Islamic State Will Flourish if the West Picks Sides in Libya
Here is my February 18, 2015 article in The Spectator advocating for us to keep focused on the mediation effort in Libya.
Here is my February 18, 2015 article in The Spectator advocating for us to keep focused on the mediation effort in Libya.
Here is my first ever one-on-one feature length (i.e. a whole half hour segment) TV interview. It is with the witty and acerbic Slavic beauty, Oksana Boyko – - the anchor for Russia Today’s World’s Apart programme. We discuss the good, bad, and ugly about Nato’s intervention in Libya in 2011, the toppling of Qadhafi, the fallout from that action, Libya’s descent into a multipronged civil war, the position of ISIS in the country at present, and how Western policy can or cannot be changed to deal with the new kinds of threats emanating from the region. To watch click here.
Here is a simple overview from the BBC of the kind of coverage ISIS is getting in Libya. I am quoted saying the rather usual but important stuff like that ISIS ‘problem’ cannot be solved without a political solution in Libya.
Moreover, Libya is rich in oil and, earlier this month, gunmen claiming to represent IS raided a French-run oil facility in al-Mabruk, south of Sirte city, killing at least 11 guards. “They are able to attack oil pipelines, but as of yet lack the capability to sell smuggled oil on the open market. Nonetheless, many IS-aligned fighters collect salaries from the Libyan state,” Jason Pack, a researcher in Libyan history at the UK’s Cambridge University, told the BBC…..
Mr Pack points out that the country has three main power blocks:
- Libya Dawn (a mixture of Islamist and non-Islamist militias allied with the Tripoli-based government),
- Operation Dignity (led by forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar and allied with the internationally recognised government based in the eastern city of Tobruk) and
- Jihadist groups (which include IS, al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia – the most powerful of them).
“There is a civil war between the two main groups [Libya Dawn and Operation Dignity]. The jihadists act as spoilers,” Mr Pack told the BBC.
He is opposed to Egypt’s military intervention, saying it could make the internationally recognised government wrongly conclude that it could defeat its rivals – a perception that has grown following its 23 February decision to withdraw from UN-brokered peace talks.
“You need a national unity government to tackle IS. It is in Libya because the political process has failed,” Mr Pack told the BBC.
To read the whole article click here.
On Monday 23 February, the Tobruk-based HoR voted in favor of suspending its participation in the UN-backed peace negotiations process and re-called its representatives who had already reached Tunisi en route to Morocco, where negotiations are still nominally scheduled to take place this week. The HoR decision came as a response to the attack carried out by Jihadist militants on the town of Qubbah, through a triple car bombing, on Friday 20 February. The attack caused the death of at least 40 people and the wounding of 70 other as explosions struck the city in different moments in what appears to have been a deliberate strategy aimed at maximizing human losses. The town of Qubbah was targeted due to its affiliation with and support for Tobruk-based institutions and the military establishment aligned with it
Since the publication of the video portraying the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Sirte, negotiations between Libyan parties hit a slump and appeared to be hanging by a thread for most of last week. Surprisingly though, it was not Operation Dignity hardliners who pulled the plug of negotiations, as some feared would do by launching indiscriminate airstrikes and attacks on Libya Dawn constituencies, but rather the more ‘moderate’ HoR. Of course, one should not underestimate the considerable pressures HoR members must have been subjected to from local constituencies in eastern Libya in the aftermath of the conquest of Sirte and the attack on Qubbah by Libyan cells of the Islamic State. Nonetheless, even taking local pressures and public reaction into account does not make the decision by the HoR any less shortsighted and detrimental, firstly to Libya as a country and secondly, in the medium term, to the HoR as well. As a matter of fact, by acknowledging that there cannot be any compromise with other groups in Libya and that the only possible solution at this stage is to continue waging war, the HoR and its institutions are placing themselves in the hands of Haftar who, despite his various military shortcomings, seems to be finally attaining a Sisi-like aura across eastern Libya. Furthermore, the other big winners from today’s decision are precisely those Jihadist groups, some of them Islamic State-aligned, that the HoR is trying to eliminate. However, these groups have proved to be thriving and expanding in the current climate of violence and lawlessness marring the country.Furthermore, and even most importantly, derailing the negotiations process was precisely the hope behind the decision taken by these groups to exacerbate tensions through the release of the Sirte’s beheadings’ video and the attack in Qubbah. In short, the HoR appears to have played in the hands of its rivals by abandoning the talks at this stage.
Monday’s development are all the more frustrating if we take into consideration the positive news that had emerged across the weekend. In fact, on Sunday 22 February, in a rather surprising development, the port of Zueitina was suddenly declared to be open and operative by an anonymous Libyan official quoted by Reuters. The port had been closed for almost a year, but, reportedly, has already loaded a Greek tanker, which is now heading towards Italy with 750,000 barrels of crude. It is reasonable to assume that the re-opening of the port has been clouted in secrecy to avoid both a disruption of negotiations between relevant stakeholders and to avoid attracting unwanted attention from armed groups looking to spoil the Tobruk’s establishment capacity to sell crude, be they Jihadists or Operation Shuruq militias. In light of the damage sustained by Sidra terminal and of the persistent insecurity marring the ‘Oil Crescent’ region, the re-opening of Zueitina would have represented a much-needed financial lifeline for Libya. However, now that talks appear to have reached a definitive stop and that the news has been revealed in the public domain, it remains to be seen whether Petroleum Facilities Guards and Operation Dignity troops will have the military capacity to ensure its regular functioning, or if Zueitina will succumb to the same fate of Sidra and Ras Lanuf.
Overall, the ball is now in the court of Libya’s international partners. European countries, the EU, the US and all regional stakeholders, especially those backing Egypt, must adopt all possible measures to pressure the HoR and its affiliated parties to re-join talks. There might not be another chance to save the country from the perilous path that other in the continent have already taken and down which certain groups seem eager to be pushing Libya towards.
Here is the longest most in-depth radio interview I have ever given. With the excellent, sonorous, and highly informed presenter of Voice of the Cape’s Drivetime commuter radio program the acclaimed author, lecturer and academic, Shafiq Morton, we discuss the current political situation in Libya, the place of ISIS in the Libyan civil war, as well as Libyan social problems of racism and Xenophobia. To listen to the 19 minute interview and to hear me cough and struggle with my cold as I try to explain the complex issues Libya faces to a general audience click here.
While in the past twenty-four hours international media is nearly hysterically focusing on the video release published by Islamic State cells in Libya on Sunday, other potential stumbling blocks lie in the way of negotiations towards the establishment of a national unity government and the resolution of outstanding issues and fractures fuelling the current crisis in Libya. Looking at the events occurred in and around Tobruk over the past week can give us a good insight into one of them.
On Wednesday 11 February the strike proclaimed on Sunday 8 February by local security forces that led to the closure of the port of Hariga (Tobruk) was revoked. The port was immediately re-opened and was expecting to receive an oil tanker already during the course of the same day. The strike in Hariga was engineered by local stakeholders and federalist forces as a reaction against some strong statements made by the Tobruk-based Minister of Interior Omar al-Sunki. Al-Sunki, who is a Misrata native, suggested that the Tobruk-based camp stops supporting Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity and embraces political rapprochement with the city of Misrata. This proposal would have gone against some vital interests and goals of federalists and other local eastern Libya forces in that it would have accelerated their marginalisation and enhanced the leading role of the city of Misrata. It does not come as a surprise then, that on the same day that al-Sunki was sacked by his PM, Abdullah al-Thinni, the strike was revoked and the port re-opened.
However, on Saturday 14 February, a bomb exploded on the oil pipeline connecting the al-Sarir oilfield to Tobruk’s Hariga port. The explosion caused a renewed closure of Hariga’s port and started yet another oil-fire, hampering efforts to fix the damage inflicted that are now set to take even up to three days of work before the normal functioning of the pipeline can be restored.
It seems likely that this sabotage was undertaken by one of the radical Islamist Jihadist groups active in eastern Libya who aim to undercut the legitimacy and financial stability of the Tobruk-based establishment whilst avoiding a full-fledged direct military confrontation outside of urban theatres. It should be noted that whilst bombing attacks on pipelines have been frequently employed by Jihadist groups active in the Sinai Peninsula, this is the first such attack undertaken in Libya.
This bombing and the previous week’s assault on the Mabruk oilfield confirm that radical actors active on the Libyan stage increasingly see oil-related infrastructure (e.g. pipelines, port terminals and even the Corinthia Hotel) as a key target for their hit-and-run tactic aiming to bleed out both national political blocks. In this context, even the achievement of an effective peace agreement between the Tripoli and Tobruk blocks could not guarantee enough security and stability to re-vamp the Libyan ports sector in the short to medium term. Lastly, despite the quick resolution of the ‘al-Sunki crisis’, it is safe to assume that functioning ports in eastern Libya (e.g. Marsa Brega, Tubruq Hariga) remain vulnerable to disruptive actions undertaken by local stakeholders and federalist forces, especially as long as UN-backed negotiations and a process of national political rapprochement are ongoing, thus further weakening the financial position of the country.
Overall, and regardless of the controversies raised by al-Sunki and other HoR members over the validity of the dismissal of the Minister by PM Thinni, looking back at last week’s events in Tobruk, it seems fair to say that Federalist actors have now made it fully clear that they will not allow the Tobruk government to give away their unique control over the oil crescent ports in any negotiations process. How will Thinni and negotiators on both sides find an acceptable way around this remains, unfortunately, to be seen.
On the evening of Sunday 15 February, after a few hours of hype and pre-announcements by Islamic State twitterati, a video entitled “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross” was released by the Islamic State affiliated al-Hayat Media Center. In the video, as already rumored in the past few days, the execution by decapitation of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians kidnapped in Sirte in the month of January was shown amid threats to Egypt and its alleged military and economic backers: “western crusaders”. Whilst no sure elements are available as of yet, analysts point to the possibility that the video was shot in the month of January and its release carefully orchestrated and timed to achieve maximum visibility and impact, as normally happens with “Iraqi” and “Syrian” IS media products.
In the aftermath of the video release, Egypt announced its intention to deliver retribution to those responsible for the killing of the 21 Copts. Strikes over Derna were reported already in the early hours of Monday morning, whilst Egyptian state television broadcasted solemn footage of F-16 taking off in the darkness of night to chase Egypt’s foes. It is worth noting that, after several unconfirmed rumors emerged last summer about Egypt’s involvement in Libya, these strikes represent the first official Egyptian military operation abroad since the time of the first Gulf War. Khalifa Haftar and other members of Operation Dignity were quick to express their solidarity to Egypt and to make clear statements in favor of the Egyptian Army’s decision to carry out airstrikes over Libyan territory. As a matter of fact, the Libyan Air Force affiliated with Operation Dignity announced the closure of Libyan airspace in anticipation of several military operations and warned the population living in Ghariyan, Sabratha, Zawia, Zuwara, Ajilat, Al Mshashya, Ajmal and Misrata to expect attacks. Meanwhile, in Tripoli, the rump GNC and its cabinet continue to be in denial and remain adamant that the IS is not present in Libya. Furthermore, although they admitted that non-authorised armed groups took control of a few administrative buildings in Sirte, they also boasted of an imminent military operation to re-take full control of the city.
At the time of writing this post it was still unclear what implications and repercussions the release of the video showing the decapitation of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians could have on Libya and the broader region. Cairo was quick to retaliate over Ansar al-Shari’a, IS and other Jihadists groups’ positions in the country, and looking back at last week’s sale of 24 Rafales fighter jets from France to Egypt, it is easy to imagine that Sisi and his regional backers bankrolling the acquisition had already contemplated a more active military role for Egypt in the region regardless of Sunday’s event. Therefore, although a “boots on the ground” operation remains highly unlikely, it seems that Egypt sees the beheadings merely as an opportunity to pursue its regional policy, targeting existing bulwarks of Islamist and Jihadist groups in North Africa, without running the risk of being subjected to international condemnation.
From the perspective of Libya, the biggest risk the country is running right now is that of Operation Dignity commanders, and other hardliners within the Tobruk camp, using these events to re-vamp all-out hostilities with rival Libya Dawn forces. Lumping together all groups with a religious undertone and generically labeling them as “terrorists” has proved to be a tragically detrimental strategy in the past months, achieving only an escalation of violence and ideological polarization within the country. Should Haftar and his allies decide to go down this path again, there is a concrete risk that all progresses made in the past few weeks of UN-backed negotiations will be squandered and the situation inside the country brought back to stage one. The warning sent out by Operation Dignity Air Force to Zuwara, Misrata, and other key Libya Dawn constituencies does not come as an encouraging sign.
At the international level pressure is now on also for Italy, France and all other western stakeholders who hinted in the past few weeks at the possibility of a military intervention under a UN mandate. Whilst this was clearly a rhetorical tactic employed to put pressure on both negotiating sides, international stakeholders must now make sure that negotiations continue as before, or possibly with an even heightened sense of urgency. Matteo Renzi’s declaration that “this is no time for military intervention” is an encouraging confirmation that western stakeholders are moving in the right direction. In the end, the establishment of a national unity government, the undertaking of a process of national pacification inclusive of all moderate sides and the pursuit of a Libyan and rule-of-law based solution continue to constitute the only viable strategy to defeat in the long term extremism and other radicalization phenomena. Policies aiming to foster a new Libyan state whilst stopping the advance of the IS in Libya and in the broader southern Mediterranean shore must not be influenced by instinctive reactions to the brutalities displayed yesterday.
A video emerged Sunday evening (15 February) showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who had been kidnapped from Sirte and the surrounding area in recent weeks. The video was released by a Libyan group aligned to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). This barbaric event followed reports on Friday that ISIS fighters had taken control of the state-run radio in Sirte along with large swathes of the city. This Middle East Eye article details the strengthening presence of ISIS-aligned groups around Sirte:
The takeover of two radio stations and a semi-functioning TV station in Sirte is the latest move by the Islamic State in Libya to strengthen its presence on the coastal highway that runs between Tripoli and key oil facilities.
“After Friday prayers, they started preaching on the radio about Islam, saying that Muslims had a duty to go abroad and fight jihad,” Ahmed, a local resident, told Middle East Eye. Statements from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi were also reportedly broadcast over the airwaves. IS members who made sporadic appearances in the town were easily recognised by their long beards and Afghani-style clothing, Ahmed said.
Local authorities had previously denied any IS presence. This week, a spokesperson for Sirte Local Council said he knew nothing about it. When pressed, he said: “No comment.” The IS already controls the eastern town of Derna, and the takeover of media outlets in Sirte is IS’s second major move in the past week. Five days earlier, a convoy of armed vehicles entered the small desert town of Nufaliya, 130 kilometres east of Sirte, and declared it part of the Islamic State.
In response, the Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi announced that ”Egypt reserves the right to respond in a suitable way and time to punish these murderers,” and early on Monday 16 February launched airstrikes against ISIS positions in the eastern jihadist stronghold of Derna, supported by Libyan jets aligned with the Tobruk government. This Al-Jazeera English article gives an overview of the events:
In a statement aired on state television, the military said the attacks were carried out at dawn on Monday. The attacks focused on ISIL camps, training sites and weapons storage areas across Egypt’s border in Libya, where armed groups have thrived amid chaos, the statement said.
“The air strikes hit their targets precisely, and the falcons of our air forces returned safely to their bases,” the military’s statement said. “We affirm that avenging Egyptian blood and retaliating against criminals and killers is a duty we must carry out.”
Libyan jets loyal to the official government also took part in the air strikes, an official said on Monday. “More air strikes will be carried out today and tomorrow in coordination with Egypt,” commander Saqer al-Joroushi told al-Arabiya television.
My latest on AJE giving a brief overview of the way that negotiations in Geneva and Ghadames appear to be affecting the situation on the ground in Libya.
For peace negotiations to successfully halt a conflict, three conditions are usually required: the existence of discrete warring parties, represented at the talks by acknowledged leaders, each of whom possess sufficient clout to enforce any agreed upon peace terms on their supporters. Despite the heroic efforts of international mediators and the courageous confidence building measures embraced by the negotiations’ participants, Libya’s current civil war lacks all three prerequisites for a mediated solution to hold….
A bloc of moderates has actually been formed and more actors are willing to join the talks each week. And yet, it is this momentum for rapprochement which has put significant strain on the fundamental alliances which had previously held together the political and military wings of Dawn and Dignity….Over the next weeks, centrifugal forces within each block are likely to gain in strength, reducing the potential effectiveness of any negotiated bargain. Meanwhile, new tribal, regional, local, and militia stakeholders are likely to emerge demanding to be accommodated or to cause havoc.
To read the whole article click here.
On February 15th, a NY Times Editorial correctly Pointed out the urgent need for increased international attention to the situation in Libya. It wisely noted that if the correct talks fail to produce something meaningful Libya is on the verge of completely fracturing and becoming a suitable home for Islamic State and other non-state jihadi actors.
If the diplomatic effort that is underway doesn’t get traction within weeks, Mr. León said, it might be too late for the international community to make a difference. Libyans who have been fighting since the end of the 2011 civil war must take steps to reconcile and start the arduous process of building a functioning state. Western and regional leaders have limited time to put pressure on them by offering incentives and support for those willing to chart a new course. “Libya is falling apart. Politically, financially, the economic situation is disastrous,” Mr. León said. “I don’t think the country can bear a process of months.” To Read the whole article click here.
This article in the November/December edition of Prime Time Backgammon completes my treatment of exploration of the cube strategies of Lars Trabolt and Slava Pryadkin in their 2013 World Championship finals match. It covers in detail the closing fireworks of that most exciting match while exploring the psychological dimensions of backgammon match play. Read in tandem with the earlier articles, it presents something of a manual for a bold, but weaker player to tackle some of the game’s greatest performers in a high pressure, high stakes long match. You can read the full article by clicking here.
Trailing by a significant margin, Lars had difficulty deviating from his predetermined match strategy of grinding it out (i.e., conservatively doubling and redoubling, while eschewing gammonish volatility). His checker play continued to be better
than Slava’s, but he was not able to really use the cube to his advantage. This was partly the fault of the dice and partly the result of Slava’s counter strategy of seeking to increase volatility…..
For all of you readers who aspire to win the World Championship, Slava gave us a perfect example of how to do so in style: by throwing double fives, scoring 12 points by backgammoning one of the world’s best players. This is certainly a glorious way to win…. Lars, of course, was a perfect gentleman, and within a few minutes was looking over rollouts and discussing with spectators like me if he should have recubed to eight earlier in the game. That is the greatest lesson we can learn from this match: how to handle victory and defeat with equanimity. To read the full article click here.
On Monday 9 February, news broke that Libyan stakeholders and negotiators would be gathering once again in Ghadames for yet another session of UN-backed talks. However, the fact that negotiators will be gathering there for one day only, flying into town in the morning and leaving in the evening, runs the risk of making this whole decision a purely symbolic one, aimed at getting GNC representatives back around the table before ‘real’ talks resume in Geneva over the course of the next few days.
After various rumors circulated for more than a week that efforts and unofficial ‘under the radar’ negotiations had been going on to bring talks back in Libya to Misrata, the Ghadames decision, which ultimately leaves talks in Geneva, feels like a shortcoming. On the one hand, this speaks volumes about the chronic incapacity of either ‘national government’ to grant sufficient security and stability across its controlled territory to find a suitable ‘neutral’ location that could host multiple days of talks. On the other hand, the decision not to bring talks back to Misrata shows that although progress has been made in the past few weeks, we are still far away from a complete rapprochement, let alone from a grand political bargain that could bring together all moderate forces inside the country.
