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Since December 2010, a wave of protest has swept the ‘Arab World’, bringing radical reform, revolution and apparent regime change. From Algeria to Oman, on the streets of Cairo, Damascus and Sana’a, the uprisings have, with varying levels of success, expressed the will of the people to end the repressive political orders which dominated the region for decades.
Of all the sites of this ‘Arab Spring’, the Mediterranean state of Libya has seen the greatest loss of life (Associated Press, 23 Jun ), during a seven month rebellion where peaceful protest has escalated into civil war. In a country where the repressive government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has exerted a form of brutal ‘direct democracy’ for over forty years, a popular uprising has met with national and international support, and has succeeded in establishing an alternative government in the eastern city of Benghazi (BBC News, Jul 28). At the time of writing, pro-Gadaffi forces have been largely defeated, and are in ‘control’ of just two cities; Bani Walid and Sirte. Gadaffi’s whereabouts remain unknown (Associated Press, 26 Sep).
Throughout the uprising and subsequent conflict, a dominant narrative has arisen of a Libya divided between East and West, of dictator stronghold and rebel outposts, and of regions of ancient difference fused by colonial machinations. With the base of the rebel National Transition Council (NTC) in the east and the western capital Tripoli still under Gaddafi’s control, international observers have been quick to identify a ‘natural’ geographic, social and political division at the heart of the conflict. Given this apparent bifurcation, a de facto partition of Libya, between the historic regions of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, has been posited by ‘experts’, journalists and politicians as a possible or desirable outcome of the 2011 Libyan Civil War. In contrast, domestic researchers and campaigners suggest that Libyans overwhelmingly support a united future for the country, and that any partition would take place for reasons of international political expediency rather than through the will of the Libyan people.
Following an introduction to the historical relationship between the Libyan regions, this paper will examine the territoriality of the current unrest, and specifically the prospects for partition. A ‘reflective diary’ of key events in the conflict, as documented by international media outlets, will allow for a focused if necessarily subjective analysis of commentary by experts and policy makers, along with their professed opinions for the future of Libya.
In a subsequent discussion of this qualitative research, the argument will be made that Libyan and international commentators have fallen into the ‘Territorial Trap’, a critique of normative conceptions of the territorial state first posited by John Agnew in 1994 (Reid-Henry, 2010). Those who have supported and developed the concept, which argues against a prevailing view of societies as prone to coalesce in historically fixed territorial units, point to its utility in analysing non-state polities (McConnell, 2010) and critiquing modes of thinking about sovereignty, division and unity akin to those introduced above (Elden, 2010; Murphy, 2010). To support the territorial trap argument, recent, home-grown Libyan research on public perceptions of unity will be introduced and evaluated, along with accounts of social, cultural and functional links between the old administrative regions.
The paper will conclude with a discussion on the content of the reflective diary, and the application of Agnew’s concept to the Libyan conflict. While the ongoing nature of the conflict in question provides limitations to academic enquiry, that same currency has created an area of study lacking in geopolitical research (Elbabour, 14 May), and a discursive environment germane to qualitative analysis and consideration.
The Territorial Trap
The ‘Territorial Trap’ is the name of a concept advanced and developed by Agnew (1994 originally), in which he addressed recurrent assumptions about the nation state in International Relations research; namely that national territory is a secure and fixed unit of sovereignty, that domestic and foreign politics are entirely separate, and that the territory of a given state is a suitable ‘container’ for its society.
By ‘falling into’ the trap, Agnew suggested that scholars risked missing the very real connections between states and territories, which can in turn be affected by the ‘bounded’ nature of the territories in question. In expounding the concept, he placed great emphasis on historical perspective, suggesting that if states are interconnected and constitutive of one another, their very existence, ‘shape’ and relationships between them must be historically contingent.
The territorial trap was a call for alternative geopolitical visions to be developed, and in the 17 years since its publication, researchers in critical geopolitics have interpreted it in a number of ways, “from notions of geopolitical ordering to identities, from sovereignty to political economy” (Newman, 2010). Nonetheless, each development has had in common Agnew’s call for an understanding of “the historical relationship between territorial states and the broader social and economic structures and geopolitical order …in which [they] must operate.”
It is with this in mind that Reid-Henry (2010) warns: “if we are to avoid falling into the territorial trap we must also take into account how ideas about the state are themselves an element of state construction” (emphasis added). With regard to Libya in 2011,this warning is particularlyapposite – time and again during the conflict, commentators, ‘experts’, politicians and journalists have presented the state and territory of Libya as an ‘artificial’ one, made prone to division and conflict by its very ontology.
This paper will suggest that complacent presentation of Libya as an ‘unnatural’ entity has, particularly in the middle stages of the 2011 Libyan Civil War, risked a de facto or eventual de jure partition of that state. Such an outcome, it is suggested, runs contrary to the wishes of most Libyan people and is founded on an Orientalist historical narrative of a fragmented tribal country.
Addressing the British House of Commons in London on April 26 2011, four weeks after NATO had begun enforcing a UN-backed no-fly-zone over Libya, ‘Father of the House’ Sir Peter Tapsell MP exemplified the approach in question:
“… it may be over-optimistic to assume that the civil war in Libya will cease when Colonel Gaddafi departs the scene. As [the house] knows, the estrangement of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica dates back to the Punic wars, which is why in 1946 Ernest Bevin wanted to restore Mussolini’s single Libya to its two historic entities. Moreover … we could impose an immediate partition on the country by air power alone. That would enable us to remove by sea those rebels on the coastal strip who found themselves on the wrong side of the dividing line, before they were massacred by the inland tribes.”
(Hansard, 26 April: Column 1)
Sir Peter’s apologue falls into the territorial trap in several ways. By asserting that the historical regions of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica have been ‘estranged’ since the Punic Wars (264 BCE to 146 BCE) he failed to account for myriad changes in Libya’s internal and external boundaries in the two millennia since (see A Brief History of Unity and Division). His reference to “Mussolini’s single Libya” makes a similar mistake, suggesting that the Italian colonialists’ decision to merge the state represented a radical change in the historical structure of Libya which, as shall be argued below, it did not. Vitally, this erroneous evocation of the classical past fails to account for the non -Westphalian (and possibly apocryphal, see Fig. 1) nature of the ‘border’ between the two ‘entities’ in the first place.
Finally, Sir Peter’s suggestion that Libyans might find themselves on the ‘wrong side of the dividing line’ has not, at the time of his speech or since, been borne out by experience on the ground (see Reflective Diary). His suggestion that NATO forces move rebels to the ‘correct’ side to avoid murderous southern tribes shows little or no appreciation of the rebels’ clear unificatory objectives (NTC, 10 Mar; BBC News, 12 Apr), and is couched in an Orientalist fear of tribalism which also has not been vindicated.
The excerpt above is an extreme example, but reflects an almost universal mode of mainstream thinking in the West about Libya’s regions in the 2011 civil war. As the conflict has unfolded, commentators on the Left and the Right have pointed to Libya’s supposed inherent division as a means of explaining the violence (Cockburn, 2 Apr; The Guardian, 4 Jul). This study will argue that, rather than an uprising against a brutal dictatorship, the months of fighting have been presented as a product of polarising tribalism, colonialism, demography and geography. As Jahshan (13 Jul, p.122) writes of the ‘Arab Spring’ in general:
“…the Western world has suddenly found itself, paradoxically, confronted with a face hitherto unknown and, by the same token, tacitly rejected: that of the strong, upright, fighting, and secular Arab – qualities, [as were told by Edward Said] that are unfortunately not associated with the ‘Oriental’.”
Running contrary to the dominant ‘western’ narrative of a divided Libya, domestic researchers have highlighted unifying factors in the country’s past and present. Elbabour (14 May) describes Libya as being among the most “culturally homogenous” African states:
“There is no lack of effective national unity in Libya. This unity has been formally initiated by Independence and subsequently preserved by astute political awareness on the part of the citizens and a deep sense of common destiny… people all over the liberated regions of the country are… sounding their voices in peaceful demonstrations: “Libya is one nation, one clan, one family”…the myth of tribalism exists only in the mind of the dictator and his few deceived followers.”
To support his argument, Elbabour points toward ‘functional and social links’ which span Libya’s furthest territorial reaches. He argues that in the centuries since Libya’s ancient cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, Misurata, and Derna were established through to the present day, each urban centre has been a node in network of interdependence.
From the agricultural pastoralists and nomads of the past to oil workers of the 20th and 21st centuries, Libyan communities, families and industries rely on cross-country linkages: “Cities and towns of different sizes, nested into an orderly hierarchy of central places”, Elbabour asserts, have “proved to be crucial players in the cause of identity generation” (4 May). He argues that these links were strongly felt during the opening days of the 2011 uprising; while the first stirrings of discontent took place in Bani Walid near Tripoli and Benghazi, those that immediately followed were spread over large distances.
In accordance with Agnew’s call for alternate geopolitical visions, and of interest to this study, is the work of Visser (2007), which critiques a standard mode of thinking about the state of Iraq as an ‘artificial’ one. Visser suggests that by viewing Iraq through the prism of ethnicity, as a state of three major groups forced together by colonial powers, “ad hoc experts” assume that fragmentation is inevitable unless the state is ‘held together’ by authoritarian rule. Like Libya in 2011, western politicians have thus claimed partition to be ‘inevitable’ for Iraq (AAP, 2006), and foreseen the creation of three states along ethno-confessional lines; Kurdish in the north, Sunni in the west, and Shia in the east and south.
To counter the narrative of an ethnically divided Iraq, Visser advocates a ‘regionalist’ political system for the state. He suggests that a model of Iraq as a collection of interconnected regions (with links outside the state’s borders) is more useful, and one which points toward a progressive, regional, decentralised federal system over division according to ethnicity. Such a system would, he suggests, help to “redress the political cleavages that are a residue of colonial rule and create more favourable conditions for democratization” (Davis, 2008).
Analogues between Iraq since 2003 and Libya in 2011 are clear. Visser notes how western think tanks and media outlets have argued a case for an independent ‘Sunni Heartland’, when home-grown secessionist movements in the region have been almost nonexistent. Like Elbabour in Libya, Visser suggests Iraqis feel more territorial attachment to their cities and towns than a broad, ill-defined region, and both scholars note how the ancient and pre-modern histories of their subjects have been politicised to support the standpoints of external observers. Like Libya, Iraq was subject to the Ottoman Empire, though while the former was maintained as an administrative whole by Constantinople, the latter was divided by the Ottoman Villayet (sub-province) system. Commentary on both states appears to have overstated or misinterpreted the importance of these antecedent divisions.
