20 December 2013

Libya: Tripoli Residents Reclaim Their City

Tripoli — One month ago this week, armed militias exited Tripoli. To learn more about what life was like under the control of the illegal battalions, and what their departure means for security in the Libyan capital, Magharebia met with Layla Maghrebi.

According to the head of the Tanweer Foundation, a Tripoli NGO dedicated to promoting moderate Islam and social awareness, much has changed in the capital since the deadly November clashes between Misrata militiamen and demonstrators.

Magharebia: How did the armed brigades from Misrata, Zintan, Gharyan and elsewhere end up here in the first place?

Layla Maghrebi: After the liberation, all palaces, villas, apartment blocks, and farms of cronies affiliated with the former regime were turned into military headquarters. This made the capital a military town occupied by battalions from all cities, including armed formations from Tripoli itself. Criminal practices against the civilian population took place, such as kidnappings for ransom, stealing cars or properties, as well as torture and enforced disappearances. This made people demand the dissolution of these armed formations...

Magharebia: Did these fighters change the civilian flavour of the city?

Maghrebi: Certainly it had a significant impact. Tripoli used to have all aspects of civilian life, yet it was turned into a military camp. Residents of the capital resisted this transformation by always going out and ignoring the militarisation that choked everything. They continued their daily life, took their children to amusement parks, and sat in restaurants and cafes...

They took to the streets in demonstrations, demanding that there only be the army and police, and refusing to recognise all other formations.

Magharebia: What happened when these military groups operated outside the framework of the state?

Maghrebi: According to reports by Libyan and international human rights organisations, most battalion headquarters contained secret prisons where torture of illegally detained people took place.

We also heard a lot about abductions, most notably the kidnapping of the son of the defence minister and the prime minister himself, an incident witnessed by the entire world.

Magharebia: Why did it take so long for Tripoli residents to rise up and insist that these unofficial militias quit the capital?

Maghrebi: The absence of government support for the demands of the residents, despite the fact that the government itself complained...

Also, some citizens wanted to be patient and believed that time would dissolve these formations, especially since promises to see them join the interior and defence ministries were floated. This, however, affected only a few of them. Criminal practices increased beyond control until we ended up with clashes...

That was the straw that broke the camel's back. Tripoli decided to chase armed formations out of the city and have them join the interior and defence ministries.

Magharebia: Now that the militias have left Tripoli, there are those who warn that cronies of the former regime will be able to destabilise security. Do you agree?

Maghrebi: I don't think that the situation will deteriorate in the capital. The police are already here securing the city, accompanied by members of the military.

They had been kept out by the armed brigades, who accused them of treason for serving under the former regime, despite the fact that they defected from the regime in the early days of the revolution and participated in the liberation of the country.

Today, with their renewed deployment, I see happiness flooding the capital, as residents welcome them back and hand them roses in support of their presence.

Magharebia: But it is not like this in Benghazi.

Maghrebi: The security situation in the east is very bad. I have heard from reliable sources about the presence of senior al-Qaida members and their control over some cities, especially Derna, and Benghazi, which is controlled by armed formations under the name of Ansar al-Sharia, an affiliate of al-Qaida...

We hear every day about the assassination of military figures, active officers and non-commissioned ones, as well as security personnel from the former regime. Security and military buildings are also the target of bombings.

This makes us think that the only party hostile to security services is al-Qaeda, which accuses them of being ungodly.

Magharebia: What can Libya do now to achieve stability?

Maghrebi: What threatens security and stability in the country is the presence of armed formations outside the control of the government...

They obtained their legitimacy from the government at gunpoint. That is why the bulk of these battalions do not abide by the orders of the government, and clash among themselves, and their criminal practices confirm this.

The solution is to dismantle these formations and include them as members of the army and police as individuals, and to confiscate their arms.

This, however, will not happen given the current conditions and the absence of trust between the government and these armed groups.

Magharebia: Does Libya need foreign support?

Maghrebi: I hear many voices calling for immediate foreign intervention. I was hoping that we wouldn't have to resort to this option, but unfortunately every day we slip towards the worst and it seems that we will have to ask for help, at least partially...

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