In case you might have missed the news Libya has moved from Civil Unrest to a state of Civil War. As “protesters” took control of Benghazi yesterday, Libyan air force jets bombed civilian targets in Tripoli as well as sniping protesters from rooftops. There have been some serious defections from the Gaddafi regime as two fighter pilots flew to Malta instead of butchering fellow Libyans. The real question is why is Muammar Gaddafi putting up such a fight against his own citizens. Let’s face it, there is one thing to send riot police to battle protesters as Mubarak did, but fighting the “protesters” as if they are an enemy army smacks of a brutality little seen in the world today.
To understand what is going on in Libya, one must have at least a general background knowledge of its make up. “Colonel” Gaddafi took over Libya 40 years ago at the age of 27 he did so as part of a group of Junior army officers. He dethroned King Idris and reduced the Crown Prince to the level of a “peasant.” Libya, being a product of European colonial expansion in North Africa is really three tribal areas smacked together. These three formally separate areas Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica were combined to make what is known today as Libya. Now you can probably guess that these tribal areas don’t really like each other so much.
What makes this important also is that King Idris (born Sayyid Muhammad Idris bin Sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Senussi), the first and only king of Libya was from Cyrenaica a distinct region in Eastern Libya. He had been appointed Amir of Cyrenaica by the British and had fought for an Independent Cyrenaica. When the three regions of Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica merged in 1951 and gained independence from Italy he became King.
Gaddafi was born in Sert and was not a Cyrenian, but rather from the region of Tripolitania. Qaddafi and those in his support base are from Tripolitania region and are of a different tribal make up than those in Cyrenaica. When Qaddafi overthrew the King he essentially was taking away power from the tribes in Cyrenaica and placing the power with his tribes in Tripolitania.
What’s going on today is that those tribes and and indigenous Berbers located in the Eastern half of Libya known as Cyrenaica have decided to take back what is rightfully theirs and what Gaddafi and the tribes backing him have stolen from them. These are no “protesters” but Libyans belonging to oppressed classes and tribes that are willing to fight to return back to the seat of power of the country that was once theirs. This is why Gaddafi is fighting so strongly. He doesn’t consider them part of “His” Libya and is frightened at Cyrenians gaining control of the country.
More than that and something to ponder, but these types of conflicts would have and could have been avoided if boundaries in the modern post colonial Africa would have respected tribal allegiances and not the interests of foreign powers.