Furthermore, centrifugal forces within each block are gaining in strength, increasing the size of the sword of Damocles hanging over the meaningfulness of these talks. The port of Hariga (Tobruk) was closed on Sunday 8 February as security forces protecting it started a strike. Local stakeholders and federalist forces, disgruntled by the ongoing negotiations and trying to exert pressure on the Tobruk-based political institutions participating in UN-backed talks, likely engineered this strike. As a consequence of this closure, in the coming days the country’s oil output, currently sitting at approximately 300,000bdp, is poised to decrease by 120,000 bdp. Furthermore, tensions between Operation Dignity higher echelons and members of the Thinni’s cabinet have reached new lows, with the Minister of Interior Omar al-Sinki declaring that Haftar should be isolated before he causes the isolation of the whole Tobruk block, whilst the renegade general looks with increasing interest to Derna as a new arena to use for boosting his military and leadership credentials.
Things seem to be going south for the administration based in western Libya as well. After a video, in which the GNC-appointed PM Omar al-Hassi admitted not having any direct control over militias composing the bedrock of Libya Dawn, made the rounds among Libyan users of social media websites last week, radical Islamist groups active in western Libya in general and Sirte’s countryside in particular appear to have taken an extremely assertive stance: raiding oil fields and running armed parades within villages over which they proclaimed their full control. Looking at these developments, the question that all parties and international stakeholders involved in talks should start to quickly tackle is not anymore just that of ‘who will be willing to take part in a national salvtion government’, but rather that of how this institution will actually assert its authority on the whole of the Libyan territory without being hostage to competing militias or failing under the presurre of radical groups.
Chatham House has published a summary of discussions entitled ‘Libya: Armed Politics and Regional Escalation’ that took place during an invitation-only Libya Working Group meeting hosted by the think tank in December 2014. The discussion emphasised that the Libyan conflict is best considered in terms of ‘armed politics’ rather than civil war and focused on the need for more decisive international support to ensure that dialogue stands a chance of success. The main points were as follows:
1. The civil war is set to continue, with extensive human rights violations. The prospects for a negotiated end to the fighting are currently poor.
2. Libya is too important to be allowed to become a failed state at the centre of the Mediterranean area.
3. International mediation to re-establish peace and set up a transition leading to elections is essential but is currently stalled. Western countries’ lack of focus on Libya at this stage is already having negative consequences for regional and European security.
4. The struggle is for power and wealth, situated within a complex web of social, religious, tribal, regional, and ideological ties and identities. Religion is only one among many drivers.
5. Since neither side can defeat the other, an inclusive political approach is required in which both the governments in Tobruk and Tripoli, and their supporting groups, take part.
6. Invigorating the UN-led mediation will be hard but an approach should be tried that entails convening a conference of the parties and their international backers. Such an approach should also involve greater incentives to persuade the parties to join a ceasefire. Dialogue and negotiation should be attempted on terms generally acceptable to the international community – including the possibility of further sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes.
7. Only a national unity government ought to be accorded full international legitimacy and recognition.
8. Intervention from outside the country is making the conflict worse. The EU, US and UN should do more to dissuade the countries that are intervening in the fighting from doing so.
Many thanks to our friends at Industry Arabic for providing this new translation from the Libyan press. Don’t hesitate to contact them should you have any need for high quality Arabic translation.
Erem News – 26 January 2015
An official spokesman for the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) confirms the Guard has worked with Libyan Air Force aircraft to repel the “Operation Dawn” attacks waged by militias against the Sidra Oil Terminal.
Tripoli –Libyan Air Force fighters hit Fajr Libya militia positions in the Bin Jawad region amid clashes at the Sidra Oil Terminal facility between the Oil Facilities Guards and Fajr Libya fighters who were deliberately targeting the port with missiles, several of which fell near oil storage tanks, according to military sources.
The source reported that a warplane struck a convoy of Fajr Libya militias heading towards Sidra, saying that the airstrikes inflicted heavy losses of life and equipment on the militias, as military reinforcements moved into the area.
PFG spokesman Ali Hasi confirmed that the Guard acted in cooperation with the Libyan Air Force to strike the militias whose “Operation Dawn” attacks targeted the Sidra Oil Terminal, and that the operation forced the militias to retreat, with dozens of killed and injured.
The Libyan Army’s Wadi Al-Ahmar operations room announced early this January that the northern Bin Jawad region is a closed military zone and ordered its evacuation “due to the ongoing military operations to uproot armed groups from a region that has become a safe haven for those waging attacks against oil facilities.”
The Bin Jawad region, located between Ras Lanouf on the east and Sirte on the West, has seen mass displacements, with most residents forced from their homes following the arrival of the Fajr Libya militias.
On Monday 2 February, after a few months of relative marginalization, the House of Representatives in Tobruk made the headlines again by ‘shelving’ the lustration law approved by the General National Congress back in May 2013. Conflicting reports have so far emerged as to whether the HoR effectively cancelled the law or merely ‘suspended’ it until a new constitution is approved. To be sure, the HoR fell short of trying to take the more constructive route and amend the text of the law, so as to devise a new balanced version that could be seen as an acceptable compromise by moderates on both sides of the current divide.
As the idea of moving UN-backed talks back to Libya appears to be gaining momentum among stakeholders every passing day, the decision by the HoR to cancel the Political Isolation Law should be seen as a move designed to strengthen the fundamental alliance between the Tobruk-based establishment and federalist forces. In the current climate, speculations as to the stability of this alliance are rampant due to the rapprochement, occurring through the UNSMIL talks, between the Tobruk cabinet and other western Libyan constituencies, some of whom hold agendas which are antithetical to federalist demands. The same unifying goal likely underpinned the decision taken a few days ago by Ali Hibri. The Governor of the Central Bank of Libya aligned with the Tobruk establishment announced in fact the imminent creation of two new main branches in Benghazi and Sebha. This move comes again as an attempt to strengthen the fundamental alliance between Thinni’s cabinet and federalists as well as other local stakeholders active in eastern and southern Libya. This alliance is seen as crucial among politicians in Tobruk, especially at a time when rifts between Thinni’s cabinet and the higher echelons of Operation Dignity are starting to surface more and more clearly.
The Libya Dawn and Misratan-led camp, however, is largely suffering from the same type of internal distress. On Tuesday 3 February, Salah Makhzoum, the deputy president of the rump GNC and one of the four men appointed by the body to attend UN-backed talks resigned from his post, most likely due to pressures received from hardliners among his faction and kin communities in western Libya. Furthermore, Frederic Wehrey writing from Misrata on Foreign Affairs reports largely similar signs of discontent and division within Misratan themselves:
Over the two weeks I spent in Misrata, I witnessed intense debates among local residents, businesspeople, members of the political elites, and militia commanders on whether to participate in the talks. Although some questioned the location, scope, and purpose of the Geneva negotiations—as well as the ability of those attending to make a deal stick—many supported the idea of dialogue in principle.
[...] “Four years of fighting since the fall of Qaddafi; I want to go home,” one young fighter told me. It was a sentiment shared by many Misratans—lawyers, businessmen, and youth activists alike. Misrata’s elected municipal council endorsed a delegation from the city to the UN peace talks, even though the Dawn coalition’s parliament, the General National Congress, had boycotted the first round of negotiations. And Misratan militia commanders told me that the just-ended ceasefire was their unilateral decision, announced in support of the talks. The question now is whether pragmatists will win out over Misrata’s rejectionists and the more radical Islamists within the Dawn government.
Despite the assault on Tuesday 27 January on the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli and, even more importantly, despite the continued fighting ongoing in several parts of the country which ultimately amounts to a failure of previously announced ceasefires, dialogue in Geneva continued throughout the week involving various stakeholders and local representatives. At the start of the week, rather generic but optimistic goals were set for negotiations, especially as multiple reports indicated that a two week timeframe was being self imposed to achieve the formation of a national unity government with the capabilities to impose itself on the territory, if necessary through the support of external peacekeepers. On Thursday, however, a significant concrete breakthrough was achieved with regards to Tawerghans and to their right to return to the city they were forced out from since 2011. UNSMIL’ statement on the matter reports:
In line with the positive environment that prevailed at the meeting, the UN facilitated an agreement between the municipalities of Misrata and Tawergha on the following points:
- Establishment of a committee from the local council of Tawergha and whoever they call upon to help in visiting the prisons in the City of Misrata and to receive assurances about their conditions, and to review with the responsible authorities the charges against them and their legal status.
- The right of the people of Tawergha to return to their land through the establishment of a committee to discuss the mechanism to achieve that on the ground and to remove all obstacles and prepare all the appropriate conditions.
There was agreement that UNSMIL will follow up this process in cooperation with the two sides.
The breakthrough achieved with regards to the Tawergha community is not only encouraging from a humanitarian perspective, but also significant in that it highlights the key role that Misrata can and should now play in favoring negotiations. While the GNC continues to set excessively stringent preconditions to join talks and Haftar sends out ambiguous messages regarding its future ambitions in Libya, as talks return to Libya, key communities and stakeholders in both blocks should do everything possible to preserve the positive momentum developed in Geneva and prevent other elites and groups from derailing the ongoing rapprochement.
Misrata has now more than ever a strong incentive to act as peace-promoter also due to the economic hardships and stagnation that are slowly but surely engulfing the city as a result of the protracted crisis marring the country. This is due in part directly as a result of the security threat hanging over the city from Operation Dignity’s air force and in part as a result of the broader collapse of the Libyan oil sector and economy. Even Misrata’s steel factory is now operating to a mere third of its full capacity, due to lack of liquefied gas supplies coming in from Sirte and to the lack of vessels docking in the city’s port to pick up finished products for fear of airstrikes.
Lastly, a very worrying but interesting read for all those interestedin Libya is represented by Amnesty International’s recent report on abuses and possible war crimes being carried out in Benghazi since the start of Operation Dignity in May 2014. The report documents crimes committed by both rival sides active in the city. Interestingly, an aspect highlighted by this report, but so far underreported in media documenting the fight for Benghazi is the degree of revenge attacks carried out on families of Islamists believed to be aligned with Ansar al-Shari’a, the Muslim Brotherhood and other likeminded organisations.
Amnesty International has received reports that scores of family homes, shops and businesses of perceived Islamists, including leaders, current and former members of armed groups affiliated with the SCBR -possibly as many as one hundred in the al-Salmani neighbourhood alone- have been attacked with explosives or direct fire, ransacked, set on fire or demolished with bulldozers. Civilian property belonging to individuals of Misratah origin have also been targeted. Such attacks have been reportedly carried out by “neighbourhood youths” aligned with Operation Dignity forces, reportedly following incitement on social networking sites such as Facebook.
It appears that, in a few cases, houses came under attack that may have been used for military purposes, including for storing ammunition or as a base for launching military attacks, and would therefore (temporarily) lose their immunity from attack under international humanitarian law. However, Amnesty International has gathered evidence showing that in most cases such attacks have been carried out against protected civilian homes of perceived Islamists or members of groups affiliated with SCBR merely in retaliation for their political activities, association to individuals involved in the fighting or origin.
The complete Amnesty’s “Benghazi’s Descent into Chaos’ report can be found here.
It is my pleasure to invite you to a panel discussion in LONDON on February 9th from 1100-1300 about the current situation in Libya, exploring possibilities for both further escalation and political reconciliation, analysing future security challenges, and associated effects upon regional and European security in the near to medium term.
The discussion will be chaired by Jason Pack, President and Founder of Libya-Analysis and confirmed panellists include:
You may register and find out more details by clicking here.
Gunmen on 27 January detonated car bombs outside the Corinthia Hotel in central Tripoli then entered the hotel firing at staff and guests. One of the attackers reportedly blew himself up by detonating an explosive vest. Three security guards and five foreigners were reportedly killed, including an American and a Frenchman. Social media reports suggest the attack was carried out by supporters of Islamic State in retaliation for the death of Anas al-Libi in the US, although this remains unverified. Mohamed Eljarh discusses the implications of this attack in this article for Foreign Policy
The Islamic State has become more visible in western and southern Libya in recent weeks after months of fierce fighting in the eastern city of Benghazi, where it has faced troops led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar. Militant Islamist groups in the east are facing increasing pressure from the national army and security apparatus, which is loyal to the internationally recognized government in Tobruk. (Most of the country’s Islamist militias are fighting on the side of the rival, Tripoli-based government — whose head, Omar al-Hassi, is said to have been a guest in the Corinthia Hotel at the time of the attack.) The army has successfully ratcheted up the pressure on militant groups in the east by cutting off their supplies and surrounding the areas in which they operate. The success of these operations has likely pushed many Islamic State militants and others to shift to other areas of the country.
The attack in Tripoli today, Jan. 27, underlines the huge threat from extremist groups throughout Libya. As Libyan delegations meet in Geneva for a second round of internationally mediated talks in a bid to find a political settlement to end the ongoing crisis in Libya, terrorist groups such as the Islamic State continue to destabilize the situation, recently even capturing the eastern city of Derna. And while militias continue to battle each other west of Tripoli, Islamic State fighters have managed to strike at the heart of the capital with car bombs and suicide bombers, fueling the cycle of destabilization.
This attack marks a shocking escalation in violence as foreigners are brought into the conflict’s firing line. The Wall Street Journal outlines the international community’s response to the attack within Libya:
International companies have gone to a heightened state of alert, said a Libyan manager working for a foreign joint venture in Tripoli. “We were asked to vacate our offices and told that they will be closed until Sunday,” the manager said.
The Corinthia has long hosted journalists and temporary offices for international organizations, including meetings of the U.N. support mission in Libya.
A joint statement on Libya was today issued by the Governments of the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, and the United Kingdom condemning the attack on the Corinthia and reaffirming support for the UN’s ongoing dialogue efforts. This interesting BBC report on the attack and what life is like living under Libya’s militias is also worth a look.
Last Friday it was confirmed that UN-backed negotiations in Geneva will resume during the current week, after the vast majority of parties invited agreed to this. The GNC remains the only dissonant voice in this phase as it first announced that it would take part in negotiations if they were held inside Libya, and then pulled out altogether in response to Operation Dignity’s conquest of Benghazi’s branch of the Libyan Central Bank. UNSMIL Chief Bernardino Leon confirmed that political representatives from Libya’s main blocks will resume negotiations on Monday 26 January and will be joined by influential municipalities’ representatives on Wednesday 28 and armed militias on Friday 30 January. The main goals behind these talks remain those outlined in the past few weeks: the formation of a national unity government, the proclamation of a general ceasefire and the adoption of a new constitution.
Although ceasefires were unilaterally declared more than a week ago by all the major military players in the country, including Libya Dawn, Operation Shuruq and Operation Dignity, events occurred on the ground in the past few days confirmed once again that Libyan blocks are very heterogeneous in their compositions. In fact, several armed clashes and confrontations were registered throughout western Libya and the ‘Oil Crescent’ region in a clear indication that hardline groups are present within both blocks and are actively trying undermine the efforts of negotiators in Geneva. In light of this, it is worth asking how negotiations can ever be successful if several militias and armed groups remain adamantly unwilling to demobilize inside the country. The answer was provided by UNSMIL Chief Bernardino Leon in a very interesting interview with the Financial Times. Leon openly stated that the possibility of a peacekeeping, monitoring force being sent to Libya is currently being explored, as previously hinted by Italy’s PM Matteo Renzi.
“In this dialogue our main target is to address a unity government and second of all is stabilisation, which will require a ceasefire and weapons control,” he told the Financial Times this week in his first extensive print interview since taking over as special envoy in September. “So the UN will need to have monitors on all ports, airports and all country entrances. We will require a timetable from all militias to leave cities, airports and all vital facilities, and this will require international monitoring.”
Mr León, speaking from Tunisia, said he has already discussed the possibility of peacekeepers with officials from the US, UK, France and other countries. He said the presence of monitors would have to be supported by all sides in Libya. Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said this month that he would consider dispatching peacekeepers to Libya, a former Italian colony.
Even more worryingly, in the interview Leon openly confirms that in UNSMIL’s own assessment the operational capabilities and strength of radical Islamist groups akin to the Islamic State are growing significantly, not only in traditional hotspots throughout eastern Libya, but also in other parts of the country. This seems consistent with the growing number of reports describing ambushes and surprise attacks on army outposts in the southern part of the country and high profile attacks in Tripoli as well as with the recent announcement that Ansar al-Shari’a and other radical groups established a ‘Shoura Council of Revolutionaries’ in Beida, the base of al-Thinni’s government, following the blueprint of Benghazi’s and Derna’s shoura councils in a bid to fight Operation Dignity supporters present in the city and change its overall alliance in this crisis. In conclusion, the picture on the ground in Libya continues to be more complex than it is portrayed to be by most of the media, but will this be the week we finally see some definitive improvements and semplification at the political level at least?
Does your organisation need to understand what is happening in Libya and how this will affect current or future investments?
If the answer is yes then you need the services of Libya-Analysis ® (www.libya-analysis.com). Libya-Analysis ® is a consultancy company focusing solely on Libya and is therefore uniquely placed to provide the knowledge and understanding your organisation needs. Our bespoke Weekly Report is a comprehensive subscription product that monitors and analyses developments in Libya. Our reports are compiled by highly-regarded experts, analysts and academics who work extensively on Libya across a variety of sectors, and are able to bring insight and clarity to an increasingly complex situation
To find out more about our bespoke product, or to register for a trial subscription, please contact email@example.com.
All parties know that these talks are the last chance for a nonmilitary solution. If dialogue fails, the country will be de facto partitioned and the war over resources will resume with increased intensity. If that happens, Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, has threatened to push for a peacekeeping force.
If the international community wishes to give both sides the right incentives to reach a lasting deal, Western democracies must reconsider the logic behind their policies. The Nov. 6, 2014, ruling by the Tripoli-based Libyan Supreme Court provides the perfect pretext. It stated that the constitutional amendment giving rise to the House of Representatives was procedurally invalid, that the June 2014 election should never have happened, and that consequently the ensuing body cannot be vested with sovereignty.
Western nations have barely responded — meekly pointing out that they are studying the decision and that the court’s ruling was made under duress. But Islamist militia pressure on the court does not necessarily invalidate its carefully worded opinion, which states that neither the House, nor its opponents, nor the expired Parliament, are to be considered Libya’s sovereign authority.
Western governments are reluctant to acknowledge the implications of the Supreme Court ruling because many of them are secretly cheering for the Tobruk faction to either reconquer the country or dominate a national unity government. After all, the Tobruk government claims to be fighting Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi — the very same group that killed the American ambassador, Christopher Stevens, in 2012.
I conclude that:
The door is still open for Western nations to formally withdraw their recognition of the House of Representatives in light of the Supreme Court decision. Because the Islamist-aligned “government” in Tripoli is fracturing by the day and possesses an even more tenuous claim to legitimacy than its rival, such a move would leave Libya without any sovereign authority.
Western nations should make clear that they will not recognize any sovereign authority if negotiations fail to produce a national unity government committed to completing the constitutional process. They should also take strong steps to prevent regional interference while simultaneously inviting both sides’ external patrons to the table.
I also received these comments from Fergal Hatchell in response to my NYT article. Fergal spent time working in Misrata last year with both businessmen and militiamen alike, all of whom he says were extremely decent to him.
It was my experience that the bulk of Misratans love their families and wanted only to live in peace. However, now they want vengeance, as you rightly state. I’m in constant contact with lots of friends there and I detect this in what they say.If the UN, or somebody, doesn’t do what you say i.e. stop recognising Tobruk and give more leverage to the Supreme Court’s decision, we are only prolonging the agony on the Libyan people. Hopefully, your vision of the future for Libya will be seen by someone in authority. It’s the only lasting solution.
