- Global Voices - https://globalvoices.org -

Libya: Gaddafi Wages War on the Internet as Trouble Brews at Home

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Breaking News, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Politics, Protest

This post is part of our special coverage of Libya Uprising 2011 [1].

Libyan leader Muammar Al Gaddafi managed to offend both Tunisians and netizens from across the world wide web in his address to the Tunisian people, following the fall of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime. With trouble brewing at home and Libyans taking to the Internet to vent off, could Gaddafi be foreseeing his doom as a “victim of Facebook and YouTube”?

Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi [2]

Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi, photo from Wikimedia Commons by Jim Gordon (CC-BY 2.0)

In a televised address, he regretted [3] the end of Ben Ali's 23-year rule, saying that he had hoped the Tunisian dictator would continue to run Tunisia “for life.”

Gaddafi, who has headed Libya since 1970, also brushed off cyber-activism as “lies” [4] fabricated by drunkards and netizens high on drugs, describing the Internet as a “vacuum cleaner,” that had the capacity suck everything.

The Internet, he added, was a tool created by “them” – to ridicule “us.”

In his address he said:

حتى أنتم إخواني التوانسة ، ربما أنكم تقرؤون في الكلينكس هذا ، والكلام الفارغ في الإنترنت . وهذا الإنترنت ، الذي أي واحد أهبل ؛ يسكر ويحط فيه أي كلام ، هل تصدقه !. الإنترنت هذا مثل الكناسة التي ترمي فيها أي حاجة ، فأي واحد تافه ؛ أي واحد كذاب ؛ أي واحد سكران ؛ أي واحد مخمور ؛ واحد شارب الأفيون ؛ يقدر يقول أي كلام في الإنترنت ، وأنتم تقرؤونه وتصدقونه .. هذا كلام بدون فلوس.. هل نصبح نحن ضحية لـ «فيسبوك» وضحية «الكلينكس « وضحية «يوتيوب»!، نصبح ضحية الأدوات التي صنعوها هم لكي يضحكوا بأمزجتنا !..
Even you, my Tunisian brothers. You may be reading this Kleenex and empty talk on the Internet.
This Internet, which any demented person, any drunk can get drunk and write in, do you believe it? The Internet is like a vacuum cleaner, it can suck anything. Any useless person; any liar; any drunkard; anyone under the influence; anyone high on drugs; can talk on the Internet, and you read what he writes and you believe it. This is talk which is for free. Shall we become the victims of “Facebook” and “Kleenex”* and “YouTube”! Shall we become victims to tools they created so that they can laugh at our moods?
*Kleenex is Gaddafi's reference to Wikileaks

Writing from Boston, Jillian C York notes [5]:

So, while Qaddafi may not be taken seriously, any overtures he makes toward the Internet’s dangers could be well-taken by regional leaders. As we’ve seen with Tunisia (and Iran), this matters…and it doesn’t. Tunisians were operating under a strictly censored Internet, and yet still managed to disseminate information across a variety of social networks. On the other hand, any stakes a government can drive through its net-enabled civil society, it will.

She continues:

Qaddafi sees Tunisian Internet usage during the uprising as an American conspiracy (which I would state very strongly, it is not – such a suggestion is offensive to the large and longstanding Tunisian blogging and social media community).

On Twitter, the mood is that Gaddafi spoke out of turn, catapulting Libya to the forefront of online discussions, especially since Libyan netizens are starting to vent off about troubles of their own online – using the very same tools their leader predicted would make victims out of them.

Libyan Ghazi Gheblawi observes [6]:

Speaking to many Libyan intellectuals, activists and bloggers, all are upset of #Gaddafi [7] ‘s speech about #Tunisia [8] , most r disgusted

Libyana Americana notes [9]:

#Gaddafi is so sad about “Zine” being gone…he misses his friend…

Egyptian columnist Mona Eltahawy weighs in: [10]

Gotta hand it to #Gaddafi [7] though – no other #Arab [11] dictator is mad enough to give a speech about #Tunisia [8] revolution.

