Jason Pack and Mohamed Eljarh write: American Special Forces captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, an operative of Al Qaeda living in Libya. Five days later, a group of Libyan militiamen kidnapped their own prime minister, Ali Zeidan. After five hours, having faced no opposition from the police or the army, they released him. The prime minister’s captors made no demands for cash, nor did they overtly request any changes in current government policy. Nor was anyone hurt — an aspect that gave the whole affair the air of a vast publicity stunt.
Some have described the kidnapping as a pseudo-coup. But coups usually aim to overthrow one government and replace it with another. Things are different in Libya.
None of the country’s competing armed factions are capable of governing alone. Each wishes to protect its special privileges while preventing its opponents from governing. Libya is truly ruled by everyone and no one.
In the early days of the anti-Qaddafi rebellion, the rebels’ top brass attempted to form a nascent national army, yet various “civilian” (read: Islamist) groups refused to submit to the proposed chain of command. In July 2011, Islamists were suspected in the murder of the national army’s leader, Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes. Since then, myriad civilian militias have proliferated. They dwarf the national army and police force combined. The government has tried to co-opt some of the civilian brigades with big salaries and fancy titles, but most remain loyal only to their commanders.
Consequently, the Libyan government lacks even 100 armed men who would lay their lives on the line to defend the abstract concept of the state. Conversely, the militias can rely on thousands.
In Western Libya, the most staunchly anti-government forces are a loose alliance of Islamists and certain powerful militias from the city of Misurata. Counterbalancing them are non-Islamist militias from the city of Zintan. In the East, “federalist” militias seek to obtain “justice” (meaning more power and money for their region).
As a result of this multipolar struggle, the country has become virtually ungovernable. Each group has its supporters inside the parliament: the Martyrs and the Muslim Brotherhood blocs have worked to further the influence of the Revolutionaries Operations Room — the group that kidnapped Mr. Zeidan. With the Islamists’ support, Nouri Abusahmain became Libya’s president in June. And he quickly bolstered his power as a counterweight to the prime minister by endowing the Revolutionaries Operations Room with $700 million.
Prime Minister Zeidan’s various opponents have long sought to force him out of office. Despite his waning popularity and effectiveness, they failed to oust him via a secret no-confidence vote on Oct. 1. He survived the vote not because he enjoys widespread support but rather because no one can agree on who should replace him. [Continue reading…]