Amid Libyan Revolution One-Year Anniversary, Fears of Instability
February 21, 2012
By: Rebecca Aaberg

February 17 marked the one-year anniversary of the “Day of Rage,” the start of Libya’s revolution against the regime of late strongman Muammar Gaddafi.  BBC reported two thousand people gathered unofficially in Martyrs’ Square (formerly Green Square) in Tripoli to commemorate the occasion.  As a sign of respect for the thousands of dead and injured during the revolution, no official celebrations were planned. Interim leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil warned that the interim government “vowed a tough response to anyone who threatened national security during Friday’s celebrations.”  He also commented that the government would not tolerate “people who threaten [Libya’s] stability.”  According to BBC and Amnesty International, the Libyan government continues to rely on militias composed of former rebel fighters, known as thuwwar, who are one of the major sources of instability in the country.

In a statement released on February 17, the White House stressed the “responsibility [of militias] to protect the freedoms by working with the government to establish security, peace and reconciliation.”  Amnesty International Senior Crisis Response Adviser Donatella Rovera criticized the militias, calling them “largely out of control” and adding that “the blanket impunity they enjoy only encourages further abuses and perpetuates instability and insecurity.” Amnesty International reported that militias have tortured detainees and displaced communities without fear of retribution, and their impunity “hinders the rebuilding of state institutions based on the rule of law.” 

The fighting over the past year for political control of Libya among militias and against supporters of the former government has resulted in a climate of instability. Government officials claim the lack of control over militias is a result of the “inherited mess left behind from the four decades of Gaddafi rule,” CNN reported.  Former spokesman for the Tripoli Military Council Anes AlSharif suspected the lack of civilian leadership and a “government with no real power” as the root of Libya’s insecurity.  CNN reported that Libyan citizens cite the “lack of transparency in decision-making and the government’s inability to impose authority over the militias” as the cause.  A survey conducted among 2,000 Libyans by Oxford Research International polled a 35 percent preference for a strong leader and 29 percent of the population who prefer democracy. Sixteen percent of participants believed that violence was a legitimate means for political ends.

A representative of the exiled former government told the BBC that “a political movement aimed at radical change in the country” was being formed.  CNN reported that a text message circulated among supporters of the former Gaddafi regime asked loyalists to “liberate (Tripoli) from the NATO revolution.”  However, with Gaddafi dead and his son Saif al Islam in custody, the construction of a new political movement will be difficult, said BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.  Saadi Gaddafi’s Libyan Popular National Movement warned that they are “reorganizing [themselves] outside Libya in an inclusive political movement that would encompass all Libyans who understand the terrible reality of Libya.”

For previous news on Libya, please see:
International Community Responds to Qaddafi’s Death; Libya’s Next Steps

Amnesty International – Document – Militias Threaten Hopes for New Libya

Amnesty International – Libya: “Out of Control” Militias Commit Widespread Abuses, a Year on from Uprising

BBC – Gaddafi Supporters Outside Libya Form New Grouping

BBC – Libya Marks Anniversary of Revolt which Ousted Gaddafi

CNN – Unease Hangs in the Air on Anniversary of Libyan Revolution

The White House – Statement by the Press Secretary on the First Anniversary of Libya’s Revolution