Renegade ex-general again attempts Libya coup

general-khalifa-haftarVirginia’s finest rogue foreign officer is at it again in Tripoli, Libya this week, as he tries a second time this year to seize power in the country from which he was exiled from 1987-2011. This time he actually remembered to bring troops.

About three months ago, Gen. Khalifa Hifter tried to overthrow the government of Libya without much success:

Former longtime Virginia resident and past/present Libyan military general Khalifa Hifter attempted to seize power in Libya on Friday, claiming he had suspended parliament and initiated a military takeover to put the country back on the right path. Then what happened?

What happened was that nobody showed up. So that coup went poorly. At least no one got killed in that effort.

But the ex-general (or current general, depending on whom you ask), who may have been a longtime CIA asset, bided his time and continued building up his personal army in the country’s major cities. In the last couple days, his forces stole military aircraft and launched a combined air-ground assault on an Islamist fighter base in Benghazi. Then, actual units of the Libyan military joined in for the hell of it, leaving the government in Tripoli to sputter in impotent rage about how he had not been authorized to conduct military actions (which is, of course, also true of every warlord’s personal army in the country at the moment, but that hasn’t stopped anyone). At least 70 people were killed in the unauthorized raid and 140 more were injured.

Finally today, after several recent weeks of unrelated internal upheaval in the transitional national government and a new prime minister (or three), this weekend former General Hifter has rolled back into town — literally — with a lot more mobile firepower and people. After some fighting near the largely empty buildings, he announced he was replacing the national parliament with his own emergency cabinet.

Gunfire rang out in streets surrounding the General National Congress complex in the capital, Tripoli, witnesses said, and the official LANA news agency said routes leading to it had been blocked by armed men with truck-mounted heavy weapons.

Frightened residents took to social media to report rocket fire in at least one area of the capital, and the road to the city’s international airport was closed. The Associated Press cited hospital officials saying the attack killed one person and wounded nine.

It was not clear whether any lawmakers were inside the parliament building at the time of the assault. LANA quoted one as saying most had left earlier after a session was adjourned, and other reports said the building had been nearly emptied after warnings of the coming attack. However, the website of the Libya Herald, an English-language newspaper, said seven lawmakers apparently had been captured by the assailants.

A spokesman for Khalifa Haftar, the former general, later appeared on television to say the assailants had assigned a 60-member constituent’s assembly to take over for parliament and that the current government would act on an emergency basis, the Associated Press reported.

It remains to be seen if the national parliament and cabinet will be able to fend off the armed insubordination — or if anyone even notices. Because as I noted in his last coup attempt, would anyone really even notice if he “seized power”?

In reality, it’s kind of absurd on its face that a general would try to stage a “coup” in Libya. Right now there barely is a Libya.

April 28, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 82

Description | Topics: Israel/Palestine peace talks collapse, Egypt’s military government, the Newton MA history curriculum debate and American Islamophobia, and then a discussion of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. People: Bill, Nate, Greg, and guest Daniel Fidler.

Talking Points:

– Is Israel actually serious about achieving peace? Was Kerry wrong to use the term “apartheid”?
– Is Egypt’s military really better than the Muslim Brotherhood? What does a history curriculum debate in Newton, Massachusetts tell us about America’s wider problem of anti-Muslim attitudes?
– Then: Daniel Fidler talks about how the second Captain America movie comments on current events.

Part 1 – Israel/Palestine Talks:
Part 1 – Israel/Palestine Talks – AFD 82
Part 2 – Egypt, Islam, Curriculum:
Part 2 – Egypt, Islam, Curriculum – AFD 82
Part 3 – Daniel Fidler on Captain America 2 [HUGE Spoiler Alert]:
Part 3 – Daniel Fidler on Captain America 2 – AFD 82

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post. Additionally, there is a bonus segment this week, on Donald Sterling, in a separate post.

Related links

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What if you threw a coup and nobody came?

libya-flagFormer longtime Virginia resident and past/present Libyan military general Khalifa Hifter attempted to seize power in Libya on Friday, claiming he had suspended parliament and initiated a military takeover to put the country back on the right path. Then what happened?

Then, nothing happened. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan called the supposed coup “ridiculous.” A military spokesman called it “a lie.” None of the Libyan Army’s few tanks or soldiers made any visible moves. The empty Parliament was quiet.
Mr. Zeidan, who has also struggled to organize and control a government, quickly shot down the idea. “Libya is stable,” he told Reuters. Parliament “is doing its work, and so is the government,” he added.

