“This hardly seems like the moment to ask what type of state will emerge in Libya. Two years on from the uprising that eventually toppled Muammar Qaddafi, the country hardly has a functioning state at all,” one analyst notes.
“There is still no constitution and there may not be one for months. The parliament, elected less than a year ago, has decided not to write one itself but instead to hold elections for a separate body to write it. But the situation in Libya is not as bad as it seems,” writes Faisal Al Yafai:
On the contrary, elections have been held, not only at the national level last July but at a local level in Benghazi and other cities since. …While there are sporadic protests, there is nothing on the scale of Egypt’s regular, paralyzing demonstrations and there does not appear to be the same level of animosity among rival factions. Nor is the trend toward Islamism- the great winner from the Arab Spring uprisings – as apparent in Libya: in last year’s parliamentary elections, the biggest Islamist party, Justice and Construction, took just 17 of the 80 seats.
But many observers remain concerned about the state’s inability to establish rule of law and a monopoly on the use of violence, a standard definition of stateness. The re-emergence of Ansar al-Sharia, the militia associated with the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other colleagues dead, is highlighting the weakness of state institutions.
The militias are attracting public support because they provide security and services which state agencies are not in a position to deliver.
“These men are also people who fought on the front lines, care about their city and provide services. We can’t shun them,” said Benghazi University professor Iman Bugaighis. “We had to ask them to come back and protect our hospital and streets.”
Libya’s deputy prime minister, Awad Ibrahim, on Sunday acknowledged the security role played by militias, without specifically mentioning Ansar al-Sharia.
“These militias are part of our liberation. We cannot exclude them at least at this time until we build our army and police,” he told Reuters.
Ansar’s resurgence — and that of Rafallah al-Sahati, another Islamist militia — underscores the city’s reckoning with a harsh reality, the Washington Post reports.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” said Jalal al-Gallal, a prominent activist and a former member of the transitional government. Ansar al-Sharia has some “hard-liners,” he said, “but they do actually carry out a lot of good work, whether we like it or not.”
The state’s inability to rein in Islamist and other militias threatens to undermine Libya’s democratic prospects, as anticipated in a report from the National Endowment for Democracy which outlined the country’s transitional challenges.
But pro-democracy and civil society activists are organizing to combat the Islamists’ resurgence and prevent Libya’s transition from being hijacked by illiberal forces.
“The government lost a very good opportunity after our ‘Rescue Benghazi’ event to control these militias, break them apart and absorb them into legitimate bodies,” said Younes Najim, an organizer of a campaign to counter Ansar al-Sharia.
“It will take time, but the longer the government takes to organize its security here, the stronger some groups will make themselves to become parallel forces to the government.”