Libyan elections held amid militia rule

“Final results released Tuesday placed a liberal alliance ahead of other parties in Libya’s first free nationwide vote in half a century, leaving Islamists far behind, but each side is already trying to build a coalition with independents. It appeared to be a rare Arab Spring setback for Islamists, who won elections in Egypt and Tunisia — but the structure of the parliament, heavy with independent members, left the final outcome uncertain.”

This was how the Washington Post reported the final result of the July 7 elections for Libya’s new 200-member parliament. The electoral commission said that 62% of eligible voters participated. It announced that of the 80 seats allocated to party lists, the pro-NATO National Forces Alliance of former prime minister Mahmoud Jibril had won 39 seats, while the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party came second with 17 seats.

Widely presented in the Western corporate media as the “liberal”, and even as the “secular” alternative to the Islamists, Jibril’s NFA favours making sharia, or Islamic law, the basis of Libyan legislation. The 200-seat National Assembly will be tasked with forming a new government to replace the self-appointed National Transitional Council, which was recognised by the Western powers as Libya’s government after the ousting of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in August last year, after the NATO powers conducted some 10,0000 air strikes against Libya.

The February 8 New York Times reported: “When the guns fell silent, briefly, the scene that unfolded felt as chaotic as Libya’s revolution these days — a government whose authority extends no further than its offices, militias whose swagger comes from guns far too plentiful and residents whose patience fades with every volley of gunfire that cracks at night.”

Arbitrary arrests, torture

Some 500 regional and tribal militias, each following its own orders, continue to exercise effective authority in Libya. According to a report issued on July 5 by Amnesty International, after visiting Libya in May and June, these militias were holding some 4000 people in detention centres — many without charge for more than a year. It found evidence of beatings and torture in 12 of the 15 detention centres visited.

“Common methods of torture reported to the organization include suspension in contorted positions and prolonged beatings with various objects including metal bars and chains, electric cables, wooden sticks, plastic hoses, water pipes, and rifle-butts; and electric shocks”, Amnesty reported. At least 20 people have been tortured to death.

“Clashes between armed militias recklessly using machine guns, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and other weapons in residential areas have continued to plague Libya, leading to deaths and injuries among bystanders and others not involved in fighting”, it added. Amnesty also strongly criticised the Libyan authorities for failing to resolve the situation of entire communities forcibly displaced during last year’s conflict and still unable to return to their homes, which were looted and burned by armed militias. The entire population of the city of Tawargha, estimated at 30,000, continues to be prevented from going home.

The Amnesty report found that sub-Saharan Africans in Libya — particularly undocumented migrants — continue to suffer arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention, beatings in some cases amounting to torture and exploitation at the hands of the militias. The report said that the plight of migrants in Libya is compounded by the authorities’ failure to tackle prevailing racism and xenophobia against dark-skinned Libyans and sub-Saharan African nationals.

Election violence

According to a July 8 New York Times report: “The militia leaders who have turned post-Qaddafi Libya into a patchwork of semiautonomous fiefs are now plunging into politics, raising fears that their armed brigades could undermine elections. In May, just weeks before scheduled [originally] national elections on June 19, truckloads of armed men attacked the Tripoli headquarters of Libya’s interim prime minister,├┐Abdel Rahim el-Keeb.

“The prime minister was reportedly away from the building at the time of the attack. The attackers were believed to be militiamen from the Nafusah Mountains southwest of the capital, who were demanding payment for their work in fighting the forces of Colonel Qaddafi. In June, Libya’s transitional government postponed the country’s first national election to July 7 ... The voting was far from immaculate. Regional rivalries spilled out in armed assaults on polling places that forced the closing of several in the eastern coastal region. At least two people were killed in election-related violence, and tribal warfare around the southern city of Kufru kept some voting centers closed there as well.”

Direct Action — July 25, 2012