Clashes erupted in the Libyan city of Benghazi over the weekend between a Libyan militia and protesters demanding its disbandment. Since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi, the country has been without effective government and the militias that formed during the uprising against the dictator have remained intact and continue to challenge the power of the interim government. The latest violence in Libya has killed 31 and the country seems to be approaching the brink of chaos. More than 120 others have been wounded.
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zaidan has called on illegal militias to disband or come under control of the security forces. However; the violence that erupted in the eastern city of Benghazi followed the storming by protesters of base used by a militia force that is aligned with the government and paid by them to help maintain order. The Shield Brigades are made up of mainly Islamist militias. They act as a security force, but are independent of Libya’s military and police forces.
The commander of the Shield Brigades, Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Youssef al-Mangoush, resigned, following the clashes. The Shield Brigade in Benghazi abandoned its base as a result of the clashes. Adel Tarhuni, a spokesman for Libya Shield, told the television station Al Asima that one soldier was killed and four others wounded. “We had to defend ourselves,” he said, claiming that some of the protesters were armed and were throwing rocks. This latest violence is another indicator that Libya may be approaching the brink of chaos. The so-called “Arab Spring” – which also led to the fall of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and precipitated the ongoing civil war in Syria – has yet to yield any evidence of freedom or democracy for Arabs, as the United Nations and western powers hoped and believed it would; Egypt is, once again, a virtual dictatorship, ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The mainly Islamist militias in Libya have grown in strength since the 2011 ousting of Gaddafi, while the ruling General National Council struggles to rebuild the country’s military and security forces. Violence and lawlessness has been ongoing throughout the country. Maj. Gen. al-Mangoush’s main task had been to bring the militias into the Shield Brigades and transition them to official state-run security forces. He had not been effective in doing so and had been accused by other army officers of corruption. The militias themselves have been refusing to become part of the army until government ministries have been purged of those who served the former regime. Last month, after militias literally laid siege to government buildings in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, a law that bans Gaddafi-era officials from senior government posts for 10 years was passed.
Following the violence, Libyan Special Forces, known as the “Saaqa” took control of the Libya Shield base. According to a report from the Libyan News Agency (LANA), five of their soldiers were killed by an explosion as they approached the base during the clash. Three other Libya Shield bases in Benghazi were also taken over by the military.
Wassim Bin Hamid, the head of Libya Shield in Benghazi, told a local radio station that the attack on the base was orchestrated by groups campaigning for autonomy for eastern Libya.
Benghazi was the birth-place of the uprising which toppled Gaddafi. It was also the scene of a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate on September 11th, 2012, which left the Ambassador and three other Americans dead. Widespread discontent and unrest continues to plague Libya. Saturday’s violence pushes the country closer to the brink of chaos. The Islamist militias have yet to be tamed by a weak central government and it seems likely that the struggle for control of this country is far from over.
Written by Graham J Noble