Biker groups flourish in post-Qaddafi Libya

Members of the Tripoli bikers group ride their motorbikes on the streets of Tripoli, in this Nov. 4 photo. (Reuters)
Updated 22 November 2017
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Biker groups flourish in post-Qaddafi Libya

TRIPOLI: Donning leather and helmets (sometimes), they roar along Libya’s hair-raising, potholed roads on carefully polished Harley Davidsons and Kawasakis.
Part of a growing scene, there are now hundreds of bikers in Tripoli alone who come from all walks of life. One is the imam of a local mosque, another a 60-year-old mechanic who lived nearly three decades in Texas.
Riding past — often in groups — on their gleaming machines, they stick out in Libya, where a conservative society still bears the scars of decades of authoritarian rule under former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, and the revolution and conflict that followed.
They say their hobby lifts moods in a country worn down by years of violence and political upheaval since Qaddafi’s ouster in 2011.
“People do this to have a bit of a break, to live like human beings a little,” said Bilal Khatap, a 37-year-old car dealer who rides a green Harley Davidson.
On a recent Saturday morning, about two dozen bikers congregated in central Tripoli, doing small circuits in front of curious bystanders in the city’s main square before taking a spin on the city’s coastal road.
Some were members of the Monsters — named as such for their appearance after one ride in heavy rain. Under Qaddafi, freedom of association and assembly in Libya was highly restricted, but the Monsters is one of at least four biker groups now active in the capital.
“The Monster group started in 2012” said Maruan Aghila, an embassy employee in a black Guns N’ Roses waistcoat and a skull and crossbones bandana, getting ready for the ride on his Suzuki Intruder.
“Before that we weren’t allowed to have groups. Before that there were very few bikers in Libya,” he said, adding with a smile: “So it’s a positive result of the revolution.”
Most bikers do regular professional jobs, said Subhi Azoz, a café owner who also preaches as an imam in a central Tripoli mosque and rides a mauve Suzuki Boulevard.
Some have imported powerful modern racing bikes, others have rebuilt or adapted older, classic models.
“You can order parts on Amazon, Ebay. It’s really expensive, but it’s possible,” said Aghila.
Although conflict threw Libya’s economy into crisis in recent years, sought after products can still be imported and trendy shops in parts of Tripoli stock fashionable clothes and accessories.
Biker groups have also sprung up in other major Libyan cities including Benghazi and Zawiya. They make local excursions at weekends, and sometimes venture further on cross country trips.
“Every now and again there are security problems on the road and we can’t leave, but normally it’s fine and we can go anywhere,” said Khatap.
Abdu Saghezli, a wiry 60-year-old on a white Suzuki Hayabusa who worked as a mechanic in Texas before returning to Libya in 2007, said militiamen at a checkpoint had pulled a gun on him and tried to steal his bike in early 2015.
Biking in Libya, or indeed driving, is not for the fainthearted. Road habits tend to reflect the country’s wider lawlessness.
In a 2015 report on road safety by the World Health Organization, Libya has an estimated road traffic death rate of 73 per 100,000 population, far higher than any other country listed.
“It’s very dangerous,” said Saghezli, whose brother died in a motorbike accident in the 1990s and who tries to insist that his companions wear helmets.
“If you can drive in Libya, you can drive anywhere.”


Iraq’s Shiite rivals agree on prime minister

Updated 18 September 2018
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Iraq’s Shiite rivals agree on prime minister

  • Veteran Shiite politician Adel Abdul Mahdi informally nominated to replace Haider Al-Abadi
  • Decision reached after extensive negotiations between pro and anti-Iran factions

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s rival Shiite blocs in parliament have agreed on who they want as the next prime minister after making progress in negotiations towards forming a government, negotiators told Arab News.

The two factions, one pro Iran and the other anti, have agreed to work together as a coalition, negotiators told Arab News on Tuesday.

