Restore Libyan state institutions to their owners

Mohamed Abu Al-Fadl
Thursday 27 Sep 2018

Relying on armed militias in Libya has been a disastrous policy that must end. Only a unified security arrangement, under regular national armed forces, can help ground a solution to the Libyan crisis

Whoever follows developments on the Libyan scene will have noticed the strange persistence of the hijacking of state institutions by armed militias. These militias manipulate decisions issued by leaders who occupy formal positions with control over the Libyan people’s money and destiny. 

What is interesting is that these parties are not ashamed of serving, on the political and security levels, the objectives of gangs that have inflicted huge losses upon Libyan citizens during the last few years. They didn’t learn the lesson of the negative repercussions of the hegemony of terrorist groups and making a considerable part of Libyan resources subject to their personal and ideological whims.

The battles that raged in Tripoli on 26 August were totally different from skirmishes and engagements that preceded them, because an important party, the Seventh Infantry Brigade, which can hardly be ignored in any security arrangements, entered the equation. If the mistakes that led to the exclusion of regular forces in favour of militia rule aren’t set right, there will arise an even more complex crisis.

The problem is that there are different circles within the incumbent authority, or at its margins, that provide political cover for the aforementioned militias and deal with them as they are a security guarantor in Tripoli. This, in turn, has granted them considerable legitimacy, permitting them to penetrate most local authorities.

Some international powers have not hesitated to make deals with armed militias, which they have relied upon to secure their interests. This has granted militias a formal nature. For when a state resorts to militia leaders under the pretext of protecting its diplomatic mission, companies, and some affiliated humanitarian organisation, it isn’t expected that this state will exert pressure upon them.

There are those who insist upon turning a blind eye to the risks that these practices entail, ignoring disasters caused by the actions of irregular forces in the last period. Worse is that those parties are attempting to repeat the tragedies of the plan of Paolo Serra, former senior military advisor of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). This plan granted militias a legal presence. Hence, the capital has entered into a cycle of violence that didn’t stop except through adopting an alternative plan that revived regular security institutions.

The irony here is that Ghassan Salamé, the UN secretary general’s special representative and head of UNSMIL, who seeks to avoid problems caused by his previous political and security conceptions, has plunged himself in a severe crisis. He has threatened to impose sanctions on militia leaders and still believes that their influence is hard to ignore without asking himself about the long term impact of this policy. If two years have passed where relying on warlords, drug addicts and human traffickers caused all these losses, what will be the case if we extend the conditions allowing for their presence even further?

Of course, there won’t be any glimmer of hope for the political settlement that Egypt and other international powers, who are keen that the Libyan state reaches safe ground, will be fulfilled. That is because the "patting on the back" diplomacy that some are practicing will lead to negating the role of national security institutions and drive the peace process even further out of reach.

Salamé and his team’s way of handling things betrays a determination to repeat past mistakes, with all the bitter consequences they entailed. Current moves concerning new security measures maintain an outlook of keeping open a significant role for armed militias under the claim of bringing swift order to the capital. But one of the main reasons for breakdown in order is the overwhelming presence of militias.

The path of unifying the Libyan military institution, which Egypt advocated and has taken pains to realise, is the only one that will resolve the security problem in Tripoli and other cities. According to this path, militias must be disaggregated in the face of a non-ideological regular force that alone has the right to bear arms in Libya. This regular force is also the best guarantee for any political faction that will win in the upcoming elections, which have been delayed because the appropriate security conditions for conducting them are absent.

The approach adopted by some political forces to obstruct the unification of the military institution, or jump on its moral gains, won’t enable them to pass their past plans intact. Nowhere in the world exists a stable social and political arena that relies on armed gangs to guarantee its security.

Didn’t those parties learn from Somalia, which disintegrated due to the burgeoning of militias and the failure of efforts to unify its lands and institutions? Perhaps some Western powers, which via blatant interventions led Somalia to tragedy, have been satisfied by gang rule and didn’t want the Libyan state to regain its authority through a unified military institution.

Those who are keen that the Libyan state unify don’t want it to face the same fate as Somalia. However, the approaches embraced by Salamé along with a few Libyans will drive the country to a much more dangerous whirlpool from which political efforts would fail save it in the future. New security arrangements must be compatible with the Libyan people’s interests and not conform with militia interests and those investing in them politically, economically and militarily.

It is in the interest of Libyan cities and tribes that no one party dominate over the others, and to avoid the implementation of regional or sectarian quotas. The only path to achieve balance is through reviving respect in professional institutions and those who had experience in administering the state bureaucracy, steering away from amateurs, charlatans and warlords whose actions drove the country towards the edge of the abyss.

The conclusion that the reasoned observer comes to is that there is no one party that can win the battle alone, and even current alliances between militias and political forces can’t be sustainable in the face of any storm coming from the east, the west or the south. Because the deals are fluctuating and the understandings temporary and subject to narrow considerations, this makes every current formula to stabilise security in Tripoli shaky. It is in the interest of those involved in the crisis to search for serious means to resolve Libya's crisis, because the time for sedatives is over, and the Libyan crisis has taken a decisive turn.

There is an opportunity on the horizon to set up far reaching rules for security that conform to the Libyan people’s interests. Because the sedative by which the crisis has been treated has lost its security and political effects, and has tarnished all those who sided with militias, whose hands are still smeared with blood, only returning state institutions to their real Libyan owners can resolve the crisis and transcend the regionalism, sectarianism and precariousness of the militia complex.

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