PM kidnapping shows Libya in chaos

Libyan PM Ali Zeidan

Since the fall of the Gaddafi regime, the level of instability in Libya has become increasingly tenuous. Security Sector Reform (SSR) has been grossly neglected, resulting in a hotbed of militia activity, criminality and lawlessness. An influx of readily available weaponry has heightened the danger present in Libya at every level.

In a pinnacle moment, which unfortunately shows how severe Libya’s security issue is, on 10 October 2013 militias abducted the Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, in Tripoli. Although the kidnapping was relatively brief, only a few hours, the successful operation highlights the high level of risk present in the country. Incidents such as this must lead Libyans to ask themselves, if the country’s Prime Minister is not safe, what hope do its citizens have?

Following the capture and killing of Libya’s former president, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, militia groups, which aided the uprising against the long-standing authoritarian regime, have refused to hand in their weapons to the Libyan army. In addition, non-compliance to the rule of law has become palpable in Libya in all aspects of the state and economy. Oil terminals remain blocked, and oil production has decreased, disrupting the oil market and having severe effects on the oil dominated economy. Power cuts and water shortages have become more common. Organised crime has intensified, including increased kidnappings, illustrated of course by the most recent high-profile case. Politically motivated killings have also increased, making the level of political risk so high in Libya that the hope for a successful transition to a stable government seems increasingly slim without a considerable focus on SSR.

Rebuilding the security sector in Libya is absolutely key for the state. Political stability and economic development are stunted without it, particularly as companies, foreign investors and countries are reluctant to work in the perilous state. The case is the same for Libyan businesses. Without the certainty that authorities keep up the rule of law and that people and companies are safe to work, the chance of expanding industries, increasing market competition and attracting investors seems very unlikely.

Several countries are finally recognising the urgent need for SSR and are beginning to address the issue, which is vital not only for Libya itself, but also for regional stability. In September, the US, France, Germany and Italy declared their commitment to help rebuild Libya’s security capacity. The UK recently reached an agreement with Libya, in which they will train 8,000 Libyan army personnel in the UK as a measure for increasing the level of security in the state. Also agreed between the two countries is a Security, Justice and Defence Programme estimated to cost £62.6 million. This is due to take place in Libya, and will be funded by the British government. Tripoli has also requested the help of Russia in this sector.

While there has been a long debate about whether political or security reform should take place first, in many cases, and it seems true for Libya as well, the former cannot take place without the latter. Until the militias are under control, the state cannot operate safely, nor can it reach stability and consolidation. The Libyan government is in a phase of transition and requires more favourable conditions to successfully implement the political process, which the people so desperately fought for in 2011. A new constitution is required, as well as a centralised system, which can unify the highly fragmented Libyan populace.

Zaidan’s abduction highlights how the security issue in Libya has reached disastrous levels. The country is saturated with weapons. AK47s, pistols, and Belgian and Russian arms including heavy-duty machine guns are cheap and easy to buy. The level of crime and the lack of law and order in Libya have created a chaotic setting for this fragile transitional state. With the assistance of several countries in establishing new security programmes and the remodelling of the sector, stability can hopefully ensue. The road ahead is extremely difficult, with a number of complex steps required before the end goal can be reached. One thing for certain is that disarmament is fundamental for Libya to move forward.

More on Libya from GRI:

Libyan Government and Militias Vie for Power

Libya Has 99 Problems, and Oil is Still One

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Categories: Middle East/North Africa, Security

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