Militia clash in Benghazi highlights Libya's regional struggles

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The Libyan city of Benghazi witnessed on June 8 bloody clashes between angry protesters and members of the Libya Shield brigade militia. Clashes killed 31 and injured more than 100. A similar clash with Ansar al-Sharia militia – although not as violent as this one – occurred last year as well. But protests this time come for political, regional and tribal reasons.

Tensions arose after the announcement Cyrenaica would be a federal region within the Libyan state, helping ignite the clash in Benghazi. The news regarding Cyrenaica was met by sharp political and regional criticism. The political scene has thus become more complicated than before, reflecting the amount of tension reigning over Benghazi against the Libya Shield brigade, which citizens request be disbanded and integrated within the army and police.

According to official Libyan statements, the Libya Shield militia is considered a reserve unit of the Libyan army. Following the fall of the Qaddafi regime, it has been counted on to help control security. It has around 10,000 fighters and its arms and capabilities overpower those of the current regime. That's why it's currently known as the “supreme authority.”

Chief of Staff of the Libyan Ground Forces Yousef al-Manqoush has allocated huge sums of the staff presidency's budget to this militia, creating sensitivity between the latter and other militias.

What further caused the controversy regarding this militia is that it does not have one military arrangement. Some of its members have religious, ideological, tribal and regionalism affiliations.

Leaders in the militia who come from Misrata have caused tensions in cities like Tripoli, Benghazi and others. Plenty of people view this militia as one that is capable of defeating citizens and threatening them the same way Qaddafi's security brigades did.

Developments following the revolution disbanded the infrastructure of security apparatuses, including the army. Over the 10 years prior to his overthrow, Qaddafi disbanded armed forces and turned them into security brigades supervised by his sons and close circle. After the revolution, only those who fought against Qaddafi had the right to join the army and the police.

Although Manqoush has been in his post for more than a year now, he has not yet submitted a clear plan on how the army will be established. Reality shows that attempts to integrate militias in the army and the police is being carried out as integrating the militia as a whole and not as individuals. This has led to the presence of ideological, political and regionalism expansions among militias that were put under the legitimacy of the staff presidency. It has also led to obstructing the establishment of security forces. Political struggles among different political powers and entities have also further complicated the process of building the army.

The clash on June 8 in Benghazi was not the first of its kind. Recent events in Libya like the invasion of the city of Bani Walid by the Libya Shield militia under the official sponsorship of the general national congress, approving the political isolation after gunmen besieged ministries and the national congress and political bickering that came after announcing Cyrenaica a federal region have mobilized the Libyan public opinion against the armed militias in the country. The debate between national congress member Abdelrahman al-Soueihli and the federals in the east may have been the turning point that led to the recent Benghazi events.

The national congress has recently decided to sack Manqoush and assign his first deputy Salam al-Qaneedi until a new chief of staff is appointed. It has also decided to launch a quick investigation into recent events, assign the government to come up with a quick plan that aims to eliminate all armed groups even if force has to be resorted to and integrate legitimate and organized militias to the army and security forces by the end of the year. These decisions would not have been made if it had not been for the dangerous repercussions that happened in Benghazi towards the Libya Shield brigade. The latter along with February 17 and Rafallah al-Sahati militias are accused of serving certain political and regionalism aims that in turn serve the Muslim Brotherhood and the Muslim parties affiliated with the latter and that also serve Misarta that possesses the biggest influence in Libya following Qaddafi's fall.

The decision to sack Manqoush or accept his resignation came in late although the congress has begun accepting candidacy applications for the chief of staff position more than a month ago. The congress was fully aware of the popular rejection that Manqoush remains chief of staff. This has further increased regionalism and tribal struggles. It also seems that some parties in East Libya do not accept that people originally from Misrata be in authority over the security situation there. One can say that this will lead to the increase of social and regionalism struggles.

These events have provided Ali Zaidan's government and the national congress of the opportunity to move towards establishing the bases to build security forces and get rid of armed groups. If they don't make use of this opportunity properly, the repercussions will be worse than previous events.

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