In mid-February of 2011 a people's revolt against the 42-year dictatorship of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi began in Libya. Inspired by the "Arab Spring" in neighboring countries and rooted in long-held anti-Gaddafi sentiment, the country ignited after the arrest of lawyer Fathi Tribil on February 15th and a subsequent February 17th demonstration that left thousands dead. By late February a "Free Libya" was declared.
Towns and cities across eastern Libya rose up against Gaddafi. Benghazi, the second largest city in the country, became the epicenter of the opposition. All territory east of Benghazi was declared "free." Two coastal towns, Zawiyeh, located just 60 km from the capital Tripoli, and Misurata, strategically positioned between Tripoli and the Gaddafi stronghold city Sert, joined "Free Libya." The rest of Western Libya remained loyal to Gaddafi. The Libyan Civil War had begun.