The siege of Bani Walid, 180 km, south west of Tripoli has been in place for nearly two weeks now. It was publically authorized, encouraged and approved by Libya’s newly elected General National Conference GNC. Reports from inside the city speak of increasingly depleted supplies of food, water, and other necessities. Sporadic indiscriminate rocket bombardments are daily routine especially round the east of the city. Al-Mardoum valley, the closest to the front line have so been under daily fire killing five civilians and injuring a dozen so far. Libyan rights groups joined hands their international counterparts in condemning the siege calling on the Libyan authority to lift it immediately. Amnesty International in particular has been at the forefront of calls to lift the siege and allow supplies to enter the city as well as free movement of people into and out of the Bani Walid.
Home to Libya’s largest tribe Bani Walid has been the safest cities in Libya since the war ended last October. The local population attribute this to the fact that no militias are able to enter the city from outside and only its own people volunteered to protect it. They are organized in local defense committees in charge of daily security, checkpoints on the outskirts of the city. Having seen what the revolutionary brigades have done to their houses, farm land, and other personal properties when then entered the city last October local were determined not to let any armed individuals to enter their city again.
The rocky mountainous city is long accused of harboring remnants of the previous regime fighters and protecting its supporters. however, the fact is that the majority of people in Bani Walid do not want any militias amongst them at the same time they are welcoming any security forces under the control of the government. They weeks ago they were called upon by the GNC to hand over couple of suspects which the local social council of the city refused to do unless there is proper judiciary system and proper government procedures. It cited the kidnapping of over a hundred Warffalis civilians currently in jail center in Misrata and Tripoli controlled by rogue militias. They challenged the government to bring those back home if it really can. Of course nothing has happened over the last year or so meaning that the interim government lacks the means and the authority to control the country let alone disarm the militias still operating freely. The prompted GNC to issue its legally disputed decree number 7 authorizing the novice Libyan army to use all necessary means to control the city. By doing so GNC not only over stepped its mandate but also committed the hideous crime of publically calling for war against part of the Libyan population in what could well be “officially” authorized tribal cleansing.
The bulk of the besieging forces came from Misrata with its long and deeply rooted hatred of Bani Walid. At the same time almost all other revolutionary brigades except the parts of the Islamist have either withdrawn their fighters or refused to take part in the siege considering it as illegal and unnecessary bloodshed against he entire population of Bani Walid.
While mediation efforts are still going on it’s the last chance for the GNC to act wisely and correct itself by first annual its notorious decision and immediately activate the long overdue national reconciliation process. By doing so it will not only save Bani Walid but kick start the process of saving Libya as whole. Bani Walid now represents the last ditch Libyans must peacefully bridge if they are ever to see peaceful and democratic Libya emerge after the long bloodshed and chaos that has been the order of the day for nearly two years now.
Bani Walid today represents hope for the rest of Libya. It provided a good example in terms of self governance, security and self management of the daily lives of its inhabitants some of whom came to the city seeking security they lacked elsewhere in Libya. It also symbolizes refusal of one tribe dominance of the country under any circumstances. Those who are leading the war efforts against Bani Walid are motivated by vengeance and hatred but managed to portrait the situation as a national cause for while tricking GNC to intervene in legally and tribally complicated situation with dire consequences for the rest of the country.
The siege must be lifted immediately and national effective government should be approved as soon as possible. All jail centers must banded over to the government and GNC should quickly start drafting the constitution which is its only task in the first place. Yet Bani Walid will not be subdued by force unless at a very heavy price of destruction and bloodshed that could further push Libya into more of the same: chaos and sufferings.
Mustafa Fetouri is an independent Libyan Academic and journalist. Winner of EU’s Samir Kassir award for the freedom of the press in 2010.