On Friday 16 January Libya Dawn and Operation Shuruq announced a general ceasefire with immediate effect, promising to resort to the use of weapons only for defensive purposes if attacked by ‘other parties’. This development came at the end of a promising week where Libya’s rival sides finally gathered in Geneva for a second round of UN-backed negotiations following those held in Ghadames in September. Talks are set to resume again next week and are scheduled to host not only political representatives from the two national-level blocks, but also military ones as well as municipalities, civil society representatives and tribal and local leaders. At the end of this week’s negotiations, in a rather optimistic and positive atmosphere, it was announced that delegates had agreed to a number of confidence-building measures to be taken, including:
- Ensuring the release of those detained illegally;
- Ensuring the immediate release of those abducted and the provision of full information on the missing to their families;
- Addressing the situation of the refugees inside and outside the country, and the internally displaced, in particular those affected by the latest clashes;
- Enabling humanitarian aid to reach affected areas in coordination with international organisations and civil society institutions, including medical, educational, life-sustaining and public services, with special attention to the most affected regions and areas;
- Ensuring an end to media campaigns that provoke division. Political, religious and media messages should be directed to promote reconciliation, tolerance and national unity;
- The reopening of airports and ports in the country, of airspace especially with neighboring countries, the facilitating of aviation and shipping routes as well as land transportation throughout the country and an end to assaults on vital installations (such as oil, gas and electrical facilities);
- Ensuring the freedom of movement for Libyans throughout the county;
- The payment of salaries to all those who have a right to them without discrimination on any basis ;
- Appropriate mechanisms to ensure the import the necessary foodstuffs and supplies
After Monday’s last-minute decision by the GNC to boycott the first round of upcoming talks in Geneva, the declaration of a unilateral general ceasefire by Libya Dawn and Operation Shuruq seems to suggest that the higher military echelons of the Tripoli establishment caved in to pressure and answered the call coming from several local municipalities, formally aligned with the GNC administration, which came out throughout the past week with strong statements of support for participation in the dialogue initiative. Among them, it is worth specifying, were those of Misrata and Tripoli, whose declarations prompted an ‘order’ by the al-Hassi government that local administrations do not meddle in the national and international dialogue process. The renewed threat of sanctions arising from Western institutions and international organisations is also likely to have encouraged the decision made by Libya Dawn and Operation Shuruq. It remains now to be seen, however, whether this and Abu Sahmain’s recent trip to Turkey will be enough to persuade the GNC to attend next week’s negotiations, as hoped by UNSMIL Chief Bernardino Leon, or if it will remain anchored to its hardline stance.
Regardless of what decision the rump GNC will take, it is and still will be too early to tell if the tide has turned in Libya. Despite some morale-boosting progress, the situation on the ground remains extremely dire and most, if not all, of the problems the country faced since the aftermath of the 2011 Revolution remain unaddressed and without a(n easy) solution. Most importantly, the tensions and divisions currently emerging in the Libya Dawn camp could very well be replicated in the Tobruk-establishment camp if federalist forces or other local stakeholders refuse the outcome of negotiations, potentially leading up to an even more fractured and unstable situation. Reports are starting to emerge that already within the Libya Dawn camp the declaration of a ceasefire has been rejected by several militias and military commanders. As a matter of fact, although in the past few months discussions around opposing blocks in Libya tended to present them in monolithic ways, we should always be aware that reality on the ground is probably closer to the contrary. Blocks continue to be characterised by a highly fractious and fluid nature that could very well manifest itself through the establishment of new alliances and broad re-alignments in light of the Geneva talks and the pressure they are exerting on the country’s leaders.
Special thanks to our friends at Industry Arabic, the leader in Arabic translation services, for these recent translations from the Libyan press:
Committee Formed to Stop Goods Seizure at Port of Benghazi
Originally appeared in: Al-Shorouk
Tripoli – Jan. 10 2015
The Benghazi Municipal Council has agreed with the Benghazi Customs and Port Authority to form an emergency committee to end the seizure of goods building up in the port’s depot, which has been closed amid armed clashes.
The council’s media office director, Maaz al-Shabli, in a press statement last night said that municipal head Omar Abdullah al-Bara’si, along with council members, met with the director of the Customs Authority, General Ramadan Jagrim, and the designated director of the port, Anwar al-Feitouri, to discuss the goods that have accumulated in the port. They also looked at ways of getting foodstuffs and medicines out from the Jalyana and Hadhira Ganfouda port.
Al-Shabli explained that those present agreed to form an emergency committee at the Port of Benghazi tasked with transporting goods and providing protection to them. This committee is to be in communication with the Benghazi municipality.
The city of Benghazi has witnessed violent fighting between Libyan Army forces and the Shura Council of Benghazi revolutionaries, which has led to the death and wounding of dozens.
Libyan Air Force cautions against using Misrata airport and seaport
Originally appeared in: Worldakhbar.com
Jan. 7 2015
A Libyan official announced on Wednesday that the Libyan military has cautioned against the use of the Misrata airport and seaport as they are targeted by the Libyan Air Force.
Major Mohammed al-Hijazi, official spokesperson for Operation Dignity led by General Khalifa Haftar, renewed the warning of the army’s chief of staff and the leadership of Operation Dignity to all who use the Misrata airport and seaport, stating that they have become direct targets of the Libyan Air Force. Libyan Air Force planes are closely following movements in the seaport and airport, particularly since the addition of modern, high-maneuvering and long-range Sukhoi Su-22 planes. Any sea or air units that enter into these areas will be targeted by the Libyan Air Force.
In press statements made this evening, al-Hijazi said that “the Misrata air and sea ports have become a curse on the Libyan people as they have begun to facilitate terrorism and extremism in all its forms, including attracting weapons and terrorists that are exported to all other Libyan cities. This is especially the case for Benghazi where the Libyan army now controls 95% of the city, except for the Souq al-Hout and al-Leithy al-Qadim districts.” On measures being taken by the National Libyan Army to free the city of Derna from extremist terrorist gangs, al-Hijazi confirmed that Derna is under full siege by army units, especially in Ain Mara and Sidi Khaled. He also confirmed that the army is waiting for orders to begin the battle to liberate Derna and rid it of extremist terrorist groups.
In other developments, Turkish Airlines announced that it has ceased all flights to Libyan airports because of the deterioration of the security situation in Libya.
The company halted all flights to Misrata on Monday and said on Tuesday that it would not continue flights to Tripoli, Benghazi, and Sabha, which were stations for Turkish planes.
Turkish Airlines had previously stopped its flights to Tripoli, Benghazi, and Sabha, and limited its flights to Misrata, the third largest Libyan city located 200 km northwest of Tripoli.
A Turkish Airlines spokesperson said: “We have halted all flights to Misrata until further notice for operational reasons,” adding that “Turkish Airlines currently no longer provides any flights to Libya.”
An official from the Misrata International airport said, “Turkish Airlines has notified us that it has temporarily stopped its flights to the airport” because of the Libyan Air Force air raids targeting the airport during the past few days, according to media sources.
The Libyan Air Force conducted an air raid last week on military targets in the city of Misrata, including the airport and the seaport that were being used by Fajr Libya militias to access weapons supplies, according to Libyan military sources.
The Libyan government has accused Turkey of supporting the militias that have taken control of Tripoli, and that primarily come through the coastal city of Misrata.
On Saturday 10 January, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya finally announced that a second round of UN-sponsored negotiations between rival Libyan blocks would be held in Geneva during the week commencing on Monday 12 January. This development comes after a first round of inconclusive, if not abortive, talks held in September in the city of Ghat and after weeks and weeks of postponements and delays caused by both sides’ inability to compromise over any talks-related issue (from the negotiations’ location up until who participants should be).
The achievement of this was possible thanks to Bernardino Leon’s efforts who, on Friday alone, met once again in both Tobruk and Tripoli with all political and military stakeholders, including an unprecedented meeting with Operation Dignity’s Chief Khalifa Haftar. The agenda agreed upon for the talks is very ambitious. If anything out of discussions regarding the formation of a national salvation government, inclusive of all sides, and the implementation of ceasefire agreements turns out to be successful, Libyans could and should finally feel optimistic again.
On the other hand, a failure of this round of talks would spell disaster for Libya. As stated by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini on Saturday, these talks represent probably Libya’s last chance to avoid the complete collapse of its state. Despite optimistic plans being devised by the Tripoli and Tobruk governments, especially at the military level, a very interesting article by Ulf Laessing for Reuters paints a dramatic, if not terrifying, picture of the state of the economy and finances in Libya:
Neither side — the internationally-recognized government in the east and a rival outfit which seized Tripoli in summer — has prepared a budget for 2015. Both seem determined to defeat each other on the battlefield, with oil facilities, ports and steel plants their targets.
The turmoil has cut the value of Libya’s currency by 30 percent against the dollar on the black market as oil exports are the only means of funding the budget and an annual import bill of $30 billion. An employee at a state bank in Tripoli said the central bank had stopped making dollars available months ago.
Worse is to come. Husni Bey, head of one of Libya’s biggest private firms, said the central bank might have to devalue the dinar by 50 percent to offset the loss of oil revenues and pay public salaries. Libya had a budget deficit of around $15 billion at the end of November, the bank said, before oil output fell by half.
The picture described above is so bleak that analysts focusing on Libya are starting to hope that, despite the rhetoric still being employed by both sides on the public stage, rival blocks will finally come to their senses and take Geneva’s talks as an opportunity to defuse the crisis. If they won’t do it, future generations of Libyans should held them accountable for what could go down in history as the de facto suicide of a nation.
Lastly, another question worth asking at this stage is what, if any, this week’s events in Paris will have over France’ stances towards Libya. Already last week, President Hollande and Defence Minister Le Drian had articulated through their statements very strong positions, confirming France’s great concern at the growing levels of lawlessness allowing for large swaths of Libya’s territory to be used as a terrorists’ safe haven. Although the French public’s response to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo has been, so far, mostly orderly and no calls for military actions overseas have been made, both Libyan blocks should keep in mind the growing odds that European countries will finally pull the trigger and push for a UN-backed intervention under the guise of a peacekeeping mission if no progress are made.
As clashes between Libya’s two rival power centres intensify and Bernardino Leon’s mediation efforts look increasingly unlikely to succeed, concerns are growing among the international community that terror groups will take advantage of this chaos to strengthen their presence in Libya. This could have a devastating and destabilizing effect not only on the Sahel region but also on Europe. Read my contributions on this topic at Voice of America news, here and here.
Jason Pack, president of consultancy Libya-Analysis.Com, said Libya has become the major source of destabilization in the region.
“Libya is a huge exporter of terror, arms and illegal migrants to Europe,” Pack said. “It is a force for destabilization in the Sahel region in north Africa, in the southern Mediterranean and the Middle East.”
Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are supporting the Tobruk government militarily and have carried out airstrikes on Islamist militant positions, Pack said.
“This is an unwinnable conflict between the Tobruk government and the Tripoli government,” he said. “Fueling in more arms on one side or another is going to drive to the country more towards chaos.”
For any Arabic speakers, see also this clip of myself and Mohammed Buisier on the ‘Free Hour Show’ discussing the postponement of UN-mediated dialogue between Tobruk and Tripoli in light of the worsening political and security division between the forces in this conflict.
The second round of UN-sponsored negotiations scheduled for Monday 5 January has been postponed once again due to lack of agreement over what could be the appropriate location for them. Contrary to rumors circulating last week, it appears now that both sides are willing to carry out negotiations only within Libya. On an ecnouraging note, speaking from Cairo, HoR President Ageela Salah made some interesting remarks with regards to the impossibility of pursuing a military solution to solve this crisis and about the need to pursue dialogue. Although these statements will probably remain only on paper, they do appear after a week packed with rumors of growing tension between HoR members and the higher echelons of Operation Dignity over the management of the current crisis. In light of rapproachement maneuvers being carried out in Qatar by the HoR-affiliated Libya Minister of Foreign Affairs, these statements could even be harbingers of significant changes and developments within the Tubruq-based block.
The situation in the country, however, continues to be highly unstable and volatile. On Sunday, a jet believed to belong to air forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity attacked a Greek-owned tanker that was approaching the port of Derna. Although the tanker ‘Araevo’ was affiliated with the NOC and had been travelling for years between Marsa-Brega’s and Derna’s ports, its behavior was deemed ‘suspicious’ by Operation Dignity forces that attacked it, causing the death of two crew members and prompting a strong reaction from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Whilst the ‘collateral damage’ caused by this attack might end up being considered ‘minimal’ in the bigger picture, and it certainly does not come as a surprise to those monitoring developments in the ports sector, it nonetheless shows the disruptive potential that prolonged instability in Libya might have on both the Sahel and the Mediterranean basin. In regard to this, during the past few days growing frustration for the lack of significant progress on the negotiations front led a number of countries neighboring Libya to call for an external intervention to stop the fighting and disband rival militias. While not openly speaking of intervention, a similar message was conveyed also by the French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to troops stationed in Niger. However, on Monday, French President Francois Hollande ruled out the possibility of a French-led military intervention in the country, underlining that this could happen only in the framework of an operation led by larger international organisations. Nonetheless, the statements made by Hollande reported below leave little doubt as to the intentions of French forces to adopt an approach based on drone-enforced surveillance and targeted strikes similar to that employed by the US in other regions of the greater Middle East marred by lawlessness and by the presence of radical militants (e.g. Yemen, Pakistan).
“We are making sure to contain the terrorism that took refuge there, in southern Libya. But France will not intervene in Libya because it’s up to the international community to take its responsibility,” Hollande said Monday on France-Inter radio. While he ruled out unilateral intervention inside Libya, he said French forces will strike Islamic extremists “every time they leave these places where they are hiding.”
To do that, France is setting up a military base in northern Niger, 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the lawless Libyan border region. About 200 troops are deployed in the desert outpost at Madama. French and U.S. drones are already operating out of Niger’s capital, Niamey.
If you are Washington, DC based I suggest you attend “ Libya in 2015: The Scramble for Oil and Scenarios for Transition” an event at the Middle East Institute on 18th and Massachusetts that I will be speaking at along with Karim Mezran and David Mack. It on Wednesday January 7 at noon. You can RSVP by clicking here.
There seems to be no end for the spiral of senseless violence engulfing Libya. Last week, Operation Shuruq forces assaulted Sidra’s oil terminal with speedboats equipped with rockets. The attack was repelled by Operation Dignity and federalist forces entrenched in the port, but ultimately set on fire one of Sidra’s nineteen oil tanks. The fire is still out of control of fire-fighters and is esteemed to have cost the country already 1.8 million barrels of crude. In retaliation for this attack, on Sunday 28 December Operation Dignity air forces carried out, for the first time since the start of this crisis, multiple airstrikes over Misrata, targeting the city’s airport, aviation academy, maritime port and steel factories. Although no casualties were reported and no significant damage was inflicted on infrastructure in the city, the repetition in the future of such attacks should be considered likely as long as Operation Shuruq is ongoing. Most importantly, rhe extension of fighting to Misrata and the adoption of what are perceived as ‘collective punishment’ tactics on both sides could very well mark the start of a more intense and widespread phase of military confrontation characterised by a significantly larger mobilisation leading Libya back into a full blown civil war.
The present week, unfortunately, started off to the same tune. On Tuesday 30 December, a car bomb was detonated outside the Tobruk hotel hosting the House of Representatives. This was possibly the result of a suicide attack, but details about the incident are still scant and emerging in contradictory ways; a good indication of the lack of governmental capacities and efficient security apparatuses marring both the Tubruq and Tripoli governments.
Last week, Bernardino Leon confirmed that both sides agreed, yet again, to start a second round of negotiations on Monday 5 January. The exact location for negotiations is still not know and Leon suggested to find a location outside of Libya due to diverging views as to where these should be held inside the country. Whilst the UNSMIL Chief is surely working hard to bring all Libyan sides around the negotiation table, with the exception of the UN-designated terrorist organization of Ansar al-Shari’a, one is left but wondering what will it take for Libya’s Western partners to step up their engagement and challenge the trends and forces currently pushing Libya down the same route of countries like Syria and Somalia. The endless threat of imposing ‘sanctions’ on those responsible for undermining diaogue initiatives have been repeated ad nauseam for the past three months and, at this stage, need to be actioned as soon as possible. As the country’s oil output is shrinking back to pre-July levels and the price of oil on the international market plummeted today to a five-year low, it seems that is now or never for both of the failing Libyan establishments to receive a harsh reality check about the country’s overall status and their delusional tactics.
After the start on Saturday 13 December of Operation Shuruq, a new frontline between Libya’s two rival blocks has been opened. This has engulfed into battle the so-called ‘Oil Crescent’, a pivotal Libyan region home to key oil infrastructure that is currently under control of federalist forces loyal to Ibrahim Jadhran. After getting as close as half a kilometer from Sidra’s oil terminal on Sunday 14 December, Misratan troops belonging to Operation Shuruq have now retreated to an area located three kilometers west of Sidra’s main oil port. At the same time, heavy fighting continues to involve the strategic town of Ben Jawad, located thirty kilometers west of Sidra along the coastline.
Operation Shuruq maintains that its retreat from Sidra was purely tactical and aimed at avoiding the bombing of oil infrastructure at the hands of Operation Dignity air forces. During fighting throughout last weekend, Operation Dignity has in fact demonstrated to posses an exceptional tactical advantage thanks to its air force. The relative ease with which the advancement of a 300-vehicles strong Misratan column was initially halted by Operation Dignity was reminiscent of the events of the 2011 Revolution, when NATO air forces acted de facto as anti-Qadhafi rebels’ tactical support units.
The importance of air force units in this battle is further confirmed by various reports indicating that Libya Dawn is actively trying to convert some airplanes in its possession in warplanes. This move should mostly be interpreted as an attempt by the Misratan military wing to increase its deterrence power, but also as a signal that Libya Dawn’s external patrons have drawn a line at the moment with regards to their involvement in Libya. Nonetheless, these attempts, as well as the broader Operation Shuruq, are likely to further escalate the sense of urgency characterizing Operation Dignity’s camp in this phase. With heavy fighting continuing not only in the oil crescent, but also around the key strategic areas of Benghazi’s maritime port and Ras Jdeir overland border crossing, the Tubruq-based establishment is likely to feel that this phase of the crisis represents its highest point since last summer’s HoR elections and could be thus inclined to approach it with a ‘now-or-never’ mindset. The illusory hope of solving the crisis through military means is also likely to continue emboldening the Tubruq camp enough to disregard the latest offer of negotiation, albeit extremely tepid, that came from the GNC on Wednesday 17 December through its acceptance of participating in a second round of UN-sponsored negotiations.
Regardeless of this, the UNSMIL mission has made some optimistic remarks whilst discussing recent events in Libya. Looking at this we cannot help but wonder wheter substantial progresses are being made behind closed doors at talks held in Cairo between Misratan and Cyrenaican representatives, which would justify optimism, or if this is just yet another attempt at building favourable momentum through outside pressure.
“The move by the parties to identify their respective delegations to the talks is a step in the right direction,” UNSMIL said in a statement about the dialogue. “In agreeing to take part in this dialogue, all the parties have clearly signalled their determination to spare no effort towards safeguarding Libya’s political transition and forging ahead with building a modern democratic state based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.”
To commemorate the four year anniversary of the start of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, I wrote an op-ed for Middle East Eye with Brian Klass seeking to explain why most of the ‘revolutions’ have failed, while Tunisia has been a striking success. By contrasting developments in Tunisia and Libya, we are treating the relevant topic of how banning former regime members from positions of power is deeply counterproductive and one of the primary reasons the Arab Spring has gone off track.
Four years ago, today, a young Tunisian vegetable vendor lit himself on fire in protest of life under a dictator supported by the West. He also lit a fire across the region, sparking what became known as the Arab Spring – a grassroots, anti-autocratic movement. However, the movement’s protagonists lacked a vision of what they wanted to build in place of the toppled dictators. Amidst the euphoria of dramatic political change, many actors simply sought to purge all vestiges of the former regimes. That strategy has largely failed and the Arab Spring has withered into a bleak Arab Winter….