One interpretation of Agnew’s “empirical and ontological critique” (Reid-Henry, 2010) contends that “geographical assumptions have trapped consideration of social and political-economic processes in geographical structures and containers that defy historical change” (Elden, 2010). This study will analyse the ‘popular geopolitics’ practised by politicians and ‘experts’ during the events of 2011 in Libya and attempt to show that, in many cases, these commentators fell headlong into the territorial trap.
A Brief History of Unity and Division in Libya
The state known today as Libya, the ‘Republic’ of Libya or the ‘Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’ has existed within its current borders (with the exception of the Aouzou Strip in the south) since December 1951, and the close of post-war Allied Military Administration. Prior to this the country was held by Italy as the separate colonies of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, seized in turn by the victors in the Italo-Turkish War of 191-1912 (Vandewalle, 2006).
Like much of Europe and the Middle East, the history and patterns of border configuration in Libya have often been contingent on the geopolitical goals of external powers. Since antiquity the region has been subject to a complex array of divisions, subdivisions and reunifications, arguably beginning with the Greeks, who named the coastal regions of modern day Libya the Pentapolis (five cities). Under Roman rule (146 BCE – 670 AD), it was divided into senatorial provinces along a frontier running south from the Arae Philaenorum, in a similar location to the Italian colonial partition, demarcated some 1200 years later (see A Brief History of Unity and Division). By the time of the Arab invasions of North Africa, the region had passed from Roman to Byzantine empires and become a collection of interconnected settlements (Elbabour, 4 May; Vandewalle, 2006), seized and assimilated into the succession of Caliphates which dominated the region between 700-1171 AD. Few administrative records remain from this period, presumably because of the difficulties faced by the Caliphs in maintaining control of the area (Vandewalle, 2006).
Figure 1: The Arae Philaenorum. When demarcating the border between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, the Italian administrators turned to Roman myth. According to the story, ancient Greeks and Phoenicians sent envoys from Benghazi and Tripoli to meet in the centre and define the boundary. The two brothers who formed the western delegation were killed, but their graves formed the first border post at the Arae Philaenorum, south ofRas Lanuf. The Italians immortalised the mythical brothers with a bronze gateway at the crossing, now in disrepair (below) (Rolfe, 1985).
Figure 2: The earliest record of border demarcation in central Libya is the 13th Century Peutinger Map (above) (Lendering, 2008).
The next major phase in Libya’s colonial history began with the arrival of the Ottomans in 1551. The new imperial masters wrested control of the coastal region from Spanish and other decentralised Christian forces that controlled ports in Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi, and created the province of Tripoli; an entity almost identical in form to modern-day Libya excluding the southern region of Fezzan (see Map 1). The city of Tripoli was chosen as the administrative capital and seat of the Ottoman governor while the eastern region, known as Barca to the Ottomans, was mapped and considered de facto to be a homogenous part of the same province despite difficulties faced by administrators there.
The province of Tripoli remained a whole (at least cartographically) through to the establishment of Ottoman Villayets (sub-provinces) in 1864, when it was maintained as a single unit, unlike many of the empire’s other possessions which were divided under the new system. When Italy was handed control of the province under the terms of the 1912 Treaty of Lausanne, it was de jure an administrative whole (though referred to in the text as ‘Tripoli and Cyrenaica’). According to Vandewalle (2006), “in retrospect, this preservation of territorial unity was perhaps the most notable legacy the Ottoman Empire left to modern Libya”.
The Italians, who came to Libya with the geopolitical ambition of creating a ‘fourth shore’ for their relatively young state, immediately began to establish the instruments of colonial power. In doing so they found that despite Libya’s cartographic integrity, much of the eastern region was under the de facto control of Ahmed Sharif as-Senussi, a charismatic religious leader and figurehead of the Senussi order of Sufi Islam.
Following a series of Senussi uprisings against the new Italian government, during which they controlled little more than the coastal regions of their new possession, the Italians formally divided the colony into two separate administrations. Using boundaries supposedly based upon those of the Greek Pentapolis and the Arae Philaenorum (see Fig. 1), they established Italian Tripolitania in the west and Italian Cyrenaica in the east, with the former (including the old southern province of Fezzan) administered from Tripoli and the latter granted semi-autonomy under Al-Senussi, whom they pronounced Emir of Cyrenaica (Bills, 1995; Wright, 2010).
By 1929, the Italians had managed to gain control of the majority of the Cyrenaican hinterland, and unified Tripoli and Cyrenaica into a single colonial province. Five years later the country was divided again, this time into the latter-day Pentapolis of Tripoli, Misurata, Bengasi, Derna and Fezzan. Simultaneously, the Italians resurrected the ancient Greek name for the whole of North Africa, naming their newly ‘pacified’ colony Libya (Vandewalle, 2006). The Italians invested heavily in the infrastructure of their fourth shore, and in 1937 the fascist leader Mussolini visited to open a new highway which ran the length of Libya, from the Algerian border in the west to the Egyptian border in the east.
Between the defeat of Italy in the Second World War and the 1951 enactment of a United Nations Resolution which specified “that Libya, comprising Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and the Fezzan shall be constituted an independent and sovereign state” (United Nations, 1949 p. 10) the question of Libya’s future was again encumbered by the geopolitical aspirations of outsiders, as explained by Rivlin (1949 p. 39):
“A major point of controversy is the future status of Libya… not just the alternatives of independence or trusteeship, [but] proposals to partition Libya into two or possibly three entities. The unity or division of Libya is a complicating problem because the internal trends in either direction are difficult to evaluate, and the whole question is overlaid by Big Power differences”
The opposing points of view with regard to partition were expounded by Sillery (1946), who identified six possible outcomes for Libya, as discussed initially by the ‘Big Four’ powers of Great Britain, the United States, France and the Soviet Union, and latterly by the United Nations.
The first proposal was its return to Italy, either as a trusteeship or with full Italian sovereignty. This plan was “utterly rejected by all Libyans [and] their advocates in the Arab World without exception” and therefore dismissed before the matter came before the UN. The second was trusteeship over Tripolitania (as defined by the Italians) by Russia, with independence for Cyrenaica under Senussi rule. Similarly, this plan was rejected by Libyan representatives and was subsequently thrown out before UN involvement began in 1948.
The third option, supported by Italy, was international trusteeship by an ‘international body’ including Italy. According to Sillery, this option also found little favour: “Libyans tend to think it would be unworkable, especially if administrative staff were international. They would in any case oppose the participation of Italy” (p. 17). Another alternative was trusteeship to Egypt, a plan devised and supported by Egyptians. According to Sillery: “It has the support of many Libyans resident in Egypt [and] some Tripolitanians, [but has] received little support among the masses” (p. 18).
The least popular plan, according to both Sillery and Rivlin, was division of the country along the ‘traditional’ border, with separate trusteeships of Tripolitania to Italy and Cyrenaica to Britain. This was considered “the worst of all possible solutions” by Libyans, particularly those in Tripoli, who made “threats of armed resistance [to the plan] …with every appearance of sincerity” (p. 18).
The sixth plan for Libya, posited initially by the United Kingdom (though eventually opposed by Prime Minister Bevin (Bills, 1995)) and “hailed with enthusiasm by all Tripolitanians” was for an “independent and united Libya” governed from Tripoli (Sillery, p. 18). The Cyrenaican leadership was apparently less enthusiastic about this course of action, advocating either a separate independent state in the east, or their preferred option of a united Libya under Senussi rule. Despite the Senussi misgivings however, Rivlin (p. 39) reported that educated people across the country supported a unified state:
“…the small urban intelligence and middle class in Benghazi and Tripoli are in general agreement on the following ultimate objectives: (1) independence; (2) unity of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and the Fezzan; and (3) membership in the Arab League”
Eventually, after the “protracted process of multilevel negotiations between international, regional and local actors” (Vandewalle, 2006), and strongly influenced by the 1941 Atlantic Charter which specified that “territorial adjustments must be in accord with the wishes of the peoples concerned”, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 289, and the unified country was established. As the Emir of Cyrenaica, Idris al Senussi was elected by a ‘National Council’ as the first (and only) King of Libya (Wright, 2010).
Throughout King Idris’ reign, the internal boundaries of Libya were changed only once, with the establishment of ten baladiyat (sub-districts) within the three traditional muhafazat (governorates) which were maintained as administrative entities (Wright, 2010).
Gadaffi, Unity and ‘The Green Book’
“The social bond, cohesiveness, unity, intimacy and love are stronger at the family level than at the tribal level, stronger at the tribal level than at that of the nation, and stronger at the level of the nation than at that of the world”
Muammar Gaddafi, The Green Book. Part 3: The Social Basis of the Universal Theory, (1975, p. 21)
At the start of the uprising in February 2011, and at the time of writing, Libya is divided into 22 shabiyah (districts). This system, implemented by the Gadaffi government in 2007, follows similar territorial reforms throughout the Colonels’ tenure; between 1969 and 1983 Libya was formed of 10 shabiyah, in 1983 this was increased to 46, in 1987 reduced to 25 and between 1995 and 2007 changed from 13 to 26 to 32. Under the present system, the 22 shabiyah aresubdivided into around 2,700 Basic People’s Congresses (BPC), a name given both to the geographic subdivisions and public meetings held in them three times per year (until the start of the present conflict (BBC News, 23 Apr)). Since 1963, neither Cyrenaica nor Tripolitania has held any formal administrative meaning (Vandewalle, 2006), despite being discussed in those terms frequently in the 2011 news coverage (see Reflective Diary).
The complex array of internal boundary changes reflects not only Gadaffi’s erratic form of government, but also his strong desire to promote national unity and consistency in policy across the state (Wright, 2010). Six years after Gadaffi came to power in 1969, influenced heavily by the Egyptian President Nasser’s Arab Nationalism, he published the first volume of his Green Book, a political and philosophical tract which became required reading for educated Libyans (Vandewalle, 2006). In his book, Gadaffi detailed a plan for Jamahiriya (‘Direct Democracy’), a ‘third way’ political system which dispensed with “undemocratic” western-style representation and awarded “personal sovereignty” to each Libyan through membership to a BPC (Davis, 1987).
