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Inside Story
Disbanding Libya's militias
Can Libya's government reign in the band of armed militias that have been holding the nation's security to ransom?
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2012 13:14

Forty-eight hours. That is the deadline for all rogue militias to disband in Libya as the new president bows to public pressure.

The decision came amid growing public anger at armed factions and Islamist groups, many of whom have been operating with impunity in Libya for months now.

"I don't think we are near to peace and prosperity in the very near future unless something is done drastically to satisfy people on the ground who feel that politicians are not really paying much attention to state-building and also these revolutionaries are becoming militia men and they are getting out of hand."

- Faraj Najam, a Libyan historian

Mohammed al-Magariaf, the Libyan interim president, has ordered the dissolution of all militias that are not government-sanctioned: "We're disbanding all the armed groups that do not fall under the authority of the government. We're also banning the use of violence and carrying of weapons in public places. It is also illegal to set up checkpoints. We've instructed the appropriate government agencies to ensure that these directives are implemented."

So far, the Libyan government has been unable to clampdown on militia groups, but the latest announcement comes as 30,000 protesters gathered in Benghazi on Friday.

They stormed the headquarters of Ansar al Sharia demanding militia groups be disbanded in Libya. The group has been linked to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that took the lives of four Americans.

By Saturday they had been driven out. Two more groups in the eastern town of Derna have now voluntarily stepped aside.

Authorities have relied on militias to plug the security gap in Libya. Disbanding them may be the government's biggest challenge yet.

Post-Gaddafi Libya is littered with armed groups, many of whom took part in the revolution. While some are considered illegitimate, others are under the command of the defence ministry.

"In a state of vulnerability and volatility where state institutions remain weak ... Benghazi has again revolted, in this case calling for the salvation of the city, for cleaning up the city and for the state to assume its rightful and dutiful responsibilities."

- Tarik Yousef, a political economist

And despite repeated calls to disband them, many worry about what will happen to the well-armed fighters that make up their ranks.

Among the main groups are:

  • The February 17 Brigade is the most powerful. It played an important role in the revolution and still enjoys public support.
  • Ansar al Sharia has been widely condemned in recent days. It is suspected by some of being behind the attacks on the US consulate that killed Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to the country, along with three other consulate staff.
  • And the Rafallah Sahati Brigade is also among the most powerful. It provided security during the recent elections.

So, can the Libyan government stand up to armed militias?

To discuss this issue on Inside Story, presenter Hazem Sika, is joined by guests: Faraj Najam, a Libyan historian and author of Tribes, Islam, and state in Libya; Osama Kubbar, a political analyst and a former spokesperson for the Zawiyah Brigade, one of the militia groups in Libya; and Tarik Yousef, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute who specialises in the political economy and is a former IMF and World Bank economist.

"There is no real trust between the people in the street and those who deal with the political scene in Libya and the ministries. That's why all these loyal freedom fighters take it on their hands to maintain their stand for the time being to make sure that the country is heading in the right direction."

Osama Kubbar, a politicial analyst and former spokesperson for the Zawiyah Brigade 


FACTS ABOUT ANTI-MILITIA PROTESTS:

  • Protesters condemned the killing of Chris Stevens, the US ambassador, and consulate staff
  • Protesters chanted "no to militias" and demanded better security
  • Protesters called for the killers of Stevens to be brought to justice
  • Six people were killed and several wounded during the protests in Benghazi
  • Protesters attacked several militia bases including Ansar al Sharia's
  • Two armed groups in Derna abandon their bases amid anger against militias
  • The issue of semi-autonomous militias has been a recurring problem in Libya
  • The authorities argue that some militias are needed to fill the security gap
  • The protesters want militias to disband or be integrated into the army

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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