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[Dehai-WN] Asharq-e.com: Libya: In the hands of militias

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Tue, 8 May 2012 00:49:22 +0200

Libya: In the hands of militias


By Abdul Sattar Hatita


Misratah, Asharq Al-Awsat- At night, one hears explosions as the flare of
artillery fire streaks through the dark. Here, at this crossing point, you
wonder before continuing on to your destination: Is this fresh fighting with
destructive projectiles between adversaries or is it a wedding party or is
it soccer fans celebrating Real Madrid's victory? No one in this town wants
to give up their weapons and military materiel consisting of 4-wheel drive
cars, armored vehicles, and horrifying military trucks crossing the roads
amidst private cars loaded with families and children. The smell of
gunpowder hits your nose from one crossing point to another. You wonder: Oh
my God, isn't the war over? Hussein Bin-Abdullah, a beverage vendor on
Tarablus [Tripoli] Street in Misratah, the third largest town in Libya that
put the final touches on overthrowing the rule of the late Colonel Muammar
Gaddafi, says: We have become used to this. The state is no longer a state".

Most Libyan leaders, tribes, political parties, and religious currents like
the Muslim Brotherhood - are aware that the situation is serious. That is
why the movements and activities are uninterrupted by those that seek
solutions or those that seek to place more obstacles in front of Libya's
stability, unity, and restoration of its status and reputation as a state in
the eyes of its people. The first elections to for the National Assembly
will be held next month and it is assumed that the Libyan people are waiting
for them impatiently. However, doubts exist on whether these elections will
succeed or pass peacefully. Bin-Abdullah, who carried arms and fought in
Gaddafi's last stronghold in the town of Surt, south of Misratah, before
handing over his weapons and returning to run his store, added that, "anyone
passing through here can see - as we see throughout the towns and regions of
Libya - that the central authority has no control". By central authority,
Bin-Abdullah means the National Transitional Council that was quickly formed
when the uprising erupted against Gaddafi's rule on 17 February 2011 and
chaired by Counselor Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the former justice minister in
Gaddafi's regime, as well as the government that this council formed headed
by Abdel-Rahim El Keib. The government says that it is exerting all efforts
to sail the transitional stage to the shores of safety. It seems, however,
that these efforts cannot be seen with the naked eye, as a taxi driver from
Tripoli jokingly says. In the Al-Marabi (as the social gatherings in private
homes are called in Libya), Libyans are not only worried about the future of
their country but they also recognize the most serious problems and they set
immediate solutions to them. But who is authorized to listen to them and do
they have the resources to implement what they say? This is the situation in
the Al-Marabi of Misratah and other towns as well as in the cafes and on the
street. About six months after the killing of Gaddafi, the Libyans find
themselves before three major forces: the National Transitional Council, the
interim government, and the revolutionaries. Interspersed among these forces
are other small forces that are exerting their own pressures, including
external forces and perhaps the remnants of the former regime. Hasan
al-Amin, an oppositionist who fled from Gaddafi's regime to Britain 28 years
ago and returned to the fighting in the middle of last year, told Asharq
Al-Awsat that, "We in Libya have not yet reached the stage of the state. We
have not yet reached the stage of a strong government imposing its will on
all the regions of Libya and on all aspects of life in the country. This
does not exist; we are still groping forward. In my opinion, the situation
in Libya is still at great risk and the vision is unclear."

The large numbers of those you come across in Libya who had fled from
Gaddafi's regime shows you that fleeing from the suppressive regime over the
past 42 years was very common and widespread as an inescapable option for
people who are peaceful by nature. The children of the former oppositionists
also returned holding western nationalities and cultures where they were
born and bred, such as love for reading, desire for knowledge, ability to
co-exist amid political differences, and readiness to embark on the
experiment of democracy with its positive and negative points. This culture
and desire to participate in building the new state clash against many
obstacles. That is why the evening social gatherings are often full of large
numbers of brains that have the ability to diagnose the illnesses of the
transitional stage and prescribe cures to them. At any rate, this is not the
issue. The issue, as Muhammad, the son of a Libyan oppositionist who lived
in Austria, points out that there should be a state first so that any Libyan
would know what he can do regardless of whether he is the son of the
returnees or those that suffered under Gaddafi inside the country for four

The practical solutions on the ground - that are taking a lot of time and
efforts by Libyans, whether tribes or political parties or activists (local
activists or those returning from exile) - lie in small matters that one
cannot imagine. For example, local tribal and other leaders spent three
months in order to reach an agreement on whether a family can take the
remains of its son who was buried in a cemetery in the outskirts of Benghazi
after the revolutionaries killed him (his family insist that he was
martyred) and others that belonged to the brigades of the former regime.

