Cairo: Tahrir Square Eviction
We barely have news from Libya since yesterday. We only heard that on the front line fightings occurred on the outskirts of Ras Lanuf on the night of March 8th to 9th. Many insurgents had fled the city believing that it was soon taken back by Qaddafi’s forces. The battle was very hard, but the rebels eventually regained quickly the lost ground. Fidra square of Ras Lanuf, lost during the night, was thus won back at four o’clock in the morning. Anyway, the fightings are becoming as violent in the day as in the night. The troops are very strained. More, the weather is rotten: it’s been very cold these days, which does not help.
We take advantage of this lack of information coming from Libya, to publish an article that was sent by friends present in Egypt (Cairo). This concerns the eviction of Tahrir Square (that was still occupied since the end of January). Eviction that was almost not mentionned in the Western medias, and for a very good reason: it did not seem to be any journalists there.
On Tahrir Square in Cairo, the median strip is still occupied by tens of tents. This village is fenced and the entrance is guarded by its occupants. Anyone who wants to go in has to certify that he is neither a policeman nor a resident from an unfriendly neighborhood, and that he is not in the least malicious. For few days, many undercover cops, sent by the government, try to discredit the Tahrir Square implacable occupants by spreading rumors, slanders and confusion about what is happening here. The government sends its agents to be interviewed by Western journalists and spread their lie/steam. « Those who remain here are the bad protesters, good protesters came back home and those who remain are destabilizing the economy and tourism. » For several nights, the government has sent prostitutes in order to spread the rumor that the camp would be organizing prostitution.
« Those of Tahrir. »
A small group, which presents itself as « Those of Tahrir, undertook to explain us » what really happened here. » They came back on the events since January 25th and explained us that the government keeps trying to break the movement since then; for exemple by dividing groups and separating their claims. In the first place,the government dealt with the Muslim Brotherhood, the only politically and materially truely organized body.In exchange for their departure from Tahrir Square it assented to some of their claims, namely the release of some prisoners and a few extra seats in parliament. Then, in the second place it’s the youth that has been divided. 35 young people were thus selected to create a group linked to the government. The latest atempt to separate the movement was the intensification of the divide between Muslim and Coptic communities. According to « People of Tahrir, the arsons of churches those recent days and riots that came of it, were triggered by the government. Faced with this attempt to divide, they argue: « One mind, one Egypt. » The people we met live days and nights on Tahrir Square since January 25th , they didn’t know eachother before and do not belong to any political organization. Every night they meet to take stock of the day and talk about the next one. Their current concern is to extinguish the rumors and organize a Friday prayer between Copts and Muslims.They shall remain until the whole system disappears. Their project is to buy a truck and go through Egypt, in every city, encouraging people to organize. « And after ‘bye bye’, we wont to know their names, we don’t want them to know ours, we don’t want to become their leaders. «
We left the Tahrir Square at around 15:30. The tension was palpable throughout the day: cries, started fights, and the comings and goings of people armed with sticks. A little farther, groups from fifty to a hundred people were gaathering around the few tanks still on duty in the area and seemed to discuss intensely. A little later, at the other end of town, we run into the police headquarters, protected by tanks and hight barbed wire . Across the street, dozens of protesters with « Go out » signs. As he saw us discuss and laugh with them, a soldier quickly came up and asked us to follow him. A protester cried out to us not to enter the building. Unfortunately, we soon find ourselves on the wrong side of barbed wire, surrounded by four soldiers and a guy with a leather jacket, coming straight out of a bad spy movie. They checked our ID and made sure we weren’t journalists. When we got out, protesters had disappeared.