Gadaffi believed Jamahiriya could deliver the ultimate in representation, a (self-confessed) utopian “stateless society” (Gadaffi, 1975) where people from each BPC would be able to express their wishes. His near constant boundary reforms were meant to create shabiyah which correlated spatially with tribal groupings while diminishing traditional regional loyalties (Vandewalle, 2006), thus allowing close scrutiny from a ‘stateless’ state. As the Green Book intones:
“A tribe coalition is better than a party coalition because the people consist originally of a group of tribes. One seldom finds people who do not belong to a tribe, and all people belong to a certain class. But no party or parties embrace all the people and therefore the party represents a minority compared to the masses outside its membership.”
Muammar Gaddafi, The Green Book. Part 3: The Social Basis of the Universal Theory, (1975, p. 19)
In reality, as billions of nationalised oil dollars flowed into Libya from 1970 onwards, central government was pushed to the top of the economic system (The Economist, 24 Feb) and the BPCs gradually reduced in importance. At the same time, internal migration fuelled by the oil industry strengthened links between disparate regions. In this regard, Gadaffi himself fell prey to the territorial trap; his assumption that local tribal loyalties would be unchanging (“people consist originally of a group of tribes”) was overthrown, first by the gradual social economic processes brought by the hydrocarbon industry, and finally by the rapid and decisive events of 2011.
The NTC and National Unity
“We must dispel the myth that this conflict is a tribal civil war, or an armed conflict drawn along geographical lines. The battlefront may make it seem a country of two halves but it is not. Our people are suffering just as much in Tripoli or in the Western mountains as elsewhere. People all over Libya are resisting the Gaddafi regime and remain firmly united.”
ntclibya.org, 10 March 2011
From the start of the 2011 protests, Gadaffi’s government warned of fragmentation and partition (see Reflective Diary), and the NTC responded by placing national unity at the heart of its policy statements.
The Council was formed on 27 February with the stated aim of becoming the “political face of the revolution”, and shortly after it claimed to be the “only legitimate body representing the people of Libya and the Libyan state” (Al-Jazeera, 5 May). From the NTCs inception, council members were apparently “drawn from all regions” (ntclibya.org, 10 Mar), and the organisation was unequivocal that Tripoli should remain the nation’s capital (Reuters, 26 Feb).
In an inversion of Gadaffi’s hierarchical view of family over tribe over nation, the NTC sought to play down the role of tribal divisions, at least for the duration of the ‘revolution’: “Libya is composed of numerous tribes and some have an important historical, social, political, and economic role. But the tribes and their members, even though they recognize the importance of the tribal link, are above all Libyans” (ntclibya.org).
In March and April 2011, scholars from the University Of Garyounis in Benghazi, an institution closely aligned with the NTC (Libya TV, 19 Apr) undertook quantitative research into public opinions of national unity and division. The work was hailed as the “first free public opinion poll ever conducted in Libya” (Middle East Reporter, 17 May), and consisted of 15 questions posed to 2500 Libyans of which 1758 chose to respond (Sallabi et al, 17 May).
The results appear to show overwhelming support for national unity (98% responded ‘No’ to the question ‘Do you support the division of Libya as a part of the political solution?’), and were equally unequivocal about the role of the transitional council (92% responded ‘Yes’ to the question ‘Does the NTC express the aspirations of all Libyans?’). Other subjects covered included the perceived role of Gadaffi in a post-conflict Libya and the success of the NATO bombing campaign; each of which found participants’ views to be closely aligned with NTC policies at that time. Of particular interest to this study is the question “Do you think that the 17th of February revolution has consolidated national unity in Libya?” to which 96% of respondents replied ‘Yes’.
The research, however, appears to leave a number of questions unanswered. The accompanying literature notes that ‘Libyans’ were questioned in Benghazi, Al-Marj, Al-Baida, Derna and Tobruk but omits that all these locations are clustered around the ‘Cyrenaican Bulge’ and the eastern shores of the Gulf of Sirte. This severe limitation in research design is doubtless a result of the danger staff would have faced outside that area at that time (see Reflective Diary), but remains unaddressed in the ‘post-Gadaffi’ Libya of September 2011.
The researchers do provide information on the gender, age and educational level of the participants, and accept that males and those between the ages of 18 and 40 are over-represented. 55% of those questioned were university students or graduates, meaning the research sample and results have close parallels with the poll conducted in the 1940s and recounted by Rivlin (see A Brief History of Unity and Division); both questioned ‘educated’ participants and both found overwhelming support for national unity.
The results of the Garyounis poll are revealing, not only for their results but for the agenda clearly espoused by the researchers and their political supporters. Further studies are required however, and time will tell whether Libyans from across the state share such clear and decisive opinions about the future.
Political Discourse & the Reflective Approach
In order to structure an analysis of media and political discourse during the 2011 Libyan Uprising, this study makes use of a ‘reflective diary’ of events. Starting with the removal from power of Tunisia’s President Ben Ali on 15 January 2011, and ending with Gadaffi in hiding on 26 September, the diary recounts key developments in the conflict, and attempts to critically review commentary on these by a range of domestic and international commentators.
Reflective writing is defined by Hampton (2010) as “evidence of reflective thinking” which typically comprises at least three components; relating events or ideas, either as they occur or afterwards, analysing them, and finally drawing conclusions. Ying and Cho (2011) view the approach as inherently more ‘personal’ than other form of academic writing, providing a chance for a researcher to document “their own experiences, thoughts, questions, ideas and conclusions”, thus forming a framework for later analysis.
Since the conflict in Libya has unfolded as this paper has been compiled, the reflective approach was chosen as a means of chronologically ordering both the events ‘on the ground’ and reactions to them. In this way, the mass media is both the source of data in recounting the ‘story’ of the 2011 Libyan uprising, and a subject of critical analysis. Where possible, the strategic ‘facts’ have been verified from more than one provider, while the opinions and policy suggestions have been drawn from texts produced by think tanks and ‘expert’ admissions to mass media outlets.
This study is not designed as an exhaustive analysis of the uprising, and dates chosen for diary entries were selected as key moments most relevant to the subject in question; occasions where territorial gains were made by either side and those where observers chose to discuss the events in terms of the future and supposed origins of the conflict.
The effect of mass media on international politics is the subject of some controversy. As an example, Livingston (1997) identifies the ‘CNN Effect’, whereby the mass media can act alternately or simultaneously as “policy agenda-setting agents, impediments to the achievement of desired policy goals, and accelerants to policy decision-making”. Robinson (2007), on the other hand, suggests that such effects are over-stated and that models of influence must be created specific to each event in question to avoid generalisation.
Think tanks, whose contributions are explicitly aimed at swaying public policy, have been described by Ó Tuathail and Luke (1994) as having significant influence on geopolitical discourse. It is argued that by providing an ‘authoritative’ stance on world events, they normalise their interpretation in the consciousness of the public and policy-makers, and in turn are affect the outcome of events. It is argued below that contributions of the US-based Cato Institute to discussions of the 2011 Libyan uprising reflected a poor understanding of Libyan ambitions, and an attempt to politicise that country’s history to advance the Institute’s own ideological imperatives.
Part I: January & February | Unrest in the West
In the early hours of this morning, a passenger jet carrying Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the President of the Tunisian Republic for the past 24 years, was refused permission to land in Paris, where the harassed leader had hoped to leave his family in safety before his return to Tunis this morning.
Things did not go to plan. During a diversion to Riyadh, the plane’s crew reportedly turned to the Al-Jazeera rolling news channel, where an announcement of Ben Ali’s ‘overthrow’ was the story of the day (The Independent, 15 Jan). The jet was quickly refuelled, and while the President slept they returned to Tunisia, leaving the family stranded and cementing a ‘revolution’.
Since the start of the year, the world’s media have been sharply focused on Tunisia as protests have spread from the small city of Sidi Bouzid to the streets of the capital. While commentators had spoken of an ‘unsure’ future for the regime, few had predicted the ousting of the long-time ruler and fewer still the speed at which it would take place.
Word spread fast in a country where international news is easily accessible and almost 40% of the population are internet users (The Financial Times, Jan 18), and by this evening Tunisians were celebrating their apparent success across the country (The Guardian, Jan 20).
Meanwhile, Libyan activists staged their own small-scale demonstration, far from the gaze of international media in Bani Walid, 160 km south of Tripoli (Hassa, Jan 13). Upset by a lack of housing and apparently emboldened by events across the border, protestors seized around 800 unfinished housing units, and today have been emulated by others across the country, from Benghazi and Darna in the east to Sabhaa in the south-west.
Yesterday afternoon in Mizran square, Tripoli, Jamal al-Hajji, political commentator and long-time opponent of the regime was arrested by plain-clothes police (Maghreb Confidential, 3 Feb). Though he was charged today with assault, Mr. Mirzan’s arrest follows a recent online article he wrote, calling for “demonstrations in support of greater freedoms in Libya” on February 17, the anniversary of anti-Gaddaffi protests in 2006 (Al-Jazeera, Feb 3).
Regionally, anti-government demonstrations have reached an unprecedented fervour, and today protestors in Yemen staged a ‘Day of Rage’, with around 20,000 people converging in the capital Sana’a. This follows Egypt’s ‘Day of Revolt’ last Tuesday the 25th, when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets, calling for an end to government corruption and poverty (BBC News, Jan 26). This so-called ‘Arab Spring’ appears to be accelerating, and a few commentators have already likened it to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (Daily News Egypt, Jan 27), if only as a ‘before and after point’ in Middle Eastern politics.
Yesterday evening, police intervened in when around 500 people began a protest outside their headquarters in Benghazi (BBC News, 16 Feb). Around 40 protestors were injured, but today further protests took place in Darnah and Az Zintan, small cities in the extreme east and west of Libya respectively. In the context of the wider regional unrest, these relatively small protests have received little attention in international media.
The home-grown protests, combined with the fate of Ben Ali across the border, appear to have shaken Gaddaffi. Speaking on state TV, the Colonel expressed his “pain” at the recent events, claiming: “Tunisia now lives in fear; families could be raided and slaughtered in their bedrooms” (Channel 4 News, 16 Feb).
Protests in eastern Libya have intensified since last week, though disturbances in Tripoli, the original locus of dissent over housing, have been largely suppressed. On the 17th, Al-Jazeera reported that fourteen protestors had been killed by government snipers in Benghazi. The next day, reports emerged that mercenaries had been brought from neighbouring Chad to augment government forces (The Guardian, 18 Feb).
