Libyans complain that the new government has continued the NTC’s policy of favoring revolutionary brigades over institutionalized security services. After the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, frustrated Libyans poured into the streets shouting anti-militia slogans. Ten days later, protesters overran the base of Ansar al-Sharia, the Islamist militia suspected of masterminding the attack, as part of a sweep of raids on militia compounds throughout the city.
Only a few hours after the demonstrations began, government authorities sent a mass text message that urged the protesters to return to their homes, adding that “the Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade, the February 17 Brigade and the Libya Shield Force are legal, and are subject to the authority of the [military] general staff.” Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf later confirmed this view.
In response, a former NTC member lamented that the government had “lost a chance to finish off all of the militias,” stating that the groups responsible are backed by Qatar and that the government did not want to interfere with their agenda.
Such patronage extends to the military establishment itself. Libyan Chief of Staff Yousef al-Manqous is said to favor Cyrenaican militias over the military units under his command, while government officials complain about the lack of an effective chain of command. For example, in June last year, Libyan Defense Minister Osama al-Juwali attacked the NTC for failing to consult with the appropriate officials on its decisions, stating that his role had been reduced to “signing the plans of the chief of staff.”
With ample foreign funding and preferential treatment from the government, the militias have no incentive to disband. Furthermore, they are wary of turning over control of their brigades to military commanders whom they claim supported Qaddafi or, at least, failed to oppose him.
While there is no shortage of challenges facing Libya’s new government, disbanding the militias must be at the top of its agenda. Otherwise, the aspirations that drove the anti-Qaddafi revolution — an end to corruption, stability and shared prosperity — will never be fulfilled.
Barak Barfi is a research fellow at the New America Foundation.
Copyright: Project Syndicate