The United States is surprisingly implicated in these ideological battles. Prior to the Arab Spring, America had a checkered record when it came to promoting democracy in the Middle East. While preaching democracy, the US sold billions of dollars’ worth of arms to repressive dictators, including Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak. So, when the Arab Spring began, President Obama found himself in the uncomfortable position of celebrating attempts at democratisation born in the death throes of regimes the country previously supported. …
Looking back, the trajectory of the Arab Spring offers an enigma to Western policy makers and aspiring democrats: to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water, even revolutionary movements aiming for democracy must forge alliances with reformist elements of toppled dictatorships. Eventually the Assad regime will fall, and Western policymakers will be presented with an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned. To read the whole article click here.
Fighting continues around the key cities of Ras Lanuf and Sidra after the start on Saturday of an offensive by the Libya Dawn camp dubbed ‘Operation Sunrise for the Liberation of Oil Ports‘. The operation is aimed at dislodging federalist and Tubruq-aligned forces from key oil sites in Eastern Libya and the Tripoli-based establishment maintains it is legitimated by a 2013 GNC-issued order to liberate the then federalist-blockaded ports. On Saturday, Libya Dawn forces were repelled for the most part by Operation Dignity airstrikes targeting them around the town of Bin Jawad, an urban centre located approximately 30 kilometres to the West of Sidra on the costal road. On Sunday, however, fighting involved ground forces on both sides and engulfed oil terminal facilities as well. In particular, reports emerged of Grad rockets being fired towards Sidra oil port while fighters from Operation Sunrise arrived at one point within half kilometer from it before being repelled by further airstrikes. As a result of this, Sidra’s oil port shut down its operations. And even though Ras Lanuf is reportedly still functioning, the National Oil Corporation has already declared force majeure over both sites. Nonetheless, even though Ras Lanuf and Sidra have a capacity of approximately 550,000bpd, the global oil market remained unresponsive to these events as the price of crude continued its steady decrease going below the $60 per barrel mark.
The above described events, however, are having and will certainly continue to have concrete effects in Libya. Firstly, the closing of Sidra’s and Ras Lanuf’s oil terminals represents a major setback for the country’s recovering oil sector and, more broadly, for the already tight annual income budget. Secondly, the attack over oil terminals in Sidra and Ras Lanuf represents the most serious step taken by either side in the battle for control of the oil and financial sectors. This could easily lead to an even more intense conflict in the short to medium term, especially as attacks over Sidra and Ras Lanuf could be perceived by tribes and cities in Eastern Libya as an aggression over Cyrenaica by Western Libya forces. As a matter of facts, reports started already surfacing indicating that some tribes which had so far maintained a nuanced or cautious position are now throwing their weight behind Operation Dignity and its aims. Even more worryingly, on Sunday night Saqr al-Jarushi, the Head of Libya’s air forces aligned with Operation Dignity, threatened to retaliate attacks from Operation Sunrise with airstrikes over key infrastructure and production sites in Misrata. It is therefore all the more crucial that the international community acts swiftly to de-incentivize fighting and avoid further escalation, if necessary by imposing an embargo over Libyan oil so as to devoid the battle for oil infrastructure of its dangerous short term value.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Derna-based militias and armed groups, including the dominant Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade and the infamous Shura Council of the Islamic Youth of Derna, formed a new umbrella group called the ‘Shura Council of the Mujahideen of Derna and Surroundings’. The establishment of this group follows the model of the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council and aims at coordinating military forces in the region of Derna in light of a highly anticipated attack over the town that Operation Dignity forces are expected to carry out in the imminent future. The aim of this attack would of course be that of dislodging radical Islamist groups entrenched in town so as to return it under (Tubruq’s) government control. Last Saturday, Operation Dignity forces carried out their first ground attack on a military convoy patrolling roads in proximity of Derna since the start of the operation in May 2014. This attack most likely signals the start of a new phase in Haftar’s military plan aimed at re-taking what is increasingly portrayed as a global hub and training hotspot for international Jihadists on their way to Syria and Iraq.
On Saturday 13 December, air forces belonging to Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity attacked military forces and convoys of the Misratan-led Libya Dawn camp that were heading towards the oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Sidra. The Misratan moves comes after weeks of talking about pushing Eastward to challenge the HoR and the Federalists control of these key locations.It is likely that a number of factors fed into the decision of Libya Dawn to send out its troop at this particular stage, allegedly under a mandate received from the rump GNC active in Tripoli. Firstly, Thinni’s cabinet recently took concrete steps to establish a new headquarters and new bank accounts for the National Oil Corporation in a bid to divert all international payments for Libyan oil directly under the control of the Tubruq-based establishment. Secondly, on Monday 8 December Libya’s Central Bank announced that Libya’s income budget decreased by two thirds, from last year’s $45 billion to the current $15 billion. Both sides in Libya rely heavily on their ability to hand out cash payments and subsidies to maintain their legitimacy and internal standing. It is thus likely that the al-Hassi cabinet and broad Libya Dawn camp saw these two developments as potentially leading to their collapse in the medium to long term and decided to try removing oilfields and oil terminals from Tubruq’s control to increase their financial resilience in the short term and win the battle against the HoR in the long-term. Lastly, an increasing number of media reports indicate a stabilisation of the security situation in most of Benghazi, which is now largely under control of Operation Dignity troops. In this sense, Saturday’s attack on Sidra and Ras Lanuf can also be seen as an attempt to weaken the entrenchment of Operation Dignity troops in Benghazi by opening a number of new fronts and battlefields in the whole of Eastern Libya. To read the rather bare-bones AP account of this offensive click here.
After the somewhat surprising announcement made last week, perhaps also in a bid to pressure parties into participating, the second phase of UN-sponsored negotiations between Libya’s rival blocks scheduled for Tuesday 9 December has now been generically postponed to ‘next week’. The communication regarding the postponement of what some media outlets have already dubbed as ‘Ghadames II’, despite the lack of official announcements as to where negotiations would be held, came minutes after a meeting in Tripoli between UNSMIL’s Bernardino Leon and former GNC President Nouri Abusahmain which was initially aimed at laying the ground for the imminent talks. This move clearly represents a last minute attempt from the UNSMIL and its international Western backers to keep the dialogue opportunity alive despite the significant distance still existing between the two camps after almost a week of pressuring and persuading.
On one side, the Libya Dawn camp appears to be mesmerized and still trying to come to terms with the lack of positive developments following the Supreme Court ruling of November 6th. What on paper seemed to be a strike out for the Tripoli-based establishment, actually, in light of the hesitant and tepid reaction of the international community to the ruling, further emboldened the Tobruk-based establishment and its military campaign. In hindsight, the nebulous Supreme Court ruling mining the internal legitimacy of the HoR without reinstating the GNC represented an opportunity for Libya’s international partners to force rival parties into dialogue and restart the political transition with a somewhat clean institutional sheet. Instead, after a month of hesitation, we are now facing a possibly even more polarized crisis and crystalized camps.
On the other side, the HoR-led camp has shown every passing day less and less willingness to compromise with its tactics and statements. Firstly, since last week Haftar’s forces actively expanded the scope of Operation Dignity’s military campaign in Western Libya to virtually all areas under control of Libya Dawn with multiple airstrikes carried out over all of Zwarah, Ras Jdeir, Gharyan and Qaser Ben Gashir. Secondly, both the HoR and Operation Dignity’s HQ have put out a number of non-negotiable requests and conditions to participate to the dialogue initiative which include the recognition of the HoR as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people and the rejection of negotiations with armed groups other than the ‘Libyan National Army’. At the same time, one cannot help but wonder how much of a free hand the HoR has in deciding its negotiating stance towards the Libya Dawn camp, and how much it might even be an hostage of its national patrons and protectors: federalists groups controlling ports and oil-related infrastructure in the East, and the Operation Dignity troops whose air force and ruthless methods have been instrumental in avoiding a complete loss of Benghazi to the Benghazi’s Revolutionaries Shoura Council umbrella group.
To be sure, radical elements are present on both sides and appear to hold sway in dictating the blocks’ stances towards negotiations. As a matter of fact, Libya Dawn also presented a list of non-negotiable conditions to participate to the talks which included: the dissolution of the HoR in compliance with the ruling of Libya’s Supreme Court; the recognition of the GNC and of the al-Hassi government as legitimate; the reconfirmation of the highly controversial Political Isolation Law as an element underpinning and fortyfing the 17th February Revolution; and the appointment of Libya Dawn aligned militias as the core members of the new Libyan Army.
With all of the above in mind, and taking into consideration the hysteric and paranoid Libyan environment, it seems then highly unlikely that either side will cave in and join dialogue with a honest will to do reach a compromise in little more than a week time. As already recently stated by various analysts of Libyan affairs, we are thus left wondering when and if Libya’s Western partners will start employing the sticks at their disposal to pressure radical national actors and external third parties meddling into Libyan affairs to stop dirsuptive policies and avoid the closure of the last window of opportunity for a dialogue-based solution to this crisis.
Although it has long been covertly known that France is the counter-terror power in Libya advocating for more intervention and peacekeeping and Russia supports Haftar, it has now come into the open the extent to which the US wishes to wash its hands not only of Libya for domestic political reasons but also of the UN mediation process and Bernardino Leon himself. Read this controversial and explosive Reuters Article:
Despite months of American requests, the U.S. officials said Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, all of which are U.S. allies, continue to encourage local factions to fight instead of compromise.”What is the objective? What is the plan for success here?” asked a senior American official who declined to be identified. “It seems quite clear that the more foreign countries get involved in Libya, the more unstable the situation becomes.”Egypt and the United Arab Emirates back the internationally recognized government led by Abdullah al-Thinni operating in the east. U.S. officials say Qatar has supported Libya Dawn, which controls the capital Tripoli, but Qatar denies this.
To read the whole article click here.
USNMIL’s Chief Bernardino Leon announced today that after September’s abortive talks held in Ghadames, rival Libyan camps will meet in an undisclosed location for a second round of UN sponsored talks on Tuesday 9 December. Hours after this announcement, a strong statement of support for participation of all stakeholders in these talks was issued by France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States, the EU and the UN reiterated their calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and underscored their willingness, if key stakeholders fail to participate in the UN-led process, to consider additional measures to protect Libya’s unity, stability and prosperity, and to counter expanding terrorist threats to Libya and the region.
Most interestingly, it appears that Libya’s international partners have lost patience with the HoR and Thinni’s government due to their increasing lack of interest in seeking a negotiated solution to the current crisis. Besides employing an overtly military strategy during the past six weeks, since the start of Haftar’s second offensive over Benghazi, the Tobruk’s establishment has recently also made moves to duplicate in Eastern Libya several institutions currently located in Tripoli, under the territorial control of Fajr Libya, such as the Supreme Court and the NOC.
It does not come as a surprise then that Al Arabiya quotes Bernardino Leon as stating that neither Tripoli’s nor Tobruk’s authorities can advance any claim legitimacy in the current scenario. Furthermore, Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni is quoted by askanews.it with the following statement (Libya-analysis.com translation) regarding the aim of establishing a new national unity government through this second round of talks:
“The meeting of 9 December in Libya has the goal of engaging all independent local authorities, with the aim of creating a national unity government. In the joint statement, we condemn the use of violence, terrorism, and air strikes which further complicate the achievement of a peace agreement.”
“If camps invited to the talks will not take part in them, the six countries, the EU and the UN might take new decisions to protect the unity of Libya and against terrorism.”
However, regardless of these calls to dialogue, on Wednesday Haftar’s air forces carried out further strikes over Derna and Zwarah, thus further enlarging the virtual Western front of Libya’s internal war. Airstrikes over Zwarah came less than two weeks after the city had been declared as safe from attacks by Operation Dignity spokesman Mohammed al Hijazi and underline Tobruk’s growing reliance over the use of airforce to achieve any sort of military development, something that should sound as a wake up call to the hears of politicians Thinni’s government and the HoR and spur them to fully embrace the upcoming talks initiative. Nonetheless, whilst unfortunately it is quite likely that upcoming talks will not represent a watershed moment in the current crisis, a glimmer of hope emerges from the more decisive and engaging tone that Libya’s international partners appear to have now adopted and which could be conducive to much more significant developments for the country in the medium term.
In an interview with the Italian newspaper ‘Il Corriere della Sera’, Khalifa Haftar described a rosy, albeit contradictory, picture of the ongoing Libya crisis. Talking to Francesco Battistini, Haftar claims that his troops are firmly in control of approximately 80% of Benghazi and that he has set himself a deadline of 15 December to bring the Tobruk-based institutions back in the main Cyrenaican city. However, after claiming that the battles for Derna and Tripoli are going to be much easier than that for Benghazi, and that it might take less than three months to retake the capital city, Haftar complains that the international community in general and Western states in particular have been too hesitant in their support for him. Operation Dignity, he states, has so far received only old weaponry and technology from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Algeria and demands to be provided wit external support along the lines of thar provided to Kurdish fighters in Northern Syria. In the rest of the interview, Haftar reinforces the framing of the current crisis as a battle between moderate and government affiliated forces vs radical Islamists ones. He also adds a number of statements likely to resonate with the Italian and Western public about the proximity of Derna’s costs to Italy and about the risk of radical militants’ infiltrations in the old continent through the route of illegal immigration.
For lack of major developments on the military front, however, the story of the week was the position taken by the OPEC over which Libyan delegation to invite at its latest Vienna meeting. Unsurprisingly but quite foolishly, OPEC fell in line with the international consensus over recognising Tobruk’s government and institutions. Although they could have refused to have any Libyan representative at all, their actual move is likely to reinforce internal and external claims that the Supreme Court ruling has been influenced by the presence of Libya Dawn forces in Tripoli. In an interview to Reuters on Wednesday, Libya’s Oil Minister in the al-Hassi government, Mashallah Zwai, threatened legal actions in case his representatives would not receive an invitation to attend OPEC’s meeting in Vienna. Much like Haftar’s proclamations of victory, however, these threats are likely to remain only on paper, especially in light of the promises made by Zwai that all contracts and deals would be respected and that its government would not try to hijack the Central Bank any further. The Tripoli government wants to be seen as playing nice so as to avoid sanctions against itself, while also wishing to pursue the contradictory goals of control over Libya’s institutions.
Looking at Haftar’s and Zwai’s interviews, the most striking common trait emerging from both is the short-sighted nature of strategies currently employed in Tripoli and Tobruk. In the midst of failed/abortive negotiations and continuous violence, it appears that both sides are quietly hoping to receive an unlikely but equally fundamental boost from the international community to “win the war”, either through the reception of modern weaponry and tactical support for the Tubroq side or through widespread political recognition and engagement for the Tripoli side. In light of these delusional tactics, is now the time for Libya’s partners to use the stick rather than the carrot to reign the fighting in?
This last question is all the more pressing in light of the disturbing reports focusing on the human costs of protracted fighting and instability in Libya published this week by Human Rights Watch and by the Danish Institute Against Torture (Dignity). Whilst Human Rights Watch focuses on the current events marring life in Derna, the Dignity report focuses on the effects of torture and violence in post-revolutionary Libya and presents a very bleak picture with regards to mental health problems.
The data collection was completed in October 2013. 2,692 household interviews were included in the national survey. Every fifth household responded to having a family member disappeared, 11% reported having a household member arrested and 5% reported one killed. Of those arrested, 46% reported beatings, 20% positional torture or suspensions, 16% suffocation and from 3 to 5% reported having suffered sexual, thermal or electrical torture. In short our data support the allegations that widespread human rights violations and gross human rights violations have taken place in Libya.
The consequences at the level of the population are massive: 29% of individuals report anxiety and 30% report depression, while PTSD symptoms were reported by 6%. These results indicate that the respondents at the time of interview could still be in an acute or post-acute stage and have yet to reach the post-trauma stage, hence we predict that the prevalence of post-traumatic stress reactions will increase over time, if or when the internal conflict subsides.
You can read the whole report from the Danish Institute Against Torture here.
On Saturday November 22nd, Operation Dignity forces announced the start of a new military offensive to retake control of Tripoli and surrounding areas. On this occasion, Operation Dignity spokesperson Mohammed al-Hijazi announced that all airports and maritime ports under control of Fajr Libya forces, with the exception of those of Zwara, would be considered legitimate targets due to their use as weapons supply points by Misratan forces and their allies. This declaration came a few hours before Zintani forces finally gained the upper hand in the month-long battle for the strategic town of Kikla, located south of Tripoli, thus setting the stage for a renewed battle for the control of the capital.
Since then, two airstrikes have been carried out over Mitiga airport, leading to its closure and to the re-destination of commercial flights from Tripoli to Misrata. After the sporadic strikes carried out during last summer by unidentified forces likely to be connected to the UAE and Egypt, the military branch of the Tobruk establishment has newly raised the profile of its (aerial) attacks in the West in a potentially devastating way.
To be sure, it remains to be seen whether Operation Dignity forces will have the actual operational capability to follow through with imposing a blockade on all airports and maritime ports in the hands of Fajr Libya. Nonetheless, these developments could likely prove to be the last fatal straw to any lingering hope of achieving a negotiated solution to this crisis. Clearly, after the ruling of Libya’s Supreme Court on November 6th that declared the HoR illegitimate, the Tobruk-based establishment has fully embraced the military option as the only feasible way to bring the current crisis to a favorable and definitive end.
A further proof of the military-oriented approach taken by Thinni’s government and what remains of the HoR is well displayed by the decision to re-instate Khalifa Haftar and Saqr Geroushi into the Libyan Army. Besides sending a clear message to the rival al-Hassi government, that quickly proceeded to declare a new phase of war against them, the HoR and Thinni are increasingly putting Libya’s international partners and UNSMIL’s Bernardino Leon in the uncomfortable position of being seen has tacitly supporting this military escalation on the basis of the international recognition granted to the HoR and its government.
As hopes of bringing relevant Libyan stakeholders to the same table dramatically falter, we are left wondering what approach and strategy will be employed next to tackle this crisis by the broad international community (minus countries supporting proxies in Libya) over the course of the coming weeks. In light of these recent developments, it is difficult not to lend an ear to the interview to Professor Andreas Dittman, published today by Deutsche Welle, who strongly puts Libyans in charge of their recent miseries:
The basic conditions for development are actually very good for Libya. Of all the six countries involved in the Arab Spring, Libya has by far the best conditions. The country has a relatively small population, just over 6 million inhabitants. In addition, Libya has oil reserves that will last for another six-and-a-half decades.
(…) Any political successes – the democratic elections, successfully putting a president into office – have been torpedoed by the militias. When they don’t agree with certain election results, they refuse to recognize their legitimacy and try to impose their ideas by force.
That is to say, Libya itself is to blame? Yes. Of course, there were external factors that contributed to Gadhafi’s relatively quick toppling from power. But what Libya is currently doing wrong is, in a sense, homemade – that is to say, its own fault. Given the current developments, we can’t always refer solely to external influences. At the moment, Libyans are destroying their own country.
Almost two weeks after the ruling of Libya’s Supreme Court, which declared the House of Representative illegitimate, the country’s rival institutions and actors appear to be still trying to come to terms with the newly established scenario. In a way, of course, the ruling has leveled differences between the two establishments in Tobruk and Tripoli, squashing any internal legitimacy the HoR had left outside of its environs and putting its international partners in an odd spot. This is well reflected by the hesitant response and limited engagement Libya’s international partners have tactically employed since November 6th.
On the other hand, the picture is not necessarily so rosy for the al-Hassi government and its allies either. After a few timid demonstrations in various Tripoli neighborhoods, clashes erupted during last week at Mitiga airport, leading to a temporary shutdown of operations. The GNC has not been officially re-instated by the Court ruling, and several of its members have rejected the idea of reconvening within it. Furthermore, the suicide car bombings operations undertook in Baida, Benghazi and Tobruk last week, alongside the acknowledgment made by self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of a IS-recognised Libyan Emirate, make the partnership between Fajr Libya and radical Jihadist groups in the country all the more controversial and uncomfortable. Lastly, to further reinvigorate the narrative employed by the HoR-aligned Operation Dignity forces of a fight between them and international groups of terrorist, on Sunday, the newly established IS-aligned ‘Barqa Governorate Media Branch’ has published obituaries for a number of suicide bombers who died in Benghazi and appear to have come mostly from Egypt and Tunisia, rather than Libya itself. There are also many reports about Derna as a city being controlled by ISIS in the wake of various posting of media statements. See Time here and CNN here. I don’t however agree with Benotman or Zelin who argue that Derna is now a province of the Islamic State of that it follows Baghdadi. All that is happening is some Islamists are trying to govern territory and outflank other Islamists so they look up to ISIS given its success at holding territory and use this to outflank the Abu Sleem Brigade.
