From our 21 June LDESP Africa News Update.
In mid-June, as President Obama approved sending U.S. arms to Syrian rebels, Reuters published a fascinating article looking at how weapons from the now-neglected conflict in Libya have been making their way into Syria for over a year. “The Adventures of a Libyan Weapons Dealer in Syria,” tracks one such Libyan weapons smuggler:
“Abdul Basit Haroun says he is behind some of the biggest shipments of weapons from Libya to Syria, which he delivers on chartered flights to neighbouring countries and then smuggles over the border.
After fleeing Libya in his 20s, Haroun established himself as a property developer in Manchester. After about two decades in the British city, he returned to Libya in 2011 to fight in the revolution, where he became a prominent rebel commander.
He says he sends aid and weapons to help Syrians achieve the freedom he fought for during the Libyan revolution.
The first consignment of weapons was smuggled into Syria aboard a Libyan ship delivering aid last year, Haroun says, but now containers of arms are flown “above board” into neighbouring countries on chartered flights.
(…) Haroun was upset the West had not intervened in Syria, as it did in Libya and said the opportunity to avert a larger war had been missed.
“Even when the war in Syria ends, there will be another war in region; Sunni against Shia. At the beginning, there was just Assad to bring down … now Hezbollah, Iran are involved.”
A Reuters reporter was taken to an undisclosed location in Benghazi to see a container of weapons being prepared for delivery to Syria. It was stacked with boxes of ammunition, rocket launchers and various types of light and medium weapons.
(…) Haroun says he can collect weapons from around the country and arrange for them to be delivered to the Syrian rebels because of his contacts in Libya and abroad.
“They know we are sending guns to Syria,” Haroun said. “Everyone knows.”
In Libya, he helps the government with state security, according to interior ministry spokesman Majdi al-Ourfi.
He also has credentials as a commander from the days of the revolution. “Abdel Basit Haroun was with us in the February 17 brigade before he quit to form his own brigade,” said fellow brigade commander Ismail Salabi.
His weapon dealing activities appear to be well known, at least in Libya’s east.
Senior officials in Libya’s army and government told Reuters they backed supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition, while a member of Libya’s congress said Haroun was doing a great job of helping the Syrian rebels.
“After the end of the war of liberation, he became involved in supporting the Syrian revolution… sending aid and weapons to the Syrian people,” said assembly member Tawfiq Al-Shehabi.
(…) A Libyan army commander, Hamed Belkhair, said that he was aware of colleagues in the military who had met Syrian rebels and agreed to help them by supplying arms.
“The weapons are not supplied to extremists, but only to the Free Syrian Army,” said Belkhair.
A United Nations Panel report dated February this year also backs Haroun’s assertions that weapons smuggling to Syria from Libya is widely known about.
“The Syrian Arab Republic has presented a prominent destination for some Libyan fighters and Libyan military materiel,” the writers say.
Transfers have been organised under the supervision, or with the consent, of a range of actors in Libya and the Syrian Arab Republic.”
(…) “We are doing two great things,” Haroun said. “The first is that we are taking guns off the street. The mission is so popular that we get 50 percent discounts on weapons.”
Haroun added that some were also donated free, particularly heavy items that families had little use for after the war.
(…) Both he and his associate travelled with their first successful delivery in August over the Syrian border to ensure it reached its destination. They were appalled by the horrors witnessed there.
“Anyone who saw what I did in Syria would do the same thing,” said the associate.
“The water is so polluted you wouldn’t even wash your hands with it. People have no clothes. I saw three births with no doctors present. People are dying without medication.”
