Australia, Britain, India – servicemen from these countries know all about Tobruk, and are famed for the “Rats of Tobruk”. To encapsulate on the Libyan campaigns, the most famous names are Montgomery, Wavell and Rommel. At this point Libya was a colony of Italy, and Benito Mussolini did not intend giving up the colony. The British had pushed back the Italians, and then Rommel arrived in Tripoli. This in itself is interesting because this whole world war scenario seems to be the starting point for the current conflicts in Libya.
At this link, I found a very good potted history that provides quite a bit of light on the whole subject of Benghazi vs. Tripoli. At the heart of this story is the desire of Libyans to be free from a colonial power. Idris, became the king after Libya won its independence from Italy. This no doubt created resentment in the Tripolitania region of Libya. The fact is that the people of Cyrenaica (encompasses Benghazi) became allied with the British and the French during the second world war. Idris was a prime mover of the alliance. The people of Tripolitania were resentful over this alliance. The people of Tripoli did not want the alliance with the British because they believed that if the British lost then there would be severe retribution. Even at this stage the Cyrenaicans had a long history of resistance. This is why they were prepared to be allied to the British – they saw it as an opportunity to get rid of their Italian colonial masters in the future, and it was better to ally with the British so that they would get help in the future.
British officials maintained that major postwar agreements or guarantees could not be undertaken while the war was still in progress. Although he endeavored from time to time to secure a more favorable British commitment, Idris generally accepted this position and counseled his followers to have patience. Clearly, many of them were not enthusiastic about Libyan unity and would have been satisfied with the promise of a Sanusi government in Cyrenaica. After the August 1940 resolution, five Libyan battalions were organized by the British, recruited largely from Cyrenaican veterans of the Italo-Sanusi wars. The Libyan Arab Force, better known as the Sanusi Army, served with distinction under British command through the campaigns of the desert war that ended in the liberation of Cyrenaica.
In a speech in the House of Commons in January 1942, British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden acknowledged and welcomed “the contribution which Sayid Idris as Sanusi and his followers have made and are making” to the Allied war effort. He added that the British government was determined that the Sanusis in Cyrenaica should “in no circumstances again fall under Italian domination.” No further commitment was made, and this statement, which made no mention of an independent Libya, remained the official British position during the war.
Under the leadership of Idris, Libya had 5 battalions fighting against the Germans and the Italians in the second world war.
In other words there has been simmering resentment between Benghazi and Tripoli since around the time of the second world war. The people of Benghazi had always wanted their independence from colonial rulers and had a history of resistance. Idris had been their leader during the second world war, and Tripoli was resentful because of the commitment to the British. Idris was removed in a bloodless coup staged by the young Moamar Gadhafi, a man from the Tripolitania region.
With this background it seems unreasonable to suggest that those who are now fighting against Gadhafi are Islamists. Yes, there are some who fit that description, but at the very heart of Benghazi are those who either fought or their ancestors fought with the British against Italy during the second world war, and who then fought for their independence from Italy. This explains to a very large extent why they have been so keen to display the old flag. It is that flag that sums up their resistance.
The people currently fighting against Gadhafi are not rebels. They are indeed resistance fighters who are after one thing – their freedom.