Libya: No Judges, No Peace


August 24, 2012: The four decades of Kaddafi dictatorship ended a year ago. Libya recently had its first ever peaceful, and democratic, transfer of power. But there still isn't unity or peace. Libya has, until recently, never been a country but rather a patchwork of tribal territories and city states. For the last few centuries Libya was ruled as three separate provinces of an Arab or Turkish empire.

Kaddafi suppressed those differences, with bribes and force, via a police state type government. The bribery is still around but the police state tactics are gone. In its place are over a hundred local militias, formed over a year ago to overthrow, and then replace, the Kaddafi officials. Unimpressed with the competence, or intentions, of the new government, most militias kept their guns, their organization, and an attitude that they could make rules as they saw fit. This has not led to general chaos but it has led to a lot of tense situations as the new government tries to deal with all these new warlords. Bribes are preferred over bullets and since the government has control over the oil income, there is cash available for buying peace. The major task is turning these temporary peace deals into long term arrangements. That means disarming the militias and persuading them to turn into political parties, rather than remaining private armies.

Another reason for the persistence of warlords is the corruption, which makes government unreliable for those unable to pay the biggest bribe. The new government makes a lot of noise about dealing with corruption but there is a lot less action. This is compounded by the difficulty in creating a nationwide judicial system. There is a shortage of Libyans with legal training. The Kaddafi era judges were mostly for show and most have fled, or are not trusted if they remained.

Libya also has to deal with geographic as well as political differences. Libya has three distinct physical regions: the northwest coast, the northeast coast, and the Sahara Desert southern region that covers more than 90 percent of the nation. The northwest coastal region (the old Roman province of Tripolitania) consists of the narrow coastal plain and the Jaffara Plain inland. The northeastern Libyan coastal region (roughly the old Roman province of Cyrenaica) lies to the east of the Gulf of Sidra. Many people in each of these regions feel more loyalty to their region than they do to Libya. The biggest differences are between the capital (Tripoli) in the west and Benghazi in the east.

In Zilten (160 kilometers east of the capital) a tribal feud turned violent over the last two days, leaving at least 12 dead and dozens wounded. Battles like this are becoming more frequent because of the survival of armed militias and the continued lack of functioning courts in most of the country. Many militias are reluctant to disarm, mainly because of the lack of a judicial system for settling disputes. Tribal councils fill some of the need but there is no supreme authority, as in a formal judicial system. Often the tribal elders are not able to settle disputes which then frequently escalate into violence.

August 22, 2012: In Tarhuna (60 kilometers southeast of the capital) troops arrested the leader of a pro-Kaddafi militia (Katibat al Awfiya) that was pretending to be an anti-Kaddafi group. Over a hundred armored vehicles and many other weapons were seized. During the operation one rebel was killed and eight soldiers and rebels were wounded. Another 13 rebels were arrested, while at least three escaped. Many more of these rebels were believed to be elsewhere.  This group was believed responsible for the car bombings in the capital on the 19th.

August 20, 2012: In Benghazi someone threw a bomb at the car of an Egyptian diplomat. No one was injured and pro-Kaddafi groups were suspected.

August 19, 2012: In the capital two car bombs went off, killing two and wounding four.  The investigation that followed concentrated on known Kaddafi loyalists. This led to some people connected with a previously unknown pro-Kaddafi in a city 60 kilometers southeast of the capital.

August 18, 2012: In the capital a mob of Libyans attacked the Egyptian consulate and caused property damage. The Libyans were angry at having to wait too long to get visas to enter Egypt.

August 15, 2012: The Red Cross has suspended relief work in Benghazi and Misrata because of attacks by Islamic conservative groups who believe the Red Cross is trying to convert Libyans to Christianity.

August 10, 2012: In the capital a group of armed men attacked a prison, driving off the guards and freeing eight prisoners. Another inmate was killed, apparently by accident.

In Benghazi a former Kaddafi army general (Mohamed Hadia al Feitouri) was assassinated. Feitouri was one of the first senior officers to join the rebellion and was rewarded with a senior job in the Defense Ministry. There were no suspects in this killing.



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