Libyans want rule by their government, not by militias

Men inspect weapons at the al-Rasheed market in central Tripoli Trade in guns is brisk at the al-Rasheed market

The extent of Libya's deteriorating security conditions is most apparent in al-Rasheed street in the centre of the capital, Tripoli.

Russian and Belgian arms are selling briskly. They range from pistols to the much sought-after AK-47, globally known as the Kalashnikov.

The weapons are not only used for protection or to assert authority over an area, but also at weddings, for celebratory gunfire.

One can also hire the Russian DShK 12.7mm heavy machine gun, which can target helicopters and tanks, for a mere $40 (£25).

Much of the weaponry of the ousted Gaddafi regime was found and seized by rebel militias, and they are still using it to enforce security in places where the government remains incapable of asserting its authority.

The brief kidnapping of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan on 10 October was an emphatic case in point.

Elected only one year ago, he was kidnapped at gunpoint in Tripoli and held for several hours by militiamen.

He told a news conference the day after his release that one of the main militias, the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, was responsible for his kidnapping, in conjunction with members of the Libyan Interior Ministry's Crime-Fighting Department.

Ali Zeidan: "This bears the hallmarks of an attempted coup d'etat against legitimacy"

Weak government

Mr Zeidan's abduction is the latest evidence of the anarchy that prevails in Libya.

The extraordinary incident has forced many Libyans to wonder if this government has a future.

Militias in Libya

  • Numerous militias formed to topple then-leader Col Gaddafi in 2011 still operate
  • Many still control the towns or areas where they were formed
  • Some believed to have links to al-Qaeda
  • Government has been unable to disarm them; instead, it works with some militias
  • Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, which says it seized the prime minister, has links to defence and interior ministries
  • It condemned the US raid to seize al-Qaeda suspect Anas al-Liby

"If the prime minister cannot protect himself, how can he protect the state," Mohammed al-Ayeb, a 43-year-old teacher, told me after his weekly prayers. We met at a cafe next to Al-Dawaa Al-Islamiya mosque, in central Tripoli.

His cousin, Ibrahim Sarough, said he even questioned the existence of the state itself.

"Where is the state? If the parliamentary and cabinet officials admit that they no longer rule the country, what are people to make of that?"

Many Libyans in Tripoli believe it is the militias who are ruling their country.

The government has made little progress in reintegrating the former rebels who overthrew Col Gaddafi into a united army and police force.

Most of the militias refuse to disarm, on the basis that politicians have not worked for the goals they fought for: justice, equality and economic prosperity.

Libyan civilians gather at the site of a car bomb attack outside the building housing the Swedish and Finnish consulates in Benghazi on Friday, 11 October Libyans say militants have used attacks to exploit the security vacuum

In the growing chaos, Libyans now cling to any sign of law and order - even just the sight of police cars on the streets.

But the police admit they are powerless and are themselves a target of militia attacks.

"We don't even have pistols to defend ourselves against the militias, let alone heavy weapons," said Khaled al-Aref, deputy head of the main police station in Tripoli.

Reinstating basic security across Libya is now the first priority for both the government and citizens alike, but many Libyans on the streets of Tripoli believe that the weakness of their government makes this goal far from certain.

More on This Story

Libya after Gaddafi

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