How it happened, what happened, and who was behind the abduction of Ali Zeidan, that lasted a few hours, will take time to work out. It demonstrates Libya’s chaos, observers say. It’s thought that what got the prime minister into hot water was this statement he made two days ago.
Zeidan said: “Our relationship with the USA is one of friendship and cooperation. They helped us with our revolution. Our relationship will not be affected by this event, which we will settle in our own appropriate way.”
The event Zeidan was referring to was the capture by American forces on 6 October of a presumed Al Qaeda operative, Anas al-Liby, in a raid whose legitimacy was strongly contested, and which provoked an uproar among former rebel groups. Protests were especially loud in Benghazi at the weekend.
Benghazi is where the Libyan revolution started, and it’s under the control of militias who didn’t disarm afterwards. The government can’t control them. They’re demanding autonomy – power-sharing with Tripoli, a return to the 1951 constitution and federalism. Benghazi is the capital of the eastern province of Cyrenaica, also known as Barka, which is rich in oil and gas. The country is made up of three provinces. The other two are Tripolitania in the northwest, and Fezzan in the southwest. They made up the Kingdom of Libya from 1951-1963; it had two capitals.
Today, the militias keep the country’s security fractured, making a return to federalism unlikely. Ninety-seven percent of Libyans are ethnic Berber or Arabs, so there’s no comparison with Afghanistan or Iraq’s multi-ethnic mosaics.
Since the end of the Gadaffi regime in October 2011, the central authorities have struggled to establish order. The ex-rebels are dominated by Islamists, who fill the security vacuum left by the state. The country has not managed to form a unified police force or a professional army, and it has even formally recognised several of the militias, entrusting them with security tasks.