x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Future of Libya demands end to militia violence

Bloody squabbles among militia groups reveal the fissures that Libya's National Transitional Council has not yet been able to bridge.

Even as Libyan rebels celebrated the demise of Muammar Qaddafi last month, fears continued over eliminating the last pockets of resistance. These concerns have proven to be founded: this week saw the latest flare-up.

Once the dust settled after days of clashes between militias in Zawiya, 13 were dead. That's bad enough, but the fighting has also renewed worry that the new interim government will be incapable of controlling the militias that continue roaming Libya's streets.

The fear may be premature; these are still early days in Libya's struggle to find its footing after decades of one-man rule.

But so far political inclusion and progress in the national interest have been sidelined in the name of tribal, regional and local grievances. That nearly every able-bodied man and child has access to small arms has only added fuel to the fire. Disarmament will prove arduous.

Tribal leaders have so far backed a unified Libya, but many remain strongly opposed to the inclusion of former members of the Qaddafi regime. Others have expressed concern over foreign interference. Whereas they were united in opposing the late Col Qaddafi, these factions are now showing less ability to compromise.

For its part, Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) has gone out of its way to reaffirm its authority. But its efforts to play down the recent fighting are unconvincing.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many of the armed factions are made up of young men, whom NTC leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil has accused of "behaving irresponsibly". Ill-tempered they may be, but few would fault them for treating official demands to disarm with suspicion. Self defence is obviously a primary concern.

Further complicating the security picture is the formation of a national army. Tribal leaders from Zintan and Misurata are vying for command, raising questions about the inclusion of other factions from elsewhere in the country.

While the revolution may be over, a new conflict may be emerging in Libya: the struggle for the country's unity. Many cities need major rebuilding, while civil institutions will have to be built from scratch. But this nation-building will not be possible before true reconciliation and stability are achieved.

In post-Qaddafi Libya many have said the right things. It remains to be seen whether actions will speak louder.