By George Grant.
Tripoli, 28 September:
Two protesters were beaten and arrested by the Supreme Security Committee during an anti-militia rally held in Tripoli this evening.
Some 200 demonstrators marched from Algeria Square on to Martyr’s Square following Friday prayers calling for the disbanding of all militias in Libya and a crackdown on radical Islamists.
Chants of “no, no no, don’t do what Qaddafi did” could be heard as the two men were bundled into waiting vehicles and taken off for interrogation.
A third man was also beaten before being released without charge. One of the two arrested men was an organiser of the rally, Mohammed Werfalli. The second man was named as Mohammed Juma.
Protesters had gathered to vent their frustrations over what they perceive as the arbitrary power wielded by militias and many within the security services and demanding the establishment of a regular army and police.
One of those who witnessed the arrests complained that many of the SSC men wore no uniforms and appeared to operate without reference to the law.
“I asked one of them to show me his ID and prove he was part of the security forces”, said Abdul Karim Namsi, an Afriqiyah airline pilot and former revolutionary from Zawiya.
“He lifted up his t-shirt and showed me his scar from the battlefield. He said ‘this is all the identification I need’, and threatened to arrest me too if I didn’t cooperate”.
Asked about the incident, one SSC officer claimed the arrested men were trying to stir-up the crowd and cause disruption.
“One of the boys we arrested was trying to fire things up”, Rabia Alhusk, a SSC officer, told the Libya Herald.
“We beat him because he did not want to cooperate. We are the SSC, not just another militia. People were saying ‘no, no, no to the SSC’, but we are part of the government, so this is a conspiracy.”
Shortly before the incident, demonstrators had carried aloft an officer in the National Army who had come to join the rally, whilst several members of existing brigades were also present.
“I am serving in a milita, but I want them to disband and join the army as individuals”, said Mohammed Abdullah, a member of Tripoli’s Souk Al-Juma brigade.
“I can tell you that many members of my brigade feel the same way. We want to be answerable to the Libyan people not the militias”.
The rally was just a fraction of the size of last week’s “Save Benghazi” demonstration, which drew between 30,000-40,000 people in the largest gathering of its kind since the revolution.
Leading political and religious figures had urged Libyans to stay at home for fear that any demonstrations could turn violent, with numbers at the rally believed to have been significantly reduced as a result.
However, protesters said they had come to make their voices heard, with many also complaining about those seeking to use Islam for political ends.
“I have no problem with Islamists; I have a problem with those who use Islam as a power base”, said Husni Bey, one of Libya’s most prominent business figures.
“I believe that some people in the militias are doing just that in order to get a role.”
Others were less compromising, arguing that Islamists were seeking to subvert Libya’s transition to democracy and undermine the revolution.
“We are here to say no to the Islamists and no to the Muslim Brotherhood”, said Morad Zikri, a former revolutionary from Jadu now running a private school in the capital.
“When we entered Tripoli last year we came in the name of freedom and democracy. Now I feel like we have to fight for it all over again. The Islamists want to take us back 1,400 years in time”.
Anger and frustration was directed in particular at Grand Mufti Sheikh Sadiq Al-Ghariani, who had led calls for protesters to stay home, with several calling for him to resign.