The struggle for security in the post-Gaddafi Libya

The Arab Spring has set fire to most of the Arab countries and motivated more and more people to take to the streets demanding the fall of the regime, democracy and change. Following the same pattern drawn by Tunisia, Libya has been deeply shaken by a popular uprising that soon created a security vacuum. Although two years have passed since the ending of Gaddafi’s reign, the country is a long way from being safe or stable. International media reporting has focused on the ongoing civil war in Syria, the protests in Turkey’s Taksim Square and the Egypt’s continued unrest., Libya has since been nudged into the shadows of global news coverage.

The lack of attention ignores the many reasons to worry about the unresolved struggle for security in the country and the events of the past two years have served as a proof: attacks on the American, French and Tunisian embassies, on the British and Italian embassy convoys and on the Red Cross offices together with several police stations all over the country. The death of the American Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in the attack on the American embassy, has shaken the world and held the attention of the newspapers for a short period. But then, it was all forgotten and it seems like the international community is overwhelmed and unable to sustain any focus on Libya while crises flare up across the Middle East and North Africa.

The most recent strike to the Libya’s security reconstruction was given by the resignation of the Chief of Staff Youseff al-Mangoush following the mishandling of the deathly clashes between civilians and the militia in Benghazi that left 31 dead. In fact, the deterioration of the security situation in Libya has been caused not only by the 2011 civil war, but it is also a result of the weak and wrongly planned security system under the rule of Gaddafi.

Even a cursory look at the armed forces under Gaddafi, revealed that their main aim was to protect the regime from any eventual coup d’etat, that are so common inside the Arab regimes. Therefore, structuring the army according to this aim meant a continuous rotation of officers. Moreover, bearing in mind that Libya was and still is a tribal state, the allocation of any positions inside the army were based on the tribal affiliations instead of real qualifications that would have created a well-organized and well-prepared army. Not only were the skills missing, but also the military equipment was old and of poor quality. The police force or “People’s Security Force” were in a similar state as the army when the protests began, being both badly trained and poorly equipped.

Therefore, an important factor in the continuous struggle for security in Libya, is due to the fact that the security structure before the 2011 war was not strong or efficient enough to act as a base for the new one. Moreover, both the police and military forces were blamed for the way they handled the events of 2011 and lost credibility among the population. Even though many from Gaddafi’s military personnel deserted and joined the rebel forces there has been a lot of internal fighting in the newly created groups. As a result, given the de-Gaddafication campaign that has been held in the country the army members that served under the previous rule are no longer allowed to take any position or rank. On the other hand, the police are still afraid of taking their posts back because of the clashes they had with the civilians at the beginning of the protests. This situation clearly proves that the Libyan security apparatus needs to be re-shaped from the bottom upwards. In an ideal world, this would have been the moment for a strong and efficient security force to take and lead on re-building structures and the countries key institutions.

The Supreme Security Council (SSC) was created in October 2011, in order to ensure at least a basic level of security in the post-war Libya, but it soon became a threat to people’s safety. Given that the recruitment of personnel was done on a random basis and military training has been poorly undertaken, the SSC became a divided body that needed to be reduced.

Another issue, is related to the militia that fought in the civil war and is now divided between members who wish to join the military forces and members who see them as part of the old regime. Unfortunately, militias’ that request to join the army are not prepared enough to do so and even though it will increase the over all strength of the armed forces, militias’ integration would not bring any real progress. Moreover, there exist strong disagreements between the militias and the military regarding their integration as separate units or as individuals.

On the other hand, the Libyan National Shield is a parallel armed force made up of the revolutionary brigades of the Libyan awakening. They have not undertaken any military training, but the militia who reject joining the existing armed forces regard them as a new start and a complete break from the past.

Unfortunately the present security situation reflects the chaos inside the Libyan administration. There are many obstacles in the way to a secure Libya: the decentralization of the security and power structures and the conflation of the internal and external security undertaken in a participatory political culture, the lack of professional military training inside all the new security bodies that have been created. All these factors should be tackled in the short run as North Africa is already facing serious threats such as terrorism and drug trafficking. An unsafe and chaotic Libya will may also threaten the security of the Western allies.

The struggle for security in a post-Gaddafi Libya should be taken seriously by the international community which will soon be affected by the crisis if it has not been so far. The EU, as a neighbour to Libya, should rethink its strategy and become more directly involved in keeping the situation at least stable and encouraging developments. Failure to do so could result in Libya sliding from instability to collapse. This future that would precipitate chaos and suffering for the people of Libya and would have profound consequences for the region and the international community, particularly the European countries currently trying to avoid deeper engagement.

Libyans of Benghazi offer their sympathy with America post the murder of the US ambassador of the city in September 2012.

The aftermath of a bomb attack on a courthouse in the Libyan city of Benghazi, April 2012.

Islamists protest in the city of Benghazi whose distraction allowed the escape of more than 1,000 dangerous prisoners from al-Kufiya prison near the city of Benghazi, July 2013.

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Published by Asfar in London, UK - ISSN 2055-7957 (Online)