by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 7, Shawwal, 1434)
The hoax perpetrated by the West promising democracy to the people of Libya if they got rid of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi lies smouldering in the ruins of burned out homes, schools and hospitals. Libya is a country in the grip of armed militias answerable to no one. The government does not exist even in name.
Most Libyans are gripped by panic nearly two years after the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. They have nowhere to turn for help. Since the homicidal overthrow and lynching of Qaddafi in October 2011, violence has escalated alarmingly. Drive-by shootings and killings are so rampant that people are not certain if they will come back alive after leaving home.
Fethi Lekhfifi, 79, a former judge, was one of those unlucky ones. He was shot dead as he exited a masjid in Benghazi after Fajr (dawn) prayers on August 19. Police sources said the perpetrators were people with criminal records that the judge had sentenced. Perhaps, but what about Azzedine Koussos, a medical doctor who was presenter for Libya’s al-Hurra television; he was shot dead by gunmen as he sat in his car parked near a blood bank in the Sidid Hussein district of Benghazi? What was his fault; did he present programs the gunmen did not like? Koussos hosted a television program on human development. On August 17, a bomb exploded near the Egyptian consulate in Benghazi injuring a security guard. The attack was most likely in retaliation for the military crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt but all these point to the level of lawlessness gripping Libya.
The government is in disarray; it exists only in name. It has little or no capacity to provide protection to people because it cannot enforce its writ anywhere. Within government ranks, there is no cohesion or coordination as evidenced by the August 18 resignation of Interior Minister, Colonel Mohamed Khalifa al-Sheikh who was appointed only in May. Colonel Sheikh complained “of a lack of support from the prime minister,” as well as interference in the affairs of his ministry by members of the General National Congress (GNC), theoretically the country’s higher political authority.
There is an even more basic problem. Many ministers, including the Prime Minister Ali Zeidan are considered illegal by the myriad militias that were involved in the war against the Qaddafi regime. The militias insist that anyone who had served Qaddafi must be disqualified and should not hold office in the new government. Prime Minister Zeidan also falls into this category as do several other ministers.
Al-Sheikh was blunt in his resignation letter. He said he was not getting financial and moral support to implement his reform program and complained that he did not have sufficient prerogatives to carry out his policies. Al-Sheikh was a former police chief of Tripoli. Zeidan accepted his resignation and asked Deputy Prime Minister Sadik Abdelkrim to run the ministry until a replacement for Sheikh is found.
On August 4, Deputy Prime Minister Awadh al-Barassi stepped down over what he described as the government’s inability to contain unrest in the country. “I cannot work in a dysfunctional government where my powers are lost,” Barassi said during a news conference in Benghazi, perhaps the most restive of all cities in the country. He also complained that the government had not succeeded in winning the people’s trust and providing state agencies with adequate resources.
The problem is not lack of resources. Libya is an oil rich country. The real reasons lie elsewhere: lack of a functioning government, corruption and the dominance of militias that have not been brought under control while the military and police forces have been degraded because many were considered loyal to Qaddafi or had served his regime. A group calling itself the Barqa Youth Movement has declared the eastern province that includes Benghazi as autonomous. The fight is over control of oil fields and exports.
In late July, Zeidan had announced plans to reshuffle the cabinet in an effort to improve its response to the crisis in Libya. A few days later, he shelved the plan without giving any reason. Some observers speculate that there are deep divisions among various factions in government jockeying for power and resources. Under such conditions, it is virtually impossible to function effectively.
Vast regions of the country are out of government control. Many Libyans rue for the days when Qaddafi was in power. They now openly say that while he may have been a dictator, those days were far better than the chaos that exists today. Cities like Bani Walid and Misrata are in complete turmoil. There are frequent gun battles between pro- and anti-Qaddafi forces in which ordinary people are the main victims. Even Tripoli, the capital city, is not safe. People live in constant fear of being shot, kidnapped or robbed.
Qaddafi’s overthrow was orchestrated by Western powers. They manipulated the UN Security Council to push through resolution no. 1973 ostensibly to impose a “no fly” zone over Libya. The resolution was meant to “protect people from attacks” by Qaddafi’s air force. While the regime had not used the air force to attack rebel forces, the US and its NATO allies used SC resolution 1973 to turn the country into a shooting gallery. For months the country was bombed. The targets were not all military; agricultural farms, schools, homes and factories were all targeted and destroyed.
Qaddafi’s overthrow, however, did not usher the much hoped for and talked about peace and tranquility or respect for people’s rights. Instead, the myriad militias armed and trained by the West set up their own fiefdoms to terrorize people. Every thug with a few dozen men under his command and heavy weapons has become a law unto himself. While Western governments quickly signed lucrative contracts to grab Libya’s oil, the people have been left to fend for themselves.
If the government cannot protect its own ministries, how can it protect the people? Gunmen demanding the expulsion of Qaddafi-era officials from the government had besieged the buildings of the Justice Ministry and the Foreign Ministry in the capital, Tripoli since April 28. The siege theoretically ended on August 17 after assurances from the General National Congress and government that parliament will pass laws banning all those that had served the Qaddafi regime.
“Those who were at the two ministries have handed them over to a committee formed by the government and the General National Congress and have now departed,” Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani said on August 17. On the next day, parliament passed a law banning officials of the Qaddafi era from holding office. This has created other problems that were quite predictable: Zeidan has to resign as prime minister because he had served as a diplomat in the Qaddafi regime.
“The adoption of the law on political exclusion is a major step in the right direction. But we will take our time to examine certain aspects of the law,” said Osama Kaabar, a leader of one of the militias, who had vowed to lift the siege only if the sweeping law were ratified. They were back on August 19 in vehicles equipped with antiaircraft guns. The siege of the ministries continued with gunmen demanding the immediate resignation of Zeidan.
In the absence of any effective security forces that are also not motivated and no match for the heavily armed militias, the crisis continues. Ordinary people suffer. So much for Western democracy delivered to Libya via their mad bombers.