Libya: the crisis and the constitution

Submitted by AWL on 3 December, 2013 - 7:43

Ongoing struggles between the Libyan government and militias may either be resolved or worsen on the 15 December. That is the date the government has set for the full incorporation of the militias — which have been at low level war with the government — into the army.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan had the militias on the pay roll; on 15 December that pay will stop. The crisis is acute; the Amazigh and Tibu tribes of the south have respectively stopped the gas and the petroleum supplies to the north.

At the same time militias have stopped or are severely restricting the export of oil from the coastal refineries of Misrata and Brega. The occupations of the ports have been condemned by the government and by workers who are intimidated by militias. Up till now the militias have refused to surrender their arms to the government.

The brief kidnap of the prime minister by militia forces a month ago and clashes in Benghazi between rival militias are signs of looming civil war.

A parliamentary struggle over the constitution is also significant. There is a deadlock between secular and Islamic parliamentary groups on proposals, wording and the whole nature of the post-Qadaffi state.

In November there were large-scale clashes between the government and the Islamist forces of Ansar al-Sharia. Also clashes in Tripoli; 31 anti-militia demonstrators were shot down, while protesting at the continuing presence and influence of the Misrata brigades in the city.

There is a strong feeling in Libya that remnants of the old regime have been incorporated into the new power networks. That there has been an effective amnesty of pro-regime supporters.

However a civil war would necessarily be limited if it does happen, by the fact that the militias are so diverse in intention, political programme, and geography. This diversity would preclude a united fighting front against the government.

The Amazigh and the Bibu want to secure minority tribal rights under the constitution. Other tribes want some safety from the vengeance of the militias as some southern tribes were militarily and ideologically supportive of the old regime.

Other militias including the Misrata brigades are trying to protect their legacy of being at the forefront of the struggle and being those who suffered most during the war. But they also want a political stake in the new state and federal rights.

For many civilians the Mistrata brigades have turned into murderous gangsters. Their massacre of unarmed protestors in Tripoli has gained them little but a deadline to disarm or dissolve. Many of the militias are now also controlled by the Islamists which wasn’t the case during the war itself.

If the deadline of 15 December passes without the dissolution of the militias the most likely outcome is a continuation into the future of militia gangsterism, persecution and control creating what might amount to a failed state more reminiscent of Somalia than its neighbours in Tunisia and Egypt.

The victory of a secular and liberal-democratic constitution in Libya would be a significant if precarious step forwards and limit the imposition of Islamic law on the state — a prospect that many in both Benghazi and Tripoli find abhorrent.

The shift from militia to workers’ control on the pipelines and in the ports would be a massive development but the workers movement is fragmented geographically along the coast and the cities and in is small in comparison to the social weight of the militia.

The expulsion of the Misrata militias from Tripoli and the restoration of some form of law in the oil ports would be beneficial for the development of secular and workers forces.

A new constitution could ensure not just the liberty of the cities but also the minority rights of the peoples of Libya and across the Sahara and Maghreb.