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When gunmen that are widely suspected to be from the armed Islamic militia Ansar al-Sharia, used protests against the Islamaphobic video as cover and diversion for an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the death of the US ambassador and three other US citizens, it greatly angered the people of Benghazi. US Ambassador Christoper Stevens had been highly regarded by the Libyan people because of his support for them in their struggle against the 42 year dictatorship of Mummar Qaddafi.

The Islamic protest and militia attack on the consulate pushed many people's frustrations with the rule of the Islamic militias and revolutionary brigades to the breaking point. Whereas, just after the defeat of Qaddafi, these brigades were celebrated all across Libya, with the passing of time the perception of their role has changed. Now people are demanding an end to these independent armed groups, after the election of the General National Congress in July, Libyans have more and more demanded that the only armed groups be the regular army and the police.

There has much talk that the present Libyan government was too weak to bring these armed militia to heel, but one of the chief goals of the revolution has been to deliver power to the people and on Friday people in Benghazi flexed their muscles.

This Friday there were mass demonstrations across Libya demanding that these armed militia be disband. In Benghazi, the birthplace of the revolution, ten thousand protesters stormed the headquarters of Anshar al-Sharia and took it over. Reuters wrote:

Hundreds of men waving swords and even a meat cleaver chanted "Libya, Libya", "No more al Qaeda!" and "The blood we shed for freedom shall not go in vain!"

"After what happened at the American consulate, the people of Benghazi had enough of the extremists," demonstrator Hassan Ahmed said. "They did not give allegiance to the army. So the people broke in and they fled."

"This place is like the Bastille. This is where Gaddafi controlled Libya from, and then Ansar al-Sharia took it over. This is a turning point for the people of Benghazi."

Things got ugly when the protesters move on to confront two other militias that operated under the authority of the General National Congress. The Rafallah Sahati Brigade was responsible for guarding a large cache of weapons and the February 17th Brigade was responsible for guarding some important prisoners. Five protesters were killed and twenty-four injured as these brigades initially tried to defend their positions by resorting to live fire before abandoning their positions.

Many are saying that the attacks on these two brigades was instigated by elements of the old regime in an attempt to free the prisoners and gain access to weapons. A Libyan army colonel was also kidnapped and on Saturday the bodies of six soldiers that had been guarding him were found near one of the brigade headquarters. This indicates that things are still far from settled in Libya but now the people are resolutely demanding an end to this chaos and violence and are vowing a second revolution if that is what is necessary to rid the country of these independent armed groups.

These brigades occupy a very contradictory position in post-revolutionary war Libya. On the one hand, they have been largely responsible for creating an atmosphere of chaos and lawlessness, on the otherhand, the new government, with it's own army and police very weak, has been forced to rely on them to provide security. As the WSJ Online wrote:

The Rafallah Sahati Brigade kept security in Benghazi during national elections this year and guards a large collection of seized weapons at its compound, which was once a Gadhafi residence. Ansar al-Shariah protects Benghazi's main Jalaa Hospital, putting a stop to frequent attacks against it by gunmen.

On Saturday, armed Rafallah Sahati militiamen—weary from the clashes the night before—guarded the entrance to their compound, standing next to charred cars. The fighters, some in military uniforms, others dressed in Afghan Mujahedeen-style outfits, were indignant.

"Those you call protesters are looters and thieves," said Nour Eddin al-Haddad, a young man with an automatic rifle slung on his back. "We fought for the revolution. We are the real revolutionaries."

Activists and protesters want the militias to disband and the army and security forces to take control. Benghazi lawyer Ibrahim al-Aribi said that if the government doesn't act, "there will be a second revolution and the spark will be Benghazi."

"We want stability and rule of law so we can start building the state, but the Tripoli government appears to have not yet quite understood people's demands," he said.

The Tripoli Post reported:
The other armed groups whose bases were stormed by civilian protesters is the Rafallah Al Sahati and the 17 February Brigade of Benghazi.

In a speech via radio, the President of the National Congress Mohamed Magarief called on the protesters and the armed groups not to resort to violence.

He called on protesters to differentiate between the unofficial militias and the real revolutionary brigades which helped secure the city and authorized to do so by the government.

The Libyan public have been demanding the dismissal of the large number of armed groups which emerged since the collapse of the Gaddafi regime last year.

In Derna, long reputed to be a hot-bed of Islamic militancy in Libya, two of the main Islamic militias abandoned their five bases and announced that they were disbanding on Saturday in response to the protests on Friday. Reuters wrote on this:
The Abu Slim and Ansar al-Sharia militias' announcements were apparently motivated by events in Benghazi, where Ansar al-Sharia, a group linked with last week's deadly attack on the U.S. consulate, withdrew from all its bases in the city late on Friday amid mass demonstrations in support of the government.

Those demonstrations in Libya's second city, also in the east, erupted into violence when the crowd turned against another group that had sworn support for the government.

"The militia in Derna saw what happened last night and they decided: we will not kill our brothers. So they disbanded," Siraj Shennib, a 29-year-old linguistics professor who had been part of protests against the militia, said by telephone.

"They said they no longer exist as militias in Derna. They will go home and leave security to the interior ministry and army."

Shennib said anti-militia protesters had been maintaining a vigil against the groups in Derna for 10 days, and the protests became much larger after a car-jacking three days ago. Residents blame the militia for creating a climate of insecurity.

"The people started coming because it has reached the limit. They are saying: we've had enough," he said. "It was a very peaceful operation. We are happy and we appreciate the effort the militias have done to save people from conflict."

Libyan LANA news agency quoted commanders from both militias as saying they were disbanding and vacating their compounds.

