Libya's 'second revolution' in danger as militias fight back

Sep 24, 2012

Attempts to crack down on Islamist militias in Libya could backfire

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A SO-CALLED 'second revolution' in Libya, aimed at the Islamist militias that control large parts of the country, could be under threat after armed groups responded to a government order to disband by threatening to arrest those who led the protests against them.

People power appeared to have taken hold over the weekend when militia groups were forced out of Benghazi and other Libyan cities in response to the killing of American ambassador Chris Stevens on 11 September.

That prompted the country’s interim leader Mohammed Magariaf to demand that all groups disarm by midnight on Monday and Ahmad Jibril, the Libyan deputy ambassador in London, told the BBC Today programme on Monday morning that the uprising could be described as a "second revolution" and that the government was right to try and establish control.

However the militias, many of whom are Islamist, are now set to stand firm despite the order.

"Libyan militias responded to a 48-hour government deadline for them to disband by drawing up lists of people wanted for inciting weekend protests against them," reported Bloomberg, which described the lists as a "counter-push by the Islamist groups". It said that some militias had even started arresting police officers.

The Guardian's Libyan correspondent Chris Stephen said the stand-off was now exposing "fierce divisions between the Tripoli government and the east [of the country]".

He described the situation in Benghazi as "fairly combustible" and said: "You have the Islamic brigades digging their heels in, and the protesters, now backed by the army (pictured) and police, insisting that they go. And the government in Tripoli is really sitting on its hands."

There are concerns that Gaddafi loyalists will return if the fighters are forced to give up their arms as the government has relied on the militias to provide security since the revolution.

"The government has brought some militias nominally under the authority of the military or Interior Ministry, but even those retain separate commanders and often are only superficially subordinate to the state," explained Associated Press. Those groups have been used to secure border areas and perform other duties and now consider themselves to be official organisations.

"People were clearly demanding for all the brigades to be disbanded and for its members to join the security forces if they wish, but on a personal basis, not as an entire battalion," wrote Al-Jazeera blogger Hoda Abdel-Hamid.

She also warned that attempts to get rid of the militias could, paradoxically, increase their influence as attempts to bring them under state control would bring them closer to the government. "Many say that what is happening is that Islamists - and even extremists - have their own military power within what's supposed to be a national protection force."

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