On February 7th 2014, cities all over Libya erupted in protest to deliver one collective message to the General National Congress: GTFO.
A week later, Khalifa Heftar delivered a speech where he reiterated the same message a little more emphatically: The GNC must be suspended as elections are held to replace them.
Since Heftar is a military man, the international media spun this as: Holy Crap MILITARY COUP IN LIBYA!!!
This caused the GNC to emerge from their slumber and announce that they rejected the coup and that Heftar was under arrest (hahaha), before slipping back into redundancy.
The general reaction of the Libyan people was to chuckle at the military-less coup and crack a few jokes, before resuming their protest against the GNC.
However, in the most recent Friday demonstrations in Eastern Libya, there was a new element present; pictures of Khalifa Heftar being held up by protesters.
As surprising as it was to many, it did not garner as much shock as the actual Heftar standing among the protesters, declaring that any member of the GNC who stepped foot in Eastern Libya’s airports must be arrested.
Wowza. And you’d think our problems couldn’t get any more complicated.
So, what is the reason behind this sudden Heftar-mania? For a man who’s been branded a traitor, a CIA agent and all-around uncool dude, he sure is pretty popular.
It would help to understand this surge of support by contrasting it to the utter loathing and disgust by the people towards the ineffectual GNC. This week alone in Benghazi there were at least 4 confirmed assassinations, and the interior ministry building was bombed. The government can’t even protect itself, let alone it’s citizens.
So why Heftar? Unlike Basit Igtet, who seemingly dropped in out of nowhere, Heftar is a familiar face. Fleeing Gadhafi’s regime after the failed war in Chad, Heftar helped contribute to the armed resistance against the tyrannical regime during the Libyan revolution. He has the support of his tribe, and shares in the mutual opposition of the GNC with the people.
However, his support is present in Barqa (Eastern Libya). The marginalization of this region coupled with the violence and threats of terrorism has made the people here desperate for any sort of action that may bring with it the possibility of security.
In Western Libya he is viewed with a mixture of suspicion, anger and exasperation. He is seen as a threat to the already shaky stability. But for Barqa, where stability has long ago been thrown out the window, he’s a glimmer of hope.
That’s not to say that everyone in Barqa supports him. The same misgivings from the West have also been echoed here. His followers are few and far in between, although their number is increasing. And increase they will, if no better alternative shows up.
As for me personally, I am indifferent to the political scene in Libya at the moment. I shall remain apathetic until I can get my blood pressure down.