As talks of international mediation appears to be overpowered by the noise of battle, Libya is more and more in dire need of a positive shock to break the dangerous deadlock it finds itself in. Whilst only a few weeks ago al-Hassi went as far as suggesting that a new set of nation-wide elections could be a solution to the current crisis, his tone appears now too emboldened by the court’s ruling to be willing to restart the transitory phase from scratch, leaving all Libya analysts and observers hesitant as to what could possibly come next to positively shake the ground. Also that the al-Hassi government has praised Ansar Sharia for its propagation of the faith shows just how fluid and crazy the situation is and that the al-Hassi government needs all the allies it can get no matter what their ideology. I take this last statement as showing Libya Dawn’s weakness rather than its strength.
The extent of international support that the HoR will receive is currently in flux as the Libyan Supreme Court ruled that the seventh constitutional amendment issued in March 2014 was unconstitutional and hence so were the June elections that brought the HoR to power. The HoR has rejected the ruling claiming it was made at ‘gunpoint’ in Tripoli.” and “The Supreme Court ruling, while complicating matters, could represent a window of opportunity. In fact, the ruling could serve ‘to level the playing field’ between the two camps and make it easier for international actors to engage all parties as potentially legitimate political actors. According to Mohamed Eljarh, nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center, “The international community’s next step is key. Despite the UNSMIL statement that it is studying the Supreme Court’s ruling with its international partners,the EU ambassadors to Libya met with the Minister of Health in al-Thinni’s government in Tunis shortly after the ruling, suggesting it is business as usual with the Tobruk government”. For the international community to be able to play a positive role, they must show a greater inclination to engage with the Tripoli government, especially in the wake of the court’s decision.
Despite this new potential for division, all domestic and international actors should agree on the form of a ‘National Unity’ government incorporating all the major political factions (MLA, Muslim Brotherhood, HoR members, Liberal-leaning technocrats, Berbers/Amazigh, Federalists, key tribal leaders, Tebu, and Toureg). Such an agreement would bypass the need for each actor to definitively ‘take sides’ by choosing to recognize one governing body as opposed to the other.
Today a very intelligent Libyan living in Benghazi wrote me these questions. If he doesn’t know the answers, who does… if you do please write me:
1. Concerning the supreme court ruling nullifying the HoR. The
international response has been vague. Do you think they’re waiting
for a military end to see which side they back, or will they back a
particular side soon?
2. About the HoR, assuming it’s still considered legitimate, of the
200 members, how many are actually attending and what is the legal
minimum for decision making? In one of your articles you mentioned 102
attending the vote on the removal of the Director of the Libyan
Central Bank. Surely that’s well below the minimum?
3. Who controls the Libyan Central Bank? Today the prime minister Omar
Al-Hassy outlined an ambitious plan to loan upto 120,000 interest free
dinars to help young Libyans build their future. Is that even possible
considering the diminished oil output and diminishing foreign
reserves? Does this imply he has control of the Central Bank or is he
just hoping to win people over? The Central Bank is in Tripoli, so
it’s tough to imagine the HoR having control over it.
4. How soon do you think the embassies will reopen in Tripoli assuming
the conflict doesn’t resolve (and assuming Tripoli stays safe).
For the second time in less than a week, Libyan cities and areas under formal control of the Tobruk-base establishment have been targeted by car bombs attacks. On Wednesday, three car bombs were detonated in Tobruk, Baida and Benghazi respectively. A fourth car bomb attack in Tobruk was reportedly foiled by security forces. Most disturbingly, the successful bomb attack in Tobruk appears to have been the result of a suicide attack deliberately carried out in the middle of a crowded road junction. Furthermore, in what appears to have been a retaliatory attack, airstrikes were carried out in the afternoon over Derna, with reports conflicting about the exact targets of the strikes.
Wednesday’s multiple bombings represent yet another element of the clearly escalating pattern marring Libya’s crisis. Although the full-fledged ‘civil war’ label has not been used yet to discuss the situation in the country, the employment of indiscriminate asymmetric tactics and retaliatory attacks could very well prove to be the last push needed to let the country slide further down the implosion path.
Meanwhile, in light of escalating violence, declining oil production and inconclusive negotiation attempts, talks of a military intervention in the form of a peacekeeping mission are starting to resurface again. Professor Dirk Vandewalle argued today on The New York Times about the necessity for European countries to return to protect the EU ‘soft underbelly’ and set up a peacekeeping force to allow the establishment of functioning institutions.
What Libya needs instead is a European peacekeeping force that would shield the fledgling government from the various armed groups currently contesting its power, and one another, and allow it to rebuild state institutions.
(…) Dialogue is moribund, and no amount of diplomatic cajoling can revive it. Several Western countries, including the United States, as well as the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, which was established in 2011 to guide the country’s post-Qaddafi transition, have made various efforts to bring the factions to talks. These have repeatedly failed, however, because no one can offer the militias, which are flush with weapons and money, enough incentive to cooperate.
Only the presence of an international peacekeeping force can make a difference today. The U.N. support mission was never meant to be such a force; it was designed to help build institutions of governance. And the United Nations Security Council cannot expand its mandate. Russia, which accused the West of wrongfully extending the U.N. support mission’s ambit beyond the protection of civilians during the 2011 conflict, would veto any resolution calling for the mission’s transformation into an intervention force. The United States government, for its part, has no appetite for sending more American boots on the ground, particularly as it pulls troops out of Afghanistan and struggles to forestall the advances of Sunni Islamists in Iraq.
A meeting between Tobruk-based PM Abdallah al-Thinni and Head of UNSMIL Bernardino Leon was targeted today by a car bomb in Shahat. No victims were reported so far, even though at least ten bystanders were wounded by the explosion. Most worryingly, the meeting was supposed to take place in the nearby city of Baida, but was moved to Shahat only briefly before its scheduled time due to security concerns. This seems to suggest not only a breach of security procedures in the areas supposedly under control of the internationally recognized institutions, but also the presence of well placed informants of antagonist groups in the security apparatus of the Tobruk-based administration. Both Thinni’s government and the UNSMIL have quickly issued statements reaffirming their commitment to seek a political and peaceful solution to the ongoing crisis despite this terrorist attack.
To make things worse, especially for the country’s strained finances, during the past week the oil and ports sectors were marred by a series of setbacks. First, the el-Sharara oil field was stormed by gunmen, rumored to be Tuareg fighters affiliated with Misratan forces, who forced the oilfield’s production to stop. Then, news emerged about the ongoing blockade at Hariga’s port, where a tanker has been prevented from loading oil for the past three days. The block is enforced by members of the local security forces in response to the missed payments of their salaries during the past few months. Lastly, the El Fil oilfield near Murzuq was also forced to stop its production on Sunday due to security concerns and failures in the provision of electricity.
It is worth noting that the El Sharara and El Fil oilfields account respectively for 200,000 bpd and 130,000 bpd, while Hariga’s port has an export capacity of up to 120,000 bpd. Therefore, even though reserves in refineries connected to blocked oilfields are still high and optimism permeates stakeholders statements, Libya’s oil output is poised to be hit by a strong decrease in the medium term if these issues are not quickly resolved.
All in all, the past week seems to have pushed Libya into an even deeper and more complex crisis than the one we had before. To get a broader overview of what the past few days have meant for the country and see how theye relate to the broader international arena, you can head over to The Telegraph and read this article from Richard Spencer and David Blair which contains my contribution:
Jason Pack, from the consulting group Libya Analysis, said that outside backing was driving both sides in Libya’s civil war into ideologically more hardline positions. Gen Haftar and his allies were “flaunting their anti-Islamist credentials” in order to win international support. Meanwhile “waving the banner of the [Muslim] Brotherhood or jihad has drawn recruits and Qatari money for the Misurata-led alliance,” wrote Mr Pack.
Experts believe that Qatar and the other outside players are making it even harder to resolve Libya’s conflict by negotiation. “This intervention by foreign countries – despite signing up to agreements saying they would not intervene – is unhelpful because it’s encouraging each side to believe there is a military solution to the problem,” said Sir Richard Dalton, a former British Ambassador to Libya.
The long awaited ruling of Libya’s Supreme Court over the legitimacy of the gathering of the House of Representatives in Tobruk came out on Thursday as a shocker. The Supreme Court, in fact, invalidated the entire legislative and elective process leading to the establishment of the House of Representatives on the ground that the committee instituted to organize it breached the country’s provisional constitution.
What was seen by many as an opportunity to put an end to, or somehow curb, the duplication of institutions and facilitate the negotiation process has instead lead to possibly even more uncertainty. In the Misratan and Fajr Libya camp, of course, the news was very well welcomed. Politicians aligned with the camp of the al-Hassi government have rushed to underline the nullifying effect that this ruling has over all acts and decisions taken by the supposedly now-defunct House of Representatives.
On the other hand, the HoR and politicians and representatives broadly aligned with the Tobruk camp have quickly rebuffed the ruling. Firstly, the HoR rejected the ruling appealing to the legitimacy it derives from its election at the hands of ‘the Libyan people’. Secondly, it is argued from the Hor camp, the ruling is illegitimate because it was proclaimed at gunpoint. The Supreme Court is located in Tripoli, a city firmly under control of the Fajr Libya camp and which is very much controlled through the rule of militias rather than the rule of law, despite proclaims and initiatives trying to demonstrate the opposite. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly in this situation, the Supreme Court went out of its way and scope of competences by ruling over the legitimacy of the February Committee. As a matter of fact, until the ruling was issued today, observers expected the court to rule over the legitimacy of the Tobruk location and members of the HoR camp argue that this renders the ruling invalid.
As stated by the newly appointed Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, this ruling is clearly not encouraging for the future of Libya and goes contrary to the hope of those who wished that the Supreme Court would end this political stalemate and seal the transfer of power between the rival chambers. Whilst it is still to early to tell how things will settle in the medium term, it seems likely that the duplication of institutions will continue unabated, thus confirming the paramount role of militias and armed branches in both camps and giving even more relevance to the developments on the military fronts. Most importantly, all actors should work to make sure that this ruling does not reinforce centrifugal and separatist tendencies beyond the point of no return.
Due to a new partnership between Libya-Analysis.com and Industry Arabic, this blog will attempt to host a relevant article about some aspect of Libya’s economy and politics translated from a major Arabic source such as al-Wasat or al-Hayat or a series of relevant tweets. This should give Libya-Analysis.com much added functionality and dynamism as English-language sources are not suffecient to grasp developments in Libya, particularly at the present moment as most reporters and foreign experts cannot visit the country due to the security situation.
Without further ado, the first article gives us a little bit of insight into the inner workings of a local council. It deals with the Sirte local council which is undergoing some changes as Ansar Sharia are coming under threat there as the Misratans wish to kick them out and make the council loyal to Operation Dawn. The Second article is a little out of date but very interesting as it deals with the closure of the Jalu and Abu Tifl field by protestors.
Enjoy. And I hope to be able to bring more of this content to you my readers on a regular basis possibly every tuesday or wednesday.
Sirte Local Council Discusses City Service and Security Problems
Sirte – Al-Wasat – Mohammed Ali – 28 October 2014
The Sirte Local Council convened Tuesday in an emergency session to discuss a number of security and service provision problems facing the city.
The meeting attendees included executive sector officials, executives of electricity companies, administrative and service centers, Urban Planning and Passports & Nationality officials, the Sirte Crisis Committee, head of the Authority for Manmade River Water Investment in the Central Region, and the designated head of the Union of Sirte Revolutionaries.
A Sirte media official told Al-Wasat that the attendees discussed issues related to water, sanitation, anticipated housing projects, and infrastructure.
The Council heard the reports of the sector coordinators on the current year and the constraints facing each sector, which include security, and the encroachments on state owned lands, caused by the work stoppage of the judiciary, security services, and the National Security Directorate in recent months.
The Council received a report on job-seekers and expatriates from the Labor and Rehabilitation Office that there are 3,000 expatriates registered in Sirte, and that inventory levels in Sirte stores are enough for four months. The report also covered displaced families, which put the number of internally displaced persons from Warshefana and Benghazi at greater than 6,000.
Both the Council and its Executive Committee for Sectors underscored the need to activate security and the judiciary in the city, at Sirte International Airport, Sirte’s commercial seaport, and the need for the Municipal Guard to fulfill their duty of providing services to citizens.
During the meeting, the Council also discussed the shortage of medicine and medical equipment for Sirte’s 37 health facilities, and work to meet this need, to provide health services to the people of the area, and to address the shortage of drinking water and some medicines.
The Council also received a report on the housing and facilities sector regarding the Committee to Inventory Dilapidated Housing. In addition, the Council and the Executive Committee for Sectors discussed the work of the Personal Property Subcommittee formed by the Council of Minister’s decree to inventory items lost from homes during the 2011 War of Liberation for referral to the Central Committee in Tripoli to compensate their owners.
The meeting then turned to a discussion of the repeated attacks on utility poles and the ongoing phone network outages on the Madar and Libyana phone networks in Sirte.
The committee also followed up on progress of education in Sirte, including the provision of textbooks, special exams for elementary and middle school students this year, and work to provide the necessary support to the sector.
The Council and Executive Committee discussed a report from the Sirte Media Office on supporting “Radio Free Sirte” with equipment and funding to fulfill its informational role.
Threats to Close a Second Oil Field in Libya
Tuesday, 14 October 2014 – 17:24 Abu Dhabi time
Abu Dhabi – Sky News Arabia
Protestors have threatened to close Abu Tifl, a second Libyan oilfield, to compel the government National Oil Corporation to hire hundreds of local residents, according to their official spokesman.
Amid a wave of strikes that began in July 2013, Libyans demanding work have shut down Abu Tifl oilfield, a year-old joint project between the Italian oil company ENI and the Libyan National Oil Corporation.
Protests at other oil fields have ended but the Abu Tifl field located in the eastern Libyan city of Jalu remains closed, according to a Reuters report.
In addition to the 60 thousand barrel per day Abu Tifl field, protesters are now closing the Jalu 59 field and Field 103 A.
A spokesman said that the protestors are planning a third move to close the nearby field 103 B, adding “If the National Oil Corporation does not accept our demands, by Thursday, Field 103B will be closed.
Oilfield closures have caused Libya’s oil production to drop below 900 thousand barrels per day, although the NOC will not release the latest production figures.
Libya, an OPEC member state, has seen its oil industry recover with the reopening of three main ports in the east of the country earlier this year, in the context of an agreement with protesters who had closed the ports, demanding self governance. The eastern Port of Zueitina remains closed as oil workers demand a change to the administration of the port management company.
As various analysts observing Libyan affairs started indicating a few weeks ago, the ongoing military battles being fought throughout the country represent only one of the fronts where opposing alliances are facing off. In fact, the National Oil Corporation, the Central Bank and the Libyan Investment Agency (LIA) represent three equally fundamental assets whose importance for empowering any faction with enough wealth to buttress its rule cannot be overstated.
Fortunately for Libya, despite the zero-sum logic displayed on the military battlefield, both sides have so far employed some degree of self-restraint to avoid the complete freezing of Libyan asset which would bring the country, if possible, to an even more dangerous standstill. A proof of this can be seen, as argued by The Economist, in the paradoxically consistent oil output that the country is producing despite widespread fights.
The key question of course remains that of how long will these informal arrangements actually be able to sustain themselves before reaching a fatal tipping point and squandering Libya’s last valuable institutions and assets. The question is all the more pressing now that the Tobruq-based establishment seems to be gaining the upper hand on different fronts. Since last weekend, in fact, several developments seem to indicate a consolidation of the HoR camp with regards to control of oil and finance related institutions.
Firstly, Jathran publicly slapped the Misratan camp, revealing their recent overtures towards him and declaring himself more inclined to share a cell with Qadhafi’s henchmen Abdallah Senussi rather than closing a political deal with the Fajr Libya forces.
Secondly, the Libyan Investment Authority saw yet another change at the top, with the replacement of Abdulrahman Benyezza with Hassan Ahmed Bouhadi, a move largely understood to bring the LIA key position firmly in the hands of the Tobruq establishment. Chris Wright on Forbes presents a very interesting account of the ongoing struggle for the control of this institution and of the crippling effects that the uncertainty marring the post-Qadhafi period has had on financial and developmental institutions in the country:
So will the new appointments make any difference? One person close to the LIA says of Bouhadi: “I hear he’s a good guy.” Bouhadi became a member of the LIA’s Board of Trustees earlier in 2014, and earlier served as secretary to that board, so he knows the place. A former World Bank official, Ahmed Ali Attiga, has been appointed as chief executive; when I visited Tripoli earlier this year, his was a name people had hoped to hear being connected with the LIA, so perhaps there is hope.
Both both men could just as easily find themselves removed in this uncertain environment. Last month I spoke with Libya’s central bank governor (again, his position depends on which side you talk to – some Libyan powers consider him to be suspended) Saddek Omar Elkaber, and what he said about the central bank could apply equally to the sovereign fund (which it is closely linked to in any case). “The challenges are huge,” he said. “There is safety and security, human development, the autonomy and integrity of the institution, capacity-building, fighting corruption, maintaining stability in the banking sector, establishing the right environment for the private sector to be established and to grow locally, and paving the way for international investors to come.” Over the last few months, he said, “we almost stopped everything. Because of the problems with safety and security, we will not be able to attract the right people to come and help us.” Tellingly, the interview took place with him not in Tripoli but in Malta.
Thirdly, the Central Bank has confirmed its ability thus far to channel funds towards the Tobruq administration, despite the uncertainty currently surrounding its leadership. In this sense, it appears that the control of Tripoli and of several institutional offices is not yet proving key to ensure the control of the pursue strings for the Misratan camp. The surreal organisation of a marathon, last Sunday in Tripoli, with the purpose of luring back foreign companies, workers and diplomats camp to take a slice of the city’s and country’s cake, however, is possibly the strongest indication of the difficulties currently faced in the capital.
By Jason Pack in The Time Literary Supplement (TLS), October 31, 2014, No. 5822 Review available to read by clicking here
After PM Thinni’s visit to Khartoum in the past few days, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti has reportedly announced the devising of a Sudanese plan to host talks with all relevant Libyan actors and facilitate the reaching of a political deal. The ‘Sudanese initiative’ thus becomes the third publicly announced plan aiming to reach a political solution to the current Libyan crisis after those promoted by Algeria and the UNSMIL.
Both the Algerian and UNSMIL-brokered initiatives were expected to have meaningful sessions undertaken throughout the month of October, which has been instead characterized by a spike in violence in Benghazi and by the less bloody but equally crucial battle for the control of financial and oil-related institutional assets. In the past days, UNSMIL’s Head Bernardino Leon has been effectively working hard to bring forth the second round of UNSMIL-sponsored talks by meeting with a number of representatives from both camps, including with the highly controversial Mufti al-Ghariani. These talks, however, have been so far inconclusive and failed in getting opposing camps back to the negotiation tables.
On the other hand, with the benefit of (limited) hindsight it is worth appreciating the ongoing evolution that the Misratan and Tobruk-based camps are undergoing vis-à-vis external pressures. With regards to the Tobruk camp, it is worth looking at al-Thinni’s trip to Sudan in itself. Only a few weeks ago, Khartoum was accused by the Tobruk establishment of arming the Misratan camp and breeding Islamist militias throughout the country. Thinni’s trip, however, should not only be seen as an attempt to restore ties with this strategic partner, but also as a sign of the dissatisfaction of several HoR members with the government’s previous stance towards negotiations. In this sense, Thinni’s recent openings to rival militias, as well as the overtures made by his newly appointed Foreign Minister, show signs of mounting internal pressure from the HoR camp to dismiss the hardline stance adopted by the Prime Minister after his appointment in September and push for a political deal with moderate counterparts.
