They vanished from the city's streets after Sept. 21, when tens of thousands of ordinary Libyans took to the streets to demand an end to militia rule in a "Save Benghazi" protest. The protest, which came 10 days after the consulate attack, ended with thousands of people storming the barracks of Ansar al-Sharia and several other Islamist katiba, or brigades.
But while many in Benghazi hailed the routing of the militias as an example of people power overcoming militia rule, life just got worse again for the staff at El Jala hospital.
“Don’t get me wrong,” says Bargathy, “I marched in the ‘Save Benghazi Friday’ protest myself. All of us want a real national army and an efficient police force to take over security from the militia. But the military police they sent us after Ansar al-Shariah left just wasn’t up to the task. One day they just didn’t show up anymore.”
Ansar al-Sharia offered its assistance to El Jala hospital last August, ostensibly in response to cries for help from the staff in the local media that went unanswered by the authorities.
It was also something of a public relations move from a young, radical group desperate to win over the hearts and minds of the community. A public display of force in June, when Ansar al-Shariah had declared the upcoming general elections to be against Islam, had left a bad taste in the mouths of many in Benghazi.
Jahiya Kuwafi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya who has spent a lot of time with Ansar al-Sharia. Even before the US consulate attack, “I was talking to them, trying to convince them to give up their weapons and help society in other ways. Their work at the hospital was part of that,” he says.
At El Jala hospital now, a number of posters reminding people that smoking is against Islam are the only remaining evidence of Ansar al-Sharia’s presence.