Armed Militias Rule Libya, Primed For ‘Backlash’ At Sign of Western Meddling

Libyan rebels gathered in Ajdabiya, March 2011. Credit: Al Jazeera English
Libyan rebels gathered in Ajdabiya, March 2011. Credit: Al Jazeera English

This well-reported article by Will Crisp at the Christian Science Monitor has two important findings. First, disparate armed militias are really who rules Libya, not the government. Second, these militias are motivated to wrest even more control over the government by a fear of Western interference.

Abdelmonem al-Said is the head of the militia that kidnapped Libya’s prime minister last month. He proudly stands by his role in the abduction and defiantly announces in press conferences how not scared he is of retribution or punishment, because the government is too weak, Crisp reports.

Here’s a key section of Crisp’s report, sub-titled “Suspicion of intervention.”

In the weeks ahead of Zeidan’s abduction, the Justice and Construction party, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, repeatedly called for the prime minister’s removal, but couldn’t drum up the 120 votes in parliament needed for a no-confidence vote. The new lawmakers behind the push for a no-confidence vote insist they were not behind the kidnapping, and only seek to bring down the government by legitimate means.

“This could well have been an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to achieve something illegally that they failed to achieve through the legitimate means of a no-confidence vote,” says Jason Pack, a research at Cambridge University and president of Libya-Analysis.com.

“The Brotherhood doesn’t necessarily want to replace him with one of their own ranks, but it does want to block his plans to build a strong army. It’s seen what happened in Egypt and sees plans to cooperate with the US and Europe over training troops as a threat.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande raced to condemn the abduction and pledged to help Libya rein in militias. NATO announced earlier this week that it would send security advisors to Libya to help it build up an effective defense force under the auspices of the government.

While this has been broadly welcomed in Libya, observers say the international community must be careful not to reinforce the militias’ grip on the country’s politics.

“Libya’s militias continue to dictate the terms of politics for the foreseeable future and risk the stability of the country in the process,” says Oliver Coleman, senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at risk analysis company Maplecroft. “Any sort of outside intervention that could be construed as Western interference is likely to provoke a serious backlash from some militias, and indeed from the Islamist JCP [Justice & Construction Party].”

The militias who NATO helped bring to victory by overthrowing Gadhafi are now wary of further Western meddling that would strengthen the army and buttress the government. And any sign of greater intervention, according to some analysts, “is likely to provoke a serious backlash.” Meanwhile, “Radical Islamist brigades that publicly praise Al Qaeda have expanded,” Crisp informs, and “The militant group Ansar al-Sharia has opened a number of new branches in the west of the country.”

The enfeebled Libyan government is even aiding and abetting Ansar al-Sharia, Mohamed Eljarh reported at Foreign Policy back in March, even though “they remain firmly opposed to the idea of democracy, which, they contend, contradicts sharia law.”

“The basis for Ansar’s reappearance seems to be an arrangement with the Libyan Ministry of Defense,” Eljarh reports. ”At the time of the attack on the consulate, the government promised to do everything in its power to bring the perpetrators to justice — but now we see the Libyan authorities actually cooperating with the militia.”

Notably, such groups didn’t exist in Libya to any substantive extent prior to U.S. intervention. Like in Iraq, U.S. intervention brought precisely the end result Washington tries to battle against in its counter-terrorism efforts.

Can somebody please remind me what was the wisdom behind this intervention?

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