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February 13, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 931

Fear Of Descent Into Chaos During Events Marking Second Anniversary of Libyan Revolution

February 13, 2013 | By N. Mozes
Libya | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 931

Introduction

The second anniversary of the Libyan revolution against the Qadhafi regime, on February 15, 2013, is expected to be marked less with celebrations and more with mass protests against the current regime. The protests are being organized by various elements in the country, including citizens disappointed with the performance of the current regime and the pace of change in the country two years after the revolution, and by the shaky security, economic, social, and political situation; groups calling to establish a federation in Libya; and Al-Qadhafi loyalists – all of whom plan to use the significant date as an opportunity to lend renewed momentum to their demands. Many are utilizing the social networks to spread their calls to protest.

The regime itself is making intense preparations for the anniversary, which indicates the stress it is under and its fear that the protests may escalate into violence, as happened in neighboring Egypt. This fear is not unfounded, considering the security, economic, and social instability that has plagued Libya for the past two years. In fact, the regime admitted needing external assistance to handle the situation, and called to convene an international conference. On the periphery of this conference, held in Paris on February 12, 2013, Libyan Foreign Minister Muhammad 'Abd Al-'Aziz stressed that "the security of Libya is the security of North Africa as well as the northern Mediterranean [region]... and it is not only a Libyan responsibility... Hence, assisting Libya is a regional and international duty." He called on the participating countries to meet their commitments to help Libya.[1]

The epicenters of events will most likely be the capital, Tripoli, and the eastern part of the country – especially Benghazi, where the revolution against Qadhafi began. The security apparatuses are concentrating forces and efforts in those areas, fearing the protests may descend into chaos that could lead to another revolution and to the ouster of the current regime.

This document will review the activity leading up to February 15 by regime opponents and the regime itself:

"February 15, 2013 – An Historic Day That Will Determine The Fate Of the Country And Its Citizens"

On the eve of the anniversary of the Libyan revolution, calls were made to hold mass protests on this day against the situation in Libya and the regime's performance, some even calling February 15 "an historic day that will determine the fate of the country and its citizens" and "the decisive revolution." A report from Tripoli mentioned a flyer distributed by anonymous sources calling for a second intifada and the ouster of the regime. The flyer calls on Libyans to stockpile food and gasoline for fear of paralysis in the country starting on February 15, 2013.[2]


"February 15, 2013 – An historic day that will determine the fate of the country and its citizens."[3]


"February 15, 2013 – The Decisive Revolution."[4]

A number of groups with different, and often contradictory, interests are behind these calls:

Citizens Protesting The Performance Of The Regime:

Many Libyans are displeased with the current regime due to its inability to meet their expectations and improve the security, economic, and social state of the country. A Facebook page titled "Let Us Turn February 15, 2013 Into A Day Of Rage In Libya" (see image below) featured a post saying: "For 50,000 martyrs and warriors, who came from my street and your street; for my children and your children; for a better livelihood and a better life for you and me – and above all for Libya – take to the streets on February 15 in protest against those who betrayed my country and yours... Let us set aside all political [differences] and march together as patriotic Libyans who fear for our country..."[5]

Advocates Of Federalism:[6] An organization calling itself "The Youth of the Revolution Coordinating Committee" in the Barca region in northeast Libya called upon residents to take to the streets on February 15 to restore their rights, which have been usurped by "corrupt bodies that exploit the Libyans' resources" – that is, to gain autonomy for the region. In a message it issued, the organization claimed that the people of this region have been very patient for two years but have achieved nothing: "How much time must pass before we understand that no one will give us our rights unless we take them without talk and without asking permission? Should we wait patiently for another 40 years to discover that we need a[nother] revolution?" The group issued an ultimatum to the heads of the local institutions and municipal councils in the region, which are an arm of the central regime, saying that, unless they join the new revolution, "the street will have the right to deal with them."[7]

A group called "The February 15, 2013 Youth" published a list of demands that includes dismissing regime officials such as National Assembly President Mohammed Al-Maqrif and armed forces head Yousef Al-Manqoush; dismantling all legal and illegal militias and incorporating those who wish it into the security apparatuses; establishing a federal system of governance and a new constituent assembly, and defining the current government as a transitional government without the authority to sign binding international agreements.[8]

Qadhafi Loyalists: Two years after his ouster, Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi still has loyalists in Libya. Their numbers are difficult to estimate, but they are clearly armed and could initiate violent clashes with the regime. A Facebook page associated with them, titled "The Third Revolution," featured a flyer by a group calling itself "The Front For Liberating The Republic And Restoring Legitimacy," which said: "On February 15, 2013, join us in cleansing the state of those who betrayed the homeland and employed the infidels to bombard homes... [Join the] jihad to cleanse the country... February 15, 2013 will be the beginning of their end..."[9]

