Libya’s interior minister today warned that Islamists are a “major force” in terms of numbers and weaponry that the state’s security services are unable to contain.
“These people are a major force in terms of numbers and the equipment they have in Libya,” said Fawzi Abdelali, rejecting calls for the government to rein in ultraconservative Islamists responsible for the destruction of Sufi shrines (above).
“I am not going to go into a losing battle and will not kill people because of a tomb,” he said, hinting that the state lacked the capacity to confront heavily-armed militias that have rejected assimilation into the security services.
“Once we have a real army which can deal with groups that possess heavy armaments, the interior ministry will be able to carry out its mission,” Abdelali said.
The Salafists’ demolition “of several archaeologically significant Sufi shrines in northwestern Libya, with the apparent acquiescence of members of the security forces, has prompted a political crisis and underscored the threat radical Islamists pose to democracy there and elsewhere in the Arab world,” reports suggest.
“Salafists have gained a strong presence and a great deal of negative influence,” said Mohmmed Salah Drah, an attorney and human rights activist in Tripoli. “This is dangerous and is threatening as it reflects a proliferation of their influence in many mosques and places of worship. Their use of violence and aggressive behaviour greatly affects activities of many individuals.”
“A large number of armed militias carrying medium and heavy weapons arrived at the Al Sha’ab mosque with the intention to destroy the mosque because of their belief graves are anti-Islamic,” a government official told the New York Times, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
He said the authorities tried to stop the militias but, after a small clash, decided to seal off the area while the demolition took place to prevent any violence from spreading. … Libya’s rulers have struggled to control the many armed groups that are competing for power a year after Colonel Qaddafi’s fall.
“At least some of the security forces present wore the uniforms of the Supreme Security Council, a newly formed division of the Ministry of Interior made up of former rebel fighters and described as an ideologically driven shadow branch of the armed forces,” the FT’s Borzou Daraghi writes.
“We all knew there were Salafists groups in Libya and we thought they were marginal and that the government would be able to control them,” said Claudia Grazzini, a Tripoli-based analyst for the International Crisis Group. “What we’re seeing now is a problem in the chain of command in the security forces. You have official security forces under the authority of the government not responding to the orders of the deputy prime minister who called for the defense of these sites.”
Salafists have also emerged as a major threat to recently-won liberties, including women’s rights and freedom of expression in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.
“The Salafists are trying to eliminate any democratic influence or even moderate forms of Islam,” said Mustafa Labbad, an analyst at the al Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo.
Of the many issues demanding attention from the governing National Transitional Council – security, economic stability, functional local councils, missing persons, and securing porous borders – reconciliation is the most important, the Libya Herald’s Umar Khan writes on the Fikra Forum.
“The reconciliation process needs to occur between two parties: those who supported the 17 February revolution and loyalists of the previous regime, which consists of people from the privileged class and genuine regime supporters,” he writes from Tripoli. “It is important to understand the nature of the former regime to know the composition of the two opposing factions.”
The Gaddafi regime bought the allegiances of large tribes by offering them jobs in powerful government positions. These positions were given on the simple rule of the more loyalty, the bigger reward. The tribes became very powerful, and being from a certain area was considered a privilege and its people were above the law. However, Gaddafi also kept the tribes in check by forcing them to disown their people’s involvement in failed coup attempts and demolish their houses. The revolution triggered a change, and the balance of power shifted from the people who had grown accustomed to deciding the fate of others. After benefitting from longtime ties with the regime and privileged lives, the uncertainty of the future and the fear of being held responsible for their past actions forced them to flee from Libya. Many families that were formerly involved with the military machine fled for fear of retribution.
Libya’s prolonged violent conflict was always likely to generate demands for retribution, a National Endowment for Democracy analysis predicted, cautioning that transitional justice and reconciliation efforts could be undermined by the “risk of revenge-driven politics.”
“Reconciliation, like change, will have start from the very base of society,” Khan argues. “The marginalization of people based on their affiliation with the previous regime will only harm the future prospects of Libya.”
Libya’s post-conflict transition is underway, but “it remains unclear whether armed groups will more fully embrace reintegration campaigns under the newly elected government,” writes Christopher M. Blanchard, a Congressional Research Service specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs:
In the wake of the July election, Libya’s interim leaders remain answerable to a wide range of locally and regionally organized activists, locally elected and appointed committees, prominent personalities, tribes, militias, and civil society groups seeking to shape the transition and safeguard the revolution’s achievements. The shift from an appointed interim government to elected leaders may provide the government more democratic legitimacy and better enable it to make decisions in key areas, such as security, fiscal affairs, and post-conflict justice and reconciliation. “It remains unclear whether armed groups will more fully embrace reintegration campaigns under the newly elected government,” notes Blanchard.
A weapons exchange program could help break the militias’ power and establish the rule of law, writes Peter Fragiskatos:
The NTC mulled the idea of offering to hire militia members to serve in the military or police force and fund job training and even scholarships in exchange for them agreeing to quit their militia. The proposal never came to fruition but will likely be looked at again. Yet, rather than squeezing open government jobs, why not provide incentives that have the potential to create employment outside the state sector?
This is what civil society actors in Mozambique did after its civil war ended in 1992. Seeing arms as a threat to peace, a “Tools for Arms” programmer was started in the mid-1990s by a coalition of Christian churches.