Over the past three days events have moved quickly. The protestors, who despite organisational and logistical difficulties have arguably begun coalescing into an organised movement, have made their first territorial gains, apparently driving all government forces from Benghazi (Washington Post, 21 Feb). The city’s radio station has been captured, and today began broadcasting as the ‘Voice of Free Libya’.
The movement has adopted an unofficial flag; the red, green and black tricolour of the Senussi monarchy, though it seems doubtful their choice represents nostalgia for the old Cyrenaican dynasty. Traditionally, the three coloured bands represent the united regions of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan (Barraclough, 1981), and as it was first introduced with independence, the flag could come to represent a Libya united by the emancipatory experience of the uprising, just as it stood for the end of colonial rule in 1951.
An entirely different sentiment was expressed by Col. Gadaffi’s son Saif, speaking on state television today:
“…if there is disturbance [Libya] will split into several states. It was three states for 60 years. Libyans are tribal, not like Egypt… What is happening in Bayda and Benghazi is very sad. How do you, who live in Benghazi, will you visit Tripoli with a visa? The country will be divided like North and South Korea; we will see each other through a fence.”
Al-Jazeera, February 21
This ominous warning reflects growing fears, both inside Libya and further afield, that the protest movement will initiate a civil war, and possibly result in a de facto or de jure partition of the country.
Since the publication of the Green Book in 1975, Gadaffi’s regime has made much of its unifying role, and views itself as having ‘made’ modern Libya through revolutionary committees and Jamahiriya philosophy (Vandewalle, 2006). Saif Gadaffi’s invocation of tribal difference as a divisive political force is reminiscent of Said’s Orientalism, internalised and presented as a frightening geopolitical future, divided along historical and ‘tribal’ lines. Hisham Matar, a Libyan-American novelist saw the speech as a reversion to type by the regime, a point of no return for Gadaffi and for those opposing him:
“People have been provoked by the violence of the regime, crowned by that speech we all heard, which seemed to take no responsibility for the killing.. The sort of abstract hell he painted, “if you don’t surrender to us, this is what’s waiting for you” [describes] how life has been for many Libyans for the past 41 years”
Christian Science Monitor, February 21
Part II: March & April | Division and Unity
In the past two weeks the protest movement has become, at least by reference to the English-speaking media, a military rebellion. Political representation seems likely to come in the form of a ‘National Transitional Council’, though no council members have been identified save the spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, a prominent human rights lawyer.
As rebel ‘forces’ have gained ‘control’ over a series of key towns in the east, western commentators have begun to formulate explanations for the apparent divide. Last week, Stanford’s Martin Lewis wrote:
“Libya’s national unity faces challenges …Countries that contain two distinct core regions of roughly equivalent population are often burdened by regional rivalry, and Libya is no exception. Its bifurcation is stark, with population highly concentrated in two areas located on opposite sides of the country’s Mediterranean coast”
“…the three regions [of Libya] were…stitched together in 1951 with the independence of the United Kingdom of Libya…and remain highly distinctive, as highlighted by the current uprising”
GeoCurrents, ‘Libya’s Geographical Divisions’, 28 February
The Guardian newspaper went further, claiming that the regions have been united only by unrest:
“It is hardly Gaddafi’s achievement, but it is a consequence of his ruthless and fanatical rule. He has finally given Libyans the unity which had until now eluded them.”
The Guardian, ‘Gaddafi’s destructive path’, 23 February
Finally, the ‘global intelligence’ company Stratfor made a series of particularly historiographic pronouncements on the “fundamentally divided” state:
“In a country divided by myriad dialects, tribes and ancient histories…Tripolitanian power could only be held through a complex alliance of tribes, the army’s loyalty and an iron fist. Herein lies the historical challenge in ruling Libya: the split between ancient Tripolitania and Cyrenaica… [a potential] historical east-west stalemate, with the threat of civil war looming”
Stratfor, ‘Libya’s Split Between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania’, 24 February, 2011
Countering these claims were voices from both sides of the ‘bifurcated’ state. Speaking two days ago, Moammar Gaddafi claimed “Libyans’ unity will be fought for until death”, and his cousin Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, a recent defector to the rebels, suggested their main priorities should be to “avoid foreign intervention and preserve national unity”.
The fighting continues, and reports suggest that rebels, armed with thousands of weapons seized from government facilities, have driven government forces completely from Tobruk, Benghazi and Al Bayda. Pro-government forces are putting up stiff resistance in Ajdabaja, Misurata, Sirte and Zawiya, but the civilians-turned-soldiers have been buoyed by their local victories, and remain confident of success across the country (BBC News, 16 Feb).
Four days ago, French fighter and ground-attack jets entered Libyan airspace, roaring through the skies above Tripoli and Benghazi’s western access roads to enforce the newly adopted UN Resolution 1973 (2011) (The Guardian, 19 Mar) . The resolution has authorised Member States to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, while excluding an occupation force (United Nations, 17 Mar). Last night US Navy vessels in the Gulf of Sirte launched an unknown number of Tomahawk cruise missiles toward ‘strategic’ targets close to Benghazi (CNN Online, 23 Mar).
Meanwhile, commentators outside the country have continued to posit a divided future for Libya, either as a warning or a potential solution. Five days ago, a publication by libertarian US think tank the Cato Institute continued the theme of united Libya as artifice:
“Italy cobbled together three disparate provinces to establish its Libyan colony…the various tribes inhabiting had almost nothing in common, they sometimes had an adversarial relationship. Yet, the [allied powers of World War II] maintained this unstable amalgam instead of separating it into its more cohesive constituent parts. The sharp divide persists to this day. [Gadaffi] has long depended on western tribes as his power base. And as easily as rebel demonstrators and troops seized major targets in the east, they predictably faltered as they pressed deeper into Tripolitania.
Cato Institute: ‘Another War of Choice’, 18 March
This account of the fighting to date simplifies the complex and changing situation (see Map 2). Compared to their success in the ‘Battles of’ Ajdabiya and Benghazi, the rebels are finding it more difficult to gain control of the major western city of Misrata, not because of ancient tribal boundaries, but because of loyalist tanks and snipers (BBC News, 21 Mar). The rebels are poorly trained, and though they have access to anti-tank weaponry, such equipment requires intensive training to use effectively (BBC News, 21 Mar).
NATO intervention in the past days has been focused on the east, although assurances have been made that strikes on Misrata and Tripoli will ease the way for the rebels in the coming weeks. Misurata is home to Libya’s largest tank battalion, and since seven of Libya’s ten major Army bases are broadly in the ‘west’ (IHS Jane’s, 2010), the rebels will doubtless face greater resistance there.
Today the rebels have begun a major offensive, advancing toward the strategically important city of Brega. Home to the country’s second largest oil and production facility (Schemm, Feb 26), Brega has been variously controlled by loyalists and rebels for the past month, and the confident insurgents view it as it as a key target, both territorially and economically (BBC News, Apr 4).
The ‘Siege of Misrata’, as it has now become known, continues. Meanwhile, following the lead of France, Qatar and the Maldives, Italy today gave formal recognition to the NTC, agreeing with their earlier claim to be the ‘legitimate representatives of the Libyan people’.
In the past two weeks, discussion about Libya’s future in the international media has reached fever pitch. The blog Econospeak made the now familiar historical argument for a return to the “longstanding historical division” between the ‘Arabised Berbers’ in the west and the rebels (adding “Fezzan is essentially part of the western zone”), to avoid an apparently “inevitable” stalemate (25 Mar). Gaddaffi himself has warned of a ‘long war’ (BBC News, 20 Mar), and western commentators have concurred.
Five days ago the British Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Nick Harvey MP, was asked on British ‘breakfast’ television for his opinion on partitioning Libya: “That’s one possible outcome…a stable outcome where they weren’t killing each other would in a sense be one way of achieving the humanitarian objective” came his casual reply (Bland, 27 Mar).
Joshi’s response (The Independent 27 Mar) was more measured, expressing concern for the long-term effects of a protracted conflict. “Partition is not an outcome that can be simply secured and left”, he said, citing the no-fly-zone over northern Iraq which lasted for 12 years. “A de-facto partition is a possibility, but it’s worth remembering that this would need to be enforced”, adding: “[the rebels] want to unite the country. The east may have a history of anti-Gaddafi sentiment, but they won’t accept a legal partition. It would not be a stable equilibrium.”
There are many differences between northern Iraq in 1991 and eastern Libya in 2011, not least the Libyan rebels’ stated aim of a united state. Nonetheless, since the conflict is increasingly happening in the heart of the country, Joshi’s prediction of an unstable division seems to be apposite – if the state is divided like Cyprus or the Koreas, the new border will not be a peaceful one.
Gadaffi’s troops appear to be holding the city of Ra’s Lanuf (BBC News, 4 Apr), the supposed site of the ancient frontier between the two northern regions (see Fig. 1). Whether the rebels can capture Brega in the coming days remains to be seen.
Gadaffi’s troops have today withdrawn from Misrata, claiming to have left the decision of the city’s allegiance to tribal leaders. According to one report, their decision came quickly; “Misrata is free!” was the call from a newly recruited soldier in the city (Reuters, 23 Apr), and this in the heart of ‘Tripolitania’. NATO aircraft have in the past days carried out their heaviest bombing of Tripoli yet, meaning the city has now been under air attack for over a month. The fighting over Brega rages on, and the outcome of the ‘Battle of the Brega-Ajdabiya road’, now underway for almost two weeks, will be decisive for the future of the city and its refineries (BBC News, 22 Apr).
The crisis is starting to be felt on Libya’s borders. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 167,473 people have crossed into Tunisia since February, with 140,876 passing east into Egypt to escape the fighting (UNHCR, 20 Apr).
These relatively similar figures do not appear to constitute a disproportionate exodus from either side of the state. A further 6,077 people have fled to Niger, and an unknown number have crossed south-west into Algeria. Migration west may not be easy in the coming weeks – today fighting broke out in Wazzin to the far west of the country, close to the Tunisian border (The Financial Times, 22 Apr). Enemies of Gadaffi seem to be massing from all sides.
Part III: May, June & July | Stalemate?
The pace of events, at least in terms of ‘acquisition’ of territory, has begun to slow. Loyalist forces have returned to the outskirts of Misrata, shelling the city in an attempt to regain control there (Reuters, 4 May). The Brega to Ajdabiya road remain contested, having been a focal point of fierce fighting for over a month (Reuters, 4 May). Gadaffi’s forces are now ‘dug in’ in at Brega, while to the east rebels are in firm control of Ajdabiya. Fighting has continued in the far west of the country, and Tripoli is beginning to look increasingly isolated (see Map 3).
