Posted on 25 October 2012.
Protestors react to the killing of Christopher Stevens. (The Daily World)
The attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, provoked widespread outrage not only in the international community, but among Libyans themselves. In the weeks since the attack, thousands of Libyans have joined protests against the radical militia believed responsible, as well as other militias that have been operating outside of government control since the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Early on September 22, protestors in Benghazi stormed the compounds of the Ansar al-Sharia Brigade and forced the group to flee the city. Militia fighters put up a brief fight, but a spokesman for the group later announced it had evacuated their base, claiming to have done so to preserve security. The takeover came after 30,000 people marched through Benghazi the previous day demanding the disbanding of the militias, in the city’s largest protest since the uprising against Qaddafi.
Following the Benghazi protests, Libya’s interim government announced it would disband all armed militias not under its authority. The government has struggled to form a cohesive national military or assert control over the numerous separate militias that formed during the civil war, but the consulate attack and the public backlash have increased pressure for more decisive action. Shortly after fleeing Benghazi, Ansar al-Sharia and another Islamist militia also evacuated bases in the nearby city of Derna, saying they would disband.
The backlash against the militias is a powerful example of the rejection of conservative Islamist and extremist groups that have made major political gains in other post-revolutionary countries in the Middle East. Libya’s first multi-party elections, held in July, were won by a moderate coalition, while parties linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups fared poorly.
While security and the functioning of government in Libya are likely to be ongoing concerns, the response to the attack illustrates factors that make Libya distinctive among the countries emerging from the Arab Spring. First, the Libyan people continue to be engaged and ready to mobilize against potential threats to democratic development, and to demand better performance from their new government. They also are showing themselves more in favor of moderate politics and more resistant to religious, anti-Western politics than, for example, Egyptians. This presents an important opportunity for the United States to forge a positive relationship in the Middle East as it continues to transform.
Travis Gardner is a third year law student and a staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.
Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, DJILP Staff, Travis Gardner
Posted on 02 October 2012.
Libyan militias parade though Tripoli, Libya.
(Christian Science Monitor)
According to USA Today, President Mohammed el-Megaref called for “all of the country’s militia to come under government authority or disband.” This move appears to be aimed at harnessing popular sentiment against the militia groups around the country. Since the revolution last year that saw such groups topple Dictator Moammar Gadhafi, there has been public backlash against armed factions that continue to run rampant across the nation after the revolution. The government has been quick to take advantage of the public’s backlash, even going so far to state that the military would “resort to force if the groups refuse.”
The Libyan government has already taken steps to ensure the militias disband. According to the Libya Herald, the National Army drove a “reengage army division” from its base near Tripoli’s airport road, one day after the government had issued its ultimatum. Furthermore, the Army reported it had raised the Secondary Technical Barracks, another prominent militia, and that it had “arrested all the members of the group as well as confiscated the weapons found at the location.” In Benghazi an agreement has been reached between the government and a number of the militia groups to bring the militias under army control.
Although the Libyan government used public anger as the rationale to disband the militias, it has also been an important step in diminishing international pressure. Since the deaths of 11 Americans, a number of foreign embassies remain on security lockdown. Many embassies fearing “jihadist units in the capital will seek revenge for the humiliating rout of their comrades” being disbanded, the Libyan government had a strong incentive in maintaining control and order within the country. Overall, the move seems to be working. For example, the Raffala al-Sahati milita, whose soldiers shot a number of the 11 protestors killed over the weekend, told Libya’s state news agency “they had decided their role was over” and would disband. Furthermore, according to The Guardian, Benghazi officials are allowing an FBI team to come to Libya to join in the investigation of the deaths of the 11 Americans at the consulate.
The Libyan government still faces a number of obstacles and even though Libya’s first free election in decades took place in July, it needs to remain cautious in ordering the militias to disband. Not only does the government rely on the militias “for protection of vital institutions and has used them to secure the borders, airports, hospitals, and even July’s elections” but the militias are also an important contracted security force. In the coming weeks, it will be essential for the government to continue to call for the disbandment of the militia groups while maintaining dialogue and cooperation with such groups at the same time to stifle violence and continue legitimizing state authority.
Victoria Kelley is a 3L at the Sturm College of Law. She is currently the Alumni Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy and a member of the Jessup International Moot Court Team.
Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, DJILP Staff, Victoria Kelley