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Inside the battle of Tripoli

The Libyan legend was written by civilian Libyans with high expectations of a future free Libya, who have risen up from every corner and carried arms to end one of the world’s totalitarian regimes.
Essam Badran
23 August 2011

On the night of August 21, a sudden rebellion erupted in Tripoli. In less than 48 hours, rebels were controlling 80% of the capital apart from a few pockets where Gaddafi loyalists were still in charge. These Tripoli inhabitants surprised the world with their well-timed, coordinated, armed resistance in the stronghold of the regime. They did not await support from the rebels approaching Tripoli from three destinations, who were only 60-40 km away from the capital. It was only after this that the rebels from outside Tripoli stormed the capital by land and sea. Six months after the uprising erupted, it seems as if the struggle to overthrow the regime is finally drawing to an end.  

So why did the Tripoli protesters decide to go ahead alone rather than wait for back-up from the forces of the transitional government in Benghazi who were only a few miles away from Tripoli?

Up until now, Tripoli has been rather quiet: we have only witnessed limited protest as the security apparatus intensified. But now, these protesters decided to act ahead of time, so that  they too could be credited with the fall of the regime.

Tripoli protesters were in fact sending a symbolic message to the effect that they can overthrow the regime without the help of rebels from outside of Tripoli. They were not to have it all their way however. Nato too promptly tried to jump into the picture by bombing unimportant targets in Tripoli to reassure a world public that Nato was right in there.

Protesters in Tripoli however have proved that they are not less patriotic than their fellow Libyans who stood up to be counted and sacrificed their lives in Benghazi, El Zawiya, and Misrata. Now, eyes are turned to Tripoli to witness the last chapter of the longest serving regime in the region.

Perfect timing  

Their liberation operation had perfect timing. The Muslim world is closely watching news coming from Tripoli. Friday, in terms of Ramadan, corresponds to the day in which the prophet Mohamed conquered Makka.

Gaddafi’s forces were taken by surprise, when simultaneously, all the mosques in Tripoli gave the green go-ahead to protesters to start their operation to liberate Tripoli. “Allah Akbar”- God is the Greatest - was the secret signal heard across Tripoli just after Al Maghrib, the Muslim prayer after which Muslims break their fast in the holy month of Ramadan. No one could have imagined that Tripoli inhabitants would rise up at a time when Muslims are busy eating Eftar after a long hot day of fasting.

Protesters went into the streets, gathered at the mosques, and marched toward specific strategic locations in the capital. It seems that the rebels had access to arms and ammunition, possibly  acquired from police or army members who were pro-protest. A number of the Gaddafi forces immediately surrendered to the rebels, giving up their arms.

Protesters attacked the political prison, liberating their fellow citizens who were held there. Some police stations were attacked. Libyan activists marched on toward Bab Al Azizia, the stronghold of the regime.

As expected, the Gaddafi forces overcame their initial surprise and retaliated using rockets, and sending their snipers out over the roofs of buildings. However, many forces fled their positions returning back to their families, while others surrendered. Suddenly, Gaddafi’s forces collapsed and disappeared.

The transitional government in Benghazi granted an amnesty to all the Gaddafi forces that will give up and put down their arms - an excellent tactic for lessening the bloodshed.

Coordinated protest

This was not a spontaneous demonstration, but a planned uprising spreading through all the neighbourhoods of Tripoli. Protesters were organized and acted according to plan. Arms were secretly acquired ahead of time, and were in the hands of the rebels at the right time.

This is thanks to a command centre managing the battle of Tripoli with ongoing communication between the rebellious neighbourhoods of Tripoli and the Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi. Protestors were operating under a united leadership made up of secret sleeping cells. It is widely understood that those secret cells have provided valuable information about pro-Gaddafi military targets inside Tripoli for the past six months.

An integral part of the plan is to control strategic key areas inside the capital and to arrest the remaining high ranking officials close to Gaddafi. Everybody knows that the game is up. High ranking officials have fled across the Tunisian borders. No one knows whether Gaddafi is still inside Tripoli or has already left. Wherever he is, however, Gaddafi seems to be the last one to grasp the new realities on the ground. His last three speeches simply repeat desperate calls for “true Libyans” to stand up against the rebels and defend Tripoli. His closest supporters have abandoned him to meet his destiny alone.

Huge challenges

The quick fall of Tripoli in the hands of the rebels has surprised international players who were pessimistic about the situation in Libya. International observers and political analysts thought that the conflict had reached a ‘stalemate” likely to continue for a prolonged period in which no side would achieve a decisive victory on the battlefield. Gloomy scenarios of political division and internal conflict were also widely assumed. Nonetheless, Tripoli protesters have proved the opposite. Now, international players will compete to win Libya reconstruction contracts.

 With the huge victory on the rebels’ side, there must now be a smooth transition process. The burden on the TNC is very heavy: it means building a country from scratch. Libya has no organized army, political parties or opposition. Restoring order and collecting arms from the streets is an immediate challenge. Having armed militias in a tribal country is potentially alarming. But, there are promising signs that Tripoli will not turn into a new Baghdad. The capital has not so far witnessed looting or organized crime in the capital.   

The Libyan legend was written by civilian Libyans with high expectations of a future free Libya, who have risen up from every corner and carried arms to end one of the world’s totalitarian regimes

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