(…) A Reuters reporter who visited locations supplied by Haroun in Syria a month or two after the shipment was said to have arrived said the area was awash in weapons of Libyan origin. (Reuters)
Syria’s significance seems to have replaced Libya in the Western press and policy arenas, especially after the heated situation surrounding the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. There is a stark dearth of reports and analyses on the North African country in recent months. However, this neglect may be imprudent as evidenced by the country’s potential to foment conflicts and security challenges beyond its borders into places like Mali and the Gaza Strip. A recent United Nations report written by the Security Council’s Group of Experts explains, “Cases, both proven and under investigation, of illicit transfers from Libya in violation of the embargo cover more than 12 countries and include heavy and light weapons, including man-portable air defense systems, small arms and related ammunition and explosives and mines. (…) Illicit flows from the country are fuelling existing conflicts in Africa and the Levant and enriching the arsenals of a range of non-State actors, including terrorist groups. (…) The proliferation of weapons from Libya continues at an alarming rate.” (Reuters)
Following the incident that resulted in the death of Ambassador Stevens, it became clear that Libya was spiraling away from stability. Months later, the country’s security seemed to be further deteriorating when terrorists coordinated an attack against the French Embassy in Tripoli. In response, Karim Mezran, senior fellow for the Atlantic Council and professor at SAIS Johns Hopkins along with Jason Pack, a research of North African History at Cambridge and editor of a the recently published The 2011 Libyan Uprisings and The Struggle for the Post-Qadhafi Future featured below, wrote in Foreign Policy, “Libyan Stability at Risk”:
The attack against the French Embassy “marks an escalation in the covert war being waged to determine the future orientation, institutions, constitution, and very soul of the new Libya. At the same time the conflict between the government and militias has escalated, with the latter besieging the ministries of defense, interior, and foreign affairs, demanding the resignation of the ministers and the immediate application of the political isolation law, which is in the process of being debated and voted on. Collectively, these events show a decrease in the legitimate political institutions’ capacity to guide the transition process successfully and an increase in the attempts of armed elements to alter the rules of the political game in their favor.
(…) The countries that helped overthrow Qaddafi should redouble their efforts to support the creation of professional armed forces and police, vocational training, and constitution writing. If greater support is withheld, the French Embassy attack may prove to be the start of a trend, in which case Libyan — and by extension North African — instability would become a permanent status quo. The crisis in Mali and the growing instability in Algeria — and most recently Tunisia — offer clear evidence in support of this conjecture.
(…) Understanding the actors behind the bombing is key to conceptualizing the appropriate international response. Of note, the recent attack is perhaps more likely to have been motivated by domestic Libyan politics rather than the default explanation seized upon by the media — blowback over French intervention in Mali. Indeed, an underreported and ill-understood struggle is afoot in Libya between forces that want to build a coherent government and utilize the country’s vast resources to facilitate the transition to democracy, and local and jihadists actors who benefit from the chaos of the status quo, and wish to cling to their local fiefdoms based on intimidation, militias, smuggling, tribal networks, and porous borders. In other words, many newly entrenched power brokers in Libya simply do not want to see a democratic success story and are willing to utilize violence to prevent it.
It is against this inauspicious backdrop of a full-fledged “struggle for post-Qaddafi Libya” — and not simply that of Mali backlash — that last week’s bombing, this week’s militia occupations, and heated debates concerning the political isolation law must be understood. The key Western powers in Libya (Italy, France, Britain, and the United States) have all been nominally supporting the Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan in his efforts to build functional, centralized institutions. To date, however, the West has adopted a hands-off approach. The United States in particular, partly because of its Benghazi wounds and the partisan climate on the Hill surrounding this issue, has shown little more than verbal support for Libyan reconstruction. Present conditions, however, demonstrate that the time for hesitation is over.
The Libyan political scene at present strongly signals the need for more proactive engagement. At the moment, the Libyan government is besieged by its opponents. It must assert itself and organize elections for a constituent assembly tentatively scheduled for the late fall.
(…) Maintaining security throughout this delicate constitution-writing process is crucial. An unstable Libya, unable to write its constitution, will destroy the state’s great potential to be a prosperous, democratic model for the Arab world. Unfortunately, the Libyan government has been unable to protect even its own institutions. (Foreign Policy)
Militias: The wild card in Libya’s future and its ability to maintain stability is the overwhelming presence and power of the many militias. While the militias have generally been regarded as a deterrent to Libya’s post-revolution success, and Libyans have repeatedly risen against the militias, on 8 June, for the first time a militia killed demonstrators. Frederic Wehrey, a former U.S. military attaché in Libya and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times explaining why “Libya Doesn’t Need More Militias”:
“TWO years after the Libyan revolution, the police and army remain weak and hollow. Neglected by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in favor of more loyal units commanded by his sons, they are ill-equipped, understaffed, bloated at the senior ranks and tainted by their association with the old regime. Into their place have stepped the country’s 300 revolutionary militias — the groups that fought in the 2011 revolution that overthrew Colonel Qaddafi or arose in its aftermath.
