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Armed Protesters Stormed Libya's Parliament and Shot Two MPs

Demonstrators frustrated with Libya's government attacked the General National Congress in Tripoli on Sunday night.
Photo via Anadolu Agency

Anger with Libya’s transitional government reached a violent breaking point while it was in session on Sunday night. Dozens of armed protestors stormed and looted the parliament, set fire to grounds, screamed for its dissolution, attacked members inside, then shot and injured two MPs as they attempted to escape.

Demonstrators armed with knives and sticks broke into the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli, chanting “Resign! Resign!” at the nation’s lawmakers, and demanding early elections, AFP reported. At least two members of parliament were shot and others were harassed, GNC lawmakers said on Libyan TV. In an unrelated incident, a French engineer was killed in Benghazi.


In an address on Monday, GNC president Nuri Abu Sahmein confirmed that two members were "hit by bullets when they tried to leave the venue in their cars" and vowed to “pursue the democratic process.” But, three years after the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s political transition has reached a deadlock.

“We are witnessing the fall of our country,” Rawan Radwan, a blogger, told VICE News.“I see the security crisis getting worse and worse every day and the government is just standing there watching without taking any serious steps.”

After voting to extend its own term in power from February until the end of the year, the interim parliament, which was elected in July 2012, finds itself increasingly unpopular. Critics of the government lament that no constitution has been drafted and no date has been set for parliamentary or presidential elections, as the country’s splintered factions tear each other apart.

The February Committee, a unit within the GNC, recommended on Sunday that the parliamentary and presidential elections should be held separately. The GNC said it would review the suggestion and make a decision this month, as well as decide on new election law.

Nuri al Abari, head of Libya's election commission, also resigned on Sunday, without providing a reason. He stepped down a day after disclosing the results of the election for the constitutional panel last month. Out of 60 seats, only 47 have been filled due to threats and attacks on polling stations.


Amid political stalemate, the government has struggled to contain increasing violence against officials, Christians and foreigners. The authorities are also trying to control infighting between rogue militias. Gunmen also shot a 49-year-old French national on Sunday in Benghazi. He died from three gunshot wounds.

Libya’s democratic transition faces even greater challenges than those of Tunisia, which has successfully adopted a new constitution, and Egypt, which has fallen back into military control.

Libya’s main institutions and political forces — ranging from Islamists who back the GNC to the government’s opposition — are weaker and less organized than their counterparts in the region. Libya does not have a default institution, like Egypt’s military, to lean on in times of trouble. Its army is not as powerful as the Egyptian one and Islamists rely on their own militias. Neither Prime Minister Ali Zeidan nor the military have been able to control the rebels, who have blockaded oil ports since July last year.

“No single group — neither the Islamists or their opponents — none of them can rule Libya alone,” said Mohamed Eljarh, a blogger for Foreign Policy. “But each of them is powerful enough to get in each other’s way.”

Libya’s Islamists, who back the GNC, are increasingly threatened. They say that the GNC’s opponents, including former general Khalifa Haftar, are trying to replicate the Egyptian scenario of ousting Islamist leadership.


“The Islamists in Libya are not going to back down and they are going to make sure they protect their influence,” said Eljarh.

Libya’s massive oil resources are further complicating the transition. The political infighting is not limited to who represents the Libyan people at the GNC, but also as to who will be in charge the country’s vast resources.

The oil industry has been the backbone of the country’s economy, but it has been hit hard by attacks and deteriorating safety. Escalating insurgent and rogue groups have blocked oil trade and destabilized security across the country.

“Oil is a curse: we still do not know how to use the revenues from our resources efficiently,” Amr Farkash, Tripoli-based co-managing partner at OEA Capital, told VICE News. “Our problem lies in the fact that we (as a country) do not have a vision, no strategies, no planning.”

Finding a way to Libya’s economic recovery will have to involve cracking down on insurgency and regaining control of the oil supply.

But, amid the challenges, some Libyans have grown weary of democracy and are longing for stability.

“I see the people of Libya giving up on democracy and supporting Khalifa Haftar to bring back military rule,” said Radwan. “It's just hard for me to see all that after taking a few steps towards democracy and freedom.”