In Tripoli, Muammar Gaddafi Surrounds Himself With Loyal Core

The Libyan leader is gearing up for what might be his last stand, counting on sons and loyalists to lead the way.

Muammar Gaddafi (open democracy)
Muammar Gaddafi (open democracy)
Pierre Prier

Muammar Gaddafi and his closest circle of followers are believed to hunkering down in the barracks of Bab el-Azizia in Tripoli, preparing to lead their final assault. Many of the group are family members of the self-proclaimed Guide of the Revolution's, others are friends who have remained faithful to him for the past 30 years.

First, there is Khamis, 29, the youngest of Gaddafi's sons. As Commander of Special Forces (in which he is assisted by Mansour Daou, who is also present) he directs the praetorian guard, the last bulwark of the regime. Extremely well trained and well armed, this force is capable of inflicting significant damage, provided that its members do not defect.

Two other sons stand in the barracks with the Guide. Seif al-Islam, who has hitherto assumed the public face of the regime, and once campaigned for the adoption of a Constitution. However, his threatening comments this week have eliminated any hope that he may soften again. He is specifically charged with recapturing the youth of Libya, whom he purports to represent. He is flanked by his brother Muatassim Billah, President of the Security Council, who oversees the country's security and intelligence services. Like Seif al-Islam, he is sometimes viewed as a possible successor to his father.

Then there is Abdallah al-Sanusi, brother in-law to Muammar Gaddafi, and in charge of foreign intelligence and terrorism abroad. In June of 1998, a French court sentenced him in absentia to life in prison for organizing an attack against a DC-10 UTA over Niger in September 1989. A compensation agreement was later reached between the Gaddafi Foundation and the association of victims.

Beside him stands Musa Kusa, formerly the director of foreign intelligence, who is now foreign minister and is the most recent of Gaddafi's advisors to have had contact with the West. Since 2004, he has been responsible for supplying the West with Libyan intelligence and dossiers in the fight against terrorism. He has a dark past. In the 1980s, he organized the killing of several political opponents abroad. He was sent as an ambassador to Britain for this purpose alone, and was quickly expelled from the country.

Finally, another important member of this inner circle is Bashir Salah Bashir, special secretary to Muammar Gaddafi, who is an ethnic Toubou from the south of Libya. However, this Francophone African is much more than a secretary. For a while, he was in charge of Libyan investments in Africa. Today, he is more specifically tasked with recruiting mercenaries from the country's allies in Africa.

The urgency of the current situation seems to have silenced, for now at least, the intense rivalries that normally stir within this small group of loyalists. A diplomatic cable recently revealed by Wikileaks lists a number of Libyan officials who have been dismissed or exiled for being too closely embroiled in the affairs of Gaddafi's inner circle. Like the president of the national oil company, who "resigned" after refusing to transfer $ 1.2 million to Muatassim so that he could create his own personal guard. Also according to Wikileaks, a business associate and longtime financial advisor of Seif al-Islam was forced into exile in January, as a way of controlling Seif's influence.

Experts in Libyan affairs wonder if this coalition of enemy brothers can last. In any case, this small circle continues to shrink. Yesterday, a close friend of Gaddafi announced his defection. Before that, Gaddafi's cousin, Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, who is a top security official, announced that he had left Libya for Egypt "out of protest," condemning the country's "grave violations of human rights and international law."

The barracks where the remaining diehards are closing ranks around Gaddafi is on the outskirts of Tripoli. It is a huge complex, well-protected by a double ring of high walls that encloses the heart of Libyan power: the office of Muammar Gaddafi, which is simply furnished and decorated with a large map of Africa. It overlooks a grassy courtyard where two camels graze - they provide the Guide's daily milk. On one side of the courtyard, a tent remains pitched at all times. This is where Gaddafi spends his summers. On the other side are the ruins of his house, which was bombed in 1986 by US air strikes. The structure is kept in this state as a memorial, and is decorated with a sculpture of a fist crushing an American plane. This is where Gaddafi gave one of his rambling speeches this week.

The site may very well contain underground bunkers. On the surface, it is clear that the tent hides a concrete frame. Muammar Gaddafi himself is protected by a bulletproof vest worn at all times under his clothes. And if his turban appears rigid, it's because it contains a Kevlar helmet.

Outside the barracks, the city of Tripoli remains tense. Many people remained holed up at home, scared of being targeted by planes or helicopters, or by armed thugs who threaten to reign with terror. The corpses of several helicopter pilots who refused to fire on the crowd have already been found alongside the airport road.

Read the original article in French

Photo credit - (open democracy)

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Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."

Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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