Citizens of Derna, Libya responding to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's address by EnoughGaddafi
Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Khaim, has reportedly told European Union ambassadors in Tripoli that al-Qaeda has set up an Islamic emirate in Derna in Eastern Libya. He allegedly said a former Guantanamo Bay detainee is heading the emirate.
Residents in Derna deny this has happened. Al Jazeera posted this exclusive with the "man accused by the Libyan government of leading an Islamist emirate in Derna, Libya." Abdul Hakeem Al Hasadi said reports of an "emirate" were the result of pure propaganda and said the Gaddafi is circulating this propaganda because he is a former political prisoner:
"I am, Abdul Hakeem Al Hasadi, a Libyan citizen and a former political prisoner. I would like to read the following statement in response to lies made by Dictator Gaddafi and his propaganda machine. I tell them that I am one of the participants in the revolution of Feb 17th along with the youth and people of Derna against the corrupt regime of Gaddafi.
"Gaddafi is trying to divide the people of the nation. He claims that there is an Islamist Emirate in Derna and that I am its Emir. He is taking advantage from the fact that I am a former political prisoner."
Despite the fact that this may not be true, prepare for this latest report from a Libyan official to become a self-perpetuating thread in the story of the Libyan revolution. To get ahead of the propaganda, it is worthwhile to add some useful context to this. Let's consider what Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Leader Muammar Gaddafi have said since the uprising began (and the various WikiLeaks cables from Libya which we have available).
In Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's address to the people of Libya on February 21, he spoke about his fear that an Islamic emirate would be established not in Derna but in Bayda. He said, "The British FM called me. Be ready for a new colonial period from American and Britain. You think they will accept an Islamic Emirate here, 30 minutes from Crete? The West will come and occupy you. Europe & the West will not agree to chaos in Libya, to export chaos and drugs so they will occupy us."
Days later, in an address that ran on Libya State TV on February 24, Leader Muammar Gaddafi claimed al-Qaeda is responsible, that Libyans are being manipulated by Osama bin Laden, and that they were under the influence of drugs.
It seems like the Gaddafi regime and those who remain loyal to the regime that is now isolated and barracked in Tripoli are seeking to paint the revolution as something al Qaeda is fueling. The Gaddafi family is likely aware of how fearful Western countries are of any unrest morphing into an Islamic revolution. During the Egypt uprising, US and European officials and Western media openly wondered whether democracy would lead to an Islamist state run by the Muslim Brotherhood or some other similar group.
The people of Libya have suffered through fighter jets shelling protesters and foreign mercenaries targeting dissidents fueling the uprising. The reaction of the international community especially in Europe and the US has been muted. Has the response from Western powers been muted because they don't want to take a chance that they might end up aiding the rise of a revolution that could be linked to the very Islamic extremism they have been fighting against for nearly a decade now?
The city of Derna, which is ninety-three and a half kilometers east of Bayda, and, more broadly, the eastern Libya region is reported on in a few Embassy Tripoli cables released over the last months. These cables show the State Department has kept tabs on Islamists in Libya, especially ones believed to be engaged in terrorism.
Derna is described in one cable as a wellspring for foreign fighters who are heading off to fight coalition forces in Iraq. Gaddafi's link to the US is alleged to be fueling the radicalization of young Libyans in the area. The cable quotes a Libyan "interlocutor," who likens the young men in Derna to "Bruce Willis' character in the action picture "Die Hard'" because, for them, "resistance against coalition forces in Iraq is an important act of 'jihad' and a last act of defiance against the Qadhafi regime." The interlocutor suggests many of them refuse to die quietly.
In comparison to Bayda and other cities like Benghazi, Derna is described as a city that has suffered greatly under the Gaddafi regime:
Benghazi and other parts of eastern Libya had benefited in the last several years from increased government patronage, Derna continued to "suffer from neglect". Citing an indeterminate grudge between Libya's former monarch, King Idriss al-Sanussi, and leading citizens of Derna, xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed that Derna had long been the victim of a deliberate government campaign to keep it poor. He compared Derna's plight to the fortunes of another conservative eastern Libyan town, Bayda. While Bayda had been the summer retreat for King Idriss and was initially shunned in the early years of Qadhafi's rule, its fortunes changed after Qadhafi married Sadia Farkhis, daughter of a prominent citizen of the town. The government subsequently established the Omar al-Mukhtar University in what had been the royal palace and sited a number of government-owned enterprises there. By contrast, Derna had not benefited from any such measures.
The neighborhood of Baab al-Shiha, a "district from which a large number of the Libyan foreign fighters identified in documents captured during September's Objective Massey operation in Iraq had hailed," is described. Of interest in the "lower-middle class neighborhood" is the "number of small, discrete mosques tucked away in side alleys," which are part of a "profusion of "popular mosques'" that has "complicated effective monitoring by security forces."
In 08TRIPOLI120 , which appears to be a cable that immensely influenced the previous cable, US diplomat Chris Stevens comments, "[The] ability of radical imams to propagate messages urging support for and participation in jihad despite GOL security organizations' efforts suggests that claims by senior GOL officials that the east is under control may be overstated."
The cable describes frequent references to "martyrdom" by imams in the mosques in Benghazi and Derna:
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