As of the evening of Friday 1 July, an uprising has broken out across Libya. The parliament building in Tobruk, Cyrenaica was stormed by protesters, and partly burned, after the masses used a bulldozer to smash through the gates of the palace.
In Tripoli, the presidential palace was surrounded by thousands of demonstrators. Police cleared them away, so the protesters moved towards the prime minister’s headquarters. Security forces drove them back by firing into the air, but the protests have not ceased. On Saturday, barricades were raised on the main roads east of the capital, particularly in Tajoura. Mass demonstrations have erupted in all major cities.
The population who have taken to the streets, have once more raised the most famous slogan of the 2011 uprisings: “The people want the fall of the regime”. In Benghazi, the stronghold of the strongman General Khalifa Haftar, hundreds of people chanted “Libya, Libya” and demanded better living conditions. In Misrata, protesters tried to break into the town hall.
Young people and workers have been at the forefront. They are protesting for the payment wages that have not been paid for months, and for electricity, which in these hot weeks has been cut off for more than 12 hours per day, while temperatures reached 45 degrees. The food crisis, with the non-delivery of wheat from Ukraine, has also hit the country very hard.
Protesters have chosen to wear yellow vests, the symbol of the mass movement in France from 2018-19, showing their internationalist outlook. “We are fed up, we are fed up! The nation wants to topple governments! We want electricity!” chanted protesters in Tripoli, while demanding new elections.
“We're an oil producing country that has power cuts every day. It means the country is run by corrupt individuals,” said one protester.
The situation in Libya is desperate. Due to the political stalemate that exists, in the first half of 2022, Libya’s oil output was just 100,000-150,000 barrels per day (bpd), down from more than 1.2 million bpd last year!
Distrust of all the politicians is a common feature of the movement, but many of the demonstrations also expressed a lack of confidence in the armed militias that have been engaged in a bloody civil war since 2011 (fuelled and paid for by foreign powers), and which have brought the country to ruin, and are increasingly playing a political role.
Even more interesting is the fact that in Tripoli the masses carried ‘X’ signs not only over Libyan politicians, but also over the image of Stephanie Williams, the UN envoy to Libya.
The movement has cut through the territorial divisions caused by the civil war and is advancing common demands, from Tripolitania to the Cyrenaica via Fezzan. It is a completely spontaneous movement. As explained by the correspondent of the Italian newspaper la Repubblica it “has the characteristics of a new Arab spring”.
The ruling class all over the world is extremely concerned. The UN general secretary, Guterres, called for “peace” and urged protesters “to avoid acts of violence”, explicitly condemning the attack on parliament. What stinking hypocrisy!
It was the same UN, with resolution 1973 in 2011, which laid the legal basis for military intervention, demanding “an immediate ceasefire” and authorising the imperialists to establish a no-fly zone over the country.
The UN gave the green light to smash what was a genuine revolution, linked to the 2011 Arab Spring, leading to the killing of Qaddafi and the civil war. The UN is responsible for the nightmare through which the Libyan masses have been living through the last eleven years.
After the imperialist intervention, the state virtually collapsed. As the nation with the world’s ninth largest oil reserves, Libya became a battlefield between rival militias and warlords, all backed by regional or international powers.
Since 2015, the confrontation has been centred on the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli on the one hand, and the Libyan National Army in Tobruk on the other.
Haftar, the leader of the LNA, launched an offensive to conquer the whole of the country, but he eventually failed in 2019-20. LNA is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russia.
Turkey, backed by Qatar and the rest of the so-called ‘international community’, was decisive in stopping Haftar through Erdogan’s operation ‘Peace Storm’.
The GNA survived, but did not manage to defeat Haftar. Very weak presidents followed one after the other, all hostage to the cross-vetoes of the militias.
These militias have received millions of euros from the European Union, and particularly from Italy, in exchange for control of the Mediterranean sea and their prevention of ‘illegal’ immigration. “From 10 million in 2020 to 10.5 in 2021. A total of 32.6 million has been allocated to the Libyan coastguard since 2017; the number of millions spent by Italy on missions in the North African country has risen to 271 million.” The same Oxfam report claimed that at least 20,000 immigrants have disappeared in Libya in the last five years!
Both sides came to an agreement for presidential elections to be held last December, but which were postponed. The reason? In addition to the two main candidates, Khalifa Haftar and the then-premier Dbeibah, a third party has emerged: Seif al Islam Qaddafi, the son of the famous colonel. The impasse and the wreckage of the country has caused layers of the masses, particularly from Fezzan, to look towards the past.
At the time of Qaddafi, thanks to some very radical reforms (which nevertheless failed to break with capitalism), the masses at least had food and 24-hour-a-day electricity! So, it is no wonder that some of the protesters carried a green, Qaddafi-era flag. It is the first step of an awakening after a long hibernation.
A three-way race without a winner, or worse, with Qaddafi winning, would have been too embarrassing for the West. Since then, the clashes inside the institutions have continued to intensify. Fathi Bashagha, the prime minister appointed in March by the parliament in Tobruk, tried to enter Tripoli in order to take office in the capital. He was forced to retreat on the morning of 17 May, however, after a heavy firefight with Tripoli-based militias.
The situation of economic, political and social crisis can last indefinitely. The militias and the GNA won’t back down because they know they have their backs covered. In Tripoli, Erdogan increasingly controls the military and political life in Tripolitania. In October 2020, Turkey took over the Libyan coastguard and began training its crews, a task previously carried out by Italy. In January, Turkey extended the stay of its soldiers and military advisers, estimated at 7,000, in Libya by eighteen months. The United States seemed more distant, but the appointment of one of their diplomats, Stephanie Williams, as head of the UN mission in Libya, shows that Washington wants closer control over the situation.
As far as Tobruk is concerned, Bashagha’s candidacy was strongly supported by France. Paris is trying to re-establish its influence in North and Western Africa after many setbacks (the main one being its retreat from Mali some months ago). Russia aided Haftar with military equipment and planes, and it has at least 100 soldiers from the Wagner Group on the ground.
This is a bloody proxy war in which regional powers test their war material and forces on the skin of a defenceless population, whilst each warlord also tries to play his own game, on the basis of his military strength. It is a reactionary conflict on all sides.
This waking nightmare seemed to have no end, until the main driving force of history, the masses, entered the scene on 1 July. The wonderful movement of the Libyan workers and youth shows that, even in the most difficult conditions, the masses can find the road of collective struggle.
The masses on the streets showed that they understand what they do not want very clearly: all the politicians, the militias, the UN, and the foreign powers. On the basis of the experience of struggle, they must develop a programme, to clarify their positive demands.
What is necessary is the programme of socialist revolution, from Libya to the whole of the Arab world, to finish off this eleven years of barbarism.