Political Unrest in the Middle East Grips Libya
- Libya Main Page
- Muammar al-Qaddafi Comes to Power and Militarizes Libya
- Libya Changes Course on Weapons
- Political Unrest in the Middle East Grips Libya
- Qaddafi Is Killed in His Hometown
- Libya Holds First Post-Qaddafi Election
- Four Americans Killed in a Terrorist Attack on U.S. Consulate
- New Government Faces Challenges
- Top al-Qaeda Operative Captured
- Parliament Dismisses Prime Minister Over Theft of Oil; Battling Between Rival Militias Creates Instability
- U.S. Catches Suspect in Consulate Attack
- Militant Groups Form Arm of ISIS; Beheads Several Egyptians and Ethiopians
- Hundreds Die During the 2015 Migrant Crisis; Qaddafi's Son Sentenced to Death
Political Unrest in the Middle East Grips Libya
Anti-government demonstrations gripped several countries in the Middle East in early 2011, and protests in Libya followed those in Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain. The crackdown by the government in Libya, however, was the most vicious. The protesters took to the streets on Feb. 16 in Benghazi, the country's second-largest city, demanding that Qaddafi step down. The next day, declared the Day of Rage, saw the number of demonstrations burgeon throughout the country. Security forces began firing on protesters, and by Feb. 20 Human Rights Watch estimated that as many as 200 people had been killed by troops. Several government officials and diplomats defected, and members of the military joined the ranks of the opposition as the government attacks on civilians grew increasingly brutal. Some reports had fatalities numbering near 1,000 or more. Qaddafi refused to resign, but offered to double the salaries of public workers and freed some Islamic militants from jail. Protesters dismissed the move as a hollow gesture and continued their actions throughout the country. Qaddafi enlisted the help of mercenaries as the number of defections by troops swelled. He cast blame for the uprising on the West, which he claimed wants to assume control of Libya's oil, and Islamic radicals who want to expand their base.
On Feb. 27, the UN Security Council voted to impose sanctions on Qaddafi and several of his close advisers. The sanctions included an arms embargo on Libya, a travel ban on Qaddafi and other leaders, and the freezing of Qaddafi's assets. The Security Council also requested that the International Criminal Court investigate reports of "widespread and systemic attacks" on citizens. The UN sanctions followed unilateral action by the U.S., and the European Union also sanctioned Libya. By Feb. 28, rebels had taken control of Benghazi and Misurata and were closing in on Tripoli. The rebels organized a military and formed an executive committee, the Transitional National Council, illustrating that they could establish a transitional government if given the opportunity. The Libyan Air Force and security forces, however, attacked the rebels from both the air and the ground, weakening the rebellion and wresting control of rebel-held towns, including Zawiya and Zuwara, cities west of Tripoli, and Ajdabiya in the east. The rebels fought on, clinging to the rebel stronghold—and capital—of Benghazi, but Qaddafi's forces continued their march toward the city, attacking from both the ground and the air. The rebels, outnumbered, poorly armed, and inexperienced, seemed on the brink of defeat.
As the assault on rebel areas by Qaddafi's troops intensified, the Arab League turned to the international community for assistance. On March 17, the UN Security Council approved a resolution that authorized military action against Libya, including air strikes, missile attacks, and a no-fly zone, and two days later, Britain and France led a military action against Libya, launching attacks from the air and sea on Libya's air defenses. The U.S. participated in the action, but did not initiate it. Qaddafi railed against the intervention, calling it "a colonial crusader aggression that may ignite another large-scale crusader war." By March 21, the mission to implement a no-fly zone over Libya and cripple its air defenses was considered a success. In early April, two of Qaddafi's sons, Seif and Saadi, put forth a proposal in which their father would step down and allow the country to transition toward a constitutional democracy. The move would be managed by Seif. The rebels rejected the offer, and Qaddafi never fully endorsed the plan.
NATO took over control of the air strikes, which continued for weeks, and by May the rebels gained ground and momentum in cities in both the east and west of the country. Qaddafi refused to participate in talks mediated by South African president Jacob Zuma. In June, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son, Saif al-Islam, and his intelligence chief, Abdulla al-Senussi. They were charged crimes against humanity for the attacks on civilians in the first two weeks of the revolt.
In July, the U.S. and 30 other countries officially recognized the Transitional National Council (TNC) as Libya's government and gave the council access to the $30 billion in Libyan assests that had been frozen by the U.S. Later in the month, the council's military leader, Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes, was killed by fellow rebel soldiers. Younes, a former interior minister under Qaddafi, never gained the trust of the rebel movement and some questioned his loyalty.
In August 2011, rebel fighters opposing Qaddafi made progress on several fronts. They seized Zawiyah and gained control of the city's oil refinery. Zawiyah, a port city just 31 miles west of Tripoli, was a key gain. Rebel forces soon advanced into Tripoli and foreigners tried to flee the city. On August 21, with the rebels meeting little resistance from loyalists, residents in Tripoli took to the streets to celebrate the end of Qaddafi's 42 years in power. Two days later, rebels seized Qaddafi's compound. Qaddafi and his family fled and remained at large. Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the TNC and Qaddafi's former justice minister, became the country's leader and the rebels began transferring their administration from Benghazi to Tripoli.