July 17, 2012
Libya's Former Rebels Pose Challenge
TRIPOLI — The fighters who defeated Libya's Moammar Gadhafi last year now pose a challenge for the fledgling democracy they helped create. Many of them have refused to give up their weapons, demanding a series of laws to protect them.
A year and a half ago, electrical engineer Omran Al-Awayeb took up arms to defend his neighborhood against Gadhafi forces.
Now he commands a part-time band of rebels who are still worried about their country's future.
"Continue the revolution, this is our main job," he says. "We are afraid to make a bad country or a lazy government or go back to the old government or the old country."
Al-Awayeb leads a group of rebel commanders who feel that their uprising does not get the respect it deserves.
"This is our war," he says. "This is Libyan war. We should believe in this war, and take it as history for us because we got freedom from this war. But what I see now, the government is trying to forget this war. No, this is our war."
The commanders want Gadhafi supporters out of the Libyan government and Army and they want immunity for anything rebel troops did during last year’s eight-month uprising.
“When we caught some soldiers we were killing them," he says. "What can we do with them? We didn’t have a jail, didn’t have time to put them [anywhere]. They are our enemy. If that was wrong, our war was wrong.”
The commander says his group wants to work through politics, not violence. But nine months under an unelected interim government have been frustrating.
"The government is going slowly, so, so, so slowly," says Al-Awayeb. "So many things can happen."
It has been a hard and unexpected journey for Omran Al-Awayeb and his men. But lately they have been spending the long hot summer days in mundane pursuits on makeshift bases. And while they have not been involved in any violent incidents, he admits anger has grown. With a new, elected, government set to take office soon, the commander counsels a longer view.
"If we are going step by step, even if it's slowly, that's OK," he says. "But if we stop or go back, that's a problem."
Commander Al-Awayeb says most rebels want to lay down their arms or join the army, but only after their key demands are met, and only after they are sure the country is on a solid path toward democracy.