On 8 June, throngs of protesters in Benghazi stormed the headquarters of a government-sponsored militia, Libya Shield, whose members opened fire,
killing at least 27 people. Weary of Libya Shield’s overbearing presence, the crowds had demanded that the regular army and police take its place. It was a disheartening reminder of the Faustian bargain that Libya’s anemic and fractured government has made with the militias.
Libya Shield is part of a constellation of Islamist-oriented militias that arose in Benghazi during the revolution. Some of these armed groups have fallen under the authority of the government while others, like Ansar al-Sharia, have not. (These groups decry the term “militia,” given its connotation of illegitimacy and lawlessness).
Bereft of the means to project authority and provide security, Libya’s transitional government tried to co-opt the militias in late 2011 and bring them under the control of the Army chief of staff and the Interior Ministry. And so Libya Shield and the Supreme Security Committees were born.
Across the country the Committees and Libya Shield have played the roles of de facto police department and army: they arrest drug traffickers, patrol the western and southern borders, and try to quell tribal fighting in the country’s provinces. Increasingly though, they have become a law unto themselves, pursuing agendas that are regional, tribal, Islamist and sometimes criminal.
(…) Now the increasingly isolated Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has approached the United States about training a general-purpose military force, consisting entirely of fresh “nonmilitia” recruits. On the surface, the proposal is attractive — beef up a “real” army to confront extremists and persuade the militias to disarm and integrate. But it is highly risky and could throw the country deeper into strife.
(…) Most crucially, the plan fails to address the roots of the crisis: uneven provincial development, unemployment, a lack of transparency in the government, and tensions between Libyan elites who accommodated the Qaddafi regime and those who were persecuted by it. These are problems that cannot be confronted head-on with another armed force.
(…) What is needed instead is a new social contract that reconciles Libya’s factions and produces a government with real legitimacy. (New York Times)
Another perspective: David Kirkpatrick for the New York Times reports the militia’s perspective, “Violence Against Libyan Protesters Threatens to Undercut Power of Militias.”
In spite of the security issues, it is not all bad news. For example, the blossoming civil society as told by the story of one Libya’s newest radio stations, Radio Zone reported on by NPR, “Libyan Radio Station Promotes Democracy, One Rap at a Time.” Additionally, the 8 June protests and the subsequent blow to a major militia’s clout has caused many, including The Economist to ask “Is the Tide Turning?”:
“The defeat of an Islamist militia raises hope that law and order may return.
THE scavengers for disused metal fled, as riot police wearing their old Qaddafi-era uniforms drove back into their old base after recovering it from one of Libya’s most powerful Islamist militias, Libyan Shield Number One. “It’s good to be back,” said the police commander after the battle on June 8th, which left 35 Libyans dead.
Despite declaring three days of mourning, Libya’s leaders are celebrating what they herald as the beginning of the end of militia rule and the restoration of a functioning state. Since the rebels ousted Muammar Qaddafi’s forces, first in eastern Libya in February 2011 and then countrywide six months later, militias have largely ruled the roost, preventing the country’s elected government from asserting itself. “Farmers should go back to being farmers and let the army do its job of protecting the nation,” said the armed forces’ new chief of staff, Salim Gneidy. He vowed to confront Islamist renegades, whereas his predecessor, Yusef Mangoush, who resigned in the wake of the June 8th battle, had sought to co-opt them. Many expect further purges of Islamists, including veterans of the jihad in Afghanistan, whose militias General Mangoush had licensed, elevating their leaders to high office.
Libya’s liberals, too, cheer the demise of what they have seen as the armed wing of their Islamist foes. Only last month the Islamists seemed set for domination after their militias surrounded the national congress, Libya’s proto-parliament, and forced its members to pass an “isolation law” banning from public office anyone who had worked in a senior post for Qaddafi.
Many of Benghazi’s exhausted people also welcomed the first signs of order, such as police cars tentatively back after two years of near-absence from the streets.
