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Vol. 75/No. 9      March 7, 2011

Civil war opens in
Libya as revolt grows
(front page)
February 23—As the Militant goes to press a civil war is raging across Libya. A revolt by workers, farmers, youth, and other layers of the population has split the military and is threatening the 41-year rule of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Forces of the regime are no longer in control of the eastern half of the country, which includes many of Libya's largest cities.

Gadhafi is desperately trying to hold onto power as opposition to his increasingly brutal regime grows and he is more and more isolated.

In less than a week, demonstrators in Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, have expelled pro-government security forces and taken control of the streets. A substantial section of the army and police commanders broke with the central government and refused to crush the demonstrators. Soldiers gave out weapons to civilians.

Gadhafi has long relied on militia groups to maintain power, instead of a large centralized army. In the face of his fierce crackdown against the uprising, many soldiers and even entire units have sided with the rebellion.

The forces heading the resistance in Benghazi called for a secular interim government led by the army and leaders of Libya’s tribes, according to the New York Times. Lt. Col. Mohamed Saber, one of the army officers involved, called on the UN to “intervene to save us, before they fire at us from airplanes.”

In Tripoli, the capital, some troops also rebelled and protesters began assaulting government buildings and police stations. Gadhafi responded by calling in airstrikes against the population and rebel army units. Mercenaries imported from other African countries fired indiscriminately into crowds. Gadhafi ordered the execution of any soldier refusing orders.

Press reports put the death toll at more than 1,000 people from the bloody crackdown Gadhafi has ordered. He vowed to fight to the death. One resident of Tripoli told the Guardian newspaper the attitude of people now is, “We're not scared any more, there's no going back. If we stop now Gadhafi will massacre everybody.” Gadhafi’s ministers of security and of justice resigned, as did Libya’s entire UN delegation and diplomatic personnel in several other countries. Two air force colonels flew planes to Malta, asked for political asylum and said they had refused orders to fire on the population. The al-Zuwayya tribe threatened to block oil exports to the European Union if the repression was not stopped. Oil workers struck at several sites.

In a February 21 speech Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, echoing his father’s threat, declared, “We will fight to the last bullet.” He noted “at this moment there are tanks being driven by civilians in Benghazi.”

Libya was dominated by several European colonial powers until independence in 1951 when it became a constitutional monarchy. The 1959 discovery of oil greatly increased the coffers of King Idris I, but little trickled down to working people. In 1967 the king did nothing to defend Arab nations when the government of Israel launched its “six-day war” and stole Arab territory, provoking mass demonstrations in Libya.

In 1969 Gadhafi led the Free Unionist Officers in a military coup that abolished the monarchy. The new government declared its goal of “freedom, socialism, and unity” by seeking a third road between capitalism and communism. It pledged to fight for Arab unity and in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, to overcome backwardness and tribalism, and end class exploitation.

Gadhafi banned all political parties and ended parliamentary democracy in favor of “revolutionary” committees that supposedly guaranteed popular participation in running the country. In reality he ruled directly, backed up by the army with slots in the command structure for each of the most influential tribes. The country’s considerable oil income allowed him to establish schools, hospitals, and other social necessities and better living standards for some workers, while ensuring that he and his family became the wealthiest capitalists in the country.

Beginning in the mid-1990s Libya’s oil revenues began to decline and its ability to cushion the blows on working people were diminished. Popular unrest grew, with some Islamist groups taking up arms against the government. They were crushed brutally. In 1996 Gadhafi ordered the slaughter of 1,200 prisoners at Abu Salim prison in Tripoli. The current protests began when relatives of those inmates in Benghazi sought to organize a commemoration, according to Time magazine.

In 2003, following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Gadhafi made peace with the imperialists, declaring he would not produce nuclear weapons and volunteering to help them track down which semicolonial countries had such weapons programs under way. He opened the door to greater imperialist penetration of the economy. Then U.S. president George W. Bush took Libya off the “state sponsors of terrorism” list. By 2008 the U.S. State Department began calling Gadhafi “a person of personality and experience.”

The world capitalist economic crisis has drastically reduced oil revenues and his ability to keep the population in check. Unemployment is higher than in some other North African countries and food prices and rents are very high. Libya imports 75 percent of its food. While it claims to have the highest living standard in Africa, the reality is that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few.  
Protests in Bahrain
In Bahrain, a country in the Arab-Persian Gulf made up of some 30 islands, demonstrations are growing in strength against the reign of Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifah, whose family has ruled since 1783. Although Shiite Muslims are at least two-thirds of the population, they are a minority in the country’s parliament and banned from joining the police and army.

According to Reuters, Shiite Bahrainis are paid less than Sunnis and often have to work temporary jobs. Most live in rural areas where one-third to a half the residents are jobless. They have less access to education and health care. Non-Bahrainis, who make up about 50 percent of the workforce are often granted better jobs and living conditions. Shiites charge that Khalifah offers them citizenship in return for their loyalty. Many Pakistanis serve in the police.

The protests in Bahrain demand the sheikh dissolve the current government and fire the prime minister, and more rights. While the majority of those demonstrating have been Shiites some Bahrainis who are Sunni have also joined.

Bahrain is a banking and financial center and home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
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