As for the Islamist camp, Borzou Daraghi reports for the Financial Times on the somewhat under-appreciated dynamic by which the broad alliance of Islamist-leaning forces, established by virtue of the overtly-aggressive rhetoric employed by Haftar which lumped them all together, is actually facilitating the tilt of more moderate forces towards the radical end of the spectrum:
During the past few months, as war has intensified between the Haftar camp and Libya Dawn, evidence has grown of strengthening ties between the extremist groups and the mainstream Islamist militias, even as their political allies continue talks with western diplomats and the UN aimed at ending the stand-off.
Mr Hassi recently acknowledged that his allies in Benghazi were fighting alongside Ansar al-Sharia against the forces of Mr Haftar and the Tubruq government. “Ansar al-Sharia are part of the brigades defending Benghazi against outlaw forces,” said Ali Ramadan Abu Zaqouk, one of about 30 members of the recently elected parliament close to Mr Hassi.
Nonetheless, although not necessarily encouraging per se, these shifts and tensions within camps tell us the story of relatively fluid blocks which are not yet crystallized in a Syrian-like scenario, where envisioning negotiation talks is now a wild fantasy. As Leon recently reiterated, however, the clock is ticking fast and Libyan actors must avoid the further deterioration of this situation beyond the point of no return. With three negotiation initiatives available on the market, it is now up to Libyan buyers to act more decisively to make them successful.
Finally, as analysts and observers focus on developments in the political arena and in the coastal areas, the southern Libyan mainland is being dangerously overlooked. Even though the events of In Amenas have not been repeat as of yet, it is best to assume that this is the result of a tactical choice by armed groups active across the Sahara, rather than the consequence of their eradication and defeat following from French intervention in the region. You can read my take on this in my contribution to this piece on The National:
Jason Pack, a Libya expert at Cambridge University, says militants pushed out from northern Mali have set up training camps in Libya’s south, adding that the region has become “much more” than a transit route for gunmen and smugglers.
“Drones have spotted training camps and Western intelligence officers have been to these places,” he said. “I don’t have precise figures. But I’m sure that there are Libyans among these jihadist groups.” Both Mr Pack and Mr Fazzani also drew links between extremists entrenched in Libya’s remote south and powerful Islamist militia in the north and east of the country.
Fighting continues in Libya’s Benghazi where forces aligned with the National Army (LNA) and Operation Dignity are reportedly making considerable gains. After a first announcement was made more than a week ago, Operation Dignity forces are claiming again full control of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade camp with spokesperson Mohammed al-Hijazi going even as far as saying that 90% of Benghazi is now under control of the Army. Nonetheless, the fight is far from over with entire districts witnessing widespread armed confrontations and Operation Dignity forces asking citizens to evacuate due to the entrenchment in residential areas of forces belonging to the Benghazi’s Revolutionaries Shoura Council.
One question worth asking at this stage is if and how recent events in the Sinai Peninsula will impact Egypt’s commitment and support to Operation Dignity and the LNA’s Chief of Staff, who has been reportedly in close connection with the establishment in Cairo since its appointment last summer. Last Friday saw in fact the undertaking of a high-profile attack on an Egyptian army check-point, which led to the death of 31 soldiers and to the declaration of a state of emergency in the peninsula. The extent to which Operation Dignity forces and the LNA can keep up their recent pace of success on their own is all the more relevant now that reports indicating Derna as the next targeted destination are starting to emerge.
At the policy level, (international) engagement and dialogue seem to be the order of the day for both camps in Libyan politics. HoR appointed Abdullah Thinni has recently returned from a trip to Malta, where he met with the local government, as well as with UNSMIL’s Bernardino Leon and the US Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones. Thinni is now expected to go to Sudan on Wednesday. The Misratan and Islamist camp has been equally active, entering talks with a number of international partners in recent days. The Head of the EU Mission to Libya, Nataliya Apostolova, recently met with representatives of the MB-aligned ‘Justice and Construction’ party in Tripoli. GNC appointed PM Omar al-Hassi received its first diplomatic visit as Prime Minister by a Turkish envoy last week.
The hope at this stage is that these meetings represent a concrete first phase of indirect talks that can help establish common ground between factions and lead to direct negotiations that are more inclusive and successful than those held in Ghadames were. Encouraging signs in this sense came from last week’s interview granted by HoR-appointed Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Dairy to the Associated Press:
“We are seeking a settlement,” Dayri told The Associated Press at his family’s home in Cairo. “The political track should be enough to bring us back to Tripoli.” (…)
“Benghazi is different,” Dayri said. “The fight in Benghazi is against radical elements who have been assassinating civilians and military personnel since 2012 and who have been putting law and order in jeopardy.” “In Tripoli, there is strife relating to power and resources. There, we would not like to pursue a military solution,” he added.
Work at different levels is also underway to guarantee a re-establishment of aerial connections between the country and its neighbors. Reports indicate that besides flights from Turkey, connections to Tunis will be established from Misrata’s airport and that Mitiga airport is also undergoing works to allow Air Malta and other carriers to soon resume flights to and from Tripoli.
Lastly, today it is worth looking west and celebrate the so far smooth undertaking of legislative elections in Tunisia which mark once and for all the end of the transition phase in the country. After more than 5 million people reportedly registered to vote, turn out has hit the 60% mark and no major disruptions or irregularities were reported.
As the third anniversary of Mu’ammar Qadhafi’s death passed almost unnoticed, the Libyan Tobruk-based government headed by PM Abdullah Thinni issued on Tuesday an order calling on army units to head towards Tripoli to regain control of it. To wrestle the capital city back from ‘Libya Dawn’ forces, the Government has also called on the city’s youth and inhabitants to take an active role in facilitating the liberation of the city. More specifically, the governmental statement incited the population to carry out acts of civil disobedience, so as to hamper the work of the al-Hassi administration, as well as to actively join the fight against militias stationed there, in a move reminiscent of Haftar’s televised call on Benghazinos to take up arms against members of the Benghazi’s Revolutionaries Shoura Council.
Meanwhile, during the past three days, notables and representatives from various Libya’s tribes gathered in Cairo, beind closed-doors, to lay out a framework agreement for the establishment of a National Council of Tribal Affairs. According to statements coming from participants who attended the meeting, the idea behind the council is that of establishing a new platform for carrying out national dialogue initiatives running in parallel to political ones. The rationale behind this being that societal reconciliation processes would be carried out more easily and effectively by taking full advantage of those tribal markers of identity and affiliations that still resonate very powerfully in contemporary Libya.
The council’s structure and composition should be finalised within one month time and, it was stressed, the council would not try to establish itself as yet another center of administrative or executive power. Nonetheless, given the venue chosen for carrying out these meetings, and the statements of support for the HoR as Libya’s sole legitimate body made by a few attendants, it remains to be seen if this body will manage to be inclusive enough so as to achieve the strong potential it has on paper. Given the presence of a Tubu representative at Cairo’s meetings, a first test for the council and its dialogue based initiatives could very well be represented by the latest flare-up in inter-tribal violence occurring in southern Libya. In fact, after almost a year of uneasy calm, armed confrontations have flared-up again between Tubu and Touareg groups in Obari, leading to several deaths and injuries despite mediation attempts by the HoR.
Here is an overview article with Mattia Toaldo and I discussing the situation on the ground and what international actors need to do in Libya. It interestingly reveals that the Al-Thinni government is now getting support from Russia as they have become more biased and reliant on outside intervention from Egypt to project their power. You can read the text or listen to the radio podcast by using the link here. Also it appears that major international actors are meeting with members of the HoR and government in La Valletta, Malta. Here is some brief information about that here.
Chris Bray is the world’s only backgammon writer with a regular column appearing in a major print newspaper, the UK’s The Independent. On October 11th, he discussed the first inaugural UK Open which I won by winning 9 out of ten matches as well as 8 in a row against many of this island’s best players.
Bray took as his subject material, the fascinating 2nd game of the match which ended when I passed my opponent’s recube to 8 . You can read the article by clicking here. To my eyes even more fascinating were the initial cube to 2 and the my recube to 4 earlier in the game and most especially the cube to 8 that Martin Birkhahn my opponent did not spin. That cube could have come just the turn before the position dealt with in Bray’s article. I certainly would have taken and Martin would likely have won eight points right there and might even have gammoned me for 16 points and the whole match! The fascinating sequence of four cubing positions can be followed by clicking on the links embedded in the sentences above. It shows high pressure match backgammon at its most intellectually and psychologically challenging. Enjoy
As Haftar’s counter-offensive is still underway in Benghazi, the US, Italy, France, Germany and the UK issued on Saturday a new joint statement regarding latest developments in Libya. In it, Libya’s key Western partners vented their frustration for the lack of positive developments in the country and, most importantly, finally appeared to be taking a more critical stance towards the House of Representatives and the lack of inclusiveness and propensity to dialogue showed so far by its government.
We are also concerned by Khalifa Hifter’s attacks in Benghazi. We consider that Libya’s security challenges and the fight against terrorist organizations can only be sustainably addressed by regular armed forces under the control of a central authority which is accountable to a democratic and inclusive parliament.
(…) We agree that there is no military solution to the Libyan crisis. We are particularly dismayed that after meetings in Ghadames and Tripoli, parties have not respected calls for a ceasefire.
A more engaging approach towards the HoR and Thinni’s government from the international community could very well prove to be the event required to kick start a virtuous cycle inside Libya. Strong international pressure could in fact allow moderates from both camps to gain momentum to carry out a new set of negotiations within a more inclusive framework than the one employed for the Ghadames talks.
This could hold true especially in light of the widespread understanding that no coalition, let alone any single militia, has a shot at winning this military confrontation, even with substantial outside support. You can read my analysis of recent developments and the current outlook for Libya in a piece I wrote with Rhiannon Smith for Al-Jazeera:
None of Libya’s factions are strong enough to rule the whole country and it seems unlikely that any are deluded enough to think they can score a knockout blow, even if buttressed by outside help. (…) On October 15, Haftar renewed his offensive in Benghazi while Zintani forces in the west attempted to retake Kikla from Operation Dawn.
In recent months, both the Zintanis and Haftar’s forces have been overpowered by their Dawn opponents and this coordinated anti-Islamist offensive does not mean they suddenly believe they can beat the Islamists militarily, despite Haftar’s rhetoric. Rather, it is a move to strengthen their position before entering peace talks or before Haftar steps down leaving the way for more institutional actors. Indeed, during the offensive the Libyan Army announced it had adopted Haftar’s Operation Dignity campaign as its own, allowing the Tobruk administration to take credit for any military advances by Haftar’s campaign, while also making clear that the body is no more legitimate than its overtly militia-aligned adversary – Operation Dawn.
One group who has no stake in the success of a new round of negotiations and will surely try to derail the process is represented by the broad Salafi-Jihadist camp. As events in the past few months have made clear, even though Libya has not become a recipient of active foreign Jihadist fighters to the degree of Syria, groups like Ansar al-Shari’a and the Derna Shoura Council of Islamic Youth have greatly benefited from the widespread lawlessness marring the country since the fall of Qadhafi.
Furthermore, the tactics and antics recently employed by Libyan groups, starting with the campaigns of targeted killings up to the military strategies employed during the siege of Benina Airport, are a clear sign of the international connections and linkages between Libyan Salafi-Jihadist groups and the broad Jihadist movement active in the Middle East. You can hear my take on this as well as on the broader Libyan situation in my contribution to Radio France Internationale.
Only a few days after repeated suicide attacks made it look like Benina Airport was about to fall to the Benghazi’s Revolutionaries Shoura Council, Operation Dignity forces have launched throughout the week a massive assault on the eastern city in a bid to expel once and for all their Islamist rivals.
After calling on Benghazi’s population to take up arms against ‘terrorists’, in a speech broadcasted on Tuesday night, renegade General Khalifa Haftar and his forces started the current military operation in the early hours of Wednesday morning with a well coordinated assault that involved the use of different forces. For starters, airstrikes were carried out against Islamist positions with an intensity and effectiveness that is reportedly well beyond the capabilities of Haftar’s remaining air forces. Although both Egypt and the Operation Dignity leadership denied direct foreign involvement, the understanding is that, at the very least, Libyan pilots have been provided with Egyptian planes for this particular operation. Although some say it is the reverse that it is Egyptian pilots flying Libyan planes!
The officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the operation would last three to six months and involve the use of an Egyptian navy vessel as a command center off the Mediterranean coast near Tobruk. Renegade Libyan general Khalifa Hiftar, who has vowed to wipe out the Islamist militias, is not leading the operation, they added, with Cairo dealing directly with a newly appointed Libyan chief of staff who has visited Egypt several times in recent weeks.
Secondly, for the first time since the start of Operation Dignity, the 204 Tank Brigade was involved in battle and is reported to have played a key role in facilitating the expulsion of the February 17th Martyrs Brigade from its base in Benghazi. The situation in the city remains nonetheless fluid with localized, yet interconnected, armed skirmishes and fights effectively bringing the city to a halt and stranding several families within their houses.
Most importantly, after the speech made by General Haftar on Tuesday, fighting this time directly involved civilians in what some activists have started calling the ‘October 15 Uprising’. Disturbingly, revenge attacks and killings have already been reported across the city, and today’s appeal by Haftar to refrain from reprisals and bring suspects to Army posts, so as to refer them later on to justice, might have come already too late. The Middle East Eye reports a quote on this matter by Mohammed Eljarh:
Mohamed Eljarh told MEE that the spread of fighting to the city’s residents is not a new phenomenon, but that in this fight the link-up between army and non-army fighters seems to be better co-ordinated.
(…) “We may witness revenge attacks against people loosely affiliated with Ansar al-Sharia, even on families of the group’s members. This is because now it is not just professional army personnel conducting the offensive.”
More broadly, had Haftar’s attack been limited to an offensive carried out solely with Libyan forces belonging to sympathetic militias and army units, this operation could have still been perceived as an attempt to balance the score between Operation Dignity and Operation Dawn before the imminent resumption of UN-sponsored negotiations at Ghadames. However, the overtly clear foreign support received by Haftar and his forces, along with the statements of support coming for the first time from the Tobruk-based establishment and the army, have clearly altered the matter, making the resumption of negotiations or the undertaking of the Algerian dialogue initiative less likely, but all the more urgent. It is not yet clear if Haftar intends to step down after this offensive and is just hoping to go out with a bang or to build facts on the ground that his allies can use as bargaining chips in negotiations.
The attack on Benghazi looks therefore more and more like an all-in attempt by the Tobruk-based establishment to put itself in a favorable position before entering in a prolonged stalemate which will be solved by negotiation. In this sense, with part of Benghazi possibly under their control, even though the capital city would remain in the hands of Libya Dawn and Misratan forces, the HoR and its government would find themselves in a much stronger position. Being able to count on the bulk of Libya’s oil reserves, as well as on the widespread international recognition that has been accorded to them by Libya’s international partners and with a renewed internal standing, the HoR and its partners could even envision trying to wait out for the Dawn camp to either collapse under its lack of financial assets and international recognition or to accept the necessity to come to the negotiation table in a weaker position. Yet in reality that is a false calculus and it is Op Dignity and not Op Dawn who will likely find itself in a weakened position as a result of the developments and the ill-conceived Egyptian intervention.
Egypt has doubled down in its involvement in the fight against Ansar Al Sharia, with officials disclosing that Egyptian warplanes have bombed Ansar Sharia positions in the eastern city of Benghazi. The operation, they said, was requested by the Thinni administration based in the eastern city of Tobruk. State officials estimated that the operation would last three to six months and involve the use of an Egyptian navy vessel as a command center off the Mediterranean coast near Tobruk. Renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, who has vowed to wipe out the Islamist militias, is not leading the operation with Cairo dealing directly with a newly appointed Libyan chief of staff.
Egypt has made no secret of its support of the elected administration based in Tobruk, viewing the presence of hard-line extremists near its western border as a direct national security threat. It had made no secret of its willingness to offer military support to the Tobruk-based government, saying it would train and arm its forces. Egypt’s direct military involvement, however, strengthens the argument that Libya has become a proxy battleground for larger regional struggles, with Turkey and Qatar backing the Islamist militias while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates support their opponents. It is interesting to see if the Anti-Islamist faction could turn its back on Haftar, if his last ditch attempt to regain control of Benghazi fails.
It is unclear as to Egypt’s involvement can accomplish. The strikes executed by Egypt this past summer, in conjunction with the United Arab Emirates, proved to be ineffective as the Islamists managed to take control of Tripoli. With that being said, Egypt’s decision to take action in Benghazi will surely increase the level of instability in east Libya. It will be interesting to see how oil markets react to this news as most of Libya’s oil resources lie in the eastern part of the country. To read an AP story in which I was quoted criticizing the short-sightedness of the Egyptian decision, click here.
Jason Pack, a Libya expert at Britain’s Cambridge University, also warned of the complexity of the Libyan conflict, saying Egyptian involvement could have unforeseen consequences.
“Egyptians are making the same mistakes in Libya that the West made in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Pack said. “They support one side over the other. But in Libya the divisions are not between Islamists and non-Islamists. The conflict is very complex.”
As discussed in the past few days, the crisis in Libya appears to be edging closer to a turning point, for the better or the worse. Inside the country, in an attempt to erase the losses registered over the summer, Zintani and Haftar’s forces are re-organising themselves and coordinating their activities with institutions in Tobruk. Meanwhile, the Misratan-led camp enjoyed a crucial victory in the past week when the Central Bank, in a display of the de facto power enjoyed by the al-Hassi government, transferred funds to commercial banks for paying three months of family allowances.
In this context, Libya’s international partners should jump on this rare moment of military impasse and political balance to promote dialogue and direct negotiations between all parties, if necessary exerting pressure on their clients within the country. So far, Libya’s factions have in fact demonstrated not only a scarce appetite for compromise, but also a general deficit of negotiating and bargaining skills. International assistance will thus have to play a vital role in ensuring that upcoming talks will yield better results than the meager ones obtained during the first rounds of Ghamades’ talks. You can read more on the crucial international dimension of upcoming negotiations in a piece written by me and Karim Mezran, here at The Hill:
UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon has insisted that another meeting, this time inclusive of the rival military leaders, be convened as soon as possible. Algeria has offered to host such a meeting. (…) Unanimous approval from the United States and European countries is expected over the coming days. But the U.S. must do more than passively issue its support; it must lean on its regional allies to make the conference a success.
Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have so far been intransigent in their support of the anti-Islamists. They have been bombing Islamist arsenals but have failed to tip the scales. Washington ‘leaked’ its allies indiscretions, but has yet to pressure them to stop. Now it must do so. It should start with covert diplomacy. But if that fails overt threats must be made. Egypt and the UAE are staunch American allies — some might say clients. Obama possessed the tools to bring them into line. He must not be hesitant to deploy them.
Finding a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis will not be easy. The effort can succeed only with the wholehearted support of all the involved international actors — each pressuring their Libyan clients to buy into a negotiated – rather than an armed – resolution to the conflict. If handled correctly and inclusively, the Algerian-sponsored meetings could yield a decisive breakthrough.
Despite the lack of attention displayed by international media outlets, recent developments are leading Libya closer and closer to a breaking point. With French troops quietly setting up shop in northern Niger and the Ghadames talks displaying all the limits of engagement limited to internationally recognised institutions, Libya’s international partners are slowly coming to realise that much broader and sustained efforts are needed in order to achieve a lasting political solutions in the country.
