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The Book of the Week is “Sandstorm, Libya in the Time of Revolution” by Lindsey Hilsum, published in 2012.
Just prior to WWI, Libya was colonized by Italy in three sections, when the Ottoman Empire was in its death throes. Pursuant to where they live in Libya, various rivalrous tribes exhibit traits of the Middle East and Europe, or Africa. The country is located on the continent of Africa, but has major trade routes that go to the Middle East. Its population is about six million, and oil and gas supports its economy. Many of its people go overseas to attend university.
Beginning in 1959, big-name Italian, British and American companies negotiated agreements that allowed them access to newly discovered fossil fuels, and military training and weapons-testing grounds in the desert in Libya. In September 1969, Muammar Gaddafi became the new leader. He continued to impose one political-party rule (in place since 1952) and instituted one religion (Muslim). He punished political dissidents more harshly than Libya’s previous autocrat, King Idriss. But he made Libyans proud to be Arab. He took a swipe at the British by banning the English language in his country.
By the early 1970’s, Gaddafi’s actions were prompting brain drain and capital flight. His nation did need water, but he could have acquired it much less expensively and with a lot less trouble than he did. “It was one of man’s extravagant dreams, come true because no one dared counter him and too many were profiting from his grandiose visions.” In 1982, Gaddafi formed a political group that was allegedly going to fight against Imperialism, Zionism, Racism, Reactionism and Fascism.
As is par for the course for men such as Gaddafi, his enemies (such as the CIA and the king of Morocco) plotted assassination attempts against him. Smuggling guns and grenades into Tripoli and Benghazi were for nought, as the 1984 plotters were discovered and were killed. Through the last few decades of the twentieth century, the United States vacillated between allying with Qaddafi, and railing against him.
The Reagan administration railed against him. Qaddafi was strongly suspected to be the mastermind of the December 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103. That turned out to be a major historical incident that had worldwide repercussions. However, the tide turned through the 1990’s. George W. Bush wooed Qaddafi.
By the single-digit 2000’s in Libya, nepotism and tribalism had become crucial to survival. Families are comprised of multi-generational networks with tens of people on every level of the family tree. Disaffected, jobless young males became jihadists in Iraq, killing Americans in suicide bombings, as the terrorists had been brainwashed into expressing extreme hatred for the West.
Nevertheless, after 9/11, various nations such as Russia, Turkey and China were drooling over the money to be made in Libya in banking, accounting, construction, hotels, shipping, and of course, oil. But the U.S. held back (Bush was very conflicted) due to its complicated relationship with Israel.
As is well known, in February 2011, ordinary Libyans jumped on the “Arab Spring” bandwagon after Tunisia and Egypt. They used the worldwide forum of social media to publicly express their displeasure with their leader. Also, protesters personally gathered in Benghazi and Tobruk, and then farther east.
Gaddafi, distrustful of his own military, hired mercenaries from Algeria, Niger, Mali, Morocco and Burkina Faso to violently disperse crowds of youths standing around shouting slogans, as Internet access became unreliable. Gaddafi’s own military, angry at his disloyalty, turned against him. In Tripoli, attorneys formed a group to publicize human rights abuses, represent political prisoners, and start an underground resistance movement. Through the four decades Gaddafi stayed in power, he knew how to exploit discontent: bribing Muslims to build mosques and go on pilgrimages to Mecca.
Read the book to learn many more details about Gaddafi’s reign, including those relating to: shenanigans of his son Seif, and Bahrain, Qatar and Iran (hint: Everyone knew the UN arms embargo that applied to fighters on both sides was a joke.); his Green Book, Stalin-style purges, oil-industry machinations, propaganda campaigns and governmental policies; his contradictory stance on his nation’s female citizens; his providing of military training and arming of certain groups; and the reaction of certain countries of the world at his downfall.