Elected Leadership Struggles To Rule In Libya

In Libya, guns are still everywhere and the elected leadership is struggling to rule as militias use guns and intimidation when they don't get their way. Most recently they surrounded two ministries and state television to force through a political isolation law that bars former members of Moammar Gaddafi's regime from government posts.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. In Libya, the militias that ousted former dictator Moammar Gadhafi have been making life difficult for the democratically elected government there. For weeks, gunmen besieged key government offices. They demanded passage of a law that would bar Gadhafi-era officials from serving in the new administration. No blood was spilled, but the events underscored an ongoing power struggle in the country.

NPR's Leila Fadel was recently in the capital Tripoli and she filed this report.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Outside the National Congress building, it is quiet on this day with only the sound of passing traffic, but the vestiges of recent chaos remain. Graffiti adorns the white walls of the parliament building demanding passage of what is known as the Political Isolation Law, which bars people in the old government from serving in the new one.

One graffiti tag says, isolation is loyalty to the blood of the martyrs, those who died fighting Gadhafi forces during the 2011 revolution. For weeks, the militia surrounded the foreign ministry and the justice ministry. They stormed the interior ministry and the state television building. The armed men wanted the Political Isolation Law in place with no exceptions for anyone, including those who deserted Gadhafi and joined the opposition, people like the president of the National Congress.

Juma Attiga is the deputy head of the congress.

JUMA ATTIGA: We deal with that because otherwise maybe you will face dangers, you will face explosions, and the country will enter another stage maybe.

FADEL: Attiga recalls other incidents involving the militias. In March, they stormed the National Congress building and held him and other members hostage for nearly 11 hours. The men are Libya's revolutionaries. They fought Gadhafi, and now they want a say in the new Libya. They make demands with guns, angry that the elected congress is not making progress quickly enough, angry that corruption continues and worried that Gadhafi loyalists will remain in power. Again, Juma Attiga.

ATTIGA: After Gadhafi, we received a ruined state, so we are not now in the grade of a normal government which can control, which can order on the ground. We are in our way. The first thing which we have to protect strongly is the legitimacy that National Congress is the only body elected by the people.

FADEL: Gadhafi left behind no viable institutions. The new national army is in its infancy, and the police force remains weak. The country has been plagued with sporadic bombings, assassinations and kidnappings. One of the bloodiest incidents was the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi last September that left the U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens dead, along with three other Americans.

At the foreign ministry, employees are back to work. For two weeks, they stayed away because the militias were surrounding the building, demanding a purge of ministry staff. Deputy Foreign Minister Wafa Bugaighis sits in her office, her desk strewn with paperwork. She's catching up on lost time.

WAFA BUGAIGHIS: You're not going to take much of my time because I'm very busy.

FADEL: Bugaighis says she told the armed men outside that they were threatening national security. She told them they needed to stop, but she also praised Prime Minister Ali Zaidan for avoiding a confrontation with them. After all, she says, they are patriotic Libyans.

BUGAIGHIS: Because I think using force would have been devastating, and it probably led to further problems and definitely bloodshed, and definitely that would have led to bigger problems.

FADEL: She says she was encouraged by the popular outcry against the militia's actions. Most Libyans want Gadhafi-era officials purged from the government, she says, but the use of force is not the way to achieve the goal. At the same time, she says, the government should give the young militiamen alternatives.

BUGAIGHIS: Because they're attracted to this brigades by certain incentives. I mean, giving them salaries, I don't know what, things like that. The government has to give better incentives. I really think it will work out, hopefully. It's the only option we have.

FADEL: Militia leaders say they were forced to act because the congress stalled on the isolation law for months. Adel Gheriani is a spokesman for the Libyan revolutionaries.

ADEL GHERIANI: We fought Gadhafi in the beginning, and we are ready to fight whoever now who will destroy our country again, and back with the same old faces to power again.

FADEL: The militias didn't want to use force, and they won't do it again, he says, but they won't let the corruption of the past infect the future, he says. And even though the government criticizes the militias, they call on them when they need security.

GHERIANI: We don't have army. It's us every time anything happens to the country. They call us again back. Come, protect this, guard that, go there, come here. It's us on the ground.

FADEL: Leila Fadel, NPR News.

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