By Ahmed Obeidi.
Benghazi, 1 March 2014:
Major General Khalifa Hafter, who sees himself as Libya’s counterpart to Egypt’s . . .[restrict]Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Sisi, has claimed that Cyrenaica supports him. Speaking on Awalan TV last night, he repeated his plans to push Congress and the government aside, claiming that if all Libyans gave him the green light, he would lift Libya out of its current crisis.
Backing for him in Cyrenaica may not be surprising given he is from Ajdabiya, but the extent of it is far from clear. There are also many who oppose his ideas and who regard him with suspicion, convinced he is a puppet of the US where he lived for many years.
There is no doubt, however, that he has his supporters, as seen last night in the numbers that turned up to join demonstrations in from of Benghazi’s Tibesti hotel.
It is estimated that as many as 3,000 people joined demonstrations in front of the Tibesti Hotel, exasperated at what they claimed was Congress’ and the government’s unwillingness to stand up to the militias. They demanded the removal of both, fresh elections and greater security, and generally supported Hafter’s call for a military council to run Libya.
“The Libyan people have decided that it’s best to have a military ruler rather than veiled totalitarianism in the form of the revolutionaries,” said one lawyer at the protest who had been a candidate in last week’s elections for the constitution-drafting Committee.
Others expressed similar sentiments.
“We are with Major General Hafter”, Rajab el-Fitouria, a senior air force commander said, making his resentment towards Congress and its president, Nuri Abu Sahmain, abundantly clear.
“Why is it that the so-called newly established revolutionary battalions seem to be getting loads of money and equipment, while regular army personnel have not been paid for the past two months?
“As for the helicopter that went missing off Es-Sider, why hasn’t the GNC and its president come out and expressed condolences to the families or supported the search for the missing officers?” he asked.
For federalist Osama Buera, Hafter was a saviour. “The federalists are supportive of removing the GNC, an organisation that lacks the ability for open dialogue. We are in agreement with Major General Khalifa Hafter’s initiative,” he declared.
Resentment at the government’s and GNC’s unwillingness to pursue and arrest those involved in crimes was a main reason for support for the former head of the Libyan forces during the 1980’s Chad war.
“The GNC has been supporting militias here in the east and ignoring the legitimate army and police forces while at least two to three residents are assassinated daily,” railed Zidan Obeidi, a school administrator.
Abdel Hafeed Alsarah had very personal reasons for his frustration and resentment. “On 17th of Ramadan, my father [Salem Alsarah, a retired Libyan air force commander] was killed while performing the Tarawih prayers at the local mosque. No government official has made any statement in respect to his death. His murder has been [simply] attributed to unknown people.”
His protest, he said, was in support both of demands that the GNC be removed and his father’s case.
Two other demonstrators, Marwan Mustafi and Khalifa Al-Zwai, both agreed that “the GNC failures have caused the present security situation today and they need to step aside and depart without any bloodshed”.
Marwan added that “for months now, the GNC has persistently tried to bring down the prime minister, without any success. This is the fourth Friday protestors have come out demanding the GNC step aside and go away. If they do, then the prime minister and his government will be replaced soon afterwards.”
For Khaled Abuzakuk, a member of Benghazi Business Council, Congress and the government’s failings and the lack of security were damaging the city’s economy. “We’ve had a lot of success in getting agreement to restart major projects held up and bring back institutions illegitimately transferred to Tripoli such as the National Oil Company, Libyan Airlines, the National Insurance Company, the Agricultural Bank and others. But the main obstacle remains security,” he said.
“People are tired and simply fed up,” local resident Mohamed Jaouda told the Libya Herald. “There is no Congress, no government. The residents of the city are looking for a strong police and army presence.”
Benghazi, in one word, he said, needed peace. “This is the goal. It’s a patient city but when that patience runs out, there will be no room for dialogue”, he warned. “This is something the GNC and government don’t seem to understand. Today, there is agreement locally that the city needs a strong military commander.”
There was a similar warning from activist Riyad Abu Mtary.
“The scenario repeats itself. Three years ago the Qaddafi regime did not bow to the will of Benghazi,” he said. “The faces and the politics have changed but the desire to stay in power and raid government resources remains identical.” People, he said, were ready to give up “a bit of freedom for a bit of security”.
Comparisons with the beginning of the revolution were also made by a senior army officer who wanted to remain nameless.
“When the Libyan people rose up three years ago, they did so seeking to free themselves from the servitude to the Qaddafi regime. They did not seek power or money. The goal was to get rid of Qaddafi,” he said. “Since liberation, both internal and external agendas have weakened Libyan unity and allowed foreign states such as Qatar, Turkey and others to meddle in its affairs. There are parties within Libya today wanting, and proceeding, to create security forces equivalent to the army and police to control Libya’s vast resources.”
Hostility towards Qatar and Turkey was also powerfully visible in Hafter’s TV speech last night. He alleged both were behind the violence in Benghazi and the east because they supported armed and Islamic groups in Libya.
The extent to which people support his claims or him personally still has to be seen. [/restrict]