The militia believed to be behind the attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi earlier this month has disbanded amid a wave of popular anger and government pressure against such groups in Libya that erupted last week.
Some 30,000 people protested the militias on Friday, driving out gunmen from the Benghazi compound of Ansar al-Shariah, the group that allegedly staged the Sept. 11 attack on the US mission that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Capitalizing on the popular sentiment, the interim government then cracked down on the country's powerful militias, demanding on Sunday that those operating outside government control disband immediately.
"The army chief Yussef al-Mangoush and (President) Mohammed el-Megaref have ordered all illegitimate militias should be removed from compounds and hand over their weapons to the national army," said Defense Ministry spokesman Adel Othman al-Barasi. "A committee made up by the military police has been formed to take over the compounds and the weapons and hand these over to the army."
The militias, which were formed to help fight toppled dictator Muammar Gadhafi's regime last year, remain powerful and heavily armed, often disregarding national authorities. Some Islamist militias have also been working to enforce strict religious law.
But the Libyan army said on Sunday it had raided several militia bases in the capital Tripoli, while Ansar al-Shariah, which denies involvement in the attack on the US consulate, announced Sunday that it had disbanded on orders from President el-Megaref.
The attack on the US mission in Benghazi, which coincided with protests against the US-produced, anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims," has angered many Libyans, who are struggling to rebuild their country a year after the end of its civil war. While the interim government has turned to some militias to help provide security, others have complicated the situation by acting to serve their own interests. And though the government has made its position clear, it remains uncertain whether it can gain full control over the militias, which are among the biggest obstacles to establishing democratic authority.
German commentators on Monday laud the Libyan people for taking a stand against forces destabilizing their nascent democracy and ask what this could mean for Libya's future.
The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The Arab people rose up on the street and sent the Islamists in Libya packing. Pressure from the people has dissolved an Islamist militia. The Libyans have called for more government and moved against self-made moral watchdogs who intimidate the people, and are also suspected of having taken advantage of the anger over the Mohammad film to assassinate the US ambassador. Is this a small sensation or a trend?"
"One should have no illusions. The extremists -- Christian fundamentalists and Salafists alike -- will continue to try and spread their inhumane ideologies. ... Still, the destructiveness of the Islamists has never been an expression of the will of the whole of society in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. It's just that the West ... has provided them the greatest possible stage. And the rest? Previously, Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gadhafi formed a bulwark against Islamism, and the West had to communicate only with a handful of autocrats. But the Arab world will no longer be that simple."
"The new actors include not only the radicals, but also those who are quieter, and perhaps even more comfortable to deal with. And those who, as they did in Libya, take their destiny into their own hands."
The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Benghazi has made an impressive display against extremism and tyranny. In recent weeks, it almost looked as though the democratic elections of June, when the Islamists were punished, would be irrelevant and Libya would sink into chaos."
"The anarchy, the countless unguarded weapons depots in the desert and Libya's wealth have made Benghazi a magnet for extremists from North Africa and Europe. One thing connects them with the former regime supporters who have fled to Cairo and Algeria: their distrust of the kind of democratic, constitutional state that many Libyan citizens have fought for."
"The murder of US Ambassador Stevens was too much, and the citizens -- some by force, unfortunately -- have pushed through their demands without waiting on the government. This is part two of the popular uprising."
"The extremists wanted to use the unsavory Muhammad film from California to gain support from the Libyan people. They have failed."
The left-leaning daily Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Benghazi's people have earned our admiration. ... Until now the state security forces have often looked on helplessly when radical fighters attacked mausoleums. But the attack on the US Consulate sparked a wave of unrest that only stopped outside the gates of militia headquarters. The citizens of Benghazi have shown the government that there is another way. However, their real message is directed at the world. They have taught a lesson to all those who have written about 'Muslim rage' and the unalterable obstinacy of the Islamic world in the past few weeks. The revolt of the people of Benghazi shows that even in the Islamic world, many are fed up with the eternally recurring interplay of provocation and violent reaction between the West and the Arab world. Hopefully the spark in Benghazi will spread. Because not just the Libyans, but all of us urgently need to be a bit more reasonable."
The conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"The Libyans had to wage a particularly bloody fight for their new freedom, and they are obviously not willing to give it up. It must be considered a success for civil society that the people of Benghazi risked their lives to oppose those who won't accept the new era. The message to the ideologically deluded demagogues is clear: We do not want you and your ideas! And the politicans are following the angry citizens because they must. That is worthy of respect."
"The uprising in Benghazi is an important signal that the citizens do not want to be governed by politicians who are not in a position to enforce the power of the state. This indicates that the Arab revolts are sustainable. With their new self-confidence, the people are demanding what was denied to them by the corrupt power elites for decades: pluralism, personal freedom and participation in modernity -- without abandoning their Islamic identity. Islam yes, but no retrogressive religious dictatorship, no theocracy to take the place of Mubarak, Gadhafi and Ben Ali."
"Still, this outbreak of a sense for social freedom (with a tendency toward lych-mob justice) is no cause to celebrate the supposed victory of modernity over Islamic fundamentalism. While it is significant that neither the new French Muhammad caricatures drawings or the incredibly bad anti-Islam film been able to kindle a conflagration in the Arab-Islamic world similar to the cartoon controvery of 2006, it is still possible for extremist minorities to repeatedly exploit Islam and insinuate a culture war."
-- Kristen Allen
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