The Guardian: Inside the chaos and corruption of Tripoli, where militias rule the streets

The Address | Benghazi – Libya

TRIPOLI – British newspaper The Guardian published a report on Saturday by its journalist, Francesca Mannocchi, detailing the chaotic situation in Tripoli which has become “a city of Islamists and warlords” as the newspaper put it.

The report begins by describing the devastation caused by the latest battle between the militias last September which left more than hundred people dead and thousands displaced.

“There are smashed homes and rubble-strewn streets left by the blasts of tank and rocket fire during fighting in September. Some compare militia-dominated Tripoli with Al Capone’s Chicago but the comparison is false: Al Capone never had access to heavy artillery.” wrote Mannocchi.

The Guardian noted that the creation of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) was aimed at ridding Tripoli of gangsterism. “But far from expunging the militias, the government is beholden to them.”

“Driving through this city means navigating a political fog as you try to work out who among the rag-tag gunmen in assorted uniforms and battered pickup trucks are gangsters, and who constitute the official security forces of the United Nations-backed government. After a while you realise they are the same. One unit is freshly kitted out in smart blue uniforms of the interior ministry, but it remains a militia, as violent and threatening as before. Tensions are high after the body of one warlord was dumped by rivals outside a city hospital in the latest tit-for-tat killing.”

“Tripoli’s warlords are on the state payroll, through the simple expedient of gunmen threatening the bankers with kidnapping or worse. Similar pressure resulted in the government handing its all-important intelligence and surveillance portfolio to an Islamist militia.”

The Guardian pointed that GNA’s submission to militias and terrorist groups has had a devastating impact on Tripoli’s residents.

“Meanwhile, the citizens suffer: there are shortages of petrol, electricity, water and banknotes. Libya is rich, with £50bn of foreign reserves and booming oil production. But only a handful of banks – those controlled by militias – are permitted to dispense cash. Citizens form kilometre-long queues to collect it.”

“Nobody elected this government, which was appointed by a UN-chaired commission, and it has two faces for the world. One is for visiting western diplomats, who make occasional visits to the city to be photographed smiling with the prime minister. The other face is for Libyans themselves, and it is not pretty.” Mannocchi said before adding the GNA officials restricted not only her movement but also the scope of her work as they prevented her from taking pictures of Tripoli’s residents queuing in front of the city’s banks or even talking to customers at a cafe.

““Don’t take pictures of the bank queues. Don’t interview the people there,” says my government minder, Ishmael. His orders are to follow me everywhere, clutching a mass of permits and permissions, and this has a faintly comic aspect. I can buy coffee at one of the city’s ubiquitous coffee bars, but I can’t talk to the customers as I have no permit.”

“In frustration I ask Ishmael what reporting I can do, with no permits to talk to anyone. “I don’t know, maybe nothing,” he says.” wrote Mannocchi, who last week exposed false statements made by the Foreign Media Department of GNA regrading her visit to the capital.

GNA’s Foreign Media Department claimed on November 21st that Mannocchi arrived to Tripoli to cover the celebrations of the birth of the Prophet. However, Mannocchi refuted those claims and stated via her official Twitter account that the purpose of  her visit was not to cover celebrations in Tripoli but rather to visit Misurata port and enter a detention center. She said the Tripoli-based government rejected both requests.

The Guardian pointed out the deterioration of free speech in the capital as a local radio presenter told Mannocchi that journalists in the capital are prohibited from criticizing “the militias, and the bearded ones [Islamists].”

“Several TV stations have been burned down because they failed to understand these instructions and a dozen more now broadcast, for safety, from abroad.” wrote Mannocchi.

The Guardian also described corruption in the capital as “chaotic” and stated that “Tripoli has corruption on every level but he no longer bothers to report it.”

The British newspaper concluded its report by pointing out the fact that the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by its General Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, is the most popular institution in the country as most Libyans see Field Marshal Haftar the only figure capable of bringing stability and security to Tripoli and the rest of the country.

“A rare opinion poll, commissioned by a US government agency, found his army the most popular Libyan institution, its 68% support eclipsing the government’s 15%.” The Guardian concluded.

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