Stability on Trial

Challenging times ahead for the Libyan government: less than four weeks after his election, Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur has been removed from office by a vote of no-confidence. The security situation remains precarious, as a campaign to disarm the militias continues to make halting progress. More information from Hanspeter Mattes of the GIGA Institute of Middle East Studies

By Hanspeter Mattes

The establishment of stable public security requires on the one hand a broadly legitimized leadership, and on the other recognition of the state monopoly on the use of force. In October 2012, a year after the toppling and killing of Gaddafi and the proclamation of the "liberation of Libya" by the National Transitional Council, and despite significant progress in institution-building, neither of these requirements have been met.

In accordance with the provisional constitutional declaration it adopted on 3 August 2011, the National Transitional Council did indeed inaugurate the promised interim government under Prime Minister Abd al-Rahim al-Kib in November 2011, and carry out elections to the 200-seat new legislature the General National Congress (GNC) as planned on 7 July 2012 – which in turn elected long-term opposition politician Yusuf al-Maqariyaf to the post of President on 9 August, thereby making him de facto head of state – but the process of forming a government continues to falter.

Prime Minister-elect ousted in row over cabinet

The GNC, which replaced the National Transitional Council as the country's supreme arbitration authority, had on 12 September with a small majority elected Mustafa Abushagur from Tripoli – a fellow party member of Maqariyaf – to the post of new Prime Minister.

But his cabinet list of 28 portfolios presented on 3 October was met with a storm of criticism: too many unknown and inexperienced ministerial candidates, too many representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood (eight), insufficient regional balance, only one woman (social issues) and in addition several candidates – including the proposed interior minister Brigadier General Omar al-Aswad – with too strong a link to the former Gaddafi regime.

On Sunday (7 October) the Libyan parliament declared a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Abushagur, which means the first elected head of government since the ousting of Gaddafi has been removed from office.

Bitter setback in efforts to form a stable government: newly-elected Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur was removed from office by a vote of no-confidence

​​The process of institution-building may have remained on track thus far, but it now faces its first test. After all, without a competent and widely recognized "national" governmental team, and respected interior and defence ministers, there can be neither the required reconstruction policies nor the stable security situation to enforce these.

The attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on 11 September, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, in which the US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens died due to smoke inhalation, has meant the security situation has continued to be precarious.

This attack revealed on the one hand weaknesses in the new state security organs in maintaining public security and protecting foreign diplomatic missions, or in other words the new Libyan army and its integrated revolutionary militia which are under the command of the defence ministry, and on the other hand the police units of the Supreme Security Committees (SSC) which answer to the interior ministry.

As part of a process extending state control of revolutionary brigades, these were also completely integrated into the SSC and their own particular command structures retained. An insufficiently strong government, too many armed groups that are not deferring to the new state leadership, as well as complex command structures, inadequate training and diverging loyalties have so far prevented security forces from being able to efficiently establish a stable security situation.

The resistance of the brigades

The state monopoly on the use of force is primarily challenged by 400 to 500 revolutionary brigades – formed in 2011 during the fighting against Gaddafi's forces – each of which is comprised of between 100 and 1,000 fighters ("thuwwar") and which still control smaller regions and districts far from their homelands since the battles of 2011.

Most of these brigades were formed along tribal lines, or more specifically according to regional background. But there were also brigades that were formed according to regional or ideological factors. The latter was especially the case for the brigades that advocated a Salafist-Islamist orientation for revolutionary Libya after the toppling of Gaddafi.

Reluctant to disarm: Following Gaddafi's ousting last year numerous armed groups are refusing to lay down their weapons and often taking the law into their own hands

​​Examples of these are the Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi and Derna, the Katibat Shuhada' Abu Slim which originates from the Green Mountains, the Katibat Omar al-Mukhtar, the brigade of the detained Omar Abd al-Rahman and the Rafallah al-Sihati or 17. Fibrair – in both these cases brigades that have been integrated into the army.

Individual commanders and fighters are also accused of having links with the terror organization Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; although so far no substantive evidence has been produced to support these claims.

While some of the brigades or around 40,000 "thuwwar", in compliance with the demobilization calls of the National Transitional Council, have so far since February 2012 been integrated into the army, where they provide security for public buildings by order of the defence ministry, or are deployed as part of special intervention units in local conflicts such as in Kufra or Sabh, most of the brigades have to date ignored calls to hand in their weapons and demobilize, despite the high salary on offer.

Via their regional unions, such as the Union of Revolutionaries from Misrata, or the Tajammu' Saraya al-Thuwwar in Benghazi or the Highest Council of Revolutionaries formed on a national level in April 2012 under the chairmanship of Abd al-Majid al-Kikli, they are first and foremost calling for central political concerns to be addressed. These include primarily an immunity law for all acts committed during the war, compensation payments as well as an appropriate representation for the "thuwwar" on political committees.

Call for civil employment provisions

These calls are not being met by either the GNC or in Abushagur's cabinet list, which deposes defence minister Colonel Usama al-Juwaili, former commander of the Zintan Brigade. Other brigade members on the other hand, are calling for civil employment provisions instead of the option of integration into the military.

A smaller number – and this is also a part of the post-conflict landscape – have devoted themselves to lucrative criminal activities (smuggling, arms and drugs trading, trafficking) and are vehemently opposed to any pressure to give up these activities and demobilize.

Finally, and this is a special case, there are several brigades in the Bani Walid area, the main stronghold of the Warfalla tribe loyal to Gaddafi and the Qadadfa. The area is still viewed as a main centre of resistance to the new political leadership.

Stronghold of resistance to the new political leadership: Brigades in the Bani Walid region are still heavily permeated with Gaddafi supporters and are rivalled with militias from the neighbouring Misrata region to the north, a place hailed as the revolution's "city of heroes"

​​These brigades are still heavily permeated with Gaddafi supporters and rivalled with militia from the neighbouring Misrata region to the north, a placed hailed as the revolution's "city of heroes". But the Bani Walid tribes' political reach and their ability to disrupt the government-building process are nevertheless highly limited.

The dynamic of civil society organization and protests triggered by the murder of Ambassador Stevens gives rise to the hope that control of the brigades and their integration into state structures, or their demobilization, will be gradually realized.

For one thing on 23 September, a large-scale demonstration took place in Benghazi with around 30,000 to 40,000 participants under the banner "Save Benghazi", in parallel with smaller similar rallies in cities such as Tripoli and Derna.

These demonstrations were aimed at both the brigades still operating autonomously and primarily against certain Islamist brigades accused of involvement in the attack on the US consulate – such as Ansar al-Sharia. For his part, on 23 September GNC President Maqaryaf ordered the dissolution of all the brigades not integrated into the army or SSC, without actually having the powers to enforce this order. The same applies to the emergency law passed by the GNC on 27 September.

But the emergency law makes it quite clear that like most of the population, Libya's political leadership is no longer willing to bend to the pressure and the resistance of the militias. Therefore their subjugation or dissolution can be expected in the mid-term.

The collection of weapons in circulation since the war began in 2011, including at least 200,000 machine guns, has got the ball rolling. An initial collection in late September in Tripoli and Benghazi was more than symbolic, even though in other parts of the country, and in view of the fragile security situation, people have thus far shown little inclination to hand in small arms.

Hanspeter Mattes

© 2012

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Redaktion: Lewis Gropp/