In the past week, terms such as ‘stalemate’ and ‘standoff’ have become standard descriptors, and today Italy began to press for a “a definite timeline” to bring an end to the NATO campaign (Times of Malta, 4 May). When asked whether the conflict was becoming deadlocked, the head of US Africa Command stated “I would agree with that at present, on the ground” (Reuters, 1 May), and the Chinese state news agency has suggested: “Whether the Western powers admit it or not, the war in Libya has plunged into a protracted stalemate” (BBC Monitoring, 2 May).
Neither side is speaking of stalemate. Libyan state news has continued its familiar refrain, today accusing NATO “Crusader Planes” of “destroying Libyan Unity” (JANA, 12 May). Meanwhile in Benghazi the NTC, who were today given formal recognition by the British Government, are apparently looking to the future. “We have no organizational history, but we now have a structure to be talking to the world”, and once again asserted that the NTCs aim is to establish a free Libya, united and with Tripoli as its capital (Washington Post, 12 May)
Colonel Gadaffi, whose son Saif was killed last week in a NATO airstrike, today appeared on state television. He gestured to his loyal audience in the studio, stating “we tell the world, those are the representatives of the Libyan tribes”. Contrary to this are the apparently overwhelming results of a public opinion survey released today, calling for the overthrow of the Colonel and emphasising national unity, though the poll was conducted only in the east of the country (see The NTC and National Unity).
In order to break the apparent deadlock, the British and French militaries have today deployed attack helicopters, capable of striking urban areas with great accuracy. This intensification by NATO has been strongly supported by politicians across Europe, by fighters across Libya, and by the NTC members in Benghazi (Johnson, 23 May). Responding to calls from the rebels that loyalists are on the verge of re-taking Misrata, it is hoped the Apache and Tigre gunships will break the impasse.
The continued commentary on a fragmented Libya has now come to predict partition through continued stalemate rather than accord between the ‘warring regions’. Once again this scenario has been staunchly rejected by the NTC: “There is no stalemate. We are making progress on all fronts. We don’t see progress as only military progress because this revolution was a peaceful humanitarian revolution that was simply calling for human rights”, said Aref Nayed, NTC ‘Support Coordinator’. Once again, international commentators have adopted a pessimistic narrative of a divided Libya that is far removed from the stated aims of either Gadaffi’s forces or the rebels. As the reality of the conflict has changed, so too has the continued insistence that the war will end in division.
Jenkins (13 May) recently suggested that “Britain lectures the world, and even bombs it, in the cause of regional self-determination…[and] went to war to promote partition in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kurdistan, Montenegro and now Libya”; demonstrating an emergent conspiracy about western nations’ real plans for the future.
The intensification of NATO strikes appears to have had some effect, though Misrata (“Libya’s Stalingrad and a gateway to Tripoli” (BBC News, 13 Jun)) is still harassed daily by Gadaffi’s forces. Brega remains under rebel control, and the fighting in Wazzin and other towns in the western Nafusa Mountains has lessened (Associated Press, 13 Jun), as rebel forces have moved east and begun attacking the Zawiya in the outskirts of Tripoli. Gadaffi’s assertions of loyalty among the “tribes in the west” appear to have been disproved.
According to Joshi (13 Jun), the fighting around Tripoli will “stretch government forces, eventually forcing Col Gaddafi to thin out his firepower and focus on pivotal cities, notably those that lie on supply lines”, a prediction which, if vindicated, could see an eventual toppling of the regime. An alternative is that Tripoli will become effectively an enclave – Gadaffi’s strongest units are apparently relocating there, and airstrikes against heavily populated urban centres have been ruled out (NATO, 2011).
Despite the gradual but clear encirclement of Tripoli, western media outlets media, with few exceptions, are clinging to the narrative of an unnatural state. According to one Canadian newspaper:
“On the ground there is a stalemate between the rebel-held eastern half of the country and Gadaffi’s forces in the west. As this line falls along a natural tribal divide among Libya’s six million people, the most likely outcome is a partition of the country”
The Vancouver Sun, ‘Jasmine Revolution loses bloom’, 10 June
That commentators are still discussing the conflict in terms of tribal territories shows a disregard for the emerging consensus among most Libyan people and the facts “on the ground” (see Map 4). A more plausible prediction comes from Cairo. The Daily News Egypt, opposed to the NATO intervention since it began, foresees either the Kosovo-like compartmentalisation of Tripoli, or a “scenario more akin to Iraq… a protracted civil war that results in the destruction of Libya’s infrastructure and unleashes a set of atrocities that fuel another generation of conflict”.
In the past week the rebels have begun to hold the western cities and Gadaffi’s troops have retreated further toward Tripoli, re-taking Zawiya. Amid a number of high-profile defections, including that of Gadaffi’s General Secretary Shukri Ghanem (CNN Online, 10 Jun), the regime appears increasingly desperate. The conflict is urbanising ever more; government forces are reportedly using Mosques as shields in the capital (BBC News, 18 Jun), a tactic which NATO has condemned as “brutal”. If Libya is a truly a ‘Nation of Cities’ (Elbabour, 4 May), then the fight for the country is all but won, and the battle for its capital will seal its fate.
Writing in the Guardian today, Dale (4 Jul) articulated a growing sense among from some quarters about what NATO’s “real plan for Libya” might entail. He points to complaints from some rebels to the east of Tripoli, where specific requests for strikes on visible rocket launcher sites have been ignored, leading to civilian deaths in a rebel-held village.
The Economist (16 Jun) has suggested this represents a strategic decision by NATO, who do not want rebels to capture Tripoli from the east: “the preference is for the regime to implode from within and for the people of Tripoli to rise up to remove the colonel – an eventuality widely reckoned to be getting close”.
NATO’s decision, says the Economist, is to avoid “the risks of retribution being inflicted on Gaddafi loyalists”, but Dale and others disagree. Since the rebel fighters typically see their opposition an ‘Libyan brothers’ (BBC News, 26 Jun), and NATO’s own secretary general has said “I don’t think rebels will attack civilians.” (BBC News, 28 Mar), Dale’s contention is that NATO’s preference for an coup in Gadaffi’s government comes not from concern for human rights, but a desire among member states to preserve the regime without its figurehead. Two weeks ago, rebels severed the Zawiya oil pipeline contrary to advice from NATO, and the contention is that by keeping the old regime partially intact, NATO members might benefit from the existing structures in place (both in infrastructure and power politics) when Gadaffi is gone.
This theory may be flawed, at least in terms of the French contribution. Five days ago it emerged that the Armée de l’Air has been unilaterally arming rebels to the west of Tripoli (BBC News 29 Jun). Furthermore, NATO seems to have placed inter-community relations (as well as, explicitly, national unity) front and centre in their ‘psyops’ campaign (see Fig. 3), possibly reflecting a concern that inter-communal violence might occur following the removal of Gadaffi.
This week, just as Japan and the US have formally recognized the NTC as Libya’s legitimate government, the ‘unimportant region’ (Econospeak, 25 Mar) of Fezzan has seen significant fighting. Rebels have moved through a number of southern towns recruiting local men without resistance (BBC News, 20 Jul), but have encountered government forces at Al Jufra Air Base, Hun, Waddan and Zella. Meanwhile, at least 12 rebels have been killed as Gadaffi’s forces make a last-ditch attempt to reclaim Benghazi.
A handful of international news outlets have conceded that the uprising has been supported by ‘ordinary people’ across Libya. The Yemen Times has today criticised the natural partition narrative, pointing to the historical connections between the old provinces, and saying:
“[A potential] Ottoman-style setup is commonly mentioned, but the administrative borders of these districts were never fully established, and they have changed at least eight times since 1951. In 2007, Libya had 22 sha’biya (administrative districts), not three”.
Yemen Times, ‘Libya after Qaddafi’, 21 July
The fallacy of preordained partition for Libya is starting to be dissected, if only by regional observers.
Part IV: August & September | The Battle of Tripoli
5 August | the fifth day of Ramadan
Today opposition fighters claimed to have captured Zliten, a small town west of Misrata, securing a foothold close to the capital. NATO bombing on Tripoli has continued, and in the past days struck the state television’s satellite TV facility.
Despite the increased attacks on Tripoli, some still believe NATO plans are far removed from those of the rebels:
“The imperialist powers know that the Transitional Council can’t control all of Libya. They’re certainly not taking any steps now to give them the military means to do so. So this means that the tendencies toward partition are sharpened”
Richard Seymour, The Guardian, ‘Gaddafi is stronger than ever in Libya’, 29 July
Seymour’s suggestion that the NTC cannot control the whole of Libya does not appear to be founded on any strategic or political evidence, and has not been repeated in any other major outlets. His assertion that ‘the imperialists’ are failing to provide sufficient support does not align with the increased frequency of air raids around Tripoli in the past month (Sky News, 29 Jul), no does the ‘sharpened tendency toward partition’ appear manifest; today the French government claimed the ‘southern regions’ are “practically under the NTC’s control”, leaving only Tripoli and some satellite towns to the west, the city of Bani Walid and Gadaffi’s home town of Sirte to government forces.
Five days ago, the rebels began a major coastal offensive; striking out from the west toward Tripoli, since then the towns of Gharyan and Zawiya have been the sites of heavy fighting, and rebels are confident they will take the fight to Tripoli within days (BBC News, 18 Aug). Once more, the Cato institute has provided its policy suggestions:
“Even an informal partition would more accurately reflect the demographics, politics, and history of that territory than an insistence on keeping Libya intact…the most probable alternatives to a peaceful territorial division would be a continuous, simmering civil war or a rebel victory that would merely breed resentment in the western part of the country and pave the way for a new round of fighting a few years from now.”
Ted Carpenter, Cato Institute,
‘U.S. Must Resist Military Role in Post-Qaddafi Libya’, 18 August
Since the assault on Tripoli appears to be arriving from the east, with fighters drawn from across the country, these comments exemplify the think tank’s proud ability to “not compromise its core beliefs even when they get in the way of practical politics” (cato.org, 2011).
31 August | Eid al-Fitr
At dawn this morning, thousands of Libyans began arriving in Martyrs’ Square, Tripoli to celebrate the end of Ramadan and the success of rebel forces there some ten days ago. While the imam asked the jubilant crowd to “stand united” for a “new Libya” (Al-Jazeera, 31 Aug), rebel soldiers patrolled the square and snipers looked on from the rooftops.
