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October 4, 2012

Muslim protests could have a silver lining

(Continued)

More hopefully, the events of the past two weeks — in exposing weaknesses of the post-revolutionary governments — could force leaders to confront realities they and the international community have heretofore been happy to play down. Libya, for example, seems newly inclined to address its biggest problem: pervasive lawlessness and the proliferation of violent militias.

After tens of thousands of Libyans turned out Sept. 22 in Benghazi to protest against the attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his three colleagues, the president of Libya's National Assembly, Mohammed Magarief, ordered the disbanding of all militias not sanctioned by the government. The army gave the groups a 48-hour deadline to disarm and to evacuate compounds and public buildings.

Although this was an important and bold step, it isn't a comprehensive solution to Libya's security challenges. Since Moammar Gadhafi's demise, the Libyan government has acknowledged that it is unable to control its entire territory, and militias have operated with impunity across much of the country. At the same time, the government rejected the idea of allowing foreign troops help keep the peace, or that it needed substantial help from the international community in stabilizing the country.

The tragedy in Benghazi underscored that Libya's insecurity isn't just a problem for Libyans, but for its neighbors and the rest of the world. The best outcome will be if Libyans use this moment to ask for more robust security assistance to build a competent national army, track down chemical weapons left over from the Gadhafi era and tamp down reluctant militias. This may not necessarily take the form of a peacekeeping force, but embedded trainers from friendly countries could help bolster the Libyan army's capabilities during a period of vulnerability.

Moreover, Libya might ask the international community for help in integrating members of disbanded militia into civilian life or the nascent army — the U.S. has some experience, albeit of limited success, in such efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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