A feeling of déjà vu is spreading across Libya. It is October, and clashes are raging in Bani Walid. New Government-backed forces are implementing a military assault on the town against those painted as loyalists to Muammar Gaddafi. Meanwhile, rumours abound that Gaddafi’s son Saadi, who is currently living in Niger, is quietly sending messages throughout Libya ordering all of those loyal to his father to take up arms and join in the battle. But this is not 2011- the uprising is over. This is 2012.
Libya: A Look Back
One year on from the death of former dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on 20 October 2012, Libyans are cautiously optimistic. To them, the worse is over. The detestable tyrant is long gone, and a new government (albeit, shaky) is in place. In Tripoli, adamant to distance himself from his failed predecessor, Mustafa Abushagur, the new Prime Minister-elect Ali Zidan appears confident that he will have an official cabinet list delivered to the elected members of the General National Congress (GNC) within two weeks. Elsewhere across Libya, however, there remains the same old story: long-standing rivalries between Misrata and Bani Walid have boiled over once again into full-scale violence, amid reports that a minority of Gaddafi sympathisers are holding the latter city captive. Despite the tenuous security situation in certain regions of the country, particularly that of Bani Walid, Sebha, and Kufra, a year after the Colonel’s demise, Libyans have proved all the naysayers wrong. Those who claimed the Maghreb nation would completely collapse in the wake of the conflict have instead witnessed smoothly-run parliamentary elections on 07 July 2012. (Indeed, what had been described as Libya’s first test of democratic progression was met with significant praise from the European Union Election Assessment Team, which described the poll as “efficiently administered, pluralistic and overall peaceful”).
Even the problem of weapons proliferation appears to have been taken seriously in Libya: on 29 September 2012, high-profile leaders from the National Army hosted an arms collection drive in Tripoli’s Maydan ash Shuhada (Martyrs’ Square), as well as in Benghazi’s Tahrir Square. Amid the event, at least two tanks, one of which belonged to the Triq Asour Brigade, a group which is still holed upside Gaddafi’s former Bab Al Azizya compound, were relinquished to the National Army. Members of the Zawiya Brigade also reportedly handed in machine guns, Kalashnikov rifles, and a myriad of ammunition rounds. Although those who handed in the most number of weapons were awarded with prizes, including Hyundai cars, laptops, television sets, and iPads, participants were keen to point out that they were simply doing it for the good of the country. One Zawiya brigadesman by the name of Ahmed Abdullah Brishny said that he was participating to show that “Islam is for peace, not for killing”. Brishny added that “We felt collectively responsible for the disaster that befell the American ambassador in Benghazi. We have to stop these radical religious people”.
This is not to say that the country has not seen its share of severe mishaps and deadly incidents of terrorism, not the least of which included the deaths of four Americans during the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi on 11 September 2012. Indeed, despite calls from the GNC to disband militias, some ‘rogue’ groups remains at large, especially that of the notorious Ansar al Sharia Brigade, an armed organisation which has been blamed for the assault on the American mission. According to reports on 09 October 2012, although the National Army has managed to rid Benghazi and even Derna of the Ansar al Sharia Brigade, Army Taskforce Commander Colonel Hamid Hassi has claimed that his military is unable to capture the men. According to Hassi, the National Army has blockaded members of the Ansar al Sharia Brigade in the Green Mountain area. The same brigade has also been accused of killing four security officers in Susa two weeks ago, and worryingly has sufficient firepower and vehicles which members of the local armed forces cannot seem to match. According to Hassi, the armed group has “150 to 200 men”, including seventeen vehicles, “Toyotas and four-by-fours”. Hassi added: “Gaddafi tried to fight these guys here, he had 30,000 soldiers, in 1992, and he could not catch them. We need help from the United Nations or the Europeans”.
Libya: A Look Ahead
The National Army’s lack of sufficient personnel and equipment to combat rebellious brigades is, of course, not the only issue Libya is currently facing. Aside from fears that Salafist groups may feel emboldened to strike, inter-tribal violence which was once severely clamped down by Gaddafi, has continued. Adding to the mix are concerns over the possible partitioning of the state (a highly unlikely scenario) due to reports that the GNC has approved the establishment of a National Oil Corporation (NOC) branch in Benghazi. Although many in Benghazi have approved of the measure, with leaders stating that it is only right that the NOC should return to its original 1968 headquarters. Some Tripolitanians, however, are falsely under the impression that the GNC’s decision means that NOC is to be “split in two”, which to them, gave credence to their suspicions that the eastern half of the country was seeking to become semi-autonomous. These and other challenges are likely to continue to surface in post-Gaddafi’s Libya, suggesting that the road ahead will not be easy for the country’s political leaders, particularly PM-elect Zidan. Indeed, in the short-term the government just hopes to bypass the one-year anniversary of Gaddafi’s death with little or no security incidents (keen to avoid creating an attractive target for would-be democratic spoilers, Libyan leaders have indicated that there will be no official ceremony to mark the occasion). Nevertheless, as Libyans look back on the year that was, they can remain proud of their accomplishments thus far: Gaddafi is dead, and as hard as he and his henchmen may have tried, the country has democracy, no matter how imperfect.
(Image source: Inkerman personnel)