The protests that began in August in Tripoli have not yet been exhausted as a new wave of protests in Benghazi and its zone of influence has led to the resignation of the rival government in the east of the country. Will these struggles be enough to impose peace in a country torn apart by imperialist conflict?
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Tripoli and Misrata
This August the eastern Mediterranean reached a situation of war on hold, with a tendency, still on the rise, of concentration of military force and provocations among the powers in dispute. In Libya, the precarious ceasefire in Sirte and the neverending dramatization of conversations did not allow a glimpse of any horizon other than war.
Only two days after the ceasefire was proclaimed, on August 23, while the government of the Muslim Brotherhood attempted to negotiate the end of the oil blockade and the return to business of the Libyan ruling classes, a series of protest foci, formed mostly by young workers, converged on the Government Palace in the capital.
The slogans, quite chaotic, mixed attacks on the prevailing corruption, the high cost of living and the lack of access to basic services and treatment for the covid. And a hopeful event, even narrated by AlJazeera, a chain that has been a faithful ally of the tripolitan government:
Some of the demonstrators in Tripoli carried white flags to show their lack of loyalty to any of the main factions in Libya
As expected, repression was instantaneous and so fierce that it even prompted a statement from UN envoys calling for an investigation. Amnesty International asserted that at least six protesters had been kidnapped and several more wounded after camouflaged soldiers with heavy machine guns opened fire on the crowd late at night.
But the movement was on the march also in Misrata, Libya’s third largest city and second largest in population in the area controlled by the pro-Turkish Islamist government. The government, faced with growing protests, declared a state of siege and militarized the streets.
Division and unity in the ruling class in the face of common danger
The Minister of Interior, who is part of Misrata’s oligarchy, not only had the gall to deny that the soldiers were acting on orders from the government, but also claimed to be sympathetic to the protests. The government immediately suspended him. The move was a message to its own ranks, but above all a rearmament against the internal enemy: the ministries of defense and interior were handed over to the head of the army, a hardline wing of the government with close ties to the Turkish forces.
The division between the powerful in Misrata and those in Tripoli had paralyzed the plans to resume fighting as soon as possible and invited the powers that feed the war to intervene. Especially Turkey, which had invested too much to risk losing its prey. So it measured and pushed to reconstitute the power bloc until achieving its goal and returned the Ministry of Interior to Misrata’s chieftains.
But while the cohesion of the government forces recovered after the first blow and repression reigned in Tripoli, protests spread to Sabah in the South and Quba in the East, both across the front line in territory controlled by Haftar’s forces and Benghazi’s government.
Both governments suddenly found themselves united in the face of a common danger, and negotiations between the two in Morocco advanced surprisingly rapidly towards a sharing of positions, rents and structures between the various factions grouped around the two capital cities.
Bengasi and Al Marj
In Benghazi, power supply is becoming scarce and the queues to buy gasoline, which is rationed, are becoming endless. On Friday morning, in one of those endless queues, anger turned into protest. Some of those in the lines began to burn tires after the typical police harassment of those who had been waiting for hours.
The smoke columns caught the attention of the whole city in an already extremely tense and heated atmosphere. Spontaneous groups cut off traffic and burned tires. Soon there were hundreds of people in more and more places. The next day this happened not only Benghazi but several other cities. Even al-Marj, Haftar’s bastion, rose up. Once again, repression was immediate and at least one person died as a result of the army’s shooting.
But this time repression was not enough; on Sunday the streets of Benghazi were taken over by an angry crowd that was determined not to let itself be threatened. The crowd ended up gathering at the government palace and setting it on fire. The situation was quickly becoming untenable… and the government resigned en bloc to save the parliament it supposedly serves from being burned down and to avoid temptations of self-organization among the demonstrators, the great majority of whom are workers carrying slogans demanding water, energy, and access to medical treatment.
Will this be enough?
Furthermore, Tripoli is not exactly a peaceful haven. Mobilizations have continued and increased because of the repression. Just yesterday, in the Gurji district, protests against the murder of a young man by the Muslim Brotherhood government militia ended with the district in flames. Combativeness is high.
Both governments know that their main enemy is waking up… and they feel a sudden impulse towards unity. In a hurry, a summit has been organized in Paris this Thursdaypeace will be the solution for all the demands. But peace, the product of the struggle on both sides of the front, has no other horizon than the breakdown of the revolt and the defeat of the uprising workers.
Until now, and in spite of the immense difficulties, the struggles have achieved a great victory: to stop the war. It is clear that there is no more peace than that which is won by fighting both armies. But there is no way of advancing the struggles that does not pass through the appearance of a general organization and assembly of all the workers in struggle. Now there is a race against time: the attempts to achieve this organization on the one hand, in the face of the rapid organization of the leading factions on both sides, encouraged by their bosses – from Russia to France, from Turkey to Qatar on the other.