10 Oct 2013

Libyan PM kidnapping reveals state of country

Nothing exemplifies the state of Libya so much as a conversation I had with an analyst in Benghazi this morning.

“The Prime Minister was kidnapped? This is something of a norm,” said Abdel Rahman Busin. “It happens to ministers on a daily basis. The vast majority of people don’t care.”

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted from his room in the Corinthia Hotel, one of the most secure places in Tripoli, where oil workers, diplomats and foreign investors stay.

The armed miliamen who seized him didn’t have to shoot their way in because they are supposed to be working for the government. The Prime Minister was seized not by an anti-government force, but by armed men who should be supporting and protecting him.


Normal countries have a police force and an army but Libya has hundreds of revolutionary brigades, some of which fought against Gaddafi in 2011 and some of which formed after the revolution. The group that seized the Prime Minister is known as the Anti-Corruption Bureau. It comes under the “Revolutionary Operations Room”, which is tasked with securing Tripoli.

“Some of them are criminals, some are hardline Islamists and some follow government orders,” said Mohammed Eljarh of Foreign Policy magazine. “There is no proper vetting but all of them are paid by the government.”

In recent days, the head of Libya’s Governing National Council appointed Sha’ban Hadiya, otherwise known as Abu A’obaida al-Zawi, as the leader of the Revolutionary Operations Room. He is, according to my sources, an Islamist who recently returned to Libya from Yemen.

First the Prime Minister’s kidnappers said they “arrested” him because he cooperated with US forces who seized an alleged terrorist, Abu Anas al Libi, from the streets of Tripoli on Tuesday. The Libyan government has denied that it knew about the US operation in advance.

Then they said they did it because of corruption – the Prime Minister had authorised payments to federalists in the east to dissuade them from closing down oil terminals. Later the Revolutionary Operations room denied they were responsible for abducting the Prime Minister at all.

After a few hours Prime Minister Zeidan was released, but – despite the indifference of many Libyans, who despair of their weak government and venal militia – it’s hard to see this as the end of the matter.

Libyans who care about the state into which their country has fallen say either the armed groups who refuse to accept government authority will continue to get their way by force of arms, or others will have to fight them in a second revolution.

“These Islamists are ruling the country now,” said a friend of mine who fought to overthrow Gaddafi, but is now in despair about the lawlessness that has replaced the old dictatorship. “They think they own the country, but we have to confront them. The real rebels must do something.”

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