Fighting for Stability

A TunisAir airbus waits on the tarmac of Mitiga airport in Tripoli.

The road back to stability in Libya will be arduous. Not only is the country facing a transitional process without the benefit of governmental institutions to ease the difficulty of managing the various responsibilities of a state, but must also face the added task of demobilizing an entire population often suspicious of the interests of those vying for power.

Illustrative of the disorder that continues to reign in Tripoli, just this weekend TunisAir, the Tunisian national airline, was forced to suspend flights to Tripoli after 300 armed men swarmed the runway and stopped a plane from taking off. The TunisAir flight was carrying 47 wounded Libyans to be treated in Tunisia. The fighters, from a nearby suburb of Souq, stopped the plane as a means of pressuring the government to investigate a recent attack on fellow fighters by pro-Qaddafi groups.

Other complaints regarding the security situation in the country demonstrate that the presence of weapons is dangerous even when political rivalries are not at stake. Numerous complaints have been made about young men who carry weapons on the streets of the capital and fire into their air for fun, often killing people.

Libya’s religious leaders however have made an attempt to function as mediators in this chaotic environment. On Monday they urged the authorities to disarm former rebels and form a national army that backed the transitional government’s struggle to exert control over the remaining pro-Qaddafi forces.

Some 250 imams released a statement during as part of the country’s first conference organized by the Ministry of Islamic affairs advising that the transitional government “speed up the process of establishing a national army and the collection of arms”.

Though their intentions are certainly in the right place, given the potential dangers that the prevalence of arms may have on the country’s future stability, their advice is much more difficult to implement than they might imagine. Indeed the National Transitional Council has taken important steps in developing a credible army and encouraging those not interested in joining its ranks to lay down their weapons.

Many rebels however have refused to surrender their weapons, at least until, they argue, the political future of Libya (and implicitly, their place in it) is guaranteed.

Making matters more complicated, Libya’s new army has not proved easy to organize either. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “the soldiers do not yet march in step or even keep their formations straight. Some answer their cellphones when they should be taking orders. Some smoke in the middle of excercises. Others push and shove as personal disputes break out over one thing or another.”

Their behavior is not entirely surprising. After all, the new army is mainly comprised of the rebels that were called rag-tag for a reason when they formed earlier this year. They have never been especially well known for taking orders, for organization, or even for knowing how to use the weapons they have. Libya has never had a truly professional army either, which complicates matters further.

Nevertheless, Libya has lacks alternative options. It will have to rely on its those who gave the country freedom to accept the dangers and responsibilities that come with the change the country is undergoing, only then will Libya’s political future have hope.