Most Libyans agree that sharia should be a main source for legislation, but religious hardliners, many of whom are armed, go further and insist it should be the only source of law. For example, a recently posted YouTube video shows a preacher in Benghazi denouncing the new government as secular-leaning, and telling the former revolutionary fighters to hold onto their weapons until sharia holds sway.
But it is precisely those weapons -- and the men that cling to them -- that brought Benghazi to the brink three months ago. Following the attack on the U.S. consulate, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest not just the assault, but also the continuing existence of rebel militias that many see as too accustomed to the power of the gun. Later that night, the compounds of three Islamist brigades -- February 17, Ansar al-Sharia, and Rafallah al-Sahati -- were stormed, with violent clashes occurring at the latter's base.
The militiamen, for their part, are still smarting from these so-called "Save Benghazi" demonstrations. "This was all the evil forces coming together -- federalists, azlaam, and corrupt members of the police and army -- to use the cover of people demonstrating to attack brigades that worked for the revolution and are now actively under the government's control," said Wissam bin Hamid, 35, a commander with an officially-sanctioned umbrella group of militias known as Libya Shield.
Hamid, who used to run a car workshop before the revolution, insisted that he eventually wants to return to his old life. But for now, he argued, forces like his help plug a security gap. His militia helped ensure elections in Benghazi ran smoothly, he said, and his men escorted American officials from their besieged compound during the Sept.11 attack. Later, they provided security for a U.S. investigation team that visited Benghazi.
"Everybody says they want police and army...even we [the former revolutionary fighters] want it. I want it. But we can only return to our old lives once [the police and army] are able to provide security."
Part of the uncertainty in Benghazi stems from the fact that Ashour Shuwail recently replaced Fawzi Abdelali as Libya's interior minister. Many are waiting to see what kind of changes will be ushered in by Shuwail, whose appointment was initially blocked by the so-called Integrity Commission, a body which screens candidates for links to the previous regime. Shuwail, who was head of the Benghazi police force when the revolution began, has considerable support among those who want to see the militias gone. "Now we have a lot of hope since [Shuwail] is one of us," said one man who took part in the "Save Benghazi" rally.
Others are not so sure. "I don't think Shuwail is the right man," Wanis al-Sharif said of his new boss. "The thuwar have openly registered their dislike for the man and I don't think it is healthy to have someone who does not have the backing of all sides especially at this critical stage...But we have big hopes for the program he is going to work on to get security back on the streets."
Shuwail's plan to improve security includes increasing the police presence in Benghazi and other cities and moving all heavy weaponry from urban areas into assigned military bases. He also plans to introduce legislation banning the selling or possession of arms, while allowing for the voluntary handing in of weapons as well as the integration of militia members into the ministries of defense and interior.
But as Shuwail and the Interior Ministry prepare to impose law and order, there is virtually no talk about the investigation into the attack on the U.S. consulate, which has so far turned up nothing. The independent report issued on Tuesday by the Accountability Review Board may have offered the most detailed account of the attack thus-far, but authorities in Libya have yet to make a single arrest in connection with the attack. Some have fingered Ahmad Abukhattallah, a local militia leader who admitted to being present that night, though he denies taking part in the attack. But even Abukhattallah has yet to be hauled in for questioning, he confirmed to us at the weekend.
Wanis al-Sharif acknowledges that the investigation appears to have drifted. He blames it on the fact Libya has yet to establish proper security forces, let alone a functioning judicial system. "What can you expect from a country with no criminal investigative department?" he says. "It is almost impossible."