Libya: Outlaws And Disorder


March 9, 2013: The government security forces are growing too slowly to halt all the outbreaks of militia misbehavior. Priority is on keeping militia violence from interfering with oil and natural gas production, as exports of this stuff keeps the government in business and most Libyans reasonably content. After that comes the effort to shut down rogue militias in major cities, especially Tripoli (the capital) and Benghazi (the home of the most radical Islamic militias). This is proceeding slowly and in places like Benghazi, against growing resistance.

The main government tactic is to offer militia members jobs in the police or army. The problem what that is militiamen often do not shift their loyalties. Militias are often based on regional, tribal, or religious affiliations. The former militiamen become a liability in the police and army because their first loyalty is not to Libya but to the leaders of their tribe, town, or neighborhood. This is a problem in many parts of the world and it continued in Libya even under Kaddafi, who took advantage of it and gave police and army jobs to tribes he considered loyal to him. These tribal attitudes change slowly, as can be seen in areas where the tribal loyalties are no longer a major factor (the West but also most of China and India).

Two years of revolution and weak security have allowed the drug smugglers (mostly of hashish from the south and amphetamines from other North African countries) to move more product. With all that oil money in circulation, there’s a local market for the drugs, although most of the hashish is passing through to more lucrative markets in Europe. The weak security has allowed all manner of smuggling to thrive. Weapons looted from government warehouses during the revolution are exported and poor job seekers from neighboring countries come in seeking work. There are a lot of jobs that Libyans, who are now getting their payments (which kept Kaddafi in power for decades), won’t do. But Libya wants to control this influx of foreign workers and is again rounding up and deporting those who entered without permission. Egyptian Christians (Copts) are a favorite target because Islamic militias get to expel foreigners and abuse Christians at the same time.

Another big problem for the new government is corruption. Kaddafi had it somewhat under control but since the Kaddafi government fell, the rules for who could steal are vague and senior government officials don’t know who they can trust. This is a particular problem when hiring militias for security tasks. Often the leader of the militia will collect the pay for his men and keep most of it. He will tell his men that the government did not deliver all the money and sometimes these angry militiamen will go and complain, often violently, to the government.

The Islamic radical militias are a problem because they are, for the moment, less corrupt and more intent on winning the support of enough Libyans so that they can take over the government. This sort of thing has been played out many times before. If and when the Islamic radicals do take control, the corruption hits them as well and they become more savage in attacking critics (often by accusing them of not being Islamic enough) and become another hated dictatorship. But at the moment the Islamic militias look attractive compared to all the corrupt and greedy tribal groups and national politicians.

It’s not just Christians who fear abuse from the militias, people from tribes or towns long known as Kaddafi supporters also live in fear. Thousands of refugees from fighting in pro-Kaddafi towns prefer to remain in exile (elsewhere in Libya or outside the country) rather than go home and face persecution from rebel militias that still occupy pro-Kaddafi areas.

March 7, 2013: An unidentified militia attacked the officers of a TV station in Tripoli, which has been critical of the many independent militias. The offices were trashed and two managers taken hostage (and later released).

March 5, 2013: Interim national leader Mohammed al Megeryef came under fire as his car left the national assembly. Armed demonstrators were demanding a law barring Kaddafi era officials from holding government jobs now or in the future. Many in the government oppose this law because Libya is short of people who know how to run a government and have some experience at it. Many rebel leaders believe some Kaddafi era officials can be trusted and their knowledge of government administration will be invaluable.

March 3, 2013: A natural gas pipeline near the northwestern city of Zwara was shut down for a while because two local tribes were involved in a battle over who should control what. These tribal squabbles are common in areas away from the coast (where most Libyans live).

In Benghazi Islamic radical militiamen attacked a Coptic church and beat two priests. Copts have been in Libya for over a thousand years and Islamic conservatives consider their continued refusal to become Moslem a personal offence. These religious militias have also been arresting Christians (local and foreign visitors) and accusing them of trying to convert Moslems to Christianity. A Kaddafi era law makes this illegal. Islamic conservatives believe Moslems who convert should be killed.

March 2, 2013: In the town of Mizdah, 180 kilometers southwest of the capital, fighting broke out between the pro-Kaddafi Mashashia tribe and the pro-rebel Gontrar. Three days of fighting has forced over 3,000 people from their homes. The Mashashia are accused of supporting criminal gangs and general misbehavior. Government security forces are trying to get both tribal militias to stop fighting. This violence has been going on (and off) in this mountainous region since last June.  

In Egypt Hamas blocked movement (via tunnels from Egypt to Gaza) of 28 rockets, smuggled into Egypt from Libya, because Iranian trained Hamas intelligence agents found trackers on missiles, apparently placed there by Israeli agents somewhere between the Libyan military bases the missiles came from and the entrance to the Gaza smuggling tunnel.

February 27, 2013: Egyptian police seized two pickup trucks headed for the Sinai Peninsula. The trucks were carrying 60 antitank missiles stolen from Libyan military bases during the recent revolution there. The missiles were apparently going to be smuggled into Gaza, where Hamas pays big money for such weapons.

February 24, 2013: Britain repeated a warning to its citizens to avoid travel to Libya in general and some of the major cities (especially Benghazi, Misurata, Tripoli, and areas near the Egyptian border like Ras Lanuf).

February 22, 2013: Off the coast near Tripoli, a navy warship stopped a ship for inspection and found (and seized) 30 tons of hashish found on board.

February 17, 2013: Many in the country celebrated the second anniversary of the rebellion that, within eight months, overthrew long-time dictator Moamar Kaddafi. But many Libyans are dismayed to find that it was easier to depose Kaddafi than it is to build a better government.


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