The victory comes after a concerted struggle by Libyans from across the country and those from the city itself. On the 19th, rebels reportedly smuggled weapons to citizens of Tripoli by boat, and as the NTC coordinated with NATO over the final assault, citizens of the capital prepared. On the 20th, the rebels fought through Zawiya, then waited as British and French helicopters destroyed radar sites outside the capital (BBC News, 21 Aug). During the night they reportedly moved in, capturing the airport (Reuters, 20 Aug). On the 21st, boats from Misrata and Zliten arrived in the city, and thousands of Tripoli residents used the morning call to prayer as a signal to begin the uprising (Reuters, 23 Aug).
By the evening, the rebels claimed that 90% of Tripoli was under their control (BBC News, 21 Aug) (see Map 5). The next day rebels seized the port, and on the 23rd, after heavy fighting, managed to seize Bab al-Azizia, the site of Gadaffi’s personal compound. A NATO airstrike hit the Abu Salim district on the 25th, allowing rebel soldiers to pass through and capture Qasr ben Ghashir. On the 27th they declared that one loyalist compound remained, and on the 28th, the base of Salaheddin was captured, bringing the city under apparent total rebel control (BBC News, 21 Aug; Reuters, 20 Aug).
Since the end of August and the ‘Fall of Tripoli’, anti-Gadaffi forces have brought the southern towns of Al-Jufra, Hun, Waddan and Socn under their control, leaving the loyalists’ green flag flying over just Bani Walid and Sirte. The rebels have continually harassed both towns, and today breached the eastern gates of Sirte, birthplace of Gadaffi, only to be driven back (BBC News, 26 Sep). The Colonel’s location is unknown, but last week his daughter Aisha told reporters “He bears a weapon and is fighting on the battlefield” (hamsayeh.net, 24 Sep), leading commentators to believe he may inside one of the two remaining ‘loyalist’ cities. Two weeks ago, the NTC leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil flew to Tripoli for the first time since the uprising began.
On the 14th, Gadaffi’s spokesman Moussa Ibrahim spoke on Syrian radio, continuing the accusations toward NATO which have characterised many of the regime’s statements in the past months:
“NATO is seeking to divide Libya without drawing borders; because they cannot come directly and partition Libya…They come to partition Libya on ethnic and regional bases and to establish military bases in the country…”
BBC Monitoring, September 14
Once again, the Gadaffi ‘government’ has sought to portray the state as vulnerable without him, now with deterritorialised “ethnic and regional bases” to the conspiracy of division. How this extraterrestrial partition will be implemented is unclear, but the statement exemplifies the ongoing defiance of the former regime.
When Agnew first articulated the territorial trap, the world he saw was emerging from the dominant geopolitical order of the last century. In the years since, his idea has been adapted, criticised and applied to a range of situations, but has remained relevant as a tool for dissecting normative ideas about the bounded state, sovereignty and human territoriality (Elden, 2010).
In 2011, much of the Arab world has arguably begun to cast aside its own overbearing political order. In the case of Libya this change has been manifest as an expression of overwhelming dissatisfaction with the Gadaffi regime, and a concerted effort to depose him and establish democracy.
From the very early days of this struggle, two historic geopolitical narratives competed for space. The first, espoused by the dissidents who would form the NTC, was of a united Libya, governed from Tripoli and accountable to the population. The second (and dominant) narrative warned of Libya divided by its historical constitution and prone to fragmentation in the absence of authoritarian rule. By September 2011 the former appeared to be vindicated, and the latter disproved. The rebels, thus far, seem to have achieved what they set out to do.
Two recurrent definitions of territory in critical geopolitics are that of space as ‘container’ of society and as manifestation of territoriality (Agnew, 1995). As Elden (2010) notes, these conceptions are not mutually exclusive, and in Libya in 2011, ideas about the rebels’ proper ‘territory’ have encompassed both. By selectively recounting episodes from Libya’s ancient, pre-modern and colonial past, commentators have suggested the appropriate container for rebellious Libyans is the east of the country, while Gadaffi’s ethnic and tribal ‘homeland’ of the west should revert to its separate, bounded type. At the same time, claims have been made that the ‘bifurcated’ state of Libya (“burdened by regional rivalry” (Lewis, 28 Feb)) is one with few links between east and west, meaning partition would more accurately represent the innate territoriality of people living there. To these observers, the ancient frontier forms a fixed boundary, not only defying historical change but assumed to have been present and effective for millennia. At the heart of these twin misconceptions has been the territorial trap.
While not all media outlets may have the power to strongly affect policy, politicians such as Sir Peter Tapsell, quoted above, and think tanks such as the Cato Institute do have, or at least strive to have, such influence. For this reason, the various assumptions that the NTC could never effectively govern the ‘whole’ of Libya, or that Libyans would be ‘better off’ divided into their constituent populations, posed a genuine danger of becoming reality. As the normative idea of a divided Libya become commonplace, subsequent discussions took this idea for granted, thus ‘reifying’ the idea of a natural boundary.
The cascade of commentary on a divided Libya has from the outset been countered by the stated aims of the rebels, the NTC and the Libyan public. Just as Rivlin identified unifying factors and links between the old provinces in 1949, so Elbabour wrote in May 2011 of the myriad functional, tribal, religious and economic connections between ‘east’ and ‘west’. Just as Libyans favoured unification in 1946 (Sillery), so organisers in Tripoli staged mass uprisings in 2011. Just as they did in 1951, Libyans have articulated a desire for their country to remain a territorial whole against outsiders that would impose division.
Gadaffi’s green book called for a form of hierarchical sovereignty surprisingly similar to that implicitly present in the calls for partition. He placed tribal unity over national unity and expressed this through his erratic and ever changing system of spatial organisation. The 22 shabiyah were designed to devolve sovereignty though ‘direct democracy’, but his assumption that boundaries could be moved and adapted to reflect tribal organisation exemplified Agnew’s trap by refusing to account for historical and cultural change.
Gadaffi’s error at the district level was mirrored by observers, who viewed Libya as fundamentally divided at the national level, and who refused to account for historical changes in boundaries and the Libyan allegiances which disregarded them. The reductive nature of debate was marked by orientalism; how could the people of Libya know what’s best for them? They’ve articulated it, but they’re wrong. When Visser critiques the “traditional conceptual prism” (Davis, 2008) of ethno-religious ‘crescents’ and ‘triangles’ through which Iraq is often viewed, he argues that Said’s Orientalism (1978) is partially to blame for this “facile sketch” of a complex country (Visser, 2007). In the same way, the assumption that Gadaffi provided unity for Libya (made by the Colonel and writers in the west) implied a corollary; that Libya and Libyans could not form a coherent nation without the strong arm of dictatorship to maintain it.
The origin of the ‘divided Libya’ idea comes in part from the existence of the Senussi order of Islam and the relative autonomy which it enjoyed during the Ottoman and early Italian colonial periods (see A Brief History of Unity and Division). Visser writes that in Iraq and Lebanon, the assumption has commonly been made that religious groups have commonly been assumed by western observers to hold ‘sectarian territorial devotions’. It is possible then, that Libya presents a third example of a middle-eastern state assumed to be on the brink of division along ethno-confessional lines. As in Iraq and Lebanon, the convenience of a simple narrative has freed incidental experts from a proper reading of the state’s history. The founder of the Senussi order Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi (1787 – 1859) was renowned in his time as a prolific traveller and (Chapin Metz, 187) and the group was known to proselytise across the region (Vandewalle, 2006), which could suggest that a territorial fixation was not central to the group’s philosophy.
In 2011, NATO’s activity has been subject to scrutiny from the Left and the Right. While those from an anti-interventionist standpoint threatened a protracted conflict from the start of NATO’s involvement (“another war of choice”), others questioned the organization’s true intentions. By selectively supporting the rebels, they said, NATO sought to ensure that some elements of the old regime would remain intact, facilitating friendly relations after the conflict. In the past, the organisation has been criticised for failing to abide by norms of geopolitical order and stability defined by the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, showing a disregard for the principle during the intervention in Kosovo (Berg, 2009). In Libya in 2011, NATO appeared to actively resist any ideas of secession.
Whether NATO’s activities have promoted genuine regime change is one part of the most important question facing Libya and Libyans as they try to construct a new democracy. Aside from practical problems, such as the disposal of thousands of small arms, lie those with more opaque solutions. Each of the ‘Arab Spring’ states has particular challenges in this regard; Tunisia and Egypt were each led by governments who existed only because of military support, while Gadaffi’s military has mostly ‘fragmented’, deserted or defected (Tripoli Post, 18 Sep).
The country’s government has been, since Gadaffi began implementing ‘Direct Democracy’ in the late 1970’s, theoretically highly decentralised. This dispersal could provide suitable conditions for the emergence of a so-called ‘Shadow State’, a governance system created by civil servants or external actors acting in their own private interests (Agadjanian, 2010). Funke and Solomon (2002) suggest that the most effective means of combating the rise of the ‘parallel sovereignty’ of Shadow States is to help foster a strong civil society, and Visser’s ideas on Iraqi federalism may help provide a roadmap for creating local government structures which account for regional differences.
The uprising in Libya is only the start of a long and difficult process, and as Libyans emerge into the new political world they have created, a new discourse of division has emerged. Apparent ‘rifts’ between defectors and Islamists fill the news pages and websites (Global Post, 26 Sep), while myriad predictions for the Arab Spring states foresee a future of continued despotism and darkness. It is hoped that these are as misplaced as the deliberations over partition.
Whether Gadaffi is found fighting alongside his soldiers in Sirte or hiding in Niger (BBC News, 6 Sep), the people of Libya can be sure he will not return as their ‘Brotherly Leader and Guide’. Places and spaces where the humiliation of dictatorship took place have already been overturned and reconfigured. As a new government is constructed, Libya has the benefits of rising oil prices, an absence of foreign loans and a high gross domestic product.
The challenges, of which there are many, must become opportunities. Oil revenue must be distributed and political power decentralised, the role of Islam in politics will have to be decided upon, and democratic institutions established in a state where none have existed.
For the time being though, Libya’s revolutionaries are proud and confident. 2011 has been a transformative year for a people pursuing “the universal eligibility to be noble” (Bellow, 1953).
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 Due to the contemporaneous nature of this study, references in 2011 are cited by date and in full below
 The term is a contentious one, used in this case to reflect military and popular discourse on the conflict. The first large organisation to officially name the Libyan conflict ‘Civil War’ was the Associated Press (13 Jun).
