By Nihal Zaroug
Tripoli, 22 April:
Qaddafi’s security apparatus was airtight. The regime had eyes and ears everywhere and nothing went unscrutinised. Libya . . .[restrict]was to all extents an Orwellian state. The “Brother Leader” wanted no dissent and ensured any form of rebellion was cut off at its roots. We can say many things about Qaddafi’s Libya, but we cannot say it lacked security. Security in the sense that there was an active police force and a functioning judiciary, not necessarily fair, but with a system to deal with criminals and public order existed.
However, this does not mean that people did not live in fear. Those who feared reprisal from the government lived without personal security. The former regime’s indiscriminate methods in dealing with dissidents ensured that others would not dare to attempt to criticise the government. There was security but not freedom, a defining characteristic of all tyrannical regimes.
In present-day Libya, the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the interim government are openly criticized by individuals and the media. There is no fear of reprisal for voicing discontent over the transitional bodies’ actions or lack thereof. We are free to openly discuss politics and everyday life without censoring ourselves. We have freedom which we have not known or experienced, but are glad to have. However, with all the personal freedoms ushered in by the 17 February Revolution, we lack the vital: public security.
All post-revolution societies experience security vacuums after the fall of a government; with the change in power, government institutions lack defining leaders and order, thus opening the door to disorder.
After Qaddafi’s death, it was unclear how the military and police would react. Confronted with the inevitable, many joined the revolutionaries in liberating the remaining government strongholds. Some awaited the chance to defect, as they feared death had they defected earlier.
With the nomination of the interim government and the subsequent formation of a police force and national army, many expected the government to fully integrate the various groups that took part in the revolution. Unfortunately, this has not happened to the extent desired by the NTC, the government and the Libyan public and so has left many armed militias around the country. The armed militias are not necessarily active in criminal activities, but the power accruing to them and their weapons, poses a threat to the public and government itself.
Within the past few weeks, the government headquarters on Triq Al-Sikka, has been confronted by armed militias — twice over payment disputes to the injured and thuwar which resulted in a show of force between the police and the armed militias. The last confrontation took an embarrassing turn for the interim government, when a junior government official was reportedly assaulted over the decision to stop thuwar benefit payments due to corruption and mismanagement of funds. Fortunately nobody was injured. Such confrontations interfere in the daily rhythm of people’s lives, and halt government work.
In effect armed militias contest and undermine the government’s ability to govern, and cause delays in the country’s efforts to move forward. The most recent example is Zintan’s negotiations to deliver Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi to Tripoli, where he is due to face trial. Negotiations between Zintan, the NTC and the government have been continuing. Zintan has now agreed to hand over Saif, who has been in their custody since 19 November last year, so long as he is not handed over to the ICC, but no date has been set.
Protracted negotiations with armed militias have become all too common and have set an undesirable precedent, causing the government to yield to requests made by the militias.
Although the armed militias are a concern, the government faces bigger problems from the surge in individual criminal activity. The militias, who are mostly comprised of thuwar, will eventually be reintegrated into society at their own desire but the criminals are not interested in reintegration. They are seeking to expand their networks and form organized gangs. Many of the 15,000 prisoners released during the revolution by Qaddafi are responsible for many of the crimes presently committed. Efforts to round-up released prisoners have been slow, so far it is reported that some 3,000 have ben recaptured. Delays are attributed to the lack of active policing and the absence of a functioning judiciary. There are numerous people in prisons across the country waiting to be charged and tried.
As the public waits for the government to speed up its efforts in re-capturing criminals, they have been busy with a whole range of criminal activity, including trafficking of illegal migrants and contraband products. News of armed carjackings has been abundant. At first, reports of thefts were mostly at night but now we hear of daylight robberies. Luxury cars and SUVs have been particularly targeted; many owners have sold – or are considering selling – their vehicles simply to avoid robbery.
The security situation has impacted on people’s daily lives. Many now follow self-imposed curfews and women especially say they will not run errands after dusk for fear of un-policed streets. Men express similar sentiments, by stating that certain areas are now off-limits due to increased crime. Children who used to walk to school alone now have chaperons, take the bus or have their parents drive them. Of course, these are short-lived precautions that will be removed once the country is better equipped to deal with criminals.
Although there is anger at the government’s lack of action to effectively tackle increased crime, there is an understanding that the majority of the criminals on the streets were released by the former regime and the lack of security is attributed to their release. As the police’s capacity to combat crime grows by increasing numbers and training, crime will start to decrease.
At present, we are enjoying freedom but are experiencing a shortage of security; the perfect scenario would be to have both simultaneously. Raise the question with a group of Libyans, whether they prefer to have security or freedom and they will choose the latter. Too many lives have been sacrificed. Freedom must prevail, even if it means living for a period of time without security which is seen as a small price to pay. [/restrict]