By Mohamed Eljarh.
London, 17 December:
Since the end of last year’s revolution, security concerns in Libya have been greatly exacerbated by the failure of the central government to impose its authority in any meaningful fashion.
Now, more than ever, however, Libyans are looking to the executive for answers to this and many other issues. As Ali Zeidan settles into office as prime minister, he will be aware that the government’s success in navigating Libya through this turbulent and very critical period will depend hugely on the performance of both his interior and defence ministers.
Thankfully, Zeidan chose two experienced and professional candidates for both posts. Interior Minister Ashour Shuwail holds three degrees in law & criminology including a PhD with 35 years experience in Libya’s security sector. Meanwhile, Defence Minister Mohamed Bargati is a professional army officer and veteran of the Libyan armed forces with a vast wealth of experience and skill.
Shuwail got down to business upon winning his appeal against the Integrity Commission’s decision to disbar him. Following his confirmation by the GNC, he presented his plans for improving the security situation in the country to Congress.
In subsequent TV interviews Shuwail emphasised that he had backing from both the GNC and the prime minister to go ahead and start implementing his plans.
The immediate tasks as highlighted by Shuwail are the security situation in Benghazi and the urgent need to address the issue of assassination of prominent army and security figures in the city, which most recently targeted Benghazi’s Security Directorate Colonel Faraj Drissi.
The events of the past two days, following the arrest of a potential suspect in these assassinations, makes the Benghazi file an even more pressing issue.
Shortly prior to this arrest, Shuwail had complained of a lack of firm intelligence on the assassinations and warned that pointing fingers at a certain group without the requisite evidence could be counterproductive to efforts to resolve the case.
The other huge task facing Shuwail is the issue of the armed militias and the widespread availability of arms throughout Libya more broadly. He has emphasised the importance of encouraging and offering incentives to all police and security personnel to actually get back to work, remarking that Libya has up to 100,000 professional security personnel, less than have of whom have reported for duty.
The Ministry of Interior’s plan is to ensure that the complete number return to service so that the professional police would be more visible throughout Libya with all the resources and equipment required, which he is certain would have a positive effect on the overall security situation.
Another operational difficulty with Libya’s current security arrangements is the lack of co-operation and co-ordination between the Supreme Security Committee and the National Security and Police Forces. Shuwail characterised the relationship between the two bodies as negatively charged and counterproductive to the overall security situation in the country. He emphasised the pivotal role the SSC played during and after the revolution, but insisted that the logical and natural progression now would be re-integration of SSC members individually into the National Police and Security Services, as is now taking place.
That being said, Shuwail appears to have refuted suggestions that those currently holding leadership positions in the SSC should automatically be offered senior posts in the police or military without proper training. He emphasised the importance of proper training for SSC leadership and personnel in order to convert them from civilians who took on security duties in extraordinary circumstances to professional and skilled security and military personnel.
Shuwail has said that his time in office will be difficult, but not impossible, and he has set out the following four-stage plan:
First, the Interior Ministry will increase the police presence on the streets in the main cities especially Tripoli and Benghazi. The police presence will include the national police force along with the SSC personnel who joined the ministry. The visibility and presence of the police will be combined with strict monitoring and inspection mechanisms on the ground. This step will be in parallel with a campaign with the help of civil society and the media to urge militia members to join the national army or the police force.
Second, the ministry will launch a similar campaign to remove all the heavy and medium weapons out of the major cities and into specified military bases, along with any Army brigades that still reside in major cities such as Tripoli and Benghazi.
Third, the ministry will co-ordinate at a later stage with the GNC to produce legislation to ban the selling or possession of arms. This campaign would be co-ordinated with the Ministry of Defence, and the MoD will be asked at a later stage to publically announce this to the brigades that fall under its full control. After that, the ministries of interior and defence will crack down on any rogue militias with the help of civil society institutions, the media, and both tribal and religious leaders.
Fourth, the government will give a chance for voluntary handing over of weapons and enrolment of militia members within the ministries of defence and interior. After securing effective legislation through the GNC, the laws will be made public and an ultimatum will then be issued. Forces from both the ministries of interior and defence will then enforce the law, as the cities will be locked down and traffic in and out of the cities would be tightly controlled to prevent any free movement of arms in the country. Consequently, individuals or groups found to be in breach of the law would then be arrested and would face prosecution.
Shuwail emphasised that his forces would never be allowed to raid or enter any civilian locations including homes in search for weapons without a court warrant.
The Interior Ministry will aim to create new departments and units for intelligence and information gathering with the latest equipment and tools to make that possible. Shuwail mentioned that political prisoners who had worked for the previous regime could even assist with the establishment of such departments, by helping vet officials for criminal activity that may not yet have been uncovered.
Another significant plan to improve border security, passed into law on 16 December, concerns the implementation of military zones along the country’s borders. As currently conceived, the plan is focused on the south, and will entail closing all but certain roads and paths to civilian traffic, with any vehicle that violates these zones being apprehended. This plan will require very close co-ordination with neighbouring countries and announcement would be made in due course.
The Minister of Defence Mohamed Bargati has also made a statement that was described by some as “very strongly worded”. The statement was made 15 December 2012 in the third extraordinary gathering of Army Officers in the town of Zintan. Bargati dismissed calls to exclude some of professional army officers and include figures without any military background in leading positions of the Libyan army as irresponsible and nonsensical.
Bargati said such a course of action would be disastrous and would perpetuate insecurity by hindering efforts to build a professional national army. He insisted on the independence of the Libyan army and said that decisions affecting the military would be made by professional military people.
The minister emphasised the crucial role the revolutionaries played in the toppling of Qaddafi’s regime, but insisted that any revolutionaries who joined the national army must be disciplined and adhrere to military law. The remarks were a thinly-veiled warning directed at several revolutionary brigades which, whilst notionally under the Ministry of Defence, still continue to operate autonomously and often irresponsibly.
On a positive note, the relationship between the new ministers of Interior and Defence seems to be of excellent standing, in clear contrast to the relationship between the two previous incumbents.