Libya’s nonexistent disarmament plans

By Simon Allison 9 November 2011

Libya’s awash with weapons, most unaccounted for, and no one can agree on what to do about them. The fighters themselves don’t seem too keen to hand them over – a gun being the best insurance against marginalisation. By SIMON ALLISON.

The average Libyan fighter, one of the revolutionary army that toppled Gaddafi, used to be something else entirely. Maybe a baker, an engineer, maybe unemployed. Then came the revolution, and suddenly he picked up an AK-47 for the first time. Or welded an anti-aircraft gun onto the back of a Toyota Landcruiser, which was the nearest thing the rebels had to a tank. Or he strapped a rocket-propelled grenade onto his back and pointed it in the vague direction of the enemy.

But now the revolution is over, and the former baker/engineer/jobseeker is supposed to return, somehow, to his old life. But what does he do with his AK-47? Where does he park his militarised Landcruiser?

The solution to this problem is one of the greatest threats facing Libya’s new government. And so far, there’s not a lot of direction or agreement on the issue. The National Transitional Council, supposedly in charge, has made vague mutterings about collecting and registering all the weapons. But this isn’t a viewpoint shared by all the heads of the loose coalition of individual revolutionary councils that give the NTC its authority. They are worried about maintaining their own power in the new Libya.

Abdujawad Bedeen, spokesman for the 25,000-man Union of Revolutionary Forces, told Reuters it was vital for fighters to keep their weapons because if the remnants of pro-Gaddafi support were to rise up, the new government would not be able to contain them. This is disingenuous, for the Gaddafi threat has gone. But Libya’s fighters worry about being left out of the new political dispensation, and retaining their arms is insurance against this.

But inevitably, as Libya constructs a new state, some will be sidelined. Some will get impatient. And the fact that these people will be armed and battle-hardened does not bode well for Libya’s immediate future. DM



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