The Elections and Libya's Violent Militias

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After a polling station was ransacked and ballots burned in Benghazi by federalists opposed to Libya's national elections Saturday, the people came out to protect the polling places and the revolutionary brigades saddled up and started patrolling the streets in a show of force in their technical vehicles. That put an end to federalist attacks on polling stations in Benghazi.

As of 8pm Saturday there had been three deaths associated with election violence in Benghazi and one in Ajdabiya. That number is incredibly small for a country of six millions that concluded a civil war in which 30,000 Libyans died only nine months ago. There was no reported violence or disruption of the elections in Tripoli, where a third of all Libyans live, or in Misrata, Libya's third largest city. As Juan Cole points out in Top Ten Surprises on Libya’s Election Day:

There was relatively little election violence, certainly compared to South Asia, where election day often entails dozens, sometimes hundreds, of deaths.

Turnout was about 64% with 1.7 million voters casting ballots in the first free national elections in Libya since Qaddafi took power in 1969. The turnout was even higher in Benghazi, with over 70% showing up at the polls in what was supposed to be the center of the boycott movement.

They were choosing among more than 3700 candidates for a 200 seat national congress. Almost everywhere the voting went smoothly, according to the Libya Herald, HNEC head Nuri Al-Abbar said "that out of a total of 1,554 polling centres across the country, 24 were unable to operate, including two in Kufra, six in Sedra and eight in Benghazi." Eight of those centers, in Sedra and Kufra, were opened on Sunday. There were also no complaints of voter fraud or of malpractice by election officials anywhere. There were over 27,000 international and local observers. The counting is expected to be fair. One silver lining of Qaddafi's 42 year dictatorship is that vote rigging is an unpracticed art in Libya.

Saturday Night Fever in Tripoli After the Elections | July 7, 2012

Preliminary results announced by the HNEC today indicate that unlike the post revolutionary elections in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party, and the other Islamic parties did not do that well. Mahmoud Jibril's secular liberal National Alliance Forces party appears to be taking the lead in most areas. So the fears on part of many in the western media and among the anti-interventions that, in the words of Russia Today, "Libya may follow in the footsteps of Egypt and Tunisia with a Muslim-dominated government," will not be realized.

There was no violence coming from Libya's hundreds of armed revolutionary brigades on election day. This is important to note because most western and anti-interventionists observers of post-Qaddafi Libya have focused on the existence of these "violent militias" as the biggest problem Libya faces. In fact this view is so prevalent that it can almost be called conventional wisdom. Even in Tripoli, with its dozens of militias, there were no shots fired and no clashes. Actually, this was the case throughout the country.

There were also no problems coming from Qaddafi supporters. There was no so-called "green resistance." For example, in one of Qaddafi's last holdout areas, Bani Walid, Luke Harding of the Guardian, who went there, reported that 46,000 voters registered out of a population of 85,000 inhabitants, meaning that most people who could register, did. There was no mass boycott of the election in Bani Walid, and in Sirte, formerly Qaddafi Central, Rena Netjes of alHurra TV tweeted “Turnout 70%, women 35-40%. Ppl very very happy to be able to vote for the 1st time”, so there was no mass boycott of the elections in the name of the hometown boy in Sirte. In fact, there were no disruptions of the elections in either Bani Walid or Sirte, as Juan Cole put it:

One of the many wrong predictions made last year by opponents of the revolution was that after it was over, there would be an Iraq-style pro-Qaddafi resistance. It turns out that Qaddafi wasn’t actually popular, and now that he is gone no one is interested in making trouble in his name.

What violence and disruption there was, appears to have come exclusively from radical federalists in the eastern region they call Cyrenaica that had opposed the election outright and called for a boycott only to see 330,000 voters in Benghazi register. Those divisive actions involved at most a few hundred militants, and while their shooting at a helicopter, attempts to steal or destroy election materials, and other attacks did cost lives, they were only able to delay the voting in a handful of places. Benghazi's revolutionary brigades did make a co-ordinated show of force on the streets after these initial disruptions by the federalists and they were successful in keeping the peace.

There has been talk that some counter-revolutionary elements from the old regime have been involved with these radical federalists, egging them on towards violence and possibly financing them as well. Whatever the source of these, really pretty feeble, attempts to disrupt revolutionary Libya's first election, it was the armed working class, organized in revolutionary brigades, that thwarted them.

By the time the sun was setting on this historic election day, Martyr's Square was fast filling up with celebrating Libyans. The scene there was reminiscent of the fall of Tripoli but this time there was no celebratory gunfire. The Libyan Revolution was growing up. International observers had uniformly pronounced the elections to be free and fair, and most commentators agreed that it had been a good, well organized process.