 A term coined by Col. Gadaffi in the ‘Green Book’ of 1975 which translates from Arabic as “state of the masses” (U.S. Department of State, 2011)
North Korea is a state in East Asia with an estimated population of almost 24 million people (UN, 2008). Established as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1948, the state is officially a socialist republic, but is considered by many to be world’s only de facto totalitarian Stalinist dictatorship (Clippinger, 1981). An alternative view holds that any resemblance to the historic regimes of Stalin and Mao is superficial, and that a fascist conception of ‘pure-blood’ is central to the North Korean political ideology (Hitchens, 2010; Myers, 2010).
Characterised by a highly centralised command economy, international political isolation and a secretive ruling elite, North Korea is a country which most scholars may study only from without. For this reason, analysis of the ‘outward-facing’ and ‘inward-facing’ state-controlled media discourse has been a valuable instrument for understanding the North Korean regime and society (Clippinger, 1981; Lee, 2007).
This paper will use the method of discourse analysis developed by Teun van Dijk (1995; 2003) to identify and examine relationships between the language of North Korean news material and prospects for the normalisation of relations across the 38th Parallel (see Historical Context below). The analysis will focus upon key moments in the implementation of the Republic of Korea’s (ROK, South Korea) Sunshine Policy’ (1998-2008), chosen because of the distinct conditions for dialogue between the north and south which it facilitated. Van Dijk’s sociocognitive approach is of particular utility in the case of North Korea, being concerned with the expression and reproduction of ideology and opinion by actors with political and social motivations. Central to van Dijk’s method is the concept of the ‘ideological square’, which relates strategies for expression of “ideologies and group-based attitudes” (Van Dijk, 2003 pp.22). This approach describes emphasis upon ‘Our’ good actions and ‘Their’ bad actions, and mitigation of ‘Our’ bad actions and ‘Their’ good actions. Although strident political attacks on the ROK (and its allies the USA and Japan) are a well documented feature of North Korean media (Chul-cho, 2008; Clippinger, 1981), this paper will describe how the ‘shape’ of the ideological square changed during the Sunshine period, in which the South treated the North as a rational actor (Moon and Bae, 2003).
To contextualise, this paper provides a brief history of the conflict between the ROK and North Korea, as well as an overview of the media in North Korea. The deeply esoteric ‘official state ideology’ known as Juche will be introduced followed by an explanation of the key aspects and chronology of the Sunshine Policy. Subsequently, data drawn from the output of the state-run news agency of North Korea will be presented and analysed, and conclusions will be drawn.
A reconciliation of discordant Korean ideologies is seen as a key stage of a (re)unification which opposing international commentators have described as “happening right before our eyes” (Boston Globe, 2008) and “a daunting task at an extremely early stage” (AF, 2008)
Following the close of the Second World War and subsequent surrender of Japanese imperial possessions, the Korean peninsular was occupied by the Soviet Union and United States, with forces positioned in the northern city of Pyongyang and southern city of Seoul respectively. A zone of control was established by the occupying powers along the 38th parallel north. In 1947 a United Nations commission was established to facilitate “free and fair” elections among the population of a united Korea (USDS, 2010). That initiative was blocked by Moscow, who supported a young communist guerrilla leader named Kim Il-sung, and suspected that the larger population in the south would not support him in the proposed plebiscite. The election proceeded in the south, and the sovereign state of South Korea was established in August 1948 (United Nations, 2010). Two months later with the support of Moscow, Kim Il-sung, now the chairman of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK) was installed as premier and the DPRK was formally inaugurated. Within two years the North and South, supported by the Soviet Union and USA respectively, were engaged in a proxy war (Whan Kihl et al, 2006) between their ‘benefactors’.
The stalemate resulting from the war of 1950-1953 hardened the border politically and socially. This led to the creation of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), a borderland which became (and is still considered to be) the most heavily militarised in the world (USSD, 2010).
Strong growth aided by large scale development of infrastructure and a continued rise in industrial production characterised the North Korean economy from the end of the war until the completion of the Sino-Soviet split in 1967. The doctrinal divergence of the two supporting communist regimes caused the Soviet Union to cease financial assistance to North Korea, an event which coincided with the emergence of a ‘Spirit of Self Reliance’ (see ‘Juche’ below). Economic difficulties exacerbated by rising oil prices in the 1970s caused North Korea to default on international loans, confirming the commitment to isolationism (Whan Kihl et al, 2006). In the ‘closed system’ of the isolated state, the domestic media became important in the reinforcement of the “greatness of the Juche idea” in opposition to the inferior “imperialist human scum” USA and its “lackeys  ” the ROK and Japan (Chul-cho, 2008). Domestic media was also used for delivering culturally specific ‘coded’ messages to literate sections of the populace. This strategy is illustrated by the slow introduction of the present leader Kim Jong-il into the public consciousness by subtle, stylised and carefully planned media references, almost undetectable to external observers (Clippinger, M, 1981). By the time he was confirmed by the North Korean international media as the successor to his father Kim Il-sung, his accession in April 1993 was expected among North Koreans, thus avoiding a power struggle without external interference (Beaumont, 2010).
The Jong-il administration has advanced the role of the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in delivering internal and external messages. Weapons tests have caused a series of standoffs with the United States between 1993 and 2009, and messages transmitted through the KCNA have been a primary form of communication with the Great Enemy (Clippinger, M, 1981). Meanwhile, scholars examining internal media have noted the emergency of another subtle and coded accession campaign, this time preparing Kim Jong-il’s son Kim Jung-un for a future rise to power (Beaumont, 2010).
The Juche Idea
At the heart of North Korean public life is the official state ideology known as the ‘Juche Idea’, a highly complex set of doctrines which is often translated as “The Spirit of Self-Reliance” or “independent standing” (Warner, 2008). Originating in the early period of isolation recounted above, the Juche Idea displaced Marxism-Leninism in the constitution following reform in 1972. Because these principles influence all forms of state media in North Korea, including art, newspapers and television (Warner, 2008), any discussion of North Korean media must make reference to its centrality in media discourse. The importance of the state media in the establishment and maintenance of the Juche ideology is well expressed by a ‘senior government official’ in a speech to KCNA staff:
“The [KCNA] is a powerful mouthpiece of our Party and Government… we must pay serious attention to each word, to each dot of the writings it releases because they express the standpoint of our Party and the Government”
Excerpt 1: from “The basic tasks facing the Korean Central News Agency”
June 12 1974, KCNA
The social functions of ideology have been seen as strategies of “legitimation and reproduction of class domination” and “co-ordination of the social practices of group members for the realisation of goals of another social group” (van Dijk, 2003 pp.32). These theories closely converge with the practical implementation of Juche in the tightly controlled economy and media of North Korea. Cognitive theories of ideology have noted the promotion of attitudes, norms and values by ruling elites to preserve existing power structures (van Dijk, 2003). This theory is also supported by analyses of North Korean media content, evidenced by the secretive succession campaign discussed above.
The Korean Central News Agency
The media of North Korea are considered to be among the most strictly controlled in the world  . Although the 1972 constitution enshrines freedom of speech and freedom of the press, in reality all news is produced by the KCNA in Pyongyang, whether the intended audience is internal or external to North Korea (Whan Kihl et al, 2006).
To critically examine the output of the KCNA it is first important to identify the target audience of the material it produces. The stated aim of the agency is to “propagate the revolutionary ideology of the Leader (Kim Il-sung) widely throughout the world” (KNCA, 2010). All releases are produced in English, and it has press exchange agreements with forty international news agencies. Around 25 percent of the text is translated output into Spanish and Russian (KCNA, 2010). Although considered to be ‘outward facing’ in intent, it has been noted that the majority of articles are reproductions or translations of those found in the domestic media (Clippinger, M 1981). This is evidenced by the large proportion of articles which contain demonstrably false claims, such as a report of lavish global celebrations on the birthday of the Dear Leader (KCNA, March 1, 2010). Daily releases of 8-14 articles are produced, and since November 1996 all content has been made available on-line via the KCNA website , hosted in Japan. A daily release can contain provincial stories with a pastoral theme, an example being an account of a chance meeting between the Dear Leader (Kim Jong-il) and his rural constituents, but far more prominent and tautologous are direct attacks on US foreign policy, often recounting historical events with dubious accuracy . These are coupled with attacks on the ROK and Japan, often through the prism of a perceived friendship with the USA.
The Sunshine Policy
The Sunshine Policy was the name  given to South Korean foreign policy towards North Korea between June 1998 and February 2008, whose long-term aim was unification of the Koreas. Articulated by South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, the policy was characterised by an (initially) unilateral discourse of bilateral co-operation and was based around three “central principles” (MOU, 2000), namely that the ROK government would:
- Not tolerate any armed provocation that will destroy peace
- Not attempt to seek unification by absorbing North Korea nor harm North Korea
- Actively promote reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas
In addition to these principles, the policy contained two other major components; the first being the nominal separation of economics and politics, designed to allow South Korean businesses to invest inside North Korean territory, and the second a ‘request for reciprocity’ from North Korea (MOU, 2000). The eventual unification of the Koreas was the long-term aim of the project (MOU, 2000).
The Policy was initially praised almost universally by commentators including the Chinese and American governments (Chul Cho, 2010) and resulted in President Dae-jung’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000. By providing humanitarian aid and other concessions without any expectation of immediate concessions, the Sunshine Policy has been seen as “epitomising the rational actor model of policy-making” (Whan Kihl, 2005 pp.250) in which a state is assumed to be a unified actor that responds coherently to threats and advantages to maximise self benefit. The primary achievements of the policy were two summits held between the leaders of the North and South in June 2000 and another in October 2007, to which South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun travelled overland, crossing the centre of the DMZ by foot. Additionally it facilitated brief but iconic family reunions from 2000-2007 and resulted in the establishment of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a collaborative investment project north of the DMZ designed to aid the North’s enfeebled economy (Whan Kihl, 2006).
The election of the current ROK president Lee Myung-bak can be seen as the ‘sunset’ of the policy. A staunch critic of president Dae-jung’s approach, he has halted economic assistance and is committed to resumption only if the North co-operates with United Nations Security Council Resolution 825 (1993) and allows weapons inspectors into its territory. This contingent approach could be considered more like the actions of the North Wind than those of the Sun3.
