounting evidence that Hafter’s power-grab is being carried out with support of Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al Sisi and his Saudi and Emirati backers. For example: the MiG-21 bombing runs from across the border, which are tantamount to a war crime for unprovoked and undeclared bombing of a neighbouring country.

And the recent purchase of six Sukhoi Su-30 warplanes delivered to Tobruk by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military (i.e. paid for allegedly by Egypt with funds that most probably originated from the Arab Gulf).

Mustafa Noah seemed genuine insofar as he always had a humble, well-composed, and thoughtful approach to any subject discussed.

He never framed anything in terms of his own accomplishments or involvement but in terms of the people and the revolution for change, stability and prosperity for all Libyans.

Noah was genuinely upset at the thought that someone-like Haftar, who is “working for his narrow personal interests and self-aggrandizement”, could be successful in building a personal power base without regard for the people.

He said Haftar was “using the divisive methods he learned from his time as a crony in the Gaddafi dictatorship”.  Noah found the “thought of a ‘strong man’ coming to power particularly offensive and abhorrent in light of recent history in Libya”.

Mustafa Noah clearly has put a lot of trust in the ability of Libya Dawn, however he is not blindly committed to them.  When I read a list of different militias, brigades, groups that composed Libya Dawn and asked about the character of specific militias, he painted them as all equally for the revolution and composed of good people.

Noah said any group that was not focused on the spirit of the revolution (i.e. anti-corruption, against arbitrary political violence, etc.) would not be a part of the future of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Libya.

His main focus is the Libyan people, creating better institutions, employment opportunities, social services, education, health services, etc.

Mustafa Noah talked about an “inclusive future” for Libya.  He described the “old system of tribalism and manipulation by Gaddafi” and how the “mentality has to change in order for the country to progress”.  Regarding inclusivity in the future, Noah said that they are “open to people from the Gaddafi regime returning to public life once stability is created”.

In fact, Mustafa Noah’s senior advisor on Anti-Terrorism Operations, who joined the conversation halfway through, was in the Gaddafi regime for 37 years.  For Mustafa Noah, the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn, “there is a place for people from the Gaddafi regime who could prove they were not stealing from the Libyan people or … involved in atrocities against the people”.

Quo vadis Libya 2015?

What I discerned from my recent visit to Tripoli and Misrata is that the power-grab spearheaded by Haftar has more to do with Libya’s oil and gas resources, which are coveted by their neighbours, rather than the red herring of ‘Islamist militants in Tripoli and Misrata’ that is being trumpeted in the news media.

The Libya story in 2015 is about disinformation, lies and a power-grab in motion clandestinely supported by the Egyptians and their Saudi and Emirati counterparts.  What will the U.S. and the Europeans do?

Will they play along in the new ‘Great Game’ or stop another Syria-like imbroglio unfolding where extremist Takfiri militant organisations like the Islamist State (ISIS or ISIL) can feed off and emerge to threaten peace and stability in the Mediterranean and beyond?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 
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  • dameshel

    You don’t seem to have spent any time with the elected government. Do remember that the Tobruk Government were elected in free and fair elections. The GNC and their armed wing could not seem to accept the results and it is they who have made a power grab.

  • Whatever

    Don’t bother, they are paid by “Libya Dawn” to write bull….

  • Sharon Lynch

    Christopher, how familiar with Libya were you prior to conducting the interview? Are you aware that Fajr (Arabic for Dawn) attacked and destroyed the Tripoli International Airport? Do you know that Fajr installed remnants from the former Congress, the GNC, after destroying the airport? The “government” you describe is propped up by the Fajr militias, many of which are Islamist militias. This government includes a Deputy Minister of Defense, Khaled Sherif, who is a member of the LIFG, an organization declared as terrorist by the YS government. In addition to Shetif, the GNC is headed by an Idlamist, Nouri Busahmain, who currently leads Fajr as the Commander in Chief as it attacks Libya’s largest oil port and set it aflame last week. Fajr has brought financial ruin and war to Libya.

    Your article reminds me of an interview I did with Misratis in 2012 for the Ljbya Herald. Much has changed since then. I highly recommend you do some research and develop a more comprehensive perspective on Libya as opposed to focusing exclusively on Misrata. Your article captures only one small part of a complex situation and reads more like propaganda than a full, factual assessment of the troubles facing Libya and the dire extremist threat it is facing down. I am surprised Mr Mustafoah did not tell you about the Coptic family that was murdered in Sirte or the soldiers whose throats were slit at Sukna by IS.

  • Sharon Lynch

    The irony is that you have likely become an unwitting pawn in the disinformation game.

    Christopher, how familiar with Libya were you prior to conducting the interview? Are you aware that Fajr (Arabic for Dawn) attacked and destroyed the Tripoli International Airport? Do you know that Fajr installed remnants from the former Congress, the GNC, immediately after destroying the airport? The “government” you describe is propped up by the Fajr militias, many of which are Islamist militias. This “government”includes a Deputy Minister of Defense, Khaled Sherif, who is a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an organization declared as terrorist by the US government. In addition to Sherif, the GNC is headed by an Islamist, Nouri Busahmain, who currently leads Fajr as its Commander in Chief as it attacks Libya’s largest oil port, Al Sidra, managing to set it aflame last week. Fajr has brought financial ruin and war to Libya.

    Your article reminds me of an interview I did with Misratis in 2012 for the Ljbya Herald. Much has changed since then. I highly recommend you do some research and develop a more comprehensive perspective on Libya as opposed to focusing exclusively on Misrata. Your article captures only one small part of a complex situation and reads more like propaganda than a full, factual assessment of the troubles facing Libya and the dire extremist threat it is facing down. I am surprised Mr Mustafoah did not tell you about the Coptic family that was murdered in Sirte or the soldiers whose throats were slit at Sukna by IS.

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