Libya battles militias
Libyans regard the upsurge in violence as a wake-up call to contain the threat of Islamist militias, writes Gamal Nkrumah
The strident rhetoric of Libya's politicians in the post-Muammar Gaddafi era has failed miserably. And it is their failure that has prepared the ground for the militias' success so far.
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Libyan security forces heading to the hideouts of Islamist militias in Tripoli after giving them a deadline to leave state and military premises or be expelled by force
The violence instigated by lawless militias has cast fresh doubt both on the political future of Libya and social stability of the country. Libyan politicians must do more to contain the country's warring militias. With the deplorable upsurge in violence it is high time that Libya's post-Gaddafi political establishment set out a serious rebuttal to the militias' agenda.
The crucial question is how this conundrum can be resolved. People power came to the rescue as angry demonstrators stormed Islamist militia strongholds in Benghazi, the cradle of the anti-Gaddafi uprising, and Derna, also a city of Cyrenaica, believed to be the stronghold of Libya's Islamists. The Islamist militias, dejected and disheartened, threw in the towel.
It is now clear that many of the policies adopted after the fall of the Gaddafi regime were flawed. In spite of elections, the real masters of the Libyan streets are the militias. Everybody in Libya is astir. They cannot contain the chaos.
Neighbouring countries, too, must not be complacent in thinking this is merely a problem for Libya. For chaos is contagious. The Arab Spring has not been the answer for Libyans. This is the lesson all in North Africa should heed.
The folly of thoughtless promises is coming home to the post-Gaddafi political establishment in Libya, and it is hoped that the country will be better for it.
Policy-makers in Libya are living in cloud cuckoo land as far as discounting the militias. But the people of Libya are sharp-eyed and clear-sighted. Militias like Rafallah Al-Sahati and Ansar Al-Din are being restrained and their compounds stormed and their arms confiscated. Demands for a proper national army have hitherto been muted.
Ansar Al-Din dreads the whole ignominious story of the assassination of Gaddafi being dredged up again. The militias tried to get their feet in the door, but the Libyan people are determined not to let them get away with murder. The Libyan Islamist militias' tactics are far from epoch-making.
But only the flintiest churl would deny that the Libyan authorities' handling of the subject since then has been courageous. Still, the newly elected president of Libya's General National Congress, Mohamed Magharyief (often mistakenly regarded as Libya's president), appeared to be at a loss as to what to say. He met with Libya's Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abu Shagur and with army commanders and Commander-in-Chief Youssef Mangoush in Benghazi. They resolved to curb the power of militias and to create an appropriate national army.
Libyan human rights groups and civil society organisations inveigh against the lack of security in the country and decry the Libyan government's decision to retain some of the armed militias.
Amid the mayhem there were mixed signals and insinuations that militiamen were loyal to the late Libyan leader Al-Gaddafi. Ansar Al-Sharia militiamen boasted that they were instrumental in the defeat of Gaddafi loyalist troops in Sirte.
Scoring cheap political points will not resolve Libya's long term problems. Salafist groups are attacking Sufi shrines and historic mosques and the deteriorating security situation is prompting Libyan officials to issue contradictory statements concerning the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.
Al-Zahawi's statement was corroborated by Youssef Al-Gehani, spokesman of Ansar Al-Sharia, who said that the militia "did not take part in any act against the US consulate in Benghazi".
Of all the Arab and Muslim nations, the reaction to the mediocre amateur video Innocence of Muslims was the most melodramatic. It was the militias, though, and not the Libyan populace that instigated the violence that ensued.
Magharyief has come under fire for not controlling the militias. However, even members of Magharyief's own National Front Party repudiated his own statements on the subject of the US ambassador's assassination.
"I don't know what he is talking about," Abdel-Rahman Al-Mansouri, security adviser to outgoing Libyan prime minister Abdel-Rahim Al-Keib, cynically retorted. "From the beginning there have been serious mistakes committed. They panicked and were in a state of shock," Al-Mansouri said of the ruling clique.
"You have to understand this was really shocking for us," he concluded. Libya's current premier, Abu Shagur, stressed that Libya owes much to late US Ambassador Christopher Stevens. After all, Stevens was instrumental in assisting members of the uprising that toppled Gaddafi's regime, and was particularly helpful in Cyrenaica in general and Benghazi in particular. Yet the angry fringe caricature created by the Islamist militias were the very ones that assassinated Stevens.
In spite of denials by Ansar Al-Sharia, a group affiliated to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), there are suspicions in Libya and the West that the Partisans of Islamic Law were implicated in the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. AQIM collaborates with Al-Qaeda whose leader, Egyptian-born Ayman Al-Zawahri, urged Libyan Islamists to bombard US interests in the country. The Ansar Al-Sharia militia is politically powerful in Benghazi and Cyrenaica, eastern Libya.
The original policy of appeasing Islamists appears to be CIA dictated. However, it has gone terribly wrong.
"The blood of the martyrs will not be shed in vain," protesters in Benghazi chanted. They called for the country's chief of staff, defence and interior ministers to be sacked. The officials implicated were not ruffled or broken hearted.
Libyan Army Chief of Staff Youssef Mangoush put on a brave face. "There is no doubt that it's a strong initiative that came from the streets; it's proof that the street wants the establishment of the state. We will take advantage of that to end those militias," Mangoush extrapolated.
The militias, however, fought back with impunity. "Without us, there will be no security," Mohamed Ghabarti, commander of Rafallah Al-Sahati ominously warned. "We've asked the state to take control multiple times, but each time the Libyan government says it can't. There is no army and no police," Ghabarti remonstrated.
The Libyan authorities, nevertheless, were unrepentant and unperturbed. "The first step is that those brigades that do not recognise the authority of the state are illegitimate," Saleh Joud, deputy chief of Libyan national security elucidated.