x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Libya for 2012: Reconciliation and reining in militias is vital for democracy

How the interim government handles the reconciliation and delicate negotiations between tribes and factions will set the tone for the transition to democracy through to elections planned for 2013.

Reconciling the factions and tribes is vital for Libya's interim government ahead of proposed elections in 2013.
Reconciling the factions and tribes is vital for Libya's interim government ahead of proposed elections in 2013.

TRIPOLI, CAIRO // For Libya, where an uprising turned into war between pro-democracy rebels and loyalists of dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, the wounds go deeper than most other countries swept up in the Arab Spring.

Many more were injured by rockets, small arms and Nato air strikes aimed at protecting civilians from Qaddafi's forces.

Entire neighbourhoods in the cities of Misurata, Bani Walid and Sirte were destroyed.

Militias from across Libya still guard some of Tripoli's main installations, such as the airport, and checkpoints. Many of the militias, however, met a deadline last week to withdraw from their bases in the capital.

But many of the young men who took up arms against Qaddafi refuse to surrender them.

How the interim government handles the reconciliation and delicate negotiations between tribes and factions, mainly regional and tribal, will set the tone for the transition to democracy through to elections planned for 2013 after polls next year for an interim parliament.

"Without reconciliation, you are going to have an extremely disgruntled minority," said George Joffe, a North Africa expert at Cambridge University in the UK.

"The biggest challenge the country is facing is bringing the militias under control and centralising the military structure of the new Libyan army... If those things are met, the new government will have a very unsuccessful lease on life."

In Tripoli especially, where militias from Zintan and Misurata have FOUGHT EACH OTHER? stand-offs since the city's fall in August, tensions are high.

This month, a guard was killed and four were wounded when General Khalifa Hifter, the commander of the new national army, tried to drive through a checkpoint manned by Zintan revolutionaries. Revolutionary groups are often loyal more to their immediate commander than their higher leadership.

An army spokesman said the Zintan militia believed the army was trying to take control of the airport.

This incident prompted a group of Tripoli residents to protest in Martyrs' Square about the insecurity of the city under the rule of rival militias.

The interim government has tried to meet the demands of the militias for positions in government and resources for their areas.

But that could be a dangerous precedent.

"More and more, the composition of the government reflects Misurata wanting something for Misurata, Zintan wanting something for Zintan, and so on," said Ronald Bruce St John, author of several books on the country.

"Instead of seeing a national government take charge, we're seeing fragmentation," he said.

Libya's leaders are trying to spread power across the regions and factions in the way they hand out government positions and ministries.

All of this hearkens back to the first dozen years or so of independence, when Libya had a federal government and the capital flip-flopped each year between Benghazi and Tripoli. All of which was expensive and dysfunctional, and resulted in corruption because local people with local interests spent money locally," Mr St John said.

So, 12 per cent of Libyan workers were employed by the state in the 1960s.

."It looks like they'll go back to that now if they're not careful,"

Libya is due to hold elections in eight months. Analysts say that is unlikely.

The government has yet to issue regulations for the elections due in June, after which a committe will be established to write a constitution.

However, delay is arguably preferable to rushing things.

Libya's people are politically inexperienced thanks to Qaddafi's banning political parties.

bhope@thenational.ae

jthorne@thenational.ae