In this sense, international patrons seem to be finally realising that their local proxies are unable to decisively tip the balance of the conflict and consequently momentum is gathering for new talks and dialogue initiatives to be held in the coming weeks. Most importantly, these initiatives will need to engage all of the country’s stakeholders and to move past simplistic and backfiring Islamist vs non-Islamist narratives. The clock is ticking for Libya and a political solution must be achieved before it is too late for its people, institutions and instustries.
You can read here my latest article for the Middle East Eye which focuses on these issues and prospects analysing them in greater details:
As the situation deteriorates with massive suicide bombing operations rocking Benghazi, Libya is increasingly becoming a vacuum for foreign meddling, encouraging the calcification of the country’s many factions into two loose and unnatural blocs as they attempt to align themselves with outside paymasters. In reality, the current struggle between the anti-Islamist and Islamist umbrella groupings for control of Tripolitania and Benghazi is nested inside a web of ongoing local conflicts. Many of the main actors (the federalists, Zintan, Haftar, Misrata, Ansar Sharia) are simply franchised players who could step away from these political blocs to go it alone at any time. Attempts to present the conflict in Libya as a polarised Clauzewitzian war between two sides distorts the reality.
(…) Fortunately over the last days, perspectives seem to be changing and momentum is gathering behind a new Algerian initiative for a UN-supported mediation effort that actually brings all the stakeholders together and refuses to see the conflict as a binary struggle between two polarised opponents.
(…) A new meeting in Spain or Algeria in late October could hold the key to keeping Libya united. Giving political promises to Libya’s key stakeholders is essential to incentivising a political rather than a military solution to the impasse. Realities on the ground are shifting rapidly, if we wait for the Central Bank to be looted or Libya’s oil ports to be blockaded it will then be too late to roll the clock back.
Backgammon is a game with three thousand year old antecedents. This doesn’t mean today’s backgammon enthusiasts need to accept the current flaws in the organization of its most prestigious tournament simply because this is the way things have been done for decades already. In this article in the September/October edition of Prime Time Backgammon entitled “The Tsunami hits Monte Carlo, the Hobgoblin of Continuity, and Ideas to Reinvigorate the World Championship”, I comment on the Japanese domination of World Class Backgammon, and explain the new double elimination format of Monte Carlo while delving into some of the positives and negatives of the format as well as what can be done to change it to make the World Championships more fun, more fair, more respectable and more lucrative. My goal is to bring more interest into backgammon and to grow the game that we all love. Click here to read my Manifesto of what should be done to reinvigorate the World Championships of Backgammon.
This article in the September/October edition of Prime Time Backgammon highlights the amazing performance of Akiko in winning the 2014 World Championships. It also focuses on some of the mathematical and psychological aspects of three-roll endings in Backgammon. It highlights Akiko’s aggressive style as well as the twists and turns of outrageous fortune by which she arrived at the pinnacle of her sport. Read more here.
While in the past few days Eid celebrations led to a slower pace of developments throughout Libya and the broader Middle Eastern region, today in London the Libyan Investment Agency (LIA) began its High Court $1bn action against Goldman Sachs. The case, as previously reported, aims to make the US investment bank accountable for the vast financial losses in which the LIA incurred following a series of high-risk derivative investments. A similar case for $1.5bn is expected to be brought forward by the LIA against the French Societe Generale in the next future.
You can read my take on this issue in a contribution to Kit Chellel’s article for Bloomberg on the subject:
“At present the LIA are doing whatever is going to play well with the domestic Libyan public not necessarily what will win them the lawsuit,” said Jason Pack, a Cambridge University academic specializing in Libyan history and founder of the consulting firm Libya-Analysis.com.
“It’s very popular in Libya to say that Western companies took advantage of Libya in the Qaddafi period and were making money hand-over-fist,” Pack said in an e-mail. In fact, LIA employees were “as sophisticated as most Western finance professionals and had access to world-class advisers.” They “were aware how the game is played,” he said.
As the situation in western Libya stabilizes, Misratan elements seem to be taking full advantage of the new found stability to further consolidate their power in the economic sphere. Turkish Airlines has resumed chartered cargo flights to Misrata, two months after suspending all operations to Libya following the commencement of Operation Dawn. In addition, the schedule of commercial flights (all on Libyan carriers) from locations such as Casablanca, Tunis, Istanbul and Amman are now beginning to stabilize and there are also limited flights from Malta. Moreover, a weekly flight from London to Mitiga airport in Tripoli via Turkey has been initiated.
Possessing a reputation throughout the country for being a business savvy community, Misratans have been looking to build up capacity in their already efficient port to ensure that they remain an important player in Libyan commerce. In addition to the port and air travel developments, Misrata’s commitment to commerce can be seen in Libyan businessmen Bashar Ahmed’s completion of the Safari 2 Hotel. Considering the fragile security situation in Libya, the completion of such an ambitious project illustrates the entrepreneurial spirit of Misrata. Pictures of the project have been attached.
Having already consolidated power in Tripoli, it will be interesting to see how Misratan elements intend to advance their agenda in becoming the dominant political and economic force in the country. As a kind gesture, Misrata’s political elites have decided to conduct a prisoner swap with Zintan and release some of their Tawerghan prisoners in the spirit of the Eid Al-Adha celebrations. This shows that Misrata’s political elites recognize the need to negotiate and bargain with other stakeholders in the Libyan political sphere. Similarly, although Operation Dawn has on the whole condemned the internationally sponsored reconciliation talks in Ghadames, some Misratan political and business elements are angling for them to be supported. This means that many powerful actors have a reason to prevent a relapse into violence in Western Libya.
France is setting up a base in northern Niger as part of an operation aimed at stopping al-Qaida-linked militants from crisscrossing the Sahel-Sahara region between southern Libya and Mauritania, according to this VOA News article. Alawsat’s Libyan website, however, disclosed that a French diplomatic source was certain that Paris had no intention to intervene militarily in Libya
France has been the most vocal western superpower to condemn the Islamist presence in Libya, calling for the placement of Ansar Al-Sharia on the United Nations terror organization list. Paris, which has led efforts to push back Islamists in the region since intervening in its former colony Mali last year, redeployed troops across West Africa earlier this year to form a counter-terrorism force. Diplomatic sources estimate that about 300 fighters linked to al-Qaida’s North African arm AQIM are operating in southern Libya, a key point on smuggling and trafficking routes across the region. With Libya being awash in weapons, France is intent on protecting its commercial interests in its former colonial subjects of Algeria, Gabon and Senegal and ensuring that the Mediterranean remains a safe environment for commerce and trade.
It will be interesting to see if this latest deployment in Niger will evolve in the direction of the rumours — escalating into a full out ground presence in Libya. The French President Francois Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who have championed a political solution, insist on supporting the work of the United Nations and its envoy to Libya. With that being said, France would likely be the first major power to take action in Libya should a failure in the political dialogue lead to a destabilization of the Mediterranean. With yesterday’s massive suicide attack in Benghazi, we may be reaching that point.
It was announced today that the city of Ghadames has been picked as the site for hosting talks and negotiations between HoR representatives and its boycotting members, who have been deserting the institution since the start of its works last summer. In a bid to avoid providing Libya Dawn and its institutions with additional legitimacy, there will be no direct negotiations between the recently sworn-in al-Thinni government and members of the re-vamped GNC or of the al-Hassi government. However, despite recent declarations from HoR spokesman Faraj Hashim, outside observers expect HoR boycotters attending talks to act as full fledged Libya Dawn representatives, potentially allowing already tomorrow for the declaration of a bilateral ceasefire and exchange of prisoners. This would in turn strengthen the UNSMIL-brokered initiative and boost the possibility of reaching a political solution to the ongoing national crisis, as many of Libya’s Western partners are pushing for.
In Benghazi, meanwhile, violence continues unabated. During the past seven days, the city has witnessed a string of targeted assassinations that came as a shocker even when bearing in mind the city’s recent events and trends. Last Friday, not only were members of the security apparatuses again attacked by assailants, but, once again,young political activists were also needlessly killed. Furthermore, on Wednesday, General Haftar’s forces finally followed through with their threats of attacking ships suspected of providing weapons and ammunition through the city’s port to militias aligned with the Benghazi’s Revolutionaries Shoura Council.
At this stage, it then seems clear that Benghazi will remain the scene of further violence, quite possibly for an extended amount of time. Besides the fact that Operation Dignity forces are all but set to accept their eviction from the city, the willingness of extremist groups to adopt asymmetrical tactics in order to coerce the population and fulfill their political visions make it likely that even the achievement of a grand political bargain during Ghadames’ negotiations will not bring an end to the city’s current security jumble.
This article in the May/June edition of Prime Time Backgammon explores the psychological dimensions of backgammon match play by analyzing the cube strategies of Lars Trabolt and Slava Pryadkin in their 2013 World Championship finals match. My goal was to examine those situations in which the world’s best players deliberately vary from the computer-recommended moves. I observed that Lars Trabolt’s “non-bot plays” (I prefer not to call them errors) earlier in the match (before he fell behind significantly) were small issues of deliberate cautiousness (i.e. avoiding leaving lots of blots, not cubing/recubing when he technically should have, and dropping too early). These sub-optimal decisions could be thought of as having been forced by Praydkin’s aggressive tactics and cube play — which this article explores in more detail. Studying the match in its entirety, I find that Slava’s doubling strategy was consistent and global: it reveals a clear plan calculated to maximize his chances against a technically superior opponent who was well versed in modern theory.
Generally, the advice to weaker players playing long matches against the best players in the world is to cube early in gammonish positions, while also taking deeply/aggressively in high-volatility situations. Study of Slava’s play provides a tutorial in this strategy. As such this article is a must read for Open-level backgammon players who wish to beat the world’s best. This installment looks in particular at Slava’s recube to 4 trailing 20-away, 19-away. By cubing a smidge early, Slava forced Lars to take but gave himself plenty of opportunities to score a gammon and split the match right open. This recube should be understood as an example of the money strategy of ‘doubling the opponent in’ rather than ‘out’. Slava executed this flawless and the dice favoured him allowing him to pull ahead 13-6. To read the full article click here.
This is proving to be a busy and eventful week for Libya. On Monday, the House of Representatives finally approved the new cabinet led by Abdullah al-Thinni. After seeing his proposed cabinets rejected twice, al-Thinni managed to overcome HoR internal fractures between federalists and members of the highly heterogeneous National Forces Alliance and to obtain a vote of confidence. In a sense, the approval of al-Thinni’s cabinet after such a long hiatus from his resignation last month was an obligatory move for the HoR at this stage. The institution is reportedly losing members on a daily basis and its inability to install a functioning executive was not simply taking a toll on its internal standing, but risked more broadly to evolve in an insurmountable issue leading to its complete collapse and demise.
As a response to al-Thinni’s cabinet, on Wednesday the GNC sworn in new members to its own government, labeled as a national salvation one, which is headed by Omar al-Hassi. Several members of the al-Hassi government have already taken control of Ministerial buildings in Tripoli and reiterated calls for Libya’s Arab and international partners to return to Tripoli for resuming their business and diplomatic activities. Nonetheless, what the al-Hassi government cannot rely on, is the international recognition as Libya’s sole legitimate representative institution that all of the country’s partners, including Turkey and Qatar, still give to the HoR. This position was implicitly reiterated in the closing statement of last week’s Madrid’s Ministerial Conference on stability and developments in Libya. Clearly, the legitimacy of the HoR and of the transition process for which it stands represent non-negotiable items for Libya’s international partners. This is further demonstrated by the fact that upcoming negotiations between Libya’s rival factions, which are set to start on Monday 29 September under the guidance of the UNSMIL, will adopt the following agenda, which in itself represents a defeat for the Misrata-affiliated institutional paraphernalia:
(I) Conclusion of a framework agreement on the rules of procedure of the House of Representatives (HoR) as well as an agreement on the critical issues relating to the governance of the country. Such key issues would require a qualified majority of 2/3 of the HoR membership to allow for decisions. All decisions of the HoR will be subject to the agreed upon rules of procedure.
(II) Agreement on the date, venue and ceremonial for a handover ceremony from the previous General National Congress to the current HoR.
With regards to oil production, after a temporary shut-down of the el-Sharara field and of the Zawiya refinery over the week-end, both structures are now back to work, helping Libya’s oil production to close in on the 900,000bpd mark. Two potential issues, however, emerged in the past days for the oil sector.
Firstly, tensions and armed confrontations have recently erupted in Obari, near the el-Sharara field and close to the border with Algeria. Reports indicate that Tuareg and Tubu militias have battled in and around the town after Tuareg militias prevented an attempt from Tubu groups to smuggle people from Algeria into Libya. On the other hand, rumors indicate that these confrontations might have also been spurred by recent overtures made by the Misratan establishment to local groups in the area in an attempt to obtain a direct control of oil production facilities. Secondly, after a first round of confrontations for the control of the Central Bank, Libya’s rival governments are likely to battle at an institutional level for the control of the oil sector as well. So far, the two government have adopted different approaches. Al-Thinni, in fact, has decided not to include an oil minister in his cabinet and opted to manage oil production entirely through the NOC, as in Qadhafi-era Libya. Al-Hassi, on the contrary, has appointed for the post of Minister of Oil Mashallah Zwai, who has already taken over the Oil Ministry building in Tripoli and looks ready to set off the battle for the control of Libya’s gold.
Appointed Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni is expected to present tonight his new cabinet to the House of Representatives after the first one he proposed a few days ago was turned down by MPs. Reports indicate that this will be Thinni’s last possibility to retain the job, after which the mandate will be given to a new candidate. Optimism, however, seems to prevail with Thinni and HoR President Ageela Saleh set to leave Tobruk after the cabinet vote will have taken place and attend the UN General Assembly in New York during the upcoming days.
Meanwhile, the two blocs dominating Libya’s politics continue to bring forth two diametrically opposed narratives. On the one hand, the HoR and the bloc it represents are still pursuing a heightened international engagement in an attempt to salvage both their status and a military campaign which has seen HoR-aligned forces lose the upper hand to Libya Dawn ones. On the other hand, for the time being, Libya Dawn forces seem very keen on freezing the current landscape, renouncing to asserti their full authority over the eastern part of the country, but forcing at the same time the HoR to accept a re-scoped role as administrator of the areas around Tobruk and Baida only as well as a general atomisation of the country’s administration. Libya Dawn Forces have also announced that refugees, expatriates and foreign diplomats should return to Tripoli where life and the security situation are back to normal, but strongly underlined that internal negotiations between rival factions are a matter pertaining to Libyan nationals only. The belated proclamation of a national state of emergency made on Thursday by newly appointed Chief of Staff Nazhuri should thus be seen as an attempt to undermine these attempts by Libya Dawn forces to see their control over the capital de facto recognised by international partners.
Furthermore, on Friday, a weapon depot belonging to Libya Dawn forces was hit by yet another air strike carried out by ‘unidentified forces’. It is unclear at this stage what are the strategic goals behind these strikes, which have so far accomplished very little from a military point of view whilst marring the internal standing and legitimacy of the HoR bloc. The strikes are also unlikely to create momentum for further military engagement given last week’s latest rejection of military intervention in the country which came from Libya’s Madrid conference.
Lastly, as previously mentioned, confrontations currently seem to have shifted from the military field to the control of the Central Bank’s (CBL) assets and organizational structure. Rori Donaghy of the Middle East Eye put together a very interesting piece on this issue, focusing on the differences between former CBL governor Elkaber and his interim replacement al-Habri, as well as on the difficulties that lie ahead for the HoR:
This split has given rise to the spectre of two CBLs emerging over the coming weeks, according to the ICG’s Gazzani. “The Tobruk government could take over the Benghazi branch of the CBL to act as its headquarters, but it is not clear what this would mean in terms of liquidity and funds,” she said. “Up until now, the CBL in Tripoli has transferred funds to Benghazi. If there is separation of the CBL the question is: how will the Benghazi branch get money? It would require redirecting payments for oil sales from Tripoli’s main account into other subsidiary accounts.” “That would mean a complete overhaul of the payment process for oil revenues,” she added.
(…) The potential for two rival central banks has prompted increased fears of Libya’s international assets being frozen, which the CBL has previously warned “would lead to a loss of sovereignty and would not be in the interest of the country and its security and stability.”
(…) The ICG’s Gazzani, however, said an asset freeze could be used to pressure reconciliation between the warring political and military groups. “Freezing assets could be a means for the international community to force dialogue on both sides of the political divide and find a solution to end this impasse.”
Gharyan, a town south of Tripoli and allied with Operation Dawn Forces, suffered airstrikes at the hands of Operation Dignity forces on Monday. Ammunition depots belonging to Operation Dawn forces were believed to be targeted, according to locals. Meanwhile, Operation Dignity Forces loyal to former Libyan army general Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi threatened to bomb the city’s port unless authorities close the port. Also, a grad rocket hit an area close to Libya’s 120,000-barrel-a-day refinery in Zawiya west of the capital Tripoli, state news agency LANA said on Monday.
The target points of these attacks seem to share one common attribute, in that they are all strongholds of Operation Dawn. In addition to the town of Gharyan, Zawyia’s political and tribal factions have also aligned themselves with the Misratan-led Operation Dawn. The airstrikes demonstrate that Operation Dignity and its allies in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia appear to be making a push either take back the nation’s capital or show that they can still inflict damage on their enemies away from their bases in Libya’s extreme East. The anti-Islamist camp is also renewing its effort to stop the flow of weapon supplies to Islamists in Benghazi by ordering the local authorities to close the port. Despite calls to close the port in August and the instability facing the country, the port is currently still working at 70 percent of its full capacity.
It will be interesting to see if Operation Dignity-aligned forces from Zintan or Wershafena attempt to supplement these airstrikes with a ground attack. But this seems quite unlikely as Operation Dignity forces have been awfully quiet in the last month, a strategy that is most likely temporary as troops regroup, yet could be semi-permanent as the Zintanis may be a totally spent force at this point. If the latter is the case it is unclear what such airstrikes can do to tip the balance of power. They seem yet another example of a miscalculation on behalf of the Arab backers of Haftar that only further polarizes the sides and leads to sympathy for the Islamist on behalf of the population.
The reality is that Scottish Independence would be bad for the Scots and certainly for all nations who benefit from having a strong United Kingdom which is able to act swiftly and functionally. Hence I wrote an article in the LA TIMES putting for the security implications of a Scottish secession from the UK. You can read it here. I can sympathize with many of the Scots grievances towards Westminster, yet these should be able to be reasonably alleviated without resorting to the drastic step of independence. The answer has to be greater devolution to deal with the Scots legitimate demands for different local and regional governance. This will mean making scotland more like a US state and less like a French department… and things have been happening in this way for decades now but more devolution or what is called Devo-Max will happen and are being promised to the Scots if they vote no by Cameron and Milliband. I think this will cause a chain effect causing Wales and North Ireland to also get devo max and this will mean the UK will be more a collection of four states than a unitary state… but this is fine and will allow the UK to still have one army, one nuclear deterrent, and one policy towards Putin and ISIS, etc. Independence is not the answer as it would weaken the UK, NATO, Europe, and the West and sap their resolve to act as a coherent force in providing peace keeping, mediation, etc. in places like Libya, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine. All the nice vacation spots.
During the past few days, developments in Libya seem to have followed a slower pace as compared to the last few months. Tripoli is reportedly in a state of uneasy calm, with schools and a few commercial areas attempting to re-open despite the fact that several families are still living outside of the capital. In Benghazi, fighting continues around the Benina airport with Operation Dignity forces entrenched there succeeding so far in resisting repeated assaults by forces of the Benghazi Rebels Shura Council umbrella group.
The current state of things, however, is unsatisfactory for all parties involved in Libya’s struggle. More than a return to stability, these days represent the calm before the return of the storm. Both sides are likely busy re-organising their ranks politically and militarily, in anticipation of an imminent resumption of intense confrontations. Even if those confrontations lack a military component it is clear that al-Hassi and al-Thinni are not compromising themselves politically.
