The Two Sides of Libya’s Rebels

The challenges facing Libya as it tries to build a new government after 42 years of Gaddafi rule were all on display at Benghazi airport last night. A huge RAF jet loomed out of the darkness carrying 40 tonnes of banknotes – 280 million dinars worth of crisp bills which had been printed in Britain, but seized aboard the Sloman Provider after her crew had decided not to proceed to Libya in the early months of the uprising.

It was the first shipment of frozen cash to arrive back on Libyan soil. David Cameron himself had overseen the logistics, keen that Britain’s key role in backing the rebels was on display on the eve of the Paris conference today.

But what happened next shows the potential fault-lines within the nascent government. Security was tight, as you might expect in a city awash with weapons. A blue ring of armed police officers formed around the cargo plane as forklift trucks began to unload the pallet-loads of cash. Outside them stood a second ring, this one made up of khaki-clad militiamen who had fought for the rebels.

The policemen, looking smart in their new uniforms, have been trained and equipped by Britain. Law and order – the security of fragile states – has become something of a British export industry.

The militiamen, however, represented a different side of Libya. They were members of an Islamist unit, the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, whose presence has alarmed neighbours of Libya such as Algeria as well as diplomats in Benghazi. They too have smart new uniforms and body armour, thanks to their benefactors in Qatar.

For now, though, the two are working in harmony, united in their goal of securing Libya and rooting out Gaddafi and his sons. The question is whether they will work together once their common enemy is gone – a common enemy, whose image is printed on each of the brand new one dinar notes that arrived last night.


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