The expulsion, destruction, lynching. Or « So that’s democracy. »
Late in the afternoon, we returned on Tahrir Square. We arrived just before the military deployed and prevented access to the site. Hundreds of people were coming to attack the camp. Armed with batons, iron bats, machetes, they now keep on destroying every installation of the camp. We got separated in the crush. The group that carried the camera, got run after by a hundred of angry people and some soldiers. They got caught, beaten up by the crowd, taken to makeshift headquarters of the army in front of the Cairo museum, with insults and slaps. While the chief emptied our camera, those of Tahrir Square were getting beaten by the army and the crowd. A man who apparently fainted was carried, wrapped in a carpet. We are « invited » to leave the place quickly. It was a scene of mass hysteria: everything was broken, even the martyrs’ monument for those who died for the revolution. The army was actively involved in this true manhunt. The occupants of Tahrir Square were hunted, caught and beaten. The same fate was reserved for those who tried to take pictures. We quickly realized that a huge number of people were undercover policemen. Trying to take pictures, we couldn’t escape the lynching. Meanwhile, some of us were still on Tahrir Square. Tanks moved at full speed. They intervened at the entrance of a cafe, where an occupant who fled the place took cover inside was turned out of it by thirty bad guys. No image shall be taken, even those on the balconies were insulted and were the targets of thrown stones. Another friend was caught with his camera and taken away by force, beaten up by the crowd, to the military camp. When we left the place, cleaning trucks were already there and everyone kept busy removing the last signs of the revolution.
23:00. On an unrecognizable Tahrir Square, completely cleaned, a small group of “protesters” is carrying a police officer in triumph.
Cairo, March 9.
Fresh news and changes
The insurgency seems to turn into a war of positions, but nobody can say if it will last another three days or twenty years. A headquarters was set up in Benghazi to try to go through the front line again in Ras Lanuf. Today, the Loyalists bombed Ras Lanuf without any retaliation. A bomb fell on a house fortunately empty, while another destroyed the water tower. Ras Lanuf is deprived of water.
Bin Jawad is a bowl. Saadi, Gaddafi’s son, is there and he has transformed it into a trap for the revolutionaries. He has placed his artillery and snipers on the ridges. Nevertheless the youngest shebabs conduct regular and desperate attacks from Ras Lanuf toward Bin Jawad. We can now hear the artillery shots, which means that the fighting is dangerously closing in. We also see very heated debates between young people who want to go fighting and, young and old, who want to retain them. Al arabia announced that the Beni Walid would be walking on Arawa. This news if true would be of utmost importance because Saadi could be attacked by both sides.
If in the early days of the war in Ajdabya and Brega, revenge and rage seemed to be the main cause for the actions of the Shebabs, very quickly with the influx of people of Benghazi, the affects have changed. At first, the victories gave the war its « liberation » character. I haven’t heard of or seen any execution of fighters or of Gaddafi’s partisans (despite the efforts of some revengeful ones looking for a lost honor and of some journalists looking for trash images). A man in the car that led us to Ras Lanuf, during a halt, has been surrounded by all the fighters who took him in their arms and consoled him. This guy knew a pro-Gaddafi guy, he told him he had to flee, but he stayed and paid the price. Brega was taken by the people from the area and from other towns, this with the help of the inhabitants after lengthy talks. And that’s what failed, precisely, in Bin Jawad. The population was divided, generally unfavorable to the insurgents, but the concentration of heavy weapons from Gaddafi’s son finished to convince them to rally the power. The situation on the approach of the front of Sirte is particularly worrying. We enter an area under total control of Gaddafi. The Gaddafi, his tribe, there are a majority and all populations are generally favored, especially in Sirte same.
The war is no longer a liberation, but a possibility to go to Misratha and Zawia. This purely strategic reason is a clear rupture in the causes and objectives of the war. If the insurgents break Gaddafi’s attack and push to Harawa, there will be a big battle. And if they go through Sirte then it’s almost sure they won’t have to really fight anymore. But if they manage to enter Sirte rivers of blood will flow. Nobody wants this and nobody is ready for it. For the moment, everyone talks about Sirte as something easy and abstract.
It is said that Wolfallas (a tribe found in the cities of Benwhalid and Magarha) decided to walk on Sirte.
