The Libyan government directive for all militias to either come under state control or to disband represents a courageous and crucial step forward for the country.
The move, seemingly inspired by popular opinion, saw Benghazi residents storming Friday the headquarters belonging to various armed groups in the city. This move, in turn, followed the tragic events of last week, when extremists attacked the U.S. consulate in the city, killing the ambassador.
For months the militias of Libya have acted as miniature armies, tolerated by the new regime, which manipulated their differences to strengthen its own position.
They have posed a huge threat to the country’s stability since the ousting of Moammar Gadhafi, and their continued presence would have severely jeopardized any chances of success for a new, democratic Libya.
That this government order came only after the people on the street expressed their deep anger with Benghazi’s extremist elements should now not matter, as long as the directive is fully implemented.
Listening to the word on the street and using popular opinion as a catalyst for action is actually commendable, if the government genuinely means to root out those most dangerous groups in society.
This step will be crucial in bringing the country under one homogenous banner, where one army, one authority and one constitution rule, rather than myriad interpretations of the law and its workings.
The government, in announcing all militias are to either disband or to align with the state, has taken a momentous step, one which, if successful, should provide a model for other countries in similar positions. But it is essential that it is carried out comprehensively and earnestly. The last few days have shown that the authorities are willing to flush out these militias quickly and smoothly, with several volunteering to surrender, and this process must continue.
With popular opinion behind them, the authorities must move Libya forward toward legitimacy, democracy and unity. Any government which replaced Gadhafi would have had to contend with the challenge of a countrywide tribal network, and now is the time for this leadership to do what it can to demilitarize these groups.
If any positives are to come from the anti-Islam film debacle over the last few weeks, and the regional chaos which it led to, then it will be the fact that so many of these most extreme Islamist groups have made themselves known. In doing so they have made themselves unpopular with large swathes of the local population, thus giving the government the confidence to crack down on them and already, Tunis has put the leader of an Islamist group on its wanted list.
Such steps award the Arab Spring the credence it deserves. Those who died for freedom did not envision dictatorships replaced with violent states within a state.