(…) Though the Libyan Shield’s men have fled some of their bases, they drove off with their arms intact. Other Islamist groups are still entrenched in bases near Benghazi. And underground Islamists can be even more dangerous. After the Benghazi battle, a bomb was found under the Italian ambassador’s car in Tripoli, the capital. The Islamists will not go away quietly.”s (The Economist)
UN Says Libya Continues to Face Difficult Transition
A senior United Nations diplomat says Libya continues to face a difficult transition from the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, whose 42-year rule ended in 2011. Tarek Mitri, the United Nations special representative for Libya, told the U.N. Security Council the risks in Libya should not be underestimated. But he added that the opportunities in that country should not be overlooked. Mitri, the Lebanese-born head of the U.N. Support Mission in Libya, said the Libyan elections last year to the General National Congress may have led people to think the road to democracy would be simple. “As important as these elections in July 2012 may have been in ushering in the beginnings of a new political process and the building of legitimate state institutions, the Libyan people will continue to endure during the foreseeable future the heavy legacy bequeathed to them over decades of brutal rule. Managing the transition is bound therefore to be difficult, perhaps more difficult than we thought a year ago,” he said. (…) “I think there is a desire of the international community to support this transition. It’s proving to be difficult and you would expect that after 42 years of dictatorship with no institutions, with no elections taking place. There was infrastructure but there were no institutions in the country as a whole. So it’s not surprising that it’s taking some time,” said Grant. (…) Mitri said implementation of the law risks further weakening Libya’s state institutions. The president of Libya’s General National Congress, Mohammed Magarief – a former Libyan diplomat who later became an opposition figure living in exile – resigned on May 28. (Voice of America)
Libyan Unrest Drives Oil Output Down
Libya’s oil output has sunk back to a current 1.16 million barrels per day of oil due to disruption at fields and terminals, a senior industry source told Reuters on 11 June. It pumped 1.6 million bpd before the revolution of 2011. Despite oil flows returning more rapidly than expected immediately after that, Libya has struggled to maintain steady output levels as protests and technical problems have cut deeply into production rates over the past year. In April, flows topped out at 1.55 million bpd, according to the deputy oil minister, who said Libya hoped to raise output even further by June or July, to 1.7 million bpd. This target now appears elusive as Libya struggles to deal with protests that have shut down two major oil export terminals and curbed flows from at least one major field, El Feel, a joint venture with Italy’s Eni. The solution at El Feel, which can pump up to 130,000 bpd and is in Libya’s southwest, has been to promise new operations including a refinery and an exploration firm in the region to create jobs. It is not yet clear whether this will be enough to dislodge protesters, who halted operations at the field at the end of May. At the oil exporting terminal of Zueitina, the situation may be more complicated as the port has been hit by protests several times since the revolution ended, and did not operate at all for about six weeks at the start of the year. Protesters there have also demanded jobs, but also want the firm to move its headquarters east from the capital Tripoli. (Reuters)
Libya Orders 350 BRDM, BVP-1 Armored Vehicles
The Libyan government and three defence equipment manufacturers from the Czech Republic have signed a deal for the supply of 350 BRDM amphibious and BVP-1 armoured vehicles. According to reports from the Czech capital Prague, the vehicles will be supplied in terms of a long standing bi-lateral defence co-operation agreement which has been re-activated following the lifting of the arms embargo against Libya in March this year, paving the way for the acquisition of ‘non- lethal’ military equipment for humanitarian or protective use, training and technical assistance. (…) “Illegal distribution of military material has been observed by the UN, for example. Ammunition is a sensitive commodity whose movement is very difficult to monitor. If it got into a country with an unstable regime or to terrorist groups, we would risk the reputation of not only our country, but also of our arms producers and other companies,” Czech Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Johana Grohova said. The Czech Republic was one of Libya’s biggest suppliers of military equipment during the rule of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi who died as the Libyan revolution ended in 2011. The country, which faces a serious security crisis with an increase in the number of Al Qaeda aligned jihadist groups, is presently rebuilding its army, air force, navy and police services with the help of partners including France, Italy, Turkey and the US. (Defence Web South Africa)
In Libya, Chaos is Taking a Toll on Freedom of Press, Speech
Shortly after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was toppled in 2011, a 31-year-old activist had a tattoo put on his arm with the date marking the start of the uprising and rebranded himself a journalist. He put down his gun and carried his cameras everywhere he went, reporting for a wire service. He captured photos of militias kidnapping police, soldiers and taking control of this city, the birthplace of the revolution. That is, until a month ago when he, too, was kidnapped for his work and held for hours, in what has become an epidemic against reporters here.