The veteran Shiite politician and former vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi was informally nominated to replace Haider Al-Abadi, negotiators said. 

He will be assigned on Sept. 25 to form a government if his nomination is approved by the Kurdish blocs. 

Before the appointment of prime minister, the president has to be selected. There is no indication that the Kurds, who get the post according to the Iraq’s power sharing agreement, have decided on who to nominate. 

Iraq’s parliament has been split between the Reform alliance and Al-Binna’a alliance after elections in May.

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READ MORE: Iraq parliament elects Sunni lawmaker Al-Halbousi as speaker, breaking deadlock

Rival Iraqi factions make coalition deal and end Al-Abadi’s prime minister hopes

Rival Shiite factions trade blame for who drove the burning of buildings in Basra

Iran accused of hijacking Basra protests after a week of violence that shook Iraq

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Reform is controlled by Muqtada Al-Sadr, one of the country’s most influential Shiite clerics who opposes Iranian influence in the country.

Iran-backed Al-Binna’a is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, the head of Badr organization, the most prominent Shiite armed faction.

At the first parliamentary session earlier this month, both coalitions claimed they have the most number of seats which would give them the right to form a government.

Within hours, violent demonstrations erupted in Basra, Iraq’s main oil hub, killing 15 demonstrators and injuring scores of people. The Iranian consulate was set on fire along with dozens of government and party buildings.

The violence on the street reflected the stand-off in parliament and threatened to erupt into fighting between the armed wings associated with the different Shiite groups.

The agreement between the two blocs was the only way to end the violence and prevent a slide into intra-Shiite  fighting, senior leaders involved in the talks said.

Several meetings between Al-Sadr and Al-Amiri were held in Al-Sadr’s residency in the holy city of Najaf last week to defuse the crisis.

Both parties’ desire for a truce seemed clear on Saturday at a parliament session to elect the speaker and his deputies. The two blocks showed their influence without colliding with each other. Al-Binna’a presented its candidate for the speaker post and stepped down after winning to make way for the Reform bloc to present its candidate for the post of first deputy of the speaker without competition.

The negotiations teams continued their meetings over the following days to agree on the details of the government program and select the nominee for the prime minister among the dozens of candidates presented by the forces belonging to the two alliances.

The first results of talks between the two blocs came out on Tuesday when Al-Amiri withdrew from the race “to open doors for more talks,” and avoid  conflict between the alliances.

“We will not talk on behalf of Al-Binna’a or the Reform. We both will agree on a candidate. Compatibility is our only choice,” Al-Amiri, said at a press conference in Baghdad.

“Today, Iraq needs to be saved, as we saved it from Daesh, so we have only two options, either we choose to impose the wills and twist each others arms or choose the understanding between us.”

 Iraq has been a battleground for regional and international powers, especially Iran and the United States, since 2003 US-led invasion. 

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to Iraq and Syria, and General Qassim Soleimani, commander of Iran's Al Quds Force, are deeply involved in the negotiations. 

The candidate for prime minister should also enjoy the blessing of the religious powers in Najaf, represented by Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the Shiite spiritual leader and most revered figure in Iraq, negotiators said.

“The situation is complicated as there are three different sides that enjoy the right to use veto. They are Iran, US and Najaf,” a key negotiator of Al-Sadr’s negotiation team told Arab News.

“One ‘no’ is enough to exclude any candidate. Not only that, Sadr and Amiri also have their conditions and we still have difficulty reconciling all of them.”

The marathon negotiations, which run every day until late at night, finally reached a shortlist for prime minister.

The three names reached were Adel Abdul Mahdi, a former leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Falih Al-Fayadh, the former national security adviser, and Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, the head of the intelligence service.

Adel Abdul Mahdi was the chosen one, three negotiators from different sides told Arab News.

“We have agreed to nominate Adel Abdul Mahdi as he is the only one who was approved by the three sides (Iran, the US and Najaf),” an Al-Sadr negotiator told Arab News.