Published on 11 Nov 2013

Why Libya’s revolutionaries are the greatest threat to its revolution

I was trying to get to sleep when the shooting started. Not a few rounds of small arms fire but the deafening boom of an anti-aircraft gun just near our hotel. Our cameraman, Soren Munk, filmed from the balcony of his room – it was too dangerous to go out but at least we had a good view.

It was the beginning of several nights of battles between the militia – known as thowaar, meaning revolutionaries – who spearheaded the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi two years ago. We had been filming with the Nawasi brigade a few days earlier, watching as they searched cars for weapons and drugs. That sounds fine, but the Nawasi choose which laws to enforce, substituting for Libya’s weak and ineffectual police force. They’ve been accused of ill-treating prisoners and they favour strict Islamic law.

Pre News refresh player – this is the default player for the C4 news site – please do not delete. Ziad


The fighting started after they stopped a man from a rival militia from the coastal town of Misrata. The Misratans, who fought tenaciously during a three-month siege during 2011, see themselves as the heroes of the Libyan revolution and everyone else as also-rans. The Nawasi brigade, whose members come from Tripoli, regard the capital as their territory. An argument ensued when the Misrata militiaman refused to take off the blackout on his car windows. So, out with the anti-aircraft guns. Several men were killed.

Car bomb attack in Benghazi

One friend posted on Facebook that she was in her apartment making cups of mint tea. The idea that the thowaar were protecting Libyans was absurd, she said. Yet the government pays many brigades, supposedly to bring them into the new security system, but really as a kind of bribe to stop them doing worse.

In Benghazi, where the revolution started, they are doing worse. More than 100 people have been assassinated in the past year. I spent months in Benghazi during the revolution and only felt threatened when Colonel Gaddafi’s troops were approaching. This time we drove round carefully, checking if we were being followed, and only got out to film for a few short minutes.

“If anyone remembers the first months of the revolution, Libya was a different country. A different country from Gaddafi’s regime and a whole different country from now,” said Taha al-Barghati, whose cousin, Colonel Ahmed Mustafa al-Barghati, was gunned down outside the family home. Everyone’s seen the hit list – Taha told me that six more of his family members are on it.

On some streets we saw the black al-Qaeda-style flag flying, yet people are reluctant to blame jihadis for the murders. Most of the victims are army officers who joined the revolution after fighting in Gaddafi’s army. They fought the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, the jihadis who tried to overthrow Gadaffi in the 1990s – in the Green Mountains east of Benghazi. Old scores are being settled.

Since we left Libya the government has tried to reassert itself. Armoured personnel carriers with balaclava-clad men from the “Thunderbolt Brigade” patrolled the streets to show presence late last week. Prime Minister Zeidan visited today.

But the government forces are weak, and paying the militia, far from co-opting them into the system, seems to be strengthening them. The men who fought the revolution now pose the greatest threat to its success.

Follow @LindseyHilsum on Twitter

Tweets by @lindseyhilsum

5 reader comments

  1. radamontenegro says:

    Where are now US/EU/UK leaders to take responsibility for funding, arming and acting as command, control and air force for the extremists groups which are now making Libya uninhabitable. There was plenty of warnings that this is exactly what was to happen when Gadhafi’s regime, no matter how undemocratic, is toppled from abroad, with god only knows what motivation. I must say that Channel 4 should have reported than, when Libya was being ruined, like it is reporting now. But reporting the facts of the aftermath is a bit pointless – it is too late to change anything. Now we need to know what exactly was the payoff for the Western countries that brought these militias, of many odious political colours, to power? Also, should Channel 4 not us the example of Libya to explore the future for the Syrians who are experiencing the same kind of meddling form the US/EU/UK.

    1. Mohammed says:

      The Nawasi Brigade are citizen of Ireland supported by Qatar. How can a foreigner run Libya. I am Sunni and I think Sunni Muslim Killing muslims are wrong and will answer to Allah and Allah alone.

  2. mark says:

    I’ve spent since December last year living in Libya; Tripoli, Bene Waleed and Sabrata, I was optimistic for it’s chances 6 months ago, but I’ve since realised the folly of the West in its belief that it can help bring a democratic system to fruition in countries like Libya.
    Democracy, with all of its faults, posits the sense of individual rights and freedoms, but these Islamic countries have no such concept; their first priority is submission to Islam, the next is submission to their tribes cultural values, then follows submission to fathers, elders, and older brothers. A woman’s submission is to any male. These beliefs are self enforced under the banner of religion, but in truth it is the banner of cultural politics under the guise of religon that shapes the attitudes and priorities of these people.

    Islamic countries, I believe will never embrace democracy. People who promote Islamic political culture under the guise of religion in the UK need to spend some time living in these countries, those in the UK who wear the Niqab in the UK claiming it’s their individual rights to do so, need to realise they are promoting a culture that denies individual rights, it denies freedom of thought and it denies ideas of democracy. They cant have both Islam and individual rights, they are opposite sides of the coin.

  3. Andrew Dundas says:

    Because Lord Snooty and Nicholas Sarkozy usurped the carefully constructed UN mandate and assisted the over-throw of the Libyan government, we now have the appalling anarchy in Libya.

    Lord Snooty and the creep Sarkozy wanted to be “victors” in over-throwing the Gaddafi regime. The UN Security Council knew better: just protect Libyans from Gaddafi’s intended pogrom and nothing more. A wise mandate Lord Snooty rejected by his actions and led by Sarkozy’s perverse ambitions.

    The price for these foolish war-mongerings are in the anarchy they’ve created in Libya today, and so graphicly described by Lindsey Hilsum here. It’s a tragedy created by Lord Snooty’s ego.

  4. Gerald Payne says:

    “Why Libya’s revolutionaries are the greatest threat to its revolution” Hm Lindsey you seem to have left out NATO’s part in this so called revolution. Are you visiting Sirte whilst in Libya?

Comments are closed.