Since then, he’s stopped carrying his cameras; now he carries only a gun. In the early days of the uprising, “Gadhafi was targeting journalists. Now it is the Islamists,” said the journalist, who asked that he not be identified for fear he’d be kidnapped again for speaking out. The day he was abducted, “they surrounded our car. They were not wearing uniforms. They were wearing long gowns and beards.” The reasons for his kidnapping, he said, became clear within minutes: They didn’t like his dispatches. The first thing the kidnappers said was “you are a dirty Bedouin. You want federalism,” he said, a reference to the ongoing struggle here between whether Libya should have a strong central federal government or one in which regions largely govern themselves. With government-backed militias controlling the city and no judicial system to speak of, journalists in Libya have become easy targets. Journalists seen as aligned with those who want a more liberal Libya to emerge from the post-Gadhafi period say Islamists target them, while more conservative reporters say they fall victim to those retaliating against Islamists. Many have been threatened through anonymous phone calls, though none, it appears, has been killed. (McClatchy)
TV Channel Offices Attacked in Libya’s Benghazi
A bomb exploded outside a television station in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on 13 June, damaging a wall but causing no injuries, an employee said. The blast also created a large whole in the ground outside the Libya al-Hurra TV channel. Security officials were sent to secure the area. “We just heard a loud explosion and came outside to see. The front gate is damaged. We believe it was a bomb,” the employee told Reuters, adding that it was unclear how the attack was carried out. In October, dozens of demonstrators stormed and ransacked the station’s headquarters, protesting coverage of clashes in a former stronghold of ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi. In a statement in mid-June, the campaign group Reporters Without Borders said it was “extremely concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Libya and the behavior of certain militias towards media personnel. “Journalists have repeatedly been attacked, threatened or kidnapped by militias in recent months,” the statement said. (Reuters)
Bombs Destroy Police Station in Libya’s Benghazi
Bombs flattened a police station in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on 19 June but there were no casualties as the building had been emptied for repairs following previous attacks, security officials said. The al-Hadaiq station in downtown Benghazi was completely destroyed by explosives at around 0300 a.m. (0100 GMT). The blast was so loud it could be heard across the city. Smashed furniture littered the ground and nearby shopfronts were damaged.
“From the debris, it looks as if explosive devices were placed all around the building,” said Mohammed al-Hajazi, spokesman for Benghazi’s operation room. Last month the station was set on fire in a possible act of revenge for the killing of a man in an attack on police nearby. (Reuters)
Senior Libyan Judge Assassinated in Country’s East
Libya’s official news agency says unidentified militants assassinated a senior Libyan judge in an eastern city known to be a stronghold of Islamic militants. LANA quoted the head of the Court of Cassation in Green Mountain province, Abdel-Aziz al-Trabilsi, as saying Judge Mohammed Naguib was shot dead in a drive-by shooting in front of the courthouse. The killing took place in the eastern city of Derna, known to be dominated by hardline Islamic militias such as Ansar al-Shariah, which is suspected to have been behind the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. The violence underscores the instability that has rocked Libya after the overthrow and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. (USA Today, Associated Press)
Chaos, Islamist Threat Plague Libya’s Lawless Desert South
Sitting on cement blocks, surrounded by shisha pipes and machine guns, a dozen or so tribesmen guard a makeshift checkpoint outside the main city in Libya’s desert south. They are there to guard against smugglers and criminals, who have multiplied since Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall in the 2011 war. They also say they are ready to battle Islamist militants that Libya’s neighbors and Western nations fear are crossing the North African country’s porous borders. “If I hear al Qaeda is here, I will kill them. We know what happened in Mali and we won’t allow it here, even if we only have rifles,” Mohammed Wardi, 25, said as a war movie blasted from an old television nearby. “We are here to protect Libya.” A French-led military campaign this year broke Islamists’ hold over the northern two-thirds of Mali, killing hundreds of al Qaeda-linked fighters and pushing others into neighboring states like Niger and eventually Libya, security officials say. The men with Wardi are from the Tibu tribe, a black African ethnic group that also lives in Chad and Niger, which along with ill-trained tribal militias of former rebel fighters and a poorly-equipped national army are trying to maintain security in Libya’s southern desert