February’s Rehearsal: Gaddafi Contains Popular Housing Crisis, Fails ‘Uprising’ Test

February’s Rehearsal: Gaddafi Contains Popular Housing Crisis, Fails ‘Uprising’ Test

Friday, 16 February, 2018 - 10:30
London - Camille Taweel
This month marks the seventh anniversary of the “February 17 uprising” in Libya. The famous uprising did not come out of nowhere. But late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has failed to contain it, although he had successfully dealt with a previous similar case of spontaneous movement that almost spiraled out of control.
 
Many may not remember this “rehearsal”, which took place only months before the February uprising. Its aftermath was not over when the so-called “Arab Spring” revolutions arose and overthrew the regimes of Tunisia and Egypt, Libya’s neighbors to the west and east.
 
The story dates back to mid-2010, when the Libyan Colonel was visiting the city of Sabha, the stronghold of his supporters in the south of the country. As he was preparing to give a public speech, he was surprised by some of the attendees belonging to an impoverished neighborhood, who went directly to him to complain about their problems.
 
They said that their land - where they used to live in dilapidated houses or in shanty shacks - was taken from them with the aim of building a housing project by the state, provided that they would acquire new houses after the completion of the project. According to their complaint, the houses were built, but they were not allowed to live there. Instead, the apartments were given to other people.
 
Gaddafi, without consulting his aides, apparently rushed to ask the protesters to “creep” into the public apartments and regain their own rights, since the land was theirs, and the state had originally promised to provide them with new houses.
 
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Naaman ben Othman, who used to work for the  “Tomorrow Project”, led by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, said that Col. Gaddafi  “spontaneously acted after hearing the details of their case, and without reviewing the government, he told them: 'As long as they (the officials of the municipality of Sabha) drove you out of your land, the houses are your right... Go and get them back.’ As soon as Gaddafi left, the masses began to crawl on the residential buildings.”
 
The story, which began in Sabha, quickly proliferated to residential construction projects throughout Libya, and reached Tripoli, causing major chaos in the country.

 Ben Othman, president of the Quilliam International Anti-Extremism Foundation, explains what happened at the time. Some housing projects had been partly completed when events broke out in February 2011. “Saif al-Islam had something to do with these projects through the pressure he exerted on the state to provide half a million new homes, giving priority to the young generation.”
 
“At the beginning of the crisis, Gaddafi ordered the central security forces not to remove anyone from an apartment or property where they live illegally, but shortly after, he asked them to start evacuating the illegal residents, but without violence or force,” Ben Othman said.
 
The regime resorted to the prosecution and the police, but all this was done quietly until the wave of occupation of the houses was over.
 
However, the case had almost ended when the Bouazizi incident broke out in neighboring Tunisia. A popular revolt overthrew the rule of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in early 2011, followed by the January Revolution, which also overthrew the rule of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
 
Although the “rehearsal of popular housing” has been successfully completed by Gaddafi, its repercussions and investigations have shown, as Ben Othman reveals, that the popular movement was “not spontaneous,” and that many parties were involved.
 
“It is true that people wanted houses, but there are those who guided them at a certain moment,” according to Ben Othman.

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