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Libyan Opposition Dismisses Civil War Fears

Leading figure in the movement rejects suggestions that tribal divisions could turn into open conflict.
By Daniella Peled
  • Protesters in Minneapolis: the Libyan diaspora is rallying in support of the revolution. (Photo: Kara Allyson/Flickr)
    Protesters in Minneapolis: the Libyan diaspora is rallying in support of the revolution. (Photo: Kara Allyson/Flickr)

There is no danger of a civil war sweeping Libya in the post-Gaddafi era, a leading figure in the opposition movement has claimed.

Mohammed Ali Abdalla, the deputy secretary-general of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, NFSL, said that predictions that tribal divisions within the country would lead to further conflict were over-stated.

Some analysts have predicted that Gaddafi would seek to stay in power by exploiting tribal divisions, setting his own Qadhadfa tribe against other groupings including the Magariha, the Warfalla and the Al-Zintan tribes.

Gaddafi's own son, Saif al-Islam, has already warned that continued demonstrations would lead to members of different tribes "killing each other in the streets".

But Abdalla said this scenario was unrealistic.

“This idea of tribal divisions was a picture painted by Gaddafi, in an attempt to divide and conquer,” he said.

Abdalla pointed to a meeting of tribal leaders and opposition figures being held in the eastern city of Al Bayda this week, led by the former justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil who resigned from the government last week.

“There is a synergy and harmony you would not have had during the reign of Gaddafi,” he said. “There is no danger of civil war and it is not even on the radar; it would only happen if Gaddafi had managed to sustain his power.”

The NFSL, among the most influential of Libya’s opposition groups, was founded in 1981 with the aim of ending the regime of Muammar Gaddafi and backs a democratic, constitutional state.

Abdalla said that his organisation had been working with other exiled opposition groups to coordinate aid efforts within Libya, as well as helping put the Libyan diaspora in contact with families back home.

“The opposition within the country has been operating as individual cells, there is a little coordination from a logistical point of view between the cities,” he said. “This is a purely grassroots movement as there is no such thing as a political movement within Libya. But the opposition movements are working together across the world, in all big cities where there are Libyan communities.”

Aid efforts have included coordinating with the Egyptian Red Crescent and gathering a group of some 45 doctors that the NFSL is poised to dispatch to Libya to help provide badly-needed medical support.

Abdalla said that while most of the cities across Libya had fallen to revolutionary groups or been taken over by military forces which had defected to the opposition, tight control was being maintained in the capital Tripoli.

With the foreign media now being allowed to enter the city, he said that he had received reports that the army was cleaning up all evidence of civilian casualties sustained in the bloody protests of recent days.

He said that bodies, as well as wounded people, were being taken from hospitals in Tripoli and sent to the Mateega air base.

“Hospital staff who refuse to sign medical documents that state people died during surgery are being arrested,” he added.

A government directive that people should go back to work and reopen their businesses was also being ignored, he added, as part of a civil disobedience campaign.

Speaking to IWPR in London, Abdalla, usually based in Dubai, said that the response of the international community to the crisis had been “despicable”.

“The implementation of a no-fly zone, freezing Gaddafi’s assets, ending international recognition of the regime – all this should have been done, but it is still being debated,” he said.

Although Gaddafi’s assets in Switzerland had been frozen, this would have minimal effect as most of his fortune was elsewhere, Abdalla continued.

“From the Libyan perspective, a lot of governments are just as culpable as Gaddafi because they entrenched his rule,” he said, pointing to France and Italy as countries which had “given him carte blanche and welcomed him back into the international community with open arms”.

He also singled out the United States, Britain, “and most if not all of the Arab governments” as implicated in Gaddafi’s continued rule, which he now said was effectively over.

In a post-Gaddafi Libya, he said, the exiled opposition groups would have to play a major role - along with the military and the people behind the uprising itself - in helping to bring about a transition of power.

As far as those involved with the former regime, he said, “There are different levels. Those who committed crimes and murders will have to be caught, tried and held accountable, along with those responsible for corruption. But the biggest number of people were simply acting as tools, carrying out orders.”

Daniella Peled is an IWPR editor in London.

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