hinterlands. The long-neglected region, with borders stretching more than 2,000 kms and home to major oil fields, has grown more lawless as the country’s new rulers – hundreds of miles away in Tripoli – struggle to impose order on a country awash with weapons. The south has seen rising violence, weapons and drug trafficking and an influx of illegal immigrants, leading the national assembly to declare the region a military zone, a decree the weak government has little power to enforce. “The south is dying and the government is ignoring us. Crime is rampant, there are tribal animosities, smuggling and we are worried that what is happening in Mali will spread here,” said a local government official, who declined to be identified. “We are free of Gaddafi but we are prisoners to chaos.” (Yahoo News, Reuters)
Libyan PM Asks Displaced Residents to Delay Return
Libya’s prime minister on 20 June told ethnic Africans forced to flee their homes during the country’s 2011 civil war to delay their planned return. The western town of Tawergha was used as a staging ground by forces loyal to ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi to attack the nearby city of Misrata. Anti-regime rebels later overran Tawergha and the town’s 40,000 residents fled or were driven out by vengeful rebels. Scores were thrown into jails, where human rights groups recorded cases of torture. Now the displaced residents live in harsh conditions in refugee camps in Tripoli and Benghazi. They had declared their intention to return on June 26, but Prime Minister Ali Zidan told a news conference that the time is not right yet. Many ex-rebels in Misrata continue to express anger against anyone from Tawergha. Zidan promised his government would do more to resolve the Tawergha residents’ problem. Also 20 June, Human Rights Watch urged judicial authorities in Libya to drop criminal charges against two politicians facing the death penalty for using election posters deemed offensive to Islam. Ali Tekbali and Fathi Sager from the National Libyan Party are charged with insulting religion, instigating sedition and harming national security. If convicted, they could face the death penalty. (Yahoo News, Associated Press)
Libya’s “Growing” Drugs/HIV Problem
Doctors in Libya say they are seeing a “growing” number of patients with drug problems and a corresponding risk of HIV infection, in a post-Gaddafi era marked by limited law enforcement and government capacity. “Every month more people come to us needing help,” said Abdullah Fannir, deputy director of Gargaresh psychiatric hospital in Tripoli. “It’s part of the fallout from the revolution. Border control is weak, making it easy for drug-traffickers, and there’s more demand as well. Hundreds of thousands of Libyans were displaced, wounded or bereaved during the uprising.” Doctors at Benghazi’s Al Irada drug addiction clinic, the only treatment centre of its kind in the country, say some of the most common addictions they have to treat are for Tramadol, a painkiller that stimulates the release of serotonin and can cause seizures, and heroin. With heroin has come HIV/AIDS. A report by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine published in April based on data collected in Tripoli before the uprising concluded that 87 percent of the city’s injecting drug users have HIV. That is the highest rate recorded anywhere in the world and compares to 2.6 percent in Tunis and 7.7 percent in Cairo. (IRIN News)
Pitbull Songs, Guns, and Cinnabon in Libya
The country is opening up to Western influence after decades in isolation. The recent changes there are both dramatic and amusing.
There are no nightclubs, bars, or bachelor pads in Tripoli, so many young men celebrate the weekend by driving around women-free streets in late-model cars, drinking smuggled top-shelf alcohol, and moving to the tunes of Tupac and khamsen girsh (50 Cent) playing on Tribute FM, Libya’s first English-language radio station, which founded just three months after the start of the February 17 revolution. After the civil war and decades of isolation, Libya has begun to open to the world and its influences, from the English language to new ideas about political participation and the role of women in society. Libya, a country whose shores lie in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea — that crossroads of cultures — was not just closed politically during the four-decades-long reign of now-dead strongman Muammar Qaddafi. The country, long considered a “pariah state” because of Qaddafi’s connections to terrorism and public revulsion of the West, was simply isolated from the outside world. The other North African Arab Spring states of Tunisia and Egypt, unlike Libya, were significantly connected to the global economy and open to foreign visitors, and they saw greater international movement of their own citizens beyond persons fleeing political repression and visits to border states. A hermetic dictatorship since 1969, Libya’s recent opening is a unique occasion. (…) Comparing Libya to other Arab states I have visited, the culture is remarkably conservative, and not just religiously. It is no doubt connected to years of isolation and officially sponsored suspicion of outsiders. (The Atlantic)