Added (8 / 03) about the « tribal » nature of certain positions. When I said the Wolfalla would walk over Sirte, I gave the names of the cities to be able to locate them here, but there are no urban uprisings there. This commitment is more political and permanent. It’s a different temporality, a longer one. In a city like Sabbah, also favorable to the power and which closes, with Sirte, the road to Tripoli, the tribal composition is crucial. Among the three groups (Khadafas, Benwhalids and Magarha), only one, the Khaddafas, supports Gaddafi and was armed since the beginning. The others, who’ve always suffered a permanent terror from the police who arrests people everyday to interrogate them, seem to have lost all ability to organize.
In Benghazi today, the provisional government gave a press conference at the Hotel Tibesti. The government is composed of 31 members (men and women). Eight of them come from Benghazi, and their identities are known, the others come from other cities (like Tripoli and Sirte). The identity of the representatives of the town that are still under Gaddafi’s control are kept secret. Finally, two members live in the United States as ambassadors. Half the members of this new government, formed after the liberation of Benghazi, are former prisoners of the regime. Only one of them was in the government: the president Mostafa Abdhljalil, around whom could be established the current diplomacy. Government members were first selected by the various tribes of Cyrenaica then submitted to the U.S. and the UN – who surely found something that looked like them and with which they could talk. Some members of this government are in « constant communication » with the U.S., especially through the new Libyan ambassador there. But the Libyans, who yet refuse any foreign intervention, do not really look too shocked by this obvious interference from the US and UN.
Overall, in Benghazi, the provisional government does not seem to be contested publicly. It must be said though that until today, this provisional government does not take any decision that affects in anyway the life of the people. Its only function for the moment is to please to the Americans and others clown in costume from the UN. It benefits from the unity of the « days before the dictator’s fall ». The people are united when it fights against this monster, the divisions appear thereafter, as shown by the Tunisian situation.
Q., D., E., Ras Lanuf, Benghazi, March 8.
Around Ras Lanuf and on the front. 4th, 5th and 6th of March
We received this story from someone else in Lybia, about the days of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but in other places than those mentioned in previous articles. We’re putting here this entire article at the risk of breaking the current chronology of the articles.
Taking advantage of the Friday prayer, an assault coming from Bengazhi to Ras Lanuf joined on March 4th the forces that fought in Ajdabiya. From mid-afternoon to evening, different kind of cars among which many sedans and 4 × 4, flocked to Ras Lanuf, where the procession created a sort of fast traffic jam rushing in all directions (barracks, gas facilities, offices of the company. Every intersection became more or less the place for strategic and tactical debates: how to get there, how not to get shot by those who are already there, etc…). Leading cars eventually managed to take over the city by a complex trick (it is long to explain and the guys asked me not to unveil it). This trick received advice from two former army officers. In the evening the fighters are sleeping together, welcomed by the local whenever they’re poor or rich. For the moment women remain completely invisible. The next morning, while everyone was still asleep, a bomb fell on the periphery and shook the walls. That day I passed the front of almost 100km and found myself in Nofalia. Mirage F1 and Mi-24 helicopters were regularly flying over the town so that to observe Benjawad. Late afternoon, I found Shebab under fire of Mi-24 which were already far from Benjawad. A helicopter emptied a basket of rockets beside the road, and made a second salvo with 50 caliber rapid fire. There were wounded persons. I learned that a Mirage F1 was shot down by an old man on a small caliber gun just beside Benjawad, which is a small miracle (to congratulate him, guys told him: « You’re a better man than I am « ).
On the whole there’s a lot of weapons and ammunition here (in fact, perhaps one in five men is truly armed, but there are drivers, those responsible for anti-aircraft guns, people who bring food and ammunition , etc..), all looted from army barracks. Besides, if Zawiyah is particularly in trouble it’s precisely because the revolutionaries were unable to loot an ammunition depot. In the early days the abundance of weapons and ammunition had some unfortunate consequences. The rebels have lost a lot of material. Accidents are extremely frequent (several grenades exploded at 5-10m from where we were). The active, dead or defective ammunitions are simply abandoned in the desert. The weapons get damaged, they fill with sand and are lubricated with gasoline (a soldier wanted to do it with explosives, he didn’t read the Latin alphabet). Howitzers were taken from barracks without instruction guide. This somewhat “non-serious” relation to the weapons is partly due to the fact that they have been banned for so long. On the one hand, many people here don’t know how to use it, but more importantly, weapons exert a great fascination on everybody. At first, many weapons were kept by people in their homes (even shells of 105, bomb fragments, absurd stuff). But just as the practical knowledge is acquired quickly, many weapons are arriving on the front, sometimes accompanied by their new owners. Finally, there are also these other weapons, no less important than the firearms which are the big white pickup truck that belonged to the police, painted with red writing, most often covered or crossed by paint bomb.
