Friday saw up to 30,000 people march in a 'Rally to Save Benghazi' as a rising discontent with the militias, the government's lack of control over them and the recent killing of the U.S. Ambassador reached a breaking point.
Many Libyans are tired of the militias and the power they have. Much of their anger is toward the Ansar al-Shari brigade that has called for Sharia law in the country. Lack of police and military power has meant that the integration and end of the militias has been slow and imprecise.
As the protest in the city came to a close, a large group of civilians surrounded the base of the militia thought to be behind the consulate attacks. Their main target was the base of the Ansar al-Sharia brigade that was overwhelmed by the crowd forcing the brigadesmen to flee before the Army took control.
Other bases the protesters claim to have taken control of included the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade headquarters just outside of Benghazi and the removal of Ansar al-Sharia guards at the Al-Jalaa hospital in Benghazi. Reports suggest at least four people died in the clashes between the protesters and the militias with about forty wounded.
The Ansar al-Sharia brigade, a Salafist jihadi group, also held a smaller protest on Friday at the same time. About 3,000 people carrying black Islamic flags demonstrated against the publication of satirical cartoons in a French newspaper and the U.S. 'Innocence of Muslims' video.
While many protesters carried signs decrying the death of Ambassador Stevens, others put Benghazi first, “I don’t give a damn about the killing of the ambassador because the Americans offended the Prophet. I am just here for Benghazi.”
While those may seem harsh words, in order for Benghazi, and by extension, Libya to become and remain united, the needs of the new Libya must be the main point. However, the protests do show that there is a large and vocal group who don't support actions that harm Libya.
But Benghazi isn’t the only city where Ansar al-Sharia is unwelcome. In the town of Darna, long a stronghold for Islamist groups, both tribal leaders and the local population have pushed for the disbanding of militias. Tribal leaders have said they would no longer support any member of their tribes found to be a militia member.
Some militias argue that many of them provide the protection and order that the government and military are unable to provide. However, the general opinion is that far too many operate like gangs, using killings and intimidation to maintain control.
Whether or not the Benghazi protest is a direct result of the Ambassador's death, at the very least it shows that public opinion is largely turning against the unregulated militias that threaten long-term Libyan stability.