Then late Saturday, Mohammed al-Megarief, the head of the Libyan national assembly, held a press conference and announced that all the armed militias not under government control would be disbanded. Al Jazeera English reported:
"We're disbanding all the armed groups that do not fall under the authority of the government. We're also banning the use of violence and carrying of weapons in public places. It's also illegal to set up checkpoints. We've instructed the appropriate government agencies to ensure that these directives are implemented," he said.

Armed forces in the capital, Tripoli, gave the militias two days to withdraw from government buildings in and around the city that they have occupied since the fall of Gaddafi's regime.

Commander-in-chief Yussef al-Mangush said on his Facebook page on Sunday that the armed forces had dislodged a militia from a military complex on the highway to Tripoli International Airport, arresting militiamen and confiscating their weapons.

"We will carry out these kind of operations for the next two or three weeks until we dislodge all armed groups not under the authority of the State," an army officer said.

The authorities also decided to put in place an "operations room" in Benghazi bringing together the army, forces of the interior ministry and defence ministry brigades comprising former rebels.

They have called on the army to impose its authority by putting its own officers at the head of brigades born out of the 2011 revolt, which escalated into civil war and toppled Gaddafi's government.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks again (7+ / 0-)

    Without your diaries, I wouldn't know anything going on in Libya beyond the fast-forgotten headlines.

  •  So are they any "good guys"? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    You need a police force for basic security and it seems from the news that the government is not able or willing to provide it so in the end is it those who control the arms the winner in this country?

    •  That's the winner in every country (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Egalitare, Lujane
      •  Maybe it's a good thing that over 700 Islamic (0+ / 0-)

        militants are now fighting in Syria. This is an opportune time to disband the more militant militias inside Libya.

        A harder problem will be the nationalistic/tribal militias such as the ones in Misurata and Zentan. These militias are strongly backing members of the new Libyan government and thus have some sort of "legitimacy". Most of the militias under the authority of the Interior Ministry retain separate commanders and are only superficially subordinate to the state.

        Libya has a long way to go.

  •  Cautiously optimistic... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, FG, Quicklund, kurt, Clay Claiborne

    It sounds like the Libyan people have a good idea of what works (for them) and what doesn't.  I hope that they can continue their quest for the freedom they deserve.  It will take time.

    I also hope that we can appoint an ambassador who will follow in Stevens' footsteps as a partner to the fledgling democracy.  

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sun Sep 23, 2012 at 04:04:07 PM PDT

  •  Libya continues to confound... (5+ / 0-)

    ...NeoCon expectations.

    Are they perfect? No. But they are struggling to balance a great many factions and interests, some with less than honorable intent. They will get some things "wrong", they will seem less than "Western friendly" in some of their policy and society choices. Then again, all too often "Western friendly" means being more responsive to the whims and desires of the Global Financial Elites than to ordinary citizens and longer term resource and environmental management.

    When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

    by Egalitare on Sun Sep 23, 2012 at 04:43:58 PM PDT

  •  Let's hope for the best (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, Quicklund, Clay Claiborne

    Anytime one removes a strong man where it goes nobody knows.

    "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

    by bcdelta on Sun Sep 23, 2012 at 05:43:04 PM PDT

  •  It's what absence of government looks like! (0+ / 0-)

    I'm not sure it's what you would call democracy, though,

    Romney '12: Berlusconi without the sex and alcohol!

    by Rich in PA on Sun Sep 23, 2012 at 05:54:16 PM PDT

    •  not quite. A new confederation rather than single (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kurt, Clay Claiborne

      strongman. The same day the consulate attack took place, a new premier, non sectarian as opposed to an extreme militia supported one was elected. Libya is finding a way to keep moving, even if it doesn't exactly follow a State Department blueprint or what Russia or Eurocentric parties want to see next.

  •  Libya's vow to rein in militias is challenged (0+ / 0-)

    Libya's vow to rein in militias is immediately challenged
    McClatchy Newspapers / September 24, 2012

    The Libyan government said Saturday that all of Libya’s militias would be brought under government control or forced to disband within 48 hours, but was quickly challenged.

    “We are disbanding all armed groups that do not fall under the authority of the government,” said President of the General National Congress (GNC) Mohammed Magarief. “We are also banning the use of violence and carrying of weapons in public places. It is also illegal to set up checkpoints.”

    Within hours, however, the government faced its first challenge from some of its insubordinate security forces and the extra-judicial militias.

    On Saturday afternoon Libya’s Tripoli Rixos hotel was stormed by members of the Supreme Security Council (SSC) – an amalgamation of security forces which fall under the jurisdiction of the interior ministry – who threatened to blow it up. The Rixos Hotel serves as a de facto headquarters for the Libyan government.

  •  The Struggle for Security in Eastern Libya (0+ / 0-)

    This is an interesting and informative read on the current situation in Libya. Keep in mind that the militias recently removed were only replaced by members of other militias more closely tied in with the Benghazi government. The national police and army are still relatively weak.

    Despite successful parliamentary elections in early July, localized clashes over identity, power, and resources persist in Libya, straining the capacity of the weak government, deterring foreign investment, and possibly stunting the emergence of democratic institutions. The most pressing of these conflicts—growing insecurity in Libya’s eastern region of Barqa, where Benghazi is located—is fueled by longstanding neglect, Salafi militancy, and fighting between ethnic Tabu and Arab tribes. Lacking an effective police and national army, the state is struggling for legitimacy and control of the east. It must act to restore the periphery’s confidence in the center.

    Key Themes:

    The government’s strategy of relying on coalitions of local militia to restore security and delegations of tribal elders to negotiate ceasefires has failed to provide lasting peace or address the entrenched roots of the conflict.

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