Not everyone agreed, of course. Many of those that had supported Qaddafi or opposed NATO intervention saw only dark clouds where others saw blue skies. Russia Today both supported the Qaddafi regime and opposed NATO bombing so we will take their coverage of the Libyan elections as a good example of the anti-interventionist spin on them. Their "glass half empty" appraisal is titled "Libyan democracy: Regional division, bloodshed mar first post-Gaddafi poll" as if there were elections under Qaddafi. They begin by warning ominously that:

reports of pro-autonomy activists attacking ballots and continued unrest by militia groups could see Libya’s democratic dreams go up in smoke.

And then they go on to make to most of what violence did occur:

One person was killed and two wounded in a gunfight between anti-election protesters and security forces in the eastern city of Ajdabiya.

A "protester" was shot dead while trying to steal a ballot box from a polling station.

Protesters also torched ballot boxes in 14 of 19 polling stations in Ajdabiya

This national election involved some 6629 polling stations.

Polling centers were also targeted in other cities in the east of the country, including Benghazi, Brega and Ras Lanouf.

A handful of gunmen were able to delay voting at some polling stations in those cities, but nowhere were they able to stop it entirely.

In Benghazi, anti-election protesters attacked a polling station and set fire to ballot slips. Activists burned hundreds of ballot papers, demanding greater representation.

Later, hundreds of protesters filled a major square in the eastern city

Yes, hundreds of Libyans protested and, no doubt, boycotted the elections, 1.7 million Libyans voted in it.

Gunmen shot down a helicopter carrying polling materials close to the eastern city of Benghazi on the eve of Election Day, killing an election worker.

The helicopter wasn't "shot down." Had it been, it is doubtful anyone would have survived. The Libya Herald had a more thorough, and more accurate description of what happened:

One man was killed and another wounded outside Benghazi today, when suspected pro-federalist gunmen fired on a helicopter carrying voting materials for tomorrow’s elections.

The helicopter, which was destined for Tocra, approximately 60 kilometres east of Benghazi, made a forced landing in the Budezira area on the outskirts of the city.

The dead man was Abdullah Al-Barassi, believed to have been aged 22 and a volunteer with the HNEC.

Al Jazeera reported Libyan military said the helicopter had been hit by small arms fire and forced to land at nearby Benina International Airport after the incident. Russia Today, in its striving to make the worst of a bad situation, upgraded the "forced landing" to a "shot down", but in fairness to them, they really didn't have much to work with in their attempts to portray the Libyan elections as a failure or a sham.

Then Russia Today, as if implicitly admitting that this catalog of disruptions really didn't amount to much, returned to attacking the armed militias:

Despite being branded the first democratic elections in decades, regional divides and the widespread existence of armed tribal groups overshadow Saturday’s poll.

"Tribal groups" is RT's characterization. These revolutionary brigades were generally organized by locality. RT adds,

The run-up to the elections has been dogged with violence across the country from armed groups.

But the examples they give are all activities by the radical federalists not the revolutionary brigades.

Ever since Qaddafi's Army was defeated and he overthrown, there has been no end to the talk about "violent militias" and the danger they posed to the new Libya. This has been the number one concern about Libya, not only in the MSM but also among those that supported Qaddafi and also those that opposed NATO involvement. They all have been united in portraying the post-Qaddafi Libya in negative terms, as a lawless land now were the state has little power and the rule of violent militias and their mini-gitmos have replaced the haloed "rule of law"

So just what are these "violent militias" and where did they come from?

Qaddafi was defeated by ordinary Libyans, most of them workers, that formed themselves up into violent militias they called revolutionary brigades. They received very important guidance, training and especially weapons from Libyan army troops of all ranks that came over to the side of the revolution. We now know they received additional weapons, training and support of various kinds from Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Qatar and France. They also got logistical, informational and communications support from an international activists community and they received life saving [as compared to Syria] air support from the NATO countries. But the heavy lifting and the major dying was done by the Libyan working class that had self organized for the revolution's defense into hundreds of local revolutionary brigades. Effective communications and coordination between these groups was necessary to defeat Qaddafi and that continues to exist today. The spectra of "out of control" armed militias is largely a MSM and anti-interventionist myth, as the lack of any such violence in Tripoli, Misrata and everywhere else on election day showed.

Since the defeat of Qaddafi, the above mentioned coalition of those opposed to this "regime change" has been united in one mantra, these "violent militias" must be disarmed and disbanded at once. It was even widely said by these forces that there was no way to have an election in Libya when it was in such chaos owing to these violent militias.

RT then called upon political columnist Ted Rall for his insights:

Those of us who remember what happened during the first elections after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq remember seeing similar images at that time, and we know what followed. We are still dealing with years of civil war and sectarian conflicts,” he said.

This is an attempt to hang on to another axiom of the anti-interventionists, that the Libyan Revolution is just like the Iraq War. "We've been through this movie before" was the way Carl Davidson of CCDS put it over a year ago. Rall's view on the Libyan election clings to that notion.