Despite having gained military control over Tripoli, the Misratan/Islamist camp seems to be preparing to go for the jugular and deal the final blow to its adversaries. In the last few days, the General National Congress has sworn in the government formed by its appointed-PM Hassi and unsuccessfully attempted to severe diplomatic relations with the UAE and Egypt. Even more worryingly, after being emboldened by the conquest of Tripoli, it appears that the Misratan establishment has re-buffed several negotiations requests coming from the HoR. This news, alongside rumors of arms shipment coming from Sudan, legitimately raises the question of whether Operation Dawn forces are not willing to further expand the scope of the current military battle to affirm their (military) supremacy and that of the the GNC once and for all.
Finally, the House of Representatives continues to register statements of support coming from neighboring countries and international partners. On Monday, the Head of the UNSMIL mission, Bernardino Leon, visited Tobruk to discuss current developments with HoR President Ageela Issa. On the other hand, each passing day the HoR seems more and more devoid of internal strengths and capabilities. Despite initial reports, appointed-PM Abdullah Thinni has yet to present his restructured and slimmed-down cabinet. Rumors have started to emerge that the process of ministers’ selection has been complicated by contrasting political pressures coming from the federalist camp and from forces aligned with the National Forces Alliance of Mahmoud Jibril. Lastly, in what is certainly depressing news for the HoR camp, reports emerged of Libyan cadets being dismissed and repatriated from their army-training course in the UK due to an episode of insubordination. As these are not the first Libyan cadets dismissed from training, both the HoR and its international partners have been reminded once again of the inherent difficulties of building any army from scratch, let alone one with the operation capabilities and esprit de corps required for operating in the contemporary Libyan security scenario.
For our Spanish speaking audience, Jason Pack and Mohamed Maher of Libya-Analysis.com recently weighed in on the Proxy War being fought in Libya by regional powers in this El Pais Article. Since the military ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in Egypt last year, new President Abdul Fatah Sisi and his backers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have launched a campaign across the region to stop what they see as an existential threat to their authority posed by Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. The authors of the piece argue that the attack on Misratan weapon depots galvanized the Islamists in western Libya to take control of Libya. Possessing around 10,000 men and better firepower than their Zinanti counterparts, the Islamists felt that taking over Tripoli would insure that their survival in the political process. This latest military defeat for the non-Islamists has also partially destroyed the credibility of the newly elected House of Representatives. By aligning itself with Khalifa Haftar, who has vowed to crush all Islamist factions, the House of Representatives was unable to entice even moderate Islamists to recognize the newly elected institution.
As expected after his resignation of a few days ago, Abdullah Thinni has been given a new mandate as Prime Minister, this time by the House of Representatives, and has now two weeks to form a new cabinet. Media reports indicate that Thinni has been asked to put together a slimmed down cabinet, with the hope that this, alongside a full and not Caretaker mandate, will enable him to achieve the results required to gather enough consensus to defuse the current crisis.
Meanwhile, in Tripoli, forces belonging to the Libya Dawn operation are trying to put facts on the ground and project an aura of legitimacy and sovereignty. As reported today by David Kirkpatrick for the New York Times, despite announcements from the government that ministerial buildings and state infrastructures in the capital were not safe due to militia presence, after a month long battle the perception in the streets seems to be a different one.
Residents of Tripoli said Monday that life was beginning to return to the city after a month of fighting. Businesses that had been closed were beginning to reopen, gas and electricity shortages were becoming less severe, and traffic was returning to the streets.
But the victors in the fight have also attacked and burned the homes of people accused of backing the other side; one target was the home of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni.
Reports emerged that indiscriminate attacks targeted also the Tawerghan refugee camp located in Tripoli.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that a potential ‘Ghariani Case’ materialised and rapidly dissolved in the UK over the weekend. As the Guardian revealed that the Libyan Mufti was currently based in England, questions arose with regards to the legitimacy of his stay in the country, particularly in light of the statements Ghariani made in the past months with regards to the legitimacy of Ansar al-Shari’a as well as with his more recent statements directed against the HoR and inciting Libya Dawn forces to use the iron fist in Tripoli. Ghariani is now said to be in Qatar, one of the country rumored to be most involved in the proxy war that Libya is becoming.
In a bid to bring new energies and a fresh allure to the HoR camp, Caretaker Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni has resigned from his post along with all the members of his government. The decision came hours after news emerged about the possible resignation of six ministers from his government.
In his final statement, the caretaker government reiterated the status of the HoR as the sole legitimate institution inside the country, alongside the Constitutional Assembly, and framed its resignation as a move designed to allow the election of a new government. The HoR has already shortlisted five candidates for the Prime Minister Office: outgoing PM Thinni, Ashur Shuwail, Omar Abassi, Ali Al-Tikbali and the Libyan Ambassador to the UAE Aref Al-Nayed; the Libya Herald put together a brief backgrounder on each of them. Meanwhile, in Tripoli, GNC-appointed Prime Minister al-Hassi is said to have selected seven ministers for his own government, including GNC President Abu Sahmain.
Thinni’s resignation should be seen in the context of the increasing internal pressure the HoR is facing, due to the recent military developments which gave the Misratan/GNC camp the upper hand in the ongoing confrontation. In this sense, the presence of Thinni among shortlisted candidates for the PM position should be seen as a proof that his resignation does not mark a fracture between him and the HoR, but rather an attempt to salvage the internal standing of this institution by speeding up the election of the new government.
An increased sense of urgency with regards to the ongoing Libyan political crisis can also be perceived through the statement issued by the EU, which openly rejects the GNC and its government, labeling them as illegitimate, and through the call issued by France for the UN to provide ‘exceptional support’ to Libya and its transition process. At this stage, it seems that all actors outside of the Misratan camp are working against the potential consolidation of two rival and equally non-representative political centers of power. However, it will now be up to the HoR to select an inclusive government, capable of acting and being perceived as a national salvation one, so as to avoid the further consolidation of factors potentially leading up to a widespread civil war or to a deepened socio-political fragmentation of the country.
While the military front has been quiet during the past few hours, after Misratan-led forces established their control over Tripoli and its airport, the Libyan high politics scene has been ripe with developments. In particular, after re-conveying in Tripoli, the GNC has given mandate to Omar al-Hassi to form a National Salvation Government and invited all parties interested in re-vamping the democratic transition process and re-establishing constitutional legitimacy in the country to support it. Additionally, during the past few hours, six ministers from the Thinni government have resigned, citing governmental bias in tackling the ongoing national crisis as well as the adoption of governmental resolutions without consulting relevant ministers as the basis for their decision. These developments could spell disaster for the HoR and the caretaker government of Prime Minister Thinni. Their standing was already marred by the self-imposed re-location to Tobruk’s safe but isolated location, by the inability to achieve meaningful developments in pacifying the country and by the explicit calls made for foreign military intervention. However, now that the state’s capital city is firmly under the control of the Misratan/GNC camp, they run the risk of losing any real internal political legitimacy in the eyes of large swaths of the population which had not taken a side yet in the dispute between rival chambers. The HoR of course will not go down without a fight and has appointed a new spokesperson to bring forth its narrative. A detailed summary of most recent events can be found on the Middle East Eye.
At the international level, the UN Security Council officially weighed in on the Libyan crisis, approving a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire and promising sanctions for those that will not comply with it. The US, UK, France, Germany and Italy have also urged all parties involved to pursue a political solution based on dialogue, further condemning recent foreign strikes on Tripoli and describing them as a source of further exacerbation between parties. Furthermore, whilst Egypt has been quick in re-buffing accusations of covert military intervention in Libya, Tunisia came out strongly against the possibility of foreign military intervention and reports have emerged of Algeria hosting former GNC President Nouri Abusahmain for talks aimed at ending the ongoing crisis.
Lastly, it is worth heading to Reuters Africa for a very interesting piece focusing on the economic and financial status of Libya. In this regards, recent positive developments in the oil production sector, which has been delivering up to 650,000 barrels per day during the past few weeks, should be taken cautiously since military and political developments on the ground could easily reverse the production trend witnessed since July. Furthermore, the state budget deficit and the burden of destroyed infrastructures will make managing Libya an uphill task for whichever side will gain the upper-hand in the long run, as evidenced by quotes reported in the article:
Even if oil exports continue to flow, Libya will still post a historic budget deficit of 70 percent unless output rises to 1.6 million bpd at a price of $100 per barrel, said Husni Bey, who heads one of the of country’s largest private conglomerates. Parliament in June approved a budget worth $49 billion, assuming annual production of 600,000 bpd. But output has lingered around 100,000 bpd.
Libya does not publish oil export figures but needs up to 140,000 bpd of its production for domestic refineries. Bey said the budget crisis is exacerbated by demands to cover infrastructure damages exceeding 10 billion dinars, after the airport terminal, much of the civilian air fleet and fuel storage tanks were destroyed during more than a month of fighting in Tripoli. The government needed to use up yet more foreign currency reserves and start issuing Islamic bonds to local banks, he said.
Jason Pack of Libya-analysis.com recently took part in an interesting discussion on Aljazeera’s Inside Story. Jason touched on three important themes that have surfaced in the Islamist/Non-Islamist most recent episode: the bifurcation of Libya, foreign intervention and the proxy war that Libya has become.
In a very informative piece in the New York Times, David Kirkpatrick and Eric Schmidt disclosed that American officials said the Egyptians and the Emiratis had teamed up against Islamist target in Libya at least once before this week. Teams of “special forces” operating out of Egypt but possibly composed primarily of Emiratis had also successfully destroyed an Islamist camp near the eastern Libyan city of Derna, an extremist stronghold. The officials brought to attention that the United Arab Emirates boasts one of the most effective air forces in the Arab world, made up of American equipment and training, provided the pilots, warplanes and aerial refueling planes necessary for the fighters to bomb Tripoli out of bases in Egypt. The two authors suggest that the agenda of the Egypt and Saudi Arabia is fairly obvious:
The strikes in Tripoli are another salvo in a power struggle defined by Arab autocrats battling Islamist movements seeking to overturn the old order. Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt last year, the new government and its backers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have launched a campaign across the region — in the news media, in politics and diplomacy, and by arming local proxies — to roll back what they see as an existential threat to their authority posed by Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Operation Dawn Forces have taken a series of major Zintani strongholds in Tripoli and appear to be in control of the capital. According to sources close to both militias, Misratans now controls Naqlia Camp, have entered the passenger terminal at the International Airport and are within the perimeter of the Islamic Da’wa Centre and are soon to take 7th April camp, which is reported to have been abandoned by the Zintani forces that occupied it hitherto.
These gains are likely to be answered by further airstrikes from Operation Libyan Dignity tonight. If the Misratans are able to withstand them and hold their gains from today, a Revolutionary Council will likely be established in Tripoli next week, which will become the focal point for the city’s administrative affairs. Operation Dawn have expressed their interest in dismissing the House of Representatives and reinstating the General National Congress instead.
It seems unlikely that this military victory will spell an end to conflict in Tripoli. In addition to the reaction of the nationalist factions, it will be interesting to see how Libya’s neighbours and western allies react. Most international parties have taken a neutral stance on the conflict, but have quietly backed one of the two sides as part of a larger regional proxy war in the region between Islamists and Nationalists. Western nations will likely condemn Operation Dawn’s intention of reinstating the GNC, as it sets a dangerous precedent for Democracy in the region.
As speculations abound over the airstrike of Monday in Tripoli, the House of Representatives has re-gathered in Tobruk to address the issues of forming a new caretaker government and discussing the position of Army’s Chief of Staff Obeidi. At the same time, the HoR had to register critiques coming from Arab League officials with regards to its request for foreign intervention, these remarks will hardly help the HoR achieving a much-needed breakthrough in its bid for gathering external help from Western and NATO countries who had previously intervened in 2011.
Nonetheless, with regards to this, it is worth reporting a passage from an article published for Al-Monitor by Mustafa Fetouri who highlighted the crucial dimension that any solution to the current Libyan crisis must have:
Whether the call for intervention finds any response or not, and whether it actually does happen, is another matter. What is certain, though, is that the complex Libyan situation will remain a largely internal issue requiring Libyans to come to their senses and sit together to claim back their country.
Unfortunately, if media and PR wars are an indication of where national dialogue is headed, signs are not encouraging but rather point towards heightened social tension. Tuesday, a Libyan official confirmed that the government had requested from NileSat to shut down the broadcasting of Islamist leaning and HoR-opposing “Libya al-Wataniya” and “Libya al-Ramia” channels. Furthermore, on Wednesday, unconfirmed rumors of Sudanese pro-Ansar al-Shari’a mercenaries gathering in Kufra emerged, evoking a narrative reminiscent of rumors regarding dark-skinned mercenaries flocking to Qadhafi’s side in early 2011.
On the other hand, despite dire political and security developments, Libya’s oil sector continues to slowly boost its production levels. In particular, yesterday a tanker loaded oil in Libya’s port of Es-Sider for the first time in a year. Es-Sider has a loading capacity of 340.000 barrels per day which will add to current production levels that have been consistently hitting the 500.000bpd mark during the month of July. Furthermore, ENI has just spudded a new exploration offshore well. Unfortunately for Libya, however, its oil production is back on a sluggish market that registered not only a drop in the current price for crude oil, but also a negative revision of the expected growth in general oil demand for this year. Market difficulties reflect particularly heavily on Libya’s ability to sell its crude since most of its oil exports are directed towards the Eurozone area, and Italy in particular, whose economies are still marred by the crippling effects of the financial crisis.
During the night between Sunday and Monday, Tripoli witnessed a targeted airstrike on positions and arsenals belonging to forces of the so called “Operation Dawn” led by Misratan militias. Several reports indicate that targets were hit with laser guided bombs delivered from an altitude of 7-8 Km, making this an operation well beyond the capabilities of what is left of Libya’s Air Forces. Furthermore, airplanes belonging to General Haftar could have not carried out such operation due to the necessity to re-fuel midway between their bases in eastern Libya and the targets in Tripoli, something beyond their operational capability.
The state of confusion and anxiety sparked by the over night attack is well captured by an article on the National Post by Maamoun Youssef:
In a statement, the government demanded the chief of staff and military intelligence to investigate the predawn strikes Monday morning targeting positions of militias originally from the coastal city of Misrata and its Islamist allies.
The strikes, under the cover of darkness, sparked fears that a foreign country like Italy carried out the attack, as the Libyan military does not have aircraft that can fly at night, according to a former colonel in the Libyan air force. Libya’s newly elected parliament recently asked the United Nations to protect its civilians and stop the fighting. Italy’s ambassador to Libya even went on local television to say his country was not involved.
Later during the day, Haftar forces have claimed responsibility for the attack, describing it as an operation carried out with the support of unspecified international partners.
Whilst the House of Representatives is planning its work for the week ahead, this news is likely to further invigorate the zero-sum logic driving both Operation Dignity and Operation Dawn forces. In particular, despite mediation efforts being carried out by UN and EU delegations in the city of Misrata following on the appointment of a new UN Special Envoy for Libya, Misratan forces might feel pressured into a corner by both internal and external forces and decide to further escalate confrontation. In this sense, even emerging rumors of joint combat exercises to be carried out by air forces of the “5+5 Defence Initiative” countries, in preparation for potential attacks coming from Libya, are likely to stir up even more tension in the Islamist camp.
As expected by analysts and observers of Libyan affairs, the House of Representatives passed on Wednesday two important resolutions aimed at tackling the security crisis crippling the country. In its first resolution, the HoR called for the UN Security Council to intervene in Libya so as to protect civilians and institutions currently put at risk by internal fights between factions that are increasingly coalescing in national level blocks and jeopardizing the political transition. The resolution was approved by 111 out of the 124 representatives attending the meeting. In its wording, however, the resolution does not provide details of what means the HoR expects the UN to adopt in its intervention, making it unlikely that a full blown military intervention will actually take place without a clear mandate coming from within the country. This notion is further reinforced by the statement issued yesterday by the UNSMIL mission which calls for a political solution to the crisis rather than a military imposed one. Support for UNSMIL and its approach towards Libya were also reiterated by the US, Italian, French and German governments last night through a joint statement.
Through a second resolution, the HoR ordered the disbandment of all existing militias and removed financial benefits previously allocated for those recognised by the State. The resolution (No. 7/2014), adopted by 102 out of the 104 representatives present, calls for all armed groups to either join the National Armed Forces or disband by 31st December 2014. After adopting these resolutions, the HoR decided to adjourn itself until next Sunday as per request of several of its members who noted that the institution has effectively been working non-stop for the past two weeks, a situation that explains the limited number of representatives attending yesterday’s last vote.
The adoption of these long-awaited resolutions, tackling the security situation in general and the current violence in Tripoli and Benghazi in particular, clearly raises the stakes for the HoR. At this stage, the internal standing and legitimacy of this body will be profoundly affected by its ability to garner effective external support for halting ongoing fights and by its ability to appoint a new government capable of enforcing the disbandment of militias and establishing a coherent and functional security apparatus. This is particularly true since camps and forces opposing the HoR on the ground of its ‘unofficial’ gathering in Tobruk are maintaining their narrative alive so as to possibly capitalise from it when popular discontent or disappointment with the HoR might soar as they did in the past with the GNC.
In a recent episode of ‘Inside Story’ broadcasted by Al Jazeera, Professor George Joffe from the University of Cambridge made the point that ongoing confrontations in Libya represent a major turning point for the country. This is especially true for warring militias that see current events as their last chance to carve up spheres of influence in the country’s economic and political landscapes before the House of Representatives sets out to cancel financial benefits that were previously allocated for them by state institutions. In light of this, it was argued, the international community should stand with all its weight behind Libya’s political institutions and sustain their long term development and role in the country.
With regards to political institutions, during the past few days, the House of Representatives has been going through a series of hearings with State officials at various levels so as to grasp a better understanding of the situation on the ground and of the positions held by relevant actors throughout these months. Among others, Caretaker Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni, Libya’s Army Chief of Staff Abdussalam Jadallah Al-Obeidi and Saiqa Special Forces Commander Wanis Bu Khamada appeared in front of elected representatives. Today instead, the HoR agreed with an overwhelming majority for Libya’s next President to be elected through popular vote, a position that has always been unpopular with the Islamist camp and that will likely increase the antagonism expressed by it towards the HoR, a body Islamist forces already charged with illegitimacy before. Nonetheless, no election date has been set as of yet as the HoR aims to obtain a clearer picture of the current security situation before doing so.
Political developments notwithstanding, clashes continue unabated throughout Libya, a reminder of both the dramatic lack of institutional capability in the country and the inability of any side to prevail militarily. Despite clear orders emanated by the Army Chief of Staff to comply with the HoR ceasefire decision, shelling and targeted assassinations have resumed in Tripoli. As a results, it is now estimated that the number of internally displaced families has topped the 7,000 mark, not to mention the continuous shrinkage of expat communities in the country which has a strong impact on the delivery of aid and assistance work. In the East, after forces from the Shoura Council of Benghazi’s Revolutionaries seemed to have gained the upper hand during last week’s fights for the city, reports emerged that Saiqa troops made their way back into certain parts of town, while air forces belonging to Haftar’s Operation Dignity expanded their field of action to Derna’s port after having repeatedly threatened to shut down Benghazi’s port and attack any ship directed towards it, so far an empty threat.
Finally, to focus on the regional dimension of the crisis, it is worth heading to Al-Monitor to read a translation of a piece written by Nadia B’chir for Business News. This article does a good job of presenting the structural and political differences between 2011 and today from the point of view of Tunisia, highlighting the consequences that this would have in case of a further escalation in the current Libyan crisis:
As the security situation reaches its peak, Tunisia is confronted with the difficult task of managing the massive influx of Libyan, Egyptian and Jordanian refugees fleeing Libya. The number of people registered at the Ras Jedir border crossing ranges between 5,000 and 6,000 people per day. Commenting on the figures at a press conference on the deteriorating situation in Libya, Tunisia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mongi Hamdi said the influx was