(Image provided by Inkerman personnel)
A sense of anxiety permeates the air in Libya, with citizens and foreign nationals expressing unease over the Maghreb nation’s deteriorating security condition. As can be expected, Libyans remain apprehensive with regard to the ability of the government to safeguard residents following another high-profile attack in a major city. This time, however, the attack did not occur in terror-prone Benghazi. It occurred in the comparatively safer capital of Tripoli, leading worried foreign interests to reconsider whether they should maintain a presence in Libya at all.
(Note: This is part two in a series that analyses the risk of kidnaps in Libya)
When undertaking an operation as ambitious as physically rooting out wayward militias in Libya, a few ‘security snags’ are expected to pop up along the way.
Indeed, as the Maghreb nation’s government-backed forces remain entrenched in their campaign to expunge armed groups in the capital under the rather unimaginatively titled “Operation Tripoli”, authorities have also simultaneously noted a rise in criminal activity, especially the hostage-taking kind. This has led to assumptions that – in addition to a rise in general reporting from an increasingly confident national police force – the growth of kidnaps as of late could also stem from the intensification of government’s ‘anti-militia’ operations. In other words, these rogue militias, angered by the perception that the world may actually be caving in around them, could be resorting to retaliatory acts of abduction in a last ditch effort to cement their power.
The Libyan Government appears to be ‘making good’ on its endless string of promises to finally remove troublesome militias in the capital, as security forces continued with day four of “Operation Tripoli” on 19 March 2013. The operation is part of a concerted effort to dismantle illegitimate armed groups within the city, a top priority for authorities in post-revolutionary Libya who have grown weary over the apparent refusal of some armed groups to relinquish control of buildings in the capital. The plan, which was recently announced by Prime Minister Ali Zidan on 03 March 2013, but orchestrated by Minister of the Interior, Ashur Suleiman Shwayel, is already proving to be successful. Indeed, most Libyans appear to be supportive of the long-awaited measure, a sentiment shared by the hundreds or so number of residents who frequently demonstrate at Maydan ash Shuhada (Martyrs’ Square) in the capital to demand the dissolution of all militias.
So far a number of rogue militias have already ceded control of key buildings in Tripoli’s Gargaresh district, a neighbourhood which, despite being depicted as “Western-friendly”, is considered rife with drug gangs. In addition to raiding buildings in Gargaresh, security forces have also conducted operations near Bab al Azizia, the six-square-kilometre former military strong-hold of deceased dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Meanwhile, government forces also reportedly conducted operations inside local militia headquarters in the southern district of Ain Zara, as well as the eastern Beer Sta Milad neighbourhood near Tajoura, during the early morning hours of 19 March 2013. At time of publication, there have been no reports of injuries or deaths as a result of the ongoing operation. Nevertheless, this is expected to change in the coming days, as both the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the MoI have essentially been given carte blanche to expel armed groups from “more than 500 sites” in Tripoli, alone.
The country that ‘started it all’ – the so-called “Arab Spring”, that is – is at it again: another round of mass demonstrations and another government on the brink of collapse. So far Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has been unable to fulfil his vow to oversee the formation of a new government, a move which has interestingly failed to come to fruition in large part due to his own Islamist political party, Ennahda. Indeed, Ennahda, which maintains the lion’s share of control in the three-party government, initially rejected Jebali’s proposal on 07 February 2013, to institute a new “non-partisan” technocrat-filled government. Undeterred by this setback, Jebali promised to speak with representatives from all political parties on 15 February 2013, in order see whether there is any life left in his fledgling political proposition. Whilst Tunisian leaders await the outcome of the back door negotiations, some international investors have been left shaken, wondering what lies in store for Maghreb nation that was long considered the litmus test for the region’s ability to transition into a successful democracy.
Libya has once again found itself in the media spotlight this month, but unfortunately, for all of the wrong reasons. In the past year, the Maghreb nation has generally received accolades from media professionals, with journalists styling the country as a model for would-be revolutionary states. Its relatively quick eight-month uprising culminating in the death of a reviled dictator paved the way for a peaceful and successful parliamentary election in July 2012. Democratic values have flourished in Libya. Public squares, including Tripoli’s Maydan ash Shuhada (Martyrs’ Square), as well as Benghazi’s Maydan al Tahrir (Tahrir Square) and Maydan al Shajara (Tree Square), have become a Friday fixture for (mostly) peaceful protests. The explosion of thousands of newspapers and magazines throughout the country has also become symptomatic of a newfound right to free press, which Muammar Gaddafi gladly suppressed during his forty-two year reign.
This is not to say that Libya is without its faults. The devastating attack on the US Consulate, which left four Americans dead and dozens of Libyans injured, aside, the North African nation has also been blamed for the general decrease in stability across the Maghreb and greater Sahel region, not least of which is due to the proliferation of thousands of Gaddafi-era weapons following the end of the 2011 uprising. And then, there is the problem of kidnaps…
It is perhaps the most hackneyed phrase to come out of post-revolutionary Libya: there exists a law of unintended consequences, and the mission to oust maniacal dictator Muammar Gaddafi has resulted in such. Between talk of the role the 2011 uprising has had on what is left of the Malian state, to the impact of the Colonel’s removal on the thousands of returning Chadian mercenaries south of the border, international observers have watched with a keen eye the domino effect that Libya’s democratic transition has produced in the region.
If these scenarios have proven worrisome, it is the proliferation of weapons that has caused the greatest fear for intelligence officials. Arms, which were once set aside for the destruction of the Gaddafi regime, are now lining the arsenals of militant groups, some of which seek to destroy the very same states that helped their cause. Adding to the mixed bag of anxiety, are reports this week which allege that arms shipments from Qatar, which had been given the blessing of the United States, are now in the hands of rather unsavoury characters, including the notorious Abdul Hakim Belhadj. If these reports are accurate, then questions remain: To what extent has Qatar been cosying up to Islamist figureheads like Belhadj, a man some believe may have been connected to the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi? And what, exactly, are Qatar’s goals for Libya?