Yes, in January 2005, Iraq had elections. The country was under the occupation of 160 thousand coalition soldiers and an equal number of mercenaries. The whole country, including the orchestrated election was run from the green zone, but the images that the PR people created were designed to make it look like a popular democratic election, which is exactly what the Libyan election was. So, of course the images looked similar. But in some provinces, like Anbar, turnout was as little as 2% and there were over 100 armed attacks, including 9 suicide bombers, in which 44 Iraqis were killed, so the similarities pretty much end with the images and certainly don't warrant such a dismal outlook for the future of Libya based on this comparison.

Rall then goes on to ignore the heroic role of the Libyan people in overthrowing Qaddafi so that he can talk about "problems the United States faces with its regime change" and the advises:

Libya needs to settle into the idea of unified Libyan nation state, something all Libyans regardless of their sectarian tendencies or tribal affiliations can get behind, Rall asserted, and there is no point to hold elections until that is achieved.

I would say that the triumph which this election has become proves quite well that that has been achieved. But the anti-interventionists turned counter-revolutionaries certainly don't see it that way. Finally Ted Rall sees the Libyan election as a Catch 22 no win situation. RT quotes him:

“Even if you did not have violence, what you would have is a civil war carried out at ballot boxes,"

This is a great video that eloquently answers the question "Who are Rebels?" I first published it right after the fall of Tripoli. The short story is that they are the Libyan working class united in armed struggle against a monarchy. They prefer to be called freedom fighters BTW.

For more background on the Libyan Revolution and links to lots of information see my other writings at the DailyKos and WikiLeaks Central:
#Libya at the crossroads: The ballot or the bullet
Is Libya better off than it was?
Libyan Elections to be held July 7th
Qaddafi forces Strike Back in Libya
Libya & Syria - two videos - no comment
BREAKING: Libyan High Court strikes down anti-free speech law
Where should Libya's Saif Qaddafi be tried?
MSM plays Hankey Panky with Libya
Qaddafi lies live on after him
Another "Houla style" massacre in Syria
Libya's Qaddafi helped US & Israel against Iran in Olympic Games
Why is Russia demanding NATO boots on the ground in Libya?
#LyElect Libyans register to vote 1st time in 60 years
Libya's Revolution: How We Won - The Internationale in the 21st Century
Good News from Libya
On Libya & Glenn Greenwald: Are the anti-interventionists becoming counter-revolutionaries?
UN: NATO killed 60 civilians in Libya
Libya in the news today
Amnesty International on Libya again
The Current Situation in Libya
Democracy Now & Amy Goodman gets it wrong again.
Why is Chris Hedges calling for "boots on the ground" in Libya?
The Worm Has Turned: Good Film on Libyan Revolution from PressTV
Why NATO's mission in Libya isn't over yet
Libya's Freedom Fighters: How They Won
Racism in Libya
Abdul Rahman Gave his Eyes to See the End of Qaddafi
BREAKING: Secret files reveal Dennis Kucinich talks with Qaddafi Regime
BREAKING: Libyan TNC won't extradite Lockerbie bomber
Who really beat Qaddafi?
#Feb17: @NATO Please help MEDEVAC wounded from #Libya
What should those that opposed NATO's intervention in Libya demand now?
BREAKING: Qaddafi's Tripoli Compound Falls!
Does PDA Support Qaddafi?
BREAKING: Operation Mermaid Dawn, the Battle to Liberate Tripoli is Joined
Helter Skelter: Qaddafi's African Adventure
Qaddafi's Long Arm
SCOOP: My Lai or Qaddafi Lie? More on the 85 Civilians presumed killed by NATO
Did NATO kill 85 Libyan Villagers As Qaddafi Regime Contends?
CCDS Statement on Libya - a Critique
The Assassination of General Abdul Fattah Younis
NATO over Tripoli - Air Strikes in the Age of Twitter
How Many Libyans has NATO Killed?
Qaddafi Terror Files Start to Trickle Out!
Have Libyan Rebels Committed Human Rights Abuses?
Tripoli Green Square Reality Check
Behind the Green Curtain: Libya Today
Gilbert Achcar on the Libyan situation and the Left
NATO slammed for Libya civilian deaths NOT!
2011-07-01 Qaddafi's Million Man March
NATO's Game Plan in Libya
February 21st - Tripoli's Long Night
Did Qaddafi Bomb Peaceful Protesters?
Tripoli Burn Notice
Libyans, Palestinians & Israelis
'Brother' Qaddafi Indicted plus Libya & Syria: Dueling Rally Photofinishs
An Open Letter to ANSWER
ANSWER answers me
2011-06-22 No Libyans allowed at ANSWER Libya Forum
Are they throwing babies out of incubators yet?
Continuing Discussion with a Gaddafi Supporter
Boston Globe oped supports Gaddafi with fraudulent journalism
2011-04-13 Doha summit supports Libyan rebels
Current Events in Libya
Amonpour Plays Softball with Gaddafi
Arming Gaddfi
North African Revolution Continues
Is Libya Next? Anonymous Debates New Operation

Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 3:05 PM PT: