By Umar Khan.
Tripoli, 28 February 2013:
In the 16 months since the announcement of liberation of Libya, much has been achieved by . . .[restrict]the Al-Kib and Zeidan governments. Their biggest achievement has been the elections to the General National Congress (GNC). However, the continuing political uncertainties in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia have put additional pressure on Libya by ‘friendly nations’ to ensure that the revolution is a success.
Not that there can be a simple comparison of the three countries. They have quite different political systems and political cultures, with Libya’s being the most unconventional and without any normal state institutions.
The most serious issue that the Libyan revolution faces is the escalation of security-related problems. This has single-handedly managed to affect everything, ultimately slowing down the speed of Libya’s progress. Targeted killings in the east of the country, insecurity in central Libya threatening to stop oil production, porous borders and random clashes in different cities: these are all facts of today. They all contribute to the security problem but do not necessarily stem from the same reason.
The problems in Libya are all associated with the presence of large quantities of weapons in civilian hands. The reliance on guns and bullets to settle personal disputes has snowballed into a major security threat. That the elected Congress failed to appoint a new government in time and the unwillingness of officials to impose law and order by force have led to a further deterioration of the situation.
It is important to understand a basic problem behind all this: the government blames the militias for still clinging to their weapons whilst the militias accuse Congress and the government of allowing former regime figures to get back into power.
The militias have repeatedly called for the ‘cleansing’ of the remnants of the Qaddafi regime from political parties, the armed forces and the judiciary. This is their precondition for disarming and they have made it clear that they will not serve under anyone who was part of the Qaddafi regime’s security apparatus. Their commitment to this precondition was evident when they surrounded Congress asking for their demands to be met.
Their calls have now grown into a full movement with the support of some political parties and calls for Congress to pass a ‘political isolation law’. This has provoked many former regime officials who have resumed work in various departments. They say that they too were wronged by the same people in previous years during their time with the former regime.
Nothing is known about the assailants of those murdered in Benghazi so far, but many of the victims had this in common: they were somehow related to the Qaddafi’s security apparatuses, responsible for the infamous Abu Salim massacre of more than 1,200 people, most of whom were from the east of Libya.
As for the militias, they are formed mostly of civilians who took up arms to fight the previous regime and these revolutionaries all had their own reasons for their opposition. These militias are now largely responsible for security of the country and take orders from the ministers appointed by the GNC. However, because of their diverse histories and composition, security problems arise and commanders are unable to control their men in any politically charged atmosphere.
The situation in central Libya is also alarming, especially for oil field workers working in the fields. The attacks on vehicles and looting incidents have restricted their movement and ultimately pose a serious threat. The inadequately guarded borders are porous and allow smuggling in and out of Libya of all sorts of items, weapons and drugs being the most prominent.
The lack of security personnel on the roads and an sense of insecurity is delivering a major blow to hopes of restoring the economy of Libya. Despite being assured of a ‘normal security situation’ by government officials, many foreign companies are hesitant about venturing back into Libya as nobody knows who is in charge on the ground. Given the lack of clarity on the security situation, companies do not want to risk bringing in workers and equipment. Officials provide plenty of assurances, but they mean nothing on the ground
However, the nature of the security threats in Libya is totally different from any other county in the region. Despite the hike in security alert levels, chances of any serious incident occurring are slim at best. The involvement of militias with religious beliefs in the security structure actually works in favour of the government, because it reduces the chances of any attack similar to Algerian refinery attack on the Libyan soil.
The big problem is that without reviving the economy of Libya, the security problems cannot really be solved. The fact that unemployed people with guns and under no real authority are contributing to the chaos. The authorities are trying to bring all the militias under the proper ministries to put some sort of order that will reflect normality on the ground. But they are faced with a difficult situation as it is understandably hard to convince people to give up weapons to join national forces or return to normal life when no jobs are available.
The appointment of key interior and defense ministry officials from the former revolutionaries was a crucial first step to winning the support of armed brigades.
Now various initiatives seek to reintegrate fighters into civilian life and to place them in the police and army. More than 28,000 fighters have applied to join the security forces while thousands will be sent to different universities to complete their disrupted educations.
The solid steps to gradually dissolve the Supreme Security Committee with its members joining the police force are major breakthroughs. It has given the police force the long missing confidence and the means to go after criminals.
The newly appointed interior ministry officials are trying hard to find a suitable way to put an end to the problems in eastern Libya. Their approach of using respectable religious clerics and tribal elders has a good chance of succeeding.
As army commanders accept fighters into the army, fewer armed people will be outside the direct control of government and the authorities will be better able to tackle the security problems with force, thereby establishing the complete writ of the government in all parts of the country.