Another example: many weeks of goings and comings between the town of Surt
and the town of Al-Khums were spent and numerous telephone calls and
meetings by officials were held to return the gold jewellery of a family
from Surt that says its jewellery was impounded by armed men from Al-Khums
during the fighting last fall. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of sessions
are held daily in various parts of Libya in almost martial fashion to solve
many issues that have been pending since the fall of Gaddafi's regime. These
issues can be requests for stolen property or confiscated jewelry or
deterring reckless brigades or private settlements pertaining to revenge
among families and tribes.

Yes, there are no courts of law or public prosecutors or police precincts.
Every morning, Libyan people debate such issues and engage claimants in
endless negotiations. The government authority and the authority of the
National Transitional Council do not exist on the ground except rarely. It
seems they are still quite distant from treating the still bleeding wounds
of the transitional stage.

Hasan al-Amin returned to Misratah last June aboard a fishing boat from
Tunisia leaving behind his family in Britain. He worked with the
revolutionaries and was with them when they broke into Bab al-Aziziyah
[Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli] in August. However, he declined to take any
political post, saying: I want to feel independent; this makes me serve my
homeland better. I do not want restrictions on my opinions, movements, and

Like Al-Amin, the majority of those that fled from Gaddafi's tyranny
returned from abroad but are old now. That is why most of them quickly form
political parties or civic society organizations. As for their young sons -
some of them returned to bear arms against Gaddafi and were welcomed by the
revolutionaries - but now feel frustrated. In fact, some local Libyans spurn
them as not fully Libyan, especially after the law deprived them and
deprived their fathers of taking senior positions in the state because of
their dual nationalities. The situation does not stop at the issues
inherited from Gaddafi's days and the days of the war. These days, a problem
crops up every day. Driving on the long desert roads in this vast and
far-flung country (about 1.8 million kilometers square), you may come upon a
checkpoint set up by highwaymen who may steal your car and property.

A young man may make improper advances to a girl from a neighboring district
and as a result, two regiments may clash for several days with heavy
artillery killing or wounding innocents. You ask Hasan al-Amin passing time
in the evening in his artist brother Muhammad al-Amin's studio in the center
of Misratah about what is happening in the country and he says, "If we want
to talk about the government and the National Transitional Council they do
not operate in accordance with a system with clear features to run matters
clearly and transparently." He adds that many decisions are postponed
arbitrarily and may take into account private affairs or tribal settlements.
Even some of the solutions that we see every now and then to deal with some
issues are made-up solutions. They are sedative solutions and not decisive
solutions. Why? This is due to the simple reason that a powerful central
authority does not exist that has the courage to deal with problems firmly
and to make decisions that apply on everybody.

Inside a Mercedes car that sped among the armored vehicles and artillery
pieces of the brigades that guard the perimeter of Tripoli International
Airport, as we arrive at Ayt Bin-al-Kafi's private social gathering north of
Misratah, and as we pass through many towns and villages, the question on
the lips of Libyans from various currents and affiliations is what to do
about the situation and the daily urgent demands in the provinces and towns
that require central authority's urgent and immediate attention. Here there
is the problem of the federal status of the Barqah district, there is the
problem of building roads, and water shortages and so on. Who is dealing
with these national problems that require the attention of the central
authority? And where is the representative of the central authority in the
local districts? The truth is that solutions differ from one district to

Thanks to initiatives taken by their residents and leaders, some districts
are much better off than others. But, in general, when talking about the
government or the National Transitional Council, the prevailing view is that
they are not operating based on specific priorities. On the political level,
for instance, there are priorities like the issue of the assets abroad, the
issue of monitoring the funds, the issue of bringing in the members of the
former regime that have fled abroad and that are taking actions hostile to
the revolution, perhaps from areas close to Libya. Then there is the issue
of signing agreements with foreign sides to implement huge projects in the
country. Although the Libyans view these files as "very vital", they have
other urgent priorities such as the file of the revolution's wounded that
number in the thousands. This is an important file and some believe that it
is being tampered with until it has turned into a thorny and painful issue.
There is also the problem of lack of services from which the Libyans
suffered for 42 years under Gaddafi's regime. We are talking about
"services, the collapsed infrastructure, and the issue of reconstruction".

