The murder of the U.S. ambassador, and three other Americans, in the Benghazi compound at the hands of a violent mob is a black cloud over the Arab awakening and a tragic reminder of the complex security challenges Libya faces.
It is no surprise that a country which suffered for 42 years under a manipulative dictator is left with a weak state and fractured fiefdoms.
Since Col. Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in last year’s uprising, there has been a security vacuum in the country, one that armed groups and revolutionary brigades have been filling.
Libya’s new democratically elected government, which was quick to condemn the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, needs the help of the west to strengthen its national military and police force. These state institutions must take over the role of enforcing ceasefire agreements, guarding borders and monitoring areas of ongoing conflict.
It is clear that armed militias cannot be trusted to carry out such tasks. They have their own entrenched interests and distrust the central government’s authority, in part because of a perceived link to the old regime. Some count hard-line Muslim Salafis among their members.
A newly released International Crisis Group report recommends the creation of a special crisis management unit answerable to the prime minister to re-establish central control. The unit could oversee the integration of the Libyan Shield Forces, a parallel armed force with a tarnished reputation, and the Supreme Security Committee, a temporary body designed to absorb revolutionary brigades, into a new security apparatus. This would allow both sides to work together to resolve communal conflicts and negotiate, document and enforce peace agreements. Tribal leaders participating in reconciliation councils could also take care to monitor conflict zones and report early warnings of renewed conflicts. The U.N Support Mission could help oversee these efforts. These are all recommendations worth following.
Just as the west supported Libya’s revolutionary campaign against the Gaddafi regime, it must now help the country to recover from the years of his divide-and-rule approach to government. The tragedy in Benghazi makes this more clear than ever.