And she adds [12]:

#BenAli [13] told #US [14] that #Gaddafi [7] “not a normal person”, which explains why Gaddafi told #Tunisians [15] in speech Saturday that BenAli best leader.


Tunisian Haykel Azak reminds us [16]:

It's always a pleasure listening to #Gaddafi [7] speak because you never know what shit will come flying out of that mouth http://bit.ly/huSYxm [17]

And Kuwait-based Aya Kabbara asks [18]:

@CNN [19] are the rumors true? Are producers working on a #gaddafi [20] documentary in anticipation of his fall? #libya [21]

Egyptian Ayman Shweky remarks [22]:

ليبيا بالعالم العربى كدولة البانيا البدائية بقلب اوربا لا دستور لا قانون لا برلمان لا اعلام مفيش فير الاخ القائد #Gaddafi [7] #sidibouzid [23] #Libya [24]
Libya in the Arab world is like primitive Albania in the heart of Europe – no constitution, no law, no parliament, no media. There is nothing there other than the Comrade Commander

Yazeed, from Saudi Arabia, jokes [25]:

القذافي يعلن اقفال جميع محلات الخضار في ليبيا
وينصح المواطنين بشراء الخضروات المعلبة
خوفاً من ظهور شبيه للبوعزيزي .
#Gaddafi [7]
#Libya [24]
Urgent: Gaddafi orders the closure of all grocery stores in Libya and advises citizens to buy canned vegetables out of fear of the appearance of a copycat Bouazizi

And Razan Saffour, from London, UK, notes [26]:

goodness, I can't believe #Gaddafi [7] is a president. He is an actual JOKE.

From the UAE, Mishaal Al Gergawi observes [27]:

Looks like that Gaddafi speech wasn't that effective after all.

And Jordanian Tololy concludes [28]:

Ah so it WAS Gaddafi who inadvertently sparked the protests in #Libya [24] through a speech! http://tinyurl.com/4devwv3 [29] (Arabic) #Irony [30]

Meanwhile, information is seeping slowly out of Libya about unrest. Just like it was in neighbouring Tunisia, the war is on on the Internet in Libya, with news of websites being hacked.

On Al Bab, Brian Whitaker remarks [31]:

Just two days after the overthrow of President Ben Ali in Tunisia, videos are circulating of disturbances in neighbouring Libya. Needless to say, this is causing a good deal of excitement on Twitter.

He continues:

Almanara, a Libyan opposition website which appears to have Islamist leanings, has posted three videos [32] of protesters in the city of al-Bayda. There are also a few more [33] on YouTube and al-Jazeera has a report [34] in Arabic.
The facts are still rather unclear, but Almanara says the demonstrators clashed with security forces, threw stones at a government building and set fire to one of its offices. The protesters were demanding “decent housing and dignified life”, according to the website. Provision of housing appears to be the main issue and there are reports of people taking over apartments and squatting in them.

Today, Whitaker brings us more news. He writes [35]:

Yesterday, I noted [31] that a Libyan opposition website, Almanara, had posted videos showing disturbances in Libya during the last few days. After that, something odd happened: the website disappeared. Trying to access Almanara this morning, I simply got an error message [36].
Conceivably this could be just a technical glitch, but I suspect not. A YouTube video [33] of the protests, which I linked to at the same time, has also disappeared and there are claims on Twitter that access to social networking websites inside Libya is being blocked. Another Libyan website, Libya Almostakbal, reports [37] that it has been attacked twice since Friday.
Several copies of the videos, which I didn't link to yesterday, are still available on the internet. I won't provide links to them all, but here is one of them [38] – just to see what happens to it.
The protests themselves have not been reported in the official Libyan media, apart from a statement from the Revolutionary Committee condemning them.
Meanwhile, the cause of the trouble is becoming clearer. It's about delays in providing subsidised housing, and since Thursday activists in several towns have taken over hundreds of empty properties.

This post is part of our special coverage of Libya Uprising 2011 [1].