The Revolutionaries are appropriating war techniques. People don’t know the calibre, but recognize the ammunition. They don’t know the names of the materials so they invent new For example, the anti-aircraft gun from 17.5 mm (.50) to 20mm, which is the true weapon of this war, was called « min ta », short name for « melata erath », which is literally « we have resistance” . Concerning food supply, it’s impressive. The rebels are permanently supplied with it: there’s an abundance of sweets and cans of all kinds, large and small bottles of water, more or less cheap biscuits. At first it was thought that all this came from looting, but there’s still so much now that I think they’re given. The craziest thing is operculated cup of mineral water brought to the front line.
Finally on Saturday evening, the troops got on the road to Sultan to prepare for the big battle that was announced for the coming days in Harawa. During the night the fighting began in Benjawad. In the morning we decided to go there. The front was on the road, the enemy 10 km farther and out of sight, the shells poured down at a discontinuous rate. The shots were accurate but often exploded too high or in the soil. The shooting surrounding our group made us retreat. The Shebab counter-attacked and supplied many howitzers 106mm. The revolutionaries were cut to pieces. There were many wounded. Others counter-attacks failed. The artillery was still surrounding us: we left. This Sunday, March 6th, the revolution just failed against tanks, helicopters and snipers coming to Benjawad by Kadhafi’s offsprings. Everyone is now very strained and people are fleeing Ras Lanuf. This city is strategically important for Kadhafi, but it is still difficult to gain around it: young people wouldn’t retreat and the ground isn’t clear anymore for heavy weaponry. This morning people continued to leave and only the combatants remained.
D., Ras Lanuf, March 6.
At the camp in Benghazi.
In Benghazi, young rebels are camping in Town Hall square. I’ll sleep there tonight, Sunday, March 6. The food is given for free on the spot thanks to the many donations that have been gathered. There is no food shortage: the ordinary trade works and there’re still many donations coming from Egypt. These Egyptian caravans left spontaneously without waiting for any humanitarian mission. Indeed, two Egyptian are sleeping in one of the tents. They came to support the revolution in Libya and share their experience. For them, democracy seems far from a panacea. Here, even “direct” democracy (which was the theoretical core of Jamahiriyah and of Qaddafi’s Green Book) doesn’t seem much more desirable than its « parliamentary » equivalent. Ultimately, the Koran still seems to be the « regime that divides the least, » to quote Thiers about the Republic. But representative democracy is the political project given by the hundreds of journalists present here.
I read in the press that Bernard-Henri Lévy was in Benghazi to meet the so-called national council , which creation was announced by the media. The presence of « BHL » here makes me want to puke. Concerning the fresh arrival of this new « council » it’s no surprise to anyone who spent just five minutes in the city hall building. But this new authority seems to be inefficient for the moment. Most of the people I spoke to told me that the state embryo found in the « antisam » (occupation) has no actual power. It is mainly a nest for worldwide journalists.
However, many people seem to be in favor of the creation of this temporary government. This is apparently composed of 31 members representing Benghazi (8) and other cities. Some people I met told me that the gas distribution facilities are working perfectly. They’d even voluntarily lowered the price. These people also say that all Libyans are supporting them and that no one is contesting the temporary government. It’s interesting to highlight that these are the exact assertions of Qaddafi and his supporters.
The airport was attacked by the army of Tripoli the day before yesterday and so it‘s impossible to get there because there may be fire inside and chemical weapons. Most people here are armed and the new radio regularly calls to give the weapons to those on the front. The new army seems to be in fact the most effective state institution here, and yet, it has more the appearance of a « popular militia » and nobody is really able to say who the leader is. Everyone sees a general where he wants.
