Mohamed El-Doufani* writes:
Libyan activist and popular rapper Assem Mihirig shares with us a deeply insightful analysis, derived from direct experience, of the workings and power of the militias blighting Libya and the thinking of their leaders, and offers a view of how they can be dealt with.
They were hailed as heroes while they were fighting Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in 2011. But not all was as it seemed.
From the outset Gaddafi had blamed the Islamists for the protests against his regime. Although he was right, by that time he had become an embarrassing eccentric and the butt of jokes the world over, and few people took him seriously.
The first foreign voice to raise the alarm was Admiral James Stavridis, the American commander of NATO, who in March 2011 told the US Senate Armed Services Committee that potential “flickers” of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah elements had been seen in intelligence regarding the Libyan opposition, which was poised to take power in the event of Gaddafi’s fall. He was right about al-Qaeda but wrong about the Lebanese Shi’i group Hezbollah – there are no Sh’is in Libya and, in any case, Hezbollah was allied to Syria, which backed Gaddafi. Stavridis’s remarks were echoed by a senior US counterterrorism official, who spoke of “a sprinkling of extremists to perhaps include al-Qaeda” among the anti-Gaddafi rebels.
But the Islamists were not the only problem. They were supplemented by armed crime syndicates — some allied to the more political militias, which themselves often indulged in crime, from murder, kidnapping and extortion to people trafficking and oil smuggling. Add to these the town- region- district- and tribe-based militias, and you get the perfect recipe for chaos. To complicate matters further, many militias received material support from Arab and foreign states, who found in them convenient tools for implementing their own agendas.
Today the militias are blighting Libya, robbing it of its wealth and future and standing in the way of any meaningful path to democracy.
Our guest in this episode is Assem Mihirig, also known as “Ibn Thabit”. A popular Libyan rapper, he called for the uprising against Gaddafi before it happened and took part in it, but was soon disappointed and disillusioned. After the downfall of the Gaddafi regime in October 2011, Assem stayed in Libya and started several businesses, and was involved in the 9th of November movement whose leaders were kidnapped, threatened or exiled for insisting on elections.
*Dr Mohamed El-Doufani is an editor, writer, analyst and commentator specialising in the Middle East and North Africa, and Russian and US foreign policies.