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Libya's rebels: an army in name only

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Libya's rebels: an army in name only


One man has brought Libya’s diverse tribes together, united in their fear and hatred of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42 year-dictatorship.

On April 12, in a declaration published in Paris, 61 tribes promised to kick Gaddafi out and build a united Libya.

But the murder last month of the rebellion’s military commander Abdel Fattah Younès was enough to splinter that unity. His death remains a mystery, and his al-Obeidi tribe is warning it will seek justice on its own.

Above and beyond the tribal rivalries within the revolution there are also geographic rivalries to take into consideration.

The revolt began in the East, in Benghazi, where Gaddafi’s popularity was never assured. Tripoli neglected the city. When its people rose up Gaddafi threatened its streets would run with blood. Instead of being cowed, the rebellion resisted; political organisation began there with the creation of the Transitional National Council in mid-March, now recognised by over 30 nations as the legitimate Libyan government.

But the revolution owes its victory as much to the pocket of resistance that flowered in the western town of Zintan, and the Berber, not Arab fighters that streamed down from the mountains to take Tripoli while the bulk of Gaddafi’s forces were engaged further east. They are not represented in the TNC.

In fact there are some 40 armed rebel factions, with no real co-ordination between them. Some have few weapons; many have little training. The revolution has an army in name only. No-one can say if the local leaders will pledge allegiance to the TNC.

These divisions raise the fear of a resurgence of radical Islam. The LIFG or Libyan Islamic Fighting Group rose up against Gaddafi in 1993 and fought him for five years. The repression was bloody. Some experts fear they will take advantage of the chaos to try and make a comeback.

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