The KCNA in the Sunshine Period
The ‘rise’ of the Sunshine Policy is accepted to have begun on February 25 1998, when the 15th President of the ROK, Kim Dae-Jung, delivered his inaugural speech, affirming that: “inter-Korean relations must be developed on the basis of reconciliation and cooperation as well as the settlement of peace”. The content of this speech was universally praised in western media, with a New York Times article calling Mr. Dae-Jung “one of Asia’s most vigorous voices for democracy and political tolerance” (26 February 1998) and the Economist noting that “[his supporters] hail him as the “Nelson Mandela of Asia” (28 February 1998).
Any KCNA recognition of regime change south of the DMZ was notable in its absence , but a short (140 words) bulletin was issued the following day:
“The current reality of korea in which the revolution and construction are going on on the basis of collectivism is the most essential aspect of the socialist advantages. We are convinced that socialism of korea built by President Kim Il-sung and exalted by General Kim Jong-il will shine long all over the world and emerge ever victorious” [emphasis added]
Excerpt 2: from “Korean socialism will always shine”
February 26 1998, KCNA
Although the KCNA regularly issues statements affirming the virtues of North Korean ‘socialist’ values, this release was unusual in its brevity and content. Daily affirmations of the Juche Idea are a consistent feature of KCNA output but are nearly always presented in the context of a story, describing an historical or contemporary world event. Excerpt 2 explicitly emphasises the common themes of perpetual ‘revolution’, collectivism and exaltation of the leaders, but the usually prominent theme of reunification does not directly feature. Implicitly the piece emphasises the temporal quality of North Korean communism, insistent that it will succeed and eventually prevail against a non-specified Other. The geographic (“all over the world”) scope of the assertion could be interpreted as an insistence upon unification under Korean Socialism. The polarising rhetorical term ‘victorious’ represents a clear presupposition of ongoing conflict. It has been proposed that media representations of North Korea ‘at war’ have long been a strategy designed to absolve the leaders of blame for economic problems (Myers, 2010), an example of media discourse attempting to organise group attitudes, both internal and external to North Korea. The uncharacteristically poor grammar could suggest an article which was composed quickly in response to President Dae-Jung’s speech. Overall, the article explicitly affirms a confrontational and temporally immutable posture.
The first inter-Korean summit was held 13-15 June 2000 in Pyongyang, and succeeded in cementing a number of landmark agreements, codified in the North-South Joint Declaration. Three days before the historic meeting, the KCNA released an anticipatory article:
“The north-south summit talks are near at hand…entirely thanks to the wise leadership of the President Kim Il Sung who paved the way for the north-south dialogue…in the 1970’s…and steered the Korean people to the peaceful reunification of the country. [He] advanced a proposal for wide-range north-south negotiations in keeping with the…requirements of the movement for national reunification”
Excerpt 3: From “Kim Il Sung’s efforts for inter-Korean dialogue”
June 10 2000, KCNA
Excerpt 3 shows a significant departure from the clearly defined Ideological Square exhibited in Excerpt 2. The concept of bilateral negotiation, so starkly absent from the previous text, is prominent. The temporal metaphor of ‘steering’ the country to peaceful reconciliation suggests a future defined not by conflict and subsequent victory, but by peace. The conspicuous references to specific political systems seen in Except 2 are absent from the full text of the article, perhaps suggesting by omission that the opposing ideologies can one day be conciliated.
The author appears to credit the deceased ‘Great Leader’ Kim Il-sung with initiating the summit  through a series of events starting in “the 1970’s”. By invoking the memory of the ‘Eternal President’, the article conforms to one half of the Ideological Square, whereby ‘Their’ good actions are mitigated, but the corollary attack on ‘Their’ bad actions is not present. Similarly, the phrase “requirements of the movement for national reunification” indicates a degree of flexibility.
Though further discussions were slowed by political disagreements on both sides of the DMZ, the first major obstruction encountered by the Sunshine Policy resulted from the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Following President George W. Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech on January 29 2002, Pyongyang ceased interaction with Seoul (Levkowitz, 2006). On June 29 a naval skirmish occurred close to the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the disputed Korean maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea. Five ROK seamen were killed, along with an undisclosed number of North Koreans (BBC News, 2002). Within hours the KCNA stated:
“[The South] committed such a grave provocation as firing bullets and shells at patrol boats of the navy of the Korean People’s Army on routine coastal guard duty…DPRK warships were compelled to take a self-defensive step. The incident was a premeditated military provocation on the part of the South Korean military…thus aggravating the inter-Korean relations that have been in the process of detente. They should stop acting rashly, mindful of the grave consequences to be entailed by such provocations.”
Excerpt 4: From “S. Korean army commits grave provocation in West Sea of Korea”
June 29 2002, KCNA
Explicitly the message of the article marks a partial return to the polarising rhetoric exhibited in Excerpt 2, but the implicit message could be described as more moderate. International observers and the ROK asserted that North Korean forces had crossed the NLL and opened fire upon ROK vessels, but evidence of this was not provided (Nanto, 2003). Because of the lack of proof, the KCNA’s testimony that “DPRK warships were compelled to take a self-defensive step” cannot be disputed (Bundy, 2010). The use of the transitive verb ‘have’ with reference to the détente of the Sunshine Policy suggests a future commitment to dialogue, though this is countered by the threatening tone of the following sentence. Van Dijk notes the use of such semi-veiled threats in journalistic material, suggesting they originate in maxims of ‘militarist ideology’; “we are allowed to destroy someone who is bent on destroying us” (van Dijk, 2003 pp.50). This sentence could be construed as a tacit legitimation of future retaliations. Overall Excerpt 4 coveys a message of defensive military posturing, and implies a presupposition of productive though contingent future relations.
At the close of the 2000 summit, the agreement had been made to hold a second meeting at “an appropriate time” (Jong-il & Dae-Jung, 2000 pp.1). Because of the difficulties described above, reduced public support in the South (partly due to scandal⁸) and a suspected succession crisis in the North (Chul-cho, 2008), this meeting was not held until October 2-4 2007.
The iconic image of the second Southern president of the Sunshine Period crossing the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) inside the DMZ on foot was headline news around the world (The Australian, 2007; The Korea Herald, 2007). Despite the international attention the gesture has not to date been mentioned by the KCNA, but the summit did receive significant coverage:
a) “The meeting will mark an event of weighty significance in boosting inter-Korean relations to a new higher stage on the basis of the historic Joint Declaration and in the spirit of “By our nation itself” and opening up a new phase for achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula, prosperity common to the nation and national reunification” b) “The DPRK government has devoted disinterested support and efforts, zealously involving itself in the…activities of the G-77 and the United Nations system”
Excerpt 5a: From “Kim Jong Il Greets Roh Moo Hyun”
Excerpt 5b: From “Expansion and Development of Cooperation Urged”
October 2 2007, KCNA
The above excerpts may represent the ‘high-water mark’ of the Sunshine Period. In Excerpt 5a South Korea is included in the pervasive independence doctrine of the Juche Idea, and two progressive assertions affirm support for further discussion. The phrases “a new higher stage” and “a new phase” are emotive expressions of a (suggested) willingness to abandon the encumbrance of the Koreas’ shared history. Excerpt 5b (from a shorter article on the same day) conveys an attempt to reassure international observers (including the UN and Group of 77) that North Korea is willing to engage in a balanced and dispassionate manner. The ‘Rational Actor’ model, in these articles at least, appeared to have been vindicated.
The Sunshine Policy received criticism from commentators throughout the 1998-2008 period (Lee, 2007, Nanto, 2003). Critics argued that by supporting the Northern regime financially, the South was implicated in the human rights violations of its beneficiary. The election of one of the fiercest critics (Warner, 2008), Lee Myung-bak on 25 February 2008 as President of the ROK saw a substantial shift in the South’s policy on North Korea. He ceased funding for the Kaesong Industrial Complex, demanding that the North resolve the continued international impasse over its alleged nuclear weapons programme. The KCNA response was immediate and extensive. Hundreds of articles were issued in the following twelve months denigrating President Myung-bak’s policies through insulting language, at turns branding him a ‘swindler’ and ‘sycophant’ promoting a “criminal confrontation policy” (KNCA, 2008). The North’s confirmed nuclear test on 25 May 2009 (USGS, 2010) cemented the new Myung-bak regime’s revised policy.
Through analysing the discourse of the ‘mouthpiece’ of the North Korean government during the Sunshine Period, this paper has examined a small fragment of one in a multitude of voices. Despite the small sample size, a clear correlation has emerged between the intent of the ROK administration to approach North Korea as a rational actor. As the policies of the South have changed, so too have the constructed meanings, norms and identities expressed by the Jong-il government through the KCNA. In the context of the Ideological Square, Northern reactions to the Sunshine Policy have been observed changing ‘shape’ throughout the period. If “security interests are defined by actors who respond to cultural factors” (Chul-cho, 2008 pp.97), then a future policy of engagement rather than ostracism will help to gain the support of the North Korean government and people. The approach of the Myung-bak government has been accused of ‘moral absolutism’, ‘demonising’ the ‘Other’ to achieve favour abroad (Chul-cho, 2008 pp.110). It is argued that this stance does not contribute to resolving the discord between the two Korean political identities.
The two nations have endured decades of conflict; families and communities have been divided, and two separate ‘stories’ have been played out. During the Sunshine Policy the people of a vibrant developed nation have engaged with those of an “ossified Hobbesian security culture” (Wendt, 1999) across the DMZ. Progress was made, but a long night may precede the dawn of peace on the Korean peninsular.
 The distinctive lexicon of North Korean insults has been ascribed by defectors formerly employed by the KCNA partly to the use of English language dictionaries dating from the 1960’s (BBC News, 2009)
 Reporters sans Frontières; 2009 Press Freedom Index
 “U.S. Imperialists, Most Hideous Homicide in World” June 23 2009
 ‘Sunshine’ refers to Aesop’s fable ‘The North Wind and the Sun’, in which the wind and sun compete to remove a man’s coat. The Sun emerges as the victor, owing to its benevolent and patient approach in opposition to the North Wind’s forceful attempts (MOU, 2002) (see cover illustration)
 The agency often congratulates world leaders from all political backgrounds upon their (re)election successes, including messages to Swiss, Guinean and Laotian premiers in 1998 (KCNA, 1998)
 In 2003 a prosecuting court revealed that an illegal payment of 500 million US dollars had been made to the North by South Korean carmaker Hyundai to facilitate the meeting (Jonsson, 2006).
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The Korean DMZ: