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From ‘freedom fighters’ to ‘militias’: Libya’s former rebels threaten security

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The international news has been quiet on Libya for at least a month or so, but Libyans themselves are far from quiet. On Wednesday, hundreds of residents and policemen in Tripoli protested jointly against former rebels who are still camping out in the capital and parading their weapons.

Once ‘freedom fighters’ and now described as ‘militias’ (don’t you just love language?), Libya’s former rebels, far from making the country feel safe, are now doing the very opposite.

Chanting “We want safety not weapons”, Tripoli residents said they want the militias, who came to the capital mostly from the cities of Misrata and Zintan, to go home.

One resident, Aisha Hassan, said: “Someone won a weightlifting tournament in Africa and they celebrated by firing anti-aircraft guns.”

It seems that most of those going around carrying the weapons are unemployed youths and a 75% figure has even been mentioned, though it is not exactly clear where this figure comes from, or if it is a reliable statistic.

The interim government and the city council have given the former rebels until December 20 to leave Tripoli. Further to this, Abdel-Rafik Bu Hajjar, the head of the Tripoli local council, ordered the armed residents to hand in their weapons to the authorities.

 

Libyans at a checkpoint in Tripoli Copyright @AFP

 

The country’s new rulers, the National Transitional Council, are being tested by strong-willed Libyans who refuse to take orders. While Tripoli is the main focus in the news, Misrata is one city which, time after time, has shown defiance to the NTC. Militias in Misrata have built up a vast arsenal of weapons which they will no doubt be reluctant to give up.

There are a few reasons as to why the militias have maintained their weapons. Abdullah Naker, head of the Tripoli Revolutionary Council, told Reuters , “We accept the decision to disarm the militias but we would like to know how the weapons will be handed over. We need to know whether security in the city will be protected”.

Others refuse to give up arms as a matter of principle. Former fighter Suleiman said: “Disarming us shouldn’t be done. We were prepared to die to save others and now the government is treating us as if there is no difference between us and regular citizens. We should get to keep our guns”.

The problem prevents people from continuing with their lives after a brutal civil war. Many people will be afraid to go out onto the streets. As Umar Khan wrote in Tripoli Post, nobody will ever want to open a shop where armed men can enter and take things away as they please. In his dispatch from Tripoli, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad followed the former rebels, noting the clashes between them and Tripoli residents.

With the numerous brigades claiming to uphold the rule of law, it is clear that a different strategy is needed. Perhaps the National Army should step in, and legislation should be drafted to ban possession of weapons by civilians, or at the very least control who can or or cannot bear arms. Only then can ordinary Libyans stop living in fear of the very people who supposedly liberated them a few months ago.

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Written by Iram Ramzan

December 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Posted in middle east

Tagged with , , , ,

Libya’s NTC cabinet dismissal: out with the old and in with the, well, old

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Originally published on The Pryer: 16/08/2011

 

Just a few weeks ago, British Foreign Secretary William Hague declared the Libyan National Transitional Council as the ‘sole’ legitimate representatives of the Libyan people, a statement consolidated with expulsion of the Libyan diplomats in London and replaced with those that would represent the NTC. Shortly after this recognition, army commander General Abdel-Fatah Younes was killed in mysterious circumstances.

Last week, however, MustafaAbdel Jalil, chairman of the NTC, sacked the 14-strong executive committee over Younes’ assassination, which included several top ministers, including those responsible for finance, defence and information.

Jalil said in an interview with Aljazeera that the move was made because the cabinet had made “administrative mistakes” in investigating the assassination of General Younes, whose burned, bullet-riddled body was found on 28 July.

 

Mustafa Abdel Jalil: Libyan NTC Head sacks his entire cabinet. Copyright @Bloomberg.com

This is certainly embarrassing for the western countries that have recognised the NTC as the representativesof the Libyans, who are showing visible signs of divisions in their midst. U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Wednesday: “This is an opportunity for renewal, not only in political terms, but in terms of the confidence that the Libyan people are going to have to have in NTC leadership.”

Don’t get too excited folks. We may be praising the NTC for attempting to remove factions and ‘those responsible’ and rejoicing at ‘democracy’ in action but let us read on. Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, the council’s media director, said: “Some of the people who served on the board can definitely be included in the new Cabinet.” So basically potential criminals (if they killed or helped to kill Younes then yes they are criminals) will remain in the cabinet? If I was in Benghazi right now I would not be feeling so confident.

It is evident that this is just a cabinet reshuffle. A reshuffle is just that: a reshuffle. It’s out with the old and in with the, well, old. This reshuffling ofthe cabinet was supposedly a move, according to rebel leaders, to appease Younes’ Obeidi tribe who are angry and outraged at his death. Younes was not popular among certain divisions in the opposition forces. This looks like a tribal conflict and it is incorrect to assume that all the rebels are united.

And who exactly represents the Libyan people when neither the cabinet nor the opposition is united? The rebels hope that, if they reach Tripoli, the population will join them in rising up against Gaddafi. This is clearly going against the will of the Libyan people. Commentators in the west, such as Deborah Haynes, and even in eastern Libya, can say however much they want about the propaganda being fed to government troops and its citizens, but the fact is, whether we like it or not, Gaddafi is still popular in many parts of the country, which explains why he is still in power. How then is thisdemocratic?

Is there a strategy for what will happen if the rebels do manageto overthrow Gaddafi? Perhaps not. On a final note, I leave you with the wise words of Independent reporter Patrick Cockburn:

 

As with Afghanistanin 2001 and Iraq in 2003, the US and Britain found it was one thing tooverthrow the Taliban or Saddam Hussein and quite another to replace them. Treating dubious local allies as the legitimate government has a propaganda value, but it is unwise to pretend that the local partner carries real authority.With this experience under its belt, it required real fecklessness for Britain to plunge into another conflict on the assumption that this time we were betting on a certain winner. Gaddafi may be overthrown but the struggle for power between internal factions is likely to continue.

Written by Iram Ramzan

August 16, 2011 at 6:54 pm

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