The Trouble With Libya’s Revolutionaries
On November 14, Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) inaugurated Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s cabinet, ending this phase of Libya’s political turmoil and solidifying the first post-revolutionary government. However, the process has not been without obstacles. Following the October 31 congressional vote to approve the appointments, armed protesters from the obsessively anti-Gaddafi city of Misrata and other revolutionary groups forced their way into the GNC headquarters in Tripoli, clashing with security personnel and even parliamentarians in a chaotic attempt to protest the inclusion of ex-regime figures.
These raids targeting the nascent Libyan government have become frequent occurrences of late, as the GNC attempts to address each of the nation’s disparate interests. While revolutionary militias formed the core of Gaddafi opposition, they now arguably (and ironically) present the greatest risk to post-Gaddafi stability.
Despite the newly elected leader’s calls for national reconciliation and strengthening of Libya’s democracy, Zidan’s cabinet has proven to be a sticking point for these revolutionary militias unhappy with the potential inclusion of Gathafi-era officials and dissatisfied with their regional representation. The approval and inauguration of the cabinet represent positive developments for Libya’s political stability, at a time where numerous security and economic challenges threaten the country’s foundation. Still, public disapproval for both the nominations and the GNC’s affirmative votes underscores the level of popular discontent and the potential that the country could easily destabilize yet again.
Zidan has attempted to satisfy Libya’s major factions--no small feat, given the number of militias, tribes, and religious sects found in the country. Zidan’s fledgling cabinet encompasses each of the major political blocs, including the National Forces Alliance and the Justice and Construction Party, the two parties with the greatest representation in the GNC. However, several of the appointments are accused of ties with the Gaddafi regime, drawing the ire of and sparking protests among anti-Gaddafi revolutionaries. Despite congressional approval, all nominees were referred to an ‘Integrity Commission’ for further review pending investigation of such ties, with four members already failing the vetting process. Two of the nominees in particular are accused of still maintaining Gaddafi loyalties, one of whom has reportedly passed inspection to be included in Zidan’s cabinet, leading revolutionary groups to question just how new this new government is.
But these groups’ anger has not been limited to violence against the burgeoning government. Libyan security officials have indicated that the initial invasion of Bani Walid in October 2012, considered the last Gaddafi-loyalist holdout, was not authorized by the central government but rather carried out by these same revolutionary militias that raided the GNC headquarters, notably those from the revolutionary city of Misrata. Indeed, both Chief of Staff of Libyan Ground Forces Yousef Mangoush and GNC President Mohammed Magarief condemned the assault and denied that the order had been given to launch the raids on the city. While this alludes to the lack of central government control over the numerous militias tasked with providing the country’s security, it further emphasizes the very particular destabilizing threat of vigilante revolutionary factions.
These militias are accused of committing numerous atrocities on the city’s inhabitants, including the use of toxic gases and indiscriminate shelling, contributing to alleged collective punishment and leading to dozens of casualties. Despite an end to hostilities, tensions and instability persist, with Libya’s Defense Minister admitting that the army has ‘no control’ over the city. Residents continue to accuse revolutionary militias from Misrata, Zawiya, and Tripoli of erecting vigilante checkpoints to prevent the return of thousands of displaced refugees, harassing city residents, shooting at abandoned buildings, and other tactics designed to intimidate those remaining in the former Gaddafi stronghold.
These are Libya’s revolutionaries, the very same fighters who vowed to end over forty years of oppressive rule. Replacing tyrannical rule with destabilizing vigilante actions, these groups now undermine the authority and legitimacy of the first free government they fought to install. It is true that the pockets of remaining Gaddafi loyalism threaten the legitimacy of the state by serving as constant reminders of the former regime and disputing government authority. In a bid to perhaps remove this threat to legitimacy, Islamist militant groups in possession of a rumored ‘hit-list’ are suspected of targeting these Gaddafi-era officials in a spate of assassinations across the country, particularly in Benghazi. However, unauthorized militia action has distracted the government’s attention--rather than focusing upon establishing the framework for the nascent Libyan state, growing the economy, and fighting regional Islamist militancy, Zidan’s government will have its hands quite full with the basic issue of controlling state security.
Easier said than done. The issue itself seems a paradox--how can the government attempt to rein in errant militias when these militias represent a major part of the security infrastructure? Indeed, a monopoly on the legitimate use of force is a fundamental and defining characteristic of the nation-state. The unauthorized invasion of Bani Walid and allegations of human rights abuses leveled against these revolutionaries reflect the failure of the transitional government and the elected GNC to secure this monopoly, suggesting that Libya’s future as a successful state may be in question. Roshanna Lawrence is a senior intelligence analyst at Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm based in Tel Aviv.