Libya's escalating gun problem

Many Libyans are asking how elections can be conducted while so many individuals and groups remain heavily armed.


    Tuesday's attack by gunmen on the headquarters of Libya's interim government was not the first time when former revolutionaries had used their weapons to enforce their demands and it probably won't be the last.

    But the incident was definitely the most violent so far.

    Around 200 ex-fighters with 50 vehicles armed with multiple rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns surrounded the headquarters of the government. The clash left some people dead or injured.

    At the scene, you feel how tense it is. An angry young man was shouting in Arabic: "I will spray you all." Another group that was surrounding the government’s building decided to fire their anti-aircraft guns in his support.

    Seemingly everyone in Libya has guns and this has been a problem ever since the National Transitional Council declared Libya liberated from Muammer Gaddafi.

    Many former rebels - some here like to call them militias - have been using their weapons to enforce their demands.

    Clashes broke out on several occasions. 
    Main roads were cut at will. Even government buildings were occupied.

    Weak response

    So that’s why many Libyans including the NTC has blamed the interim government for its slow and weak response to integrate the former rebels and establish stability.

    The NTC recently even considered sacking the prime minister and some of his ministers. But they decided it won’t be in Libya’s interest, as the country is near general elections which are expected to take place in June.

    Now the government says it’s making progress. Between 40,000 to 50,000 former rebels have been integrated in the army, police force or given civilian jobs, the government says. And it is planning to integrate and train more of them.

    The first group of ex-fighters has been sent to Jordan for police training.

    The army is also being built. But it will definitely take more time to establish a professional force. Meanwhile, the interior ministry also managed to create the Supreme Security Committee - which is made up of rebel brigades from across Libya.

    It has 8,000 strong member and they report directly to the ministry of interior. It was this force that was called in to deter the attackers on the government's compound on Tuesday.

    'Fake revolutionaries'

    The government has been calling on all rebels to hand in their weapons and to be part of the state either in the military or civilian sector and labelled those who are not willing to do so as "fake revolutionaries".

    Now the government wants to maintain its prestige even if it uses force to enforce it.

    Late Tuesday after the incident, the country’s prime minister Abdelrahi Alkieb gave a speech in which he described the attackers as "outlaws and saboteurs," adding that he will not give in to blackmail.

    On Wednesday, the funeral procession of the victims who died in the attack at the PM’s office turned into a protest against the spread of weapons and to establish a state that is based on the rule of law.

    At the funeral you hear a lot on the fact that real revolutionaries didn’t rise against Gaddafi so they can get grants or gifts for their sacrifice. They say they rose up against oppression and for dignity.

    But this incident - though now being over - came at a very wrong time for government. The country is in the process of registering voters and candidates for the elections expected to be held on June 19.

    Uncontrolled groups

    Many people inside and outside Libya are asking how can you hold an election with the spread weapons or uncontrolled rebel groups.

    A valid question but perhaps the number of the registered voters, which reached over 800,000 people since May 1st, will prove skeptics wrong.

    The National Transitional Council and the interim government admit the challenge but they insist the elections will be held on time and will be secured.

    The deputy prime minister told Al Jazeera that the ministry of interior is allocating between 25,000 and 30,000 policemen to secure the elections.

    So there is hope and fear. Hope that the elections will result in a represented National Congress that will write a new constitution that paves the way for a democratic free Libya.

    And fear that the differences and perhaps the power struggle among the different rebel groups with their heavy weapons will not only harm the state but it might derail the entire revolution.



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