Militias guarding the foreign ministry on Monday morning. Photo by @MarineCasa.
Heavily armed groups of militiamen laid siege to Libya’s foreign ministry on Sunday. Their goal: to denounce the fact that they, who fought during the revolution, have yet to be given public sector jobs, while some officials from the previous regime have kept theirs. Our Observer, who met the militiamen, was quite surprised by their strategy.
After trying, but failing, to storm the interior ministry and the national press agency, the militiamen managed to take over the foreign ministry late Sunday evening. They evacuated its personnel by force, then encircled the ministry with their vehicles - some of which are mounted with anti-aircraft guns - and haven’t budged since. They say they won’t move until officials who served under former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are sacked. Their actions were strongly condemned by Libya’s prime minister, Ali Zeidan.
These former revolutionaries hail from several neighbourhoods of Tripoli, as well as from other cities like Tajura, Misrata and Zawiya, all three located east of the capital. These armed groups have bonded over a common goal: they want to kick out former Gaddafi cronies by convincing the government to urgently pass a law proposed by members of parliament last December, but which has stagnated in the hands of the General National Congress. The bill would ban anyone found guilty of murder, torture, or corruption during Gaddafi’s era from holding public sector jobs for the next ten years. It is highly controversial; some argue this criteria is too strict, while others say it is not strict enough.

“Many Libyans are in favour of the proposed law, but the militiamen’s strategy is not helping their cause”

Nader El Gadi is a photographer. He lives in Tajura, a city east of Tripoli from which hails one of the armed groups that have overtaken the foreign ministry. He is currently in Tripoli.
This was all started by a group of militiamen that have been clamouring for this law to be passed for some time now. They had already set up a tent on Martyrs’ Square in central Tripoli, and organised several protests in front of the General National Congress. This time, they wanted to go big: they joined forces with militias from different cities. Once they launched their siege, yet other militias decided to join them.
I went to the ministry Sunday night to check out the situation. I learned that most of its employees fled when they saw the militiamen arrive. Those who wanted to stay were kicked out, without the militiamen firing a shot. One of their leaders told me that their operation was a “pacifist” one. However, I did count about two dozen automatic weapons. They blocked roads, which created huge traffic jams and caused people to get really mad at them. Many Libyans are in favour of the proposed law, but the militiamen’s strategy is not helping their cause.
What links these militias is their demand for an immediate purge of the current administration. But when you talk to them, it becomes clear that each of them has their own agenda. Some of their leaders believe that since they fought during the revolution, they should automatically be given high posts in government. Other militiamen have actually received training that was supposed to help them get public sector jobs, but now realise that the old guard is blocking their advancement. In addition, there are those who are angry that some foreign diplomats named under Gaddafi have kept their jobs. [The process of replacing foreign diplomats is under way, according to the Libyan authorities. In January, they called back all ambassadors and mission chiefs named under Gaddafi’s era, and aim to replace them.]
After Gaddafi’s fall, Mustafa Abdeljalil, then the president of the National Transitional Council, had asked that all government employees who had not been charged with crimes stay in their posts. This is why many former members of Gaddafi’s administration have kept their jobs to this day. It is inevitable that they eventually be replaced, but demanding their jobs by taking up arms is simply counter-productive.