Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1159, (1 - 7 August 2013)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1159, (1 - 7 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Libyan unrest escalates

Assassinations, political violence and prison breaks characterise Libya’s current phase, with no end to insecurity in sight,
writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Libya has plunged into a renewed wave of unrest and violence, aggravating the already deepening crisis in the country due to complications that have delayed and heightened tensions over the drafting of a new constitution.

In Tripoli, two gunmen fired an RPG missile at the UAE embassy early in the morning of 25 July. The missile struck the second storey of the building, which was closed and empty at the time. The dawn attack was the latest episode in a series of assaults against foreign diplomatic missions which have included the French, Turkish and Qatari embassies in Tripoli and the US and British consulates in Benghazi. The most violent of these — the attack against the US consulate in Benghazi — led to the death of the US ambassador at the time and four other diplomatic staff.

UAE Assistant Foreign Minister for Security and Military Affairs Fares Al-Mazrouei called the attack against his country’s embassy in Tripoli a “terrorist act”. In a statement broadcast by the official UEA news agency, he said that no embassy employees had been harmed and that the embassy had contacted the relevant authorities in Libya to ask them to conduct an investigation into the incident.

Although up to now no particular party or parties have been identified as responsible for any of the embassy attacks, political and security analysts strongly suspect Islamist extremist groups that have proliferated in the country since the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

Benghazi has been another locus of mounting violence. Last week, Libya’s second largest city, known as the cradle of the Libyan revolution, experienced a chain of assassinations targeting political activists and security officials. On 26 July, Abdel-Salam Al-Mesmari, one of the founders of the 17 February Coalition, was shot on his way home from the Abu Ghoula Mosque in Benghazi’s Birkah district. The murder of the popular lawyer and political activist sparked countrywide protests in condemnation of the crime and the string of assassinations in the country.

Shortly after Al-Mesmari’s assassination, three more people were gunned down in Benghazi, including Colonel Salem Al-Sareh and Colonel Khattab Al-Zwai, head of police in Jakhirra in southern Libya, who happened to be visiting Benghazi, and a police officer at a police station located in Al-Foweihat district of Benghazi.

Minister of Justice Salah Al-Mirghani, who flew to Benghazi to monitor the investigations, threatened to resign if the investigations failed to reveal the identities of the killers. There have been 62 assassinations in the country since the overthrow of the former regime, the first victim being the first army chief-of-staff after the revolution, General Abdel-Fattah Al-Obeidi.

Human Rights Watch called on Libyan authorities to act immediately on the government pledge to conduct a speedy and comprehensive investigation into the assassination of Al-Mesmari. In a statement issued Saturday, the international human rights watchdog said that Libya’s fragile transitional process would be endangered if assassinations were perpetrated with impunity. The organisation had no doubt that the murder of Al-Mesmari was politically motivated as he had been one of the staunchest opponents of the political isolation law that went into effect early June.

President of the interim government Ali Zeidan refused to level blame against any particular faction for the string of assassinations. Speaking on Libyan state television, he said: “We do not want to hurl accusations in any direction,” adding that the “criminal” assassinations were committed in order to sew chaos in the country and to undermine the national project of building a modern institutionalised state founded on the rule of law and the principles of human rights, justice and freedom.

Immediately following Zeidan’s televised statement Saturday morning, an angry crowd of demonstrators marched on the Benghazi headquarters of the Freedom and Construction Party (FCP), the political wing of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood. The demonstrators held that the Islamists were behind the assassinations targeting dozens of police officers, especially in Benghazi. A group of young demonstrators stormed the building and trashed its contents.

In tandem with the Benghazi protest, another large demonstration was staged in Tripoli, “in solidarity with Benghazi” and against the Muslim Brotherhood.

But the wave of protests that was triggered by the assassinations targeted not only Muslim Brotherhood and FCP buildings but also those of the liberal National Forces Alliance and other parties. Indeed, in Al-Khams in western Libya, protesters used bulldozers to totally level the premises of all political parties, according to official sources contacted by Al-Ahram Weekly.

The foregoing illustrates the unprecedented depth of popular anger and frustration at the performance of political parties and the General National Congress (GNC), which broad segments of the population hold responsible not only for delays in drafting the new constitution but for virtually all the problems in the country, foremost among them being the endemic insecurity.

Al-Mesmari, who was assassinated Friday, was an outspoken critic of the Muslim Brotherhood and the FCP. He had long held that there was an intimate relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamist groups that have proliferated in Libya since the fall of Gaddafi, a phenomenon that he likened to the situation in Egypt.

Libyan Muslim Brotherhood General Supervisor Bashir Al-Kabti cautioned against applying the Egyptian scenario to Libya after attacks by angry demonstrators against the FCP headquarters. Libya is not Egypt and any attempt to apply events that Egypt has experienced to Libya will propel the country towards catastrophe, because everyone in Libya is armed, he said.

In a press conference that he held in Benghazi Saturday, Al-Kabti added that “a treacherous hidden hand” was behind the mounting violence in Libya. This hand had its finger on the trigger, controlled by “the vast interests of persons who build their wealth on the blood of the Libyan people”. He held that the recent assassinations prove that “the enemy stands against the Libyans’ uprising against the former regime” and “aims to destabilise the country and drive it towards violence and anarchy”. The Muslim Brotherhood leader called on all patriotic forces to unify ranks so as not to give the “foreign enemy” the opportunity to wreak chaos. He called on the government to remain firm in its resolve to unearth those responsible for the assassinations in Benghazi.

Weapons are, indeed, ubiquitous in Libya and are widely used both as a means of deterrence and asserting political pressure. This reality has severely complicated the political process, generating an extremely dangerous environment that could erupt into widespread urban warfare in the event that political conflicts flare beyond the point of containment. The situation is all the more volatile due to the fact that political conflicts have come to intersect with potentially explosive inter-tribal tensions that some believe have been deliberately fuelled since the war against the Gaddafi regime.

In western Libya alone, more than eight tribal conflicts have flared since January 2012. Moreover, the tensions are more intensive than they have been in the past and neither the interim government nor the GNC have succeeded in remedying the sources of these tensions.

As though Libya were not sufficiently mired in violence, on Saturday rioting both inside and outside of Kufiya Prison — 10 kilometres east of Benghazi — enabled the escape of more than 1,200 inmates.

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