Plans To Protest Outside The UN Building In New York

Calls for protest on February 15 are not confined to Libya alone. Khaled Sa'id, one of the protest organizers and an advocate of federalism in Libya, said that Libyan expatriates and students in the U.S. intend to protest outside the UN building in New York on February 15, 2013. Their demonstration, he said, will be in solidarity with "the cities of eastern Libya, which intend to spark a revolution on that day [in order to] restore the institutions of the Barca [region]... and unilaterally establish a local government, after all promises of decentralization, two years after the revolution, have led to even more centralization than before." According to him, the protest in New York is also meant to clarify the reasons and the goals of the new February 15 revolution, especially after Libyan media reported that Al-Qadhafi loyalists were behind the calls for protest. One of the protest organizers stressed that "the events of February 15 in the towns of Barca will not be protests or rallies with speakers, but a revolution to settle matters that prevent the building of the state... This is a revolution, and we abroad are part of our people..."[10]

"Say No To The February 15, 2013 Protest, Which Strives For Chaos"

Conversely, some elements in Libya are urging people not to let the February 15 protests descend into violence and chaos. For example, the local and military councils, the rebels and the civil society institutions in the city of Jadu called to protest within the confines of the law and stressed the legitimacy of the parliament and state institutions.[11]

The Justice and Construction Party, which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood and holds 19 seats in parliament, questioned the motives of the protest organizers. It reiterated Libyans' right to protest and demand political change, but without heeding "vague calls by anonymous elements who do not present themselves clearly to the public," which could lead to bloodshed and be used as a pretext for terrorist activity and attacks on public and private property.[12]

A page was even started on Facebook titled "Say no to the February 15, 2013 protest that strives for chaos; let us work together to build Libya" (see image below). The page administrators present themselves as residents of Benghazi with no ties to any political stream. The page says that those who want to mark the anniversary of the revolution or to commemorate a martyr who died on that day can do so, but warns: "Do not allow terrorists to infiltrate your ranks and spoil your demonstrations and celebrations; do not give the countries that have called on their citizens to leave Benghazi [a reason to] claim they were right... The eyes of the world will be watching on that day. Do not turn Benghazi and Libya into an object of ridicule..."[13]


"Say No To The February 15, 2013 Protest" Facebook page.

It should be mentioned that Ansar Al-Shari'a, a Salafi organization associated with global jihad, warned the residents of Benghazi that there are elements who wish to exploit this day to spark confusion and civil war, and to harm lives and property. The organization called on residents to disregard and oppose these calls (see image below).[14] This call may be part of the organization's attempt to improve its image in the eyes of Benghazi residents after being criticized for its part in the attack on the U.S. consulate, and to position itself as the defender of order and security in the city.

Prime Minister 'Ali Zidan: Security Mechanisms On High Alert

The regime, for its part, is preparing for the worst case scenario. Alongside assurances that it will enable nonviolent protests, Prime Minister Dr. 'Ali Zidan said that the security forces are on high alert and that a clearly defined plan of action has been formulated, some of which is secret, for handling events on the anniversary of the revolution.[15] The regime has concentrated large forces in the entrances to Tripoli and Benghazi and has ordered to arrest anyone carrying weapons who is not a member of security forces.[16] Hundreds of illegal immigrants have been arrested in Tripoli on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity.[17] Furthermore, the borders with Egypt and Tunisia will be closed February 14-18, 2013.[18]

Alongside these measures, regime officials have addressed the public in an attempt to convince it that the regime is doing all it can to improve the situation in the country. Prime Minister Zidan and National Assembly President Mohammed Al-Maqrif made a surprise visit to Benghazi and promised to act to improve the situation.[19] Several days earlier, the prime minister promised the residents of Benghazi that their city "is in the heart of every Libyan." He added: "The city's marginalization is the result of the years of Al-Qadhafi's rule, but [now], after the revolution, the government will develop and restore it... However, we need time to fulfill all these promises..."[20]

Mohammed Al-Maqrif called on Libyans to use the anniversary of the revolution to learn and to preserve Libya's national unity and its security and stability. He said: "The right to demonstrate is a legitimate right for all Libyans, men and women, but they do not need violence and force to have their voices heard. They live in an age of freedom, where everyone can express an opinion in nonviolent ways." He called upon them to resist those who want to settle political scores and use this day to destroy public and private property in order to serve their own interests, and promised to protect the protestors' safety."[21]

* N. Mozes is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 13, 2013.

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 5, 2013.

[3] Facebook.com, January 20, 2013.

[4] Facebook.com, January 31, 2013.

[5] Facebook.com, January 28, 2013.

[6] The demand for federalism in Libya is not new, but was raised soon after the establishment of the country's new regime. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 853, Libya On Eve Of General National Congress Elections – A Political Review

July 5, 2012.

[7] Facebook page, February 1, 2013.

[8] Libyann.net, January 31, 2013.

[9] Facebook.com, February 2, 2013. The page has since been removed.

[10] Qurynanew.com, February 1, 2013.

[11] Libyaaljadidah.com, February 4, 2013.

[12] Libyaaljadidah.com, February 3, 2013.

[13] Facebook.com, February 10, 2013.

[14] Facebook.com, accessed February 8, 2013.

[15] Al-Hayat (London), February 4, 2013.

[16] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 7, 2013.

[17] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 10, 2013.

[18] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 12, 2013.

[19] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 10, 2013.

[20] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 5, 2013.

[21] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 11, 2013.

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