x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Harness energy of Libyans for a better future

Ordinary Libyans have driven out militias from Benghazi, proving that public opinion wants nothing to do with extremism

The city that toppled Qaddafi has now toppled its militias. There were astonishing scenes this weekend in Benghazi, as thousands of ordinary Libyans united in protest and pushed extremists with guns out of their bases. In a country where control of the central government is still weak, Benghazi has shown the strength to confront its own problems. Building on this momentum is where all Libyans must focus.

The background to this unprecedented groundswell of anti-militant support is the rapidly changing nature of post-revolution Libya. After protests against a mediocre film grew into something deadly, leading to the killing of the US ambassador to Libya, frustration among ordinary Libyans has grown to such a degree that waiting for the central government to fill the power vacuum would seem no longer an option.

So the people themselves took action. By the time the weekend was over, Ansar Al Sharia, the militia widely suspected of planning the September 11 protests and subsequent attack on the US consulate, had been driven from their headquarters. Another militia, Abu Slim, also announced that it would lay down arms and withdraw from the eastern city of Derna.

These events are unequivocal signs that in the post-Qaddafi Libya, rule by the gun will not be tolerated. Yet what makes these events so remarkable also makes them dangerous. The central and local governments must find ways to disarm the remaining militia groups, or at least reintegrate them into state security structures, or lose the trust of those average Libyans who are again standing to be heard.

Many around the world will be surprised to see Libyans so bravely, so clearly siding against this extremist strain of religion in their country. Many will also lament the fact that Libya's new government has been hampered by its inability to broker calm within its borders and agree on a power-sharing agreement between its regions.

The people in Benghazi who took matters into their own hands demonstrated how committed Libyans are to building a stable, functioning state. And there are signs such a state is possible. The economy is rebounding, and the country's political class is finding its footing. Security operations between Tripoli and Benghazi are also being coordinated, and authorities in the capital have announced plans to disband armed groups.

The public clearly favours a militia-free Libya. It is now up to Libya's new government to help them achieve it.