A message from Tripoli

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Last week’s bombing of the French embassy in Tripoli continues to be surrounded by question marks. By the time French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrived in the aftermath, no one had claimed responsibility for the attack. Over the weekend, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan held a much delayed press conference reported in the Libya Herald, in which he referred to the attack as an act of terror carried out by those who “want to stop the formation of the Libyan state.”

While the security situation in Libya has remained a major cause for concern since the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, unlike the attack in Benghazi in which US Ambassador Christopher Stevens died last year, last week’s car bombing was in the capital and constituted the first major attack on a foreign embassy there.

Immediately after the attacks, links were made to the French intervention in nearby Mali, given the threats that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb issued to France earlier this year in response to their Malian intervention. Clearly France also played a leading role, with the UK, in the intervention in Libya, and Zeidan’s reference in the press conference to all embassies being in Libya at the invitation of the Libyan people, and to 2011 “when French forces came at the right time to prevent a massacre of Benghazi” hints at the government seeing this as the crucial factor.

While the person or group responsible for this attack and the motive are not clear, what it does show without doubt is what a major challenge for the transitioning country security is. The car bombing happened in Tripoli at a time when the government is leading a crackdown on militia violence. On Sunday, during the prime minister’s press conference, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was barricaded by armed militias.

Yet despite the major hurdles that the Libyan General National Congress has to overcome, and the close interest that European governments took in helping the country get to a point of transition, as ECFR’s Scorecard 2013 shows, they are currently offering too little security support to Libya and the wider region. As Anthony Dworkin’s recent report “The Struggle for Pluralism after the North African revolutions” sets out, this is perhaps one of the most significant areas where countries seeking to support the transition can help out, supporting the wider framework for democratic institutions to develop and pluralism to grow. If any messages are to be taken by European governments from the attack last week, it is to be hoped that this one is among them.

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