In Benghazi, there is no particular suspicion against foreigners: they’re often treated as journalists, being themselves welcomed. One of the « soldiers » even made me understand that it isn’t inconceivable that foreigners enlist in the militia-army – although there’s still suspicion against Gaddafi’s spies, « the Mossad and the CIA « who might try to infiltrate.
E., March 6, Benghazi.
Assault on Ras Lanuf
Saturday, March 5, internet works again in Benghazi, but the connection is very slow. Everything was cut on Thursday night in Benghazi and Brega. Here is a cyber-cafe which still has connection, but all day we weren’t able to connect to certain websites such as hotmail or riseup.
In Benghazi the court-city hall is occupied by people who have all the appearances of the worst bureaucracy. Still, nobody seems to openly put it into question. What prevails, at first sight, is rather a sense of unity in the fight against the dictator. One of our friends, a bank employee, gave us a tour of the sacked katiba (provincial home) of Gaddafi and of the adjacent barrack where prisoners were locked and tortured and where a huge amount of weapons now circulating were taken. His uncle told us that the Libyans are divided on the issue of foreign intervention: the refusal is almost general concerning an invasion (presence of foreign troops), but some accept the idea of bombing the Aziziah (Gaddafi’s bunker more specifically) by the 6th U.S. fleet cruising off.
The city had been stripped of his police by the rioters, but yet you can still see men in uniform on the streets. These are people who, having found old uniforms, manage cars circulation on their own; just as in other parts of the city 8-10 years old children undertake this same task.
An offensive was being prepared for Friday. So we left Benghazi for Brega in a car driven by someone from here. On the road, we were able to get a clearer idea of what is the « new army ». It is rather the people in arms. You can see grandfathers alongside their grandchildren, all armed. This is not really an army in the sense we usually understand it. Speaking of « militarization » of the confrontation (or uprising) is even somewhat wrong (although there are many weapons in circulation). We met a « colonel », at his contact we realised we shouldn’t take gallons too seriously. On the front, those who fight seem totally ungovernable: there is no radio, no soldiers in regular or even complete uniform, gallons everywhere and of all kinds which mean nothing …
It may seem surprising that the loyalist army can not be more effective on the front, especially with its aviation. Some here say that Gaddafi wants to avoid hitting too hard and thus bring divisions within the armyBut his forces also suffer some fair weaknesses: according to our driver to the front, there are few pilots left in Gaddafi’s troops (those who remain are mostly Serbs), and their soldiers seem to pay a certain ignorance of the field.
We finally arrived in Ras Lanuf during the offensive. Gaddafi’s troops who controlled the city were taken « by surprise ». They fled, allowing insurgents to enter the city with a hardly imaginabe joy. Streets were covered with cartridges as everyone shot with joy in the sky; Gaddafi’s portaits were thrown down, etc. The canteen of the big oil company was requisitioned and its employees served free pasta to the insurgents. Imagine hundreds of people armed to the teeth in a company canteen …
F. and Q., Benghazi, March 5
A day in the desert.
Wednesday 1 March at 6 am, Gaddafi’s troops (irregular troops coming from Sirt ) attacked the city of Brega (between Ajdabiya and El Agheila), with 50 to 70 cars to try to take control of the oil site Kr Oil Gas and possibly close the supply towards Benghazi. At around 10 AM, the insurgents counter-attacked. All day food and water was distributed to those going to Brega to support the assault.
I travelled to Ajdabiya early afternoon. As we approached Brega, a fighter-type Mirage dropped 3 bombs a few hundred yards from the road: It look more as an attempt to scare. Further along our route we passed the scene of a recent clash. There was only one ambulance in flames, and other vehicles destroyed. Later in the afternoon, as we arrived in Bishr, we meet a group that just took a prisoner who seemingly just avoided being lynched.