“The army is in its headquarters, and Khalifa Hifter has no authority,” Mr. Zeidan said. “No military units have moved to touch any institutions.”

Put another way: U tried it tho, buddy.
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The propagandists’ alternate history of the Egyptian revolution

egypt-coat-of-armsRegular readers will have noticed by now my informal chronicling of curious propaganda coming out of post-coup Egypt. Today I flag this passage in a New York Times op-ed, Egypt’s Despair, and Its Hope,” by Alaa Al Aswany:

a systematic media campaign carried out by state television and the private channels owned by businessmen who used to back the Mubarak regime. This public relations effort aims to convey the notion that the January 2011 revolution was a plot by American intelligence agencies to remove Mr. Mubarak. It accuses the young revolutionaries of being traitors and paid agents of the West.

You might wonder how this kind of Bizarro-World bald-faced lying could actually work. How could any Egyptian be persuaded that the January/February 2011 uprising, which was resisted for many weeks by American officials — who had long backed Hosni Mubarak and were hoping he would hold on to power — could also be orchestrated by American intelligence agents and their Egyptian youth recruits?

This gets to the same problem I raised in my first post on post-coup propaganda:

Obviously, given their easy access to outside media, most internet-using Egyptians are probably well aware of the distinction […] It’s worth remembering, however, that a lot of Egyptians still get their news from television media and, unlike their Twitter-savvy brethren, aren’t necessarily exposed to alternate sources of information.

Indeed, many young, urban Egyptians are well aware of the alternate reality being constructed around — and, in fact, against them. As Aswany notes, recently a Facebook post on the despair of the rolled-back revolution went viral. Two sentences stick out in the this context:

Yet we keep on stating that it was a real dream, no matter how much they try to falsify history. None of us who have lived that dream will ever forget, or regret it, for a moment.

The question now is whether they will hold on to those memories long enough to outlast the efforts of the alternate-reality propagandists who are trying to convince them they have misremembered what happened and were wrapped into a Western web of lies and insurrection. It’s hard to keep hold of what you know is true the longer you spend in an environment that tells you an alternative narrative, day in and day out, and gaslights your lived experience constantly.
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Tunisia still setting regional example

Flag-of-TunisiaAmong the Arab Spring countries, Tunisia was not only the first to get the ball rolling but has also made the most sustained progress toward a durable liberal democracy, with majority rule and minority rights.

Nearly every other Arab Spring nation has regressed severely. For example, Egypt today marked its 3rd anniversary of the January 25 Protests that led to the fall of their dictator by celebrating and lauding … their new dictator. Neighboring Libya also still seems to be making progress, very slowly, but is pretty chaotic. Syria is mired in bitter civil war and the other countries generally suppressed their protests.

In contrast, Tunisian politicians have met their country’s bumps and protests with negotiations and compromise, again and again, thus avoiding disorder and civil war.

The leading, moderate Islamist party was amenable to compromise after last July’s Egypt coup showed them a much darker alternative, and the secular opposition parties were largely also very reasonable in negotiations. When a key opposition figure was assassinated last year, everyone managed to walk back from the brink of chaos and went back to working out their differences.

Yesterday, that resulted in parliament agreeing on a new constitution that exceeded expectations all around. A formal vote within parliament is scheduled for Sunday and it could enter force next week.

It’s still going to be a challenging road ahead but Tunisia is getting a new constitution that seems pretty well balanced and includes some really impressive provisions. Here’s a BBC analysis of the new document by Naveena Kottoor:

The majority of the members of the Tunisian constituent assembly are very keen to stress that this constitution is a consensus document, that reflects the unity as well as the diversity of the country.

Confronted with political stalemate and protests on the domestic front and the removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt last year, the governing Islamist Ennahdha party agreed to a number of concessions, including the removal of references to Islamic law.

The final text states that Islam is the religion of the Tunisian state, but guarantees religious freedom.

Article 45 puts a burden on the state to protect women against violence and ensure equal representation of men and women in elected institutions, a milestone in the Arab world.

But whether this new constitution will indeed pave the way for more democracy, transparency and accountability will depend on whether the principles enshrined in the text will be respected by Tunisian politicians and be put into practice in the coming months and years.

Tunisia is setting an example for the Middle East & North Africa region that there is another course and that societies with big differences can still come together and talk it out until there’s a solution that works for everyone.