Why Sirte matters to Gaddafi and the rebels
Published 28/03/2011 | 15:36
As Col Muammar Gaddafi faces revolt from the east, Sirte stands as his Stalingrad against the onslaught.
The grandiose city on the Mediterranean has been designated the political capital of Africa by Col Gaddafi.
But its Soviet-style architecture looms as its most important attribute.
As the front line in a developing civil war it offers Libya's armed forces a formidable fortress to defend.
Its wide-avenues and reinforced concrete towers allow easy manoeuvrability and ample shelter against coalition air forces.
The rebel forces in 'technicals' – pickup trucks with heavy weaponry on the back – will be vulnerable to Gaddafi's dug-in fire power.
Even if they storm the streets, the rebels will confront a resident population that fervently pro-Gaddafi.
"Every one here likes Gaddafi, we want no change, we want to go normally about our business," said Daud Mansour, a member of Warfalla, Libya's largest tribe and a Sirte breadman.
"The people from the east are not welcome here we will fight them."
Sirte is a stronghold of the Gaddadfa tribe, Col Gaddafis own tribe and a traditional ally of the Warfalla. Sirte residents have a profited tremendously from his rule. Apartment blocs are modern and spacious and the local shops are well stocked. By contrast Col Gaddafi has starved resources from Benghazi and Toburk. There is no raw sewage running in the streets as there is in the eastern slums.
"When the people of the east fled in the face of violence they went to Benghazi, capital of the dissidents, but the people of Sirte held firm because it was Gaddafi's hold out place," a Libyan official said.
Even the rebels, acknowledged the difficulties of taking Sirte.
"Sirte is the key to Tripoli and it will be a big and difficult battle to seize it," said Ahmed al-Muqassabi, a defector.
The town were the Libyan leader grew up has been transformed under his 41-year regime.
Parliamentary assemblies and regal divans have been erected across the city.
Marble-clad hotels and plush holiday villas have been erected to transform the town into a city.
The main hotel has five presidential suites, each of which is decorated in a garish neo-ottoman style.
But as with much of Col Gaddafi's extravagant initiatives, there was purpose to the project. Sirte became the place where Col Gaddafi wanted to show the world he was a regional power broker that deserved international respect.
The Sirte Declaration in 1999 established the African Union, a body that has now endorsed a motion that Col Gaddafi's rule is now longer legitimate. Col Gaddafi later promoted a United States of Africa with Sirte as its nerve-centre.
When Col Gaddafi told an Arab League summit in Sirte in 2009 that he was 'King of Kings, Imam of the Muslims" the Saudi Arabian delegation led by King Abdullah walked out. It was slight that has been forgotten by the richest and most powerful Islamic nation.
Hundreds of foreign leaders have been entertained by Col Gaddafi in Sirte were lavish praise of the Libyan leader was promoted on state television. Silvio Berlusconi went one further than most last year by kissing Col Gaddafi's hand on arrival.