Hasan al-Amin says, "Unfortunately, this government and council do not
operate based on urgent priorities. They thus squander their efforts here
and there. Naturally, this reflects on the general situation in Libya that
we are seeing today. Al-Amin adds: There are several reasons for this. First
of all, we have to recognize and admit that at first, we strongly supported
this National Transitional Council as a stage that required unanimity
regarding its structure and regarding the person of Mustafa Abdel Jalil.
However, the fact is that the majority of the members of this council were
chosen wrongly. For instance, some council members were not in Libya when
the council was formed. They were selected in an unknown way to represent
their towns and regions that had not yet been liberated. This poses a big
problem for us for now we have a council that lacks qualifications in all
aspects. It consists of inhomogeneous or inefficient elements and that lack
political experience. Recently, deep underground differences surfaced
between the transitional council and the government, raising many questions
in public circles, such as does the transitional council consider itself as
complementing El Keib's government or does it view itself as a bloc against
the government? It seems that the lines separating the council from the
government are no longer clear and Libyans who follow these affairs closely
can see that they intersect. Al-Amin goes on to say: There is a trend in the
transitional council and some of its members to involve themselves in
everything. A defect exists in the nature of the relationship between the
government and the National Transitional Council. This relationship is not
specified and is vague. Al-Amin adds: "We know that last week, a vote took
place inside the national council during which two-thirds of its members
voted for El Keib's dismissal. When this matter reached the media, El Keib's
reaction was against the wishes of the national council. They retracted this
and possible amendments in three sovereign ministries are likely. This will
perhaps become clear in the coming period. So there is a defect in the
nature of the relationship between the two sides. The national council is
also exceeding its powers and this necessarily reflects on the performance
of the government".

In view of the preoccupation of the council and the government in their
intersecting relations, the fait accompli has imposed another relationship;
this is the problem of the brigades of the revolutionaries. This is a
multi-faceted problem. After the war ended, the Libyans found themselves
before armed brigades of revolutionaries that control even important organs
and locations in the Libyan state. Also, large numbers of revolutionaries
returned to their original work after the war ended. For these, the phase of
bearing arms ended. Moreover, some brigades were formed after the
liberation. This, according to Hasan al-Amin, is a big mistake that should
not have been permitted. At the end of the war, especially in Tripoli, the
Libyans discovered that there were brigades that did not participate in the
revolution and did not fight in it. These were formed after the revolution.
Al-Amin says, "This definitely was not their patriotic motive but to protect
themselves or protect other quarters. There is a different kind of
revolutionaries; these could be labeled pseudo revolutionaries. These are
the ones that were affected by the glory of the victory. They perhaps
entered the war at first not with a patriotic motive but with the mentality
of Rambo. They were marginalized and lost youths that were victimized by the
former regime. These youths have many psychological and social problems;
they are unemployed and so on".

These armed youths are young and come to Tripoli with their artillery to
congratulate newlyweds or following soccer matches (the European Cup). Their
leaders are in euphoria and seek respect and importance. As soon as they
arrive, they open fire to greet the newlyweds as if they are in a war so
much so that the walls shake with the sound of the artillery pieces. As the
sound of projectiles is heard from the Sea of Misratah to rejoice in yet
another wedding, Al-Amin says: When the revolution erupted a certain kind of
youths joined the war. The revolution gave them a new status that made them
feel important. Of course, when the war ended they all wanted to preserve
these gains.

They do not wish to go back to what they were in the past and unemployed.
They thus constituted a heavy burden and a big problem. In fact, many of
these are now obstructing the stage of transformation to democracy through
their actions.

Security sources in Benghazi, the second largest city in Libya, say that
some businessmen, political currents, and some elements of the former regime
want to benefit from this crisis-ridden situation: "The pseudo
revolutionaries are being exploited in perhaps unacceptable matters; some of
them have turned into hired gangs".

Hasan al-Amin says that the government does not have clear power or control
over the state organs and the revolutionaries constitute a military burden
that should not be taken lightly: "In other words, some brigades have the
power to obstruct a decision or to make decisions on their own to carry out
a certain matter. We saw the graves being vandalized as well as the issue of
human rights violations and the issue of arbitrary detentions. Much of what
these are doing is wrong under all standards from the human rights
perspective as well as the criminal perspective". So where is the solution
to correct this situation? During the debates and discussions that take
place in the social gatherings, many Libyans believe it is necessary to
restructure the local councils through free and direct elections in which
the cities send their representatives to replace their unelected
representatives in the National Transitional Council. The elected national
council will then form a new government and review all the decisions that it
had made. Hasan al-Amin agrees with this approach and expounds on the
obstacles that may abort the national assembly elections scheduled for next
month. He says: "In light of the current conditions, I do not expect the
national assembly elections in June will be held on time. This is due to the
current security situation that is impeding foreign investments or the
aspired stability. Libya needs a powerful and elected central authority.
This appears to be out of reach in light of the current atmosphere".



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Received on Mon May 07 2012 - 18:50:04 EDT
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