Apparently, the rebel forces are (up to now) only made of civilians. It doesn’t seem there are regular troops or tanks. The biggest callibers are 50 mm anti-aircraft canons. Today, the insurgents have certainly suffered losses (during our trip we saw 9 dead people and 19 wounded that were brought back to Bengazy military hospital) but they’ve definitely inflicted a defeat to Gaddafi’s first counter-attack. Tonight, the coast seems « liberated » up to El Ageila, while Gaddafi’s troops are in Ras Lanuf. I’m staying here (in Brega) for the night. There many rebel cars driving through but their number is hard to tell as there are many round-trips. But for tomorrow we can certainly expect movements on the front in both directions.
The next day, I spend a part of the morning at a check-point at the east of El Ageila. The captain of this post tells me he’s linked with Benghasi but that he acts autonomously. His superior follows general directives but he says himself that he really have little commandment over the insurgent forces. At 12:55 PM we hear a helicopter coming from the west. A german journalist confirms it’s a Russian model. The check-point is evacuated and all the heavy equipment is gathered in Brega for the rest of the day. This square, where violent clashes had happened the day before, begins to be filled with journalists and equipment (10 machine-guns, 11 anti-aircraft canons pointed toward the road, 6 canons, 2 Katiouchas, many RPG’s, kalash and other shotguns as well as portable missiles Sam7 made to destroy planes).
In the early afternoon, cars filled with equipment, start to occupy the west positions again up to 20 km from Ras Lanuf. The equipment is more and more scattered. Civilians cars have started to come and go again since the day before from occupied to free zone.Many refugees, mostly egyptians, are evacuated in trucks. It seems the Pro-Gaddafi’s forces are gathering in Ras Lanuf.
At the oil company, only two engineerss volunteer to stay behind to keep the gas open, and the huge fuel tanks have all been emptied as a precaution. We are talking about 200 cars that loyalist forces have massed in Ras Lanuf. This huge number reflects the state of fear that results from the helicopters overflights and aerial bombings. (though planes had intentionally bombed the desert.)
The new army is made up of volunteers, most of which originate from the immediate area, that is to say Brega. Many of them work at the oil company, others are computer engineers. When there is no fighting, they spend the day laughing and playing with their weapons.. A soldier sits in front of me and sticks his AK 47 in the ground by the barrel to lean on it. Another spins his grenade around its finger.
Water, food and fruit juices arrive and are freely and massively distributed to soldiers, journalists and bystanders who cross the front in both directions. Soldiers keep changing their equipment up, mount and dismount the projectiles of RPG. They don’t seem to care about the new power that is set up in Benghazi.
Q, Brega, March 3.
The tunisian uprising and its consequences have made the question of insurrection concretel and tangible again. In Tunisia, in Egypt, in Morocco or in Libya, of course, it has never been so ongoing. The fact that the media want to contain it to the « mediterranean area », does not prevent it from splashing France and everything that is clumsily defined as « the West » .
Taking seriously an insurrection means, among other things, trying to discern what resonates with it everywhere. Which requires to comprehend it « politicaly »: that is as much affectively than materially and technically. It is one of the purpose of this blog. To see and describe what is going on today in Libya, yesterday in Tunisia, tomorrow, elsewhere. Bringing back, sharing, the words, images and experiences that affect us. We are not journalists.
How the uprising is organized? How is inhabited the vacuum of power? How material solidarities are organized? How do one eats? How do one fights ? How do we meet? What are the lines that split the insurrection from the reaction? the insurrection itself? How women struggle? In what ways former social relationships get suspended or maintained? How is the insurrection thought, spoken and lived? What it teaches us ? What it announces?
» We can no longer even see how an insurrection might begin. Sixty years of pacification and containment of historical upheavals, sixty years of democratic anesthesia and the management of events, have dulled our perception of the real, our sense of the war in progress. We need to start by recovering this perception. «
For the moment we have chosen to report « as they are » the stories our comrades on site send us. Day after day, with everything they may possibly contain of failures, inaccuracies or contradictions. We’ll need, in a second time, to rework, correct and reorganize all these materials. We invite all those who want to share what they live, where they fight to contact us.