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Order Comes Slowly to Libyan Patchwork

BENGHAZI, Libya, Feb 19 2012 (IPS) - A year after the Libyan uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the National Transitional Council (NTC) has yet to provide adequate security. Many armed groups are still calling the shots, as the NTC moves to restore normalcy.

Members of armed groups are being brought under new government discipline in Libya. Credit: Mike Elkin/IPS.

Members of armed groups are being brought under new government discipline in Libya. Credit: Mike Elkin/IPS.

“These armed groups need to return to their homes,” Fathi Baja, an NTC founding member and head of the political committee that draws up national and international policy for the council, told IPS in an interview. “Those from Zintan who are in the Tripoli airport need to go back to Zintan. The checkpoints in Tripoli manned by people from Misrata have no place there. We have a state within a state.”

According to Saleh Aburajiga, an electrical engineer from Zintan who was active in the revolution, the Zintan brigades, who hail from the western mountain region, are safeguarding the airport and oil deposits in the south because the NTC is unable to provide security.

“They are all volunteers,” Aburajiga added. “No one takes money because they are working for the new Libya. There is a lot of bad press about them, but the majority is lies.”

In the eastern city of Benghazi, however, the defence ministry has already absorbed the diverse rebel brigades into its structure. Instead of wearing individual brigade patches, those handling security in Benghazi wear ministry badges around their necks.

“All the rebels in Benghazi have signed up with the defence ministry, and around 1,000 graduated from a training course last week,” said Halili Aguri, 20. He added that his Libya Al-Hurra (Free Libya) Brigade signed on with the ministry last April.

Security forces were put on alert last week, flooding the city centre and access points to the city with men armed with AK-47s and the larger Belgium FN-FAL rifles. The city has been relatively safe since the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) airstrikes began last March, but last week tensions rose after one of Gaddafi’s sons, Al Saadi, who escaped to Niger as rebels took Tripoli, called into a Saudi news channel and warned of an imminent uprising against the ruling NTC.

“We’re concerned about the threats Al Saadi made,” said Ahmed Binasser, 43, a car parts salesman and former rebel fighter. “Basically, we want to be prepared for any situation.”

Binasser was a member of the local Zawiya Martyrs Brigade, one of the toughest militias during the revolution. He and others were stationed last week at an intersection near downtown Benghazi.

“It’s going to take some more time to bring all the rebels into the framework, but there is a plan,” he said. “In the east we haven’t had too many problems because here we rose up against Gaddafi as one. But in the west there were different opinions. Also, we’ve had a year to organise while the west has had only four months.”

The NTC announced on its veterans affairs website that it has completed its first, post-revolutionary phase of its plan to turn the militias into a new, national army, signing up 5,000 men. The transitional government is now offering jobs in the army or police to revolutionary fighters, in addition to post- graduate education abroad.

Many experts see folding the brigades into a national force as necessary for the transition to a democratic government, especially before elections are held in June. At that time, Libyans will elect a 200-seat temporary congress that will be responsible for drafting a new constitution.

The NTC published its elections rules Sunday last week for candidate eligibility, campaign and voting regulations, and punishment for election fraud. Current and former NTC members, transitional government cabinet members, and local council heads cannot run as candidates.

But many activists have denounced the NTC for focusing more on its own power-brokering during the transition than on making sure that the country is safe enough to hold free elections.

“We have been very lucky because there are weapons all over the place, but things are relatively safe,” said Zahi Mogherbi, political analyst and former professor of political science at Benghazi University.

“But things can get out of hand just like that. We can’t be too complacent about these things. Things could explode quickly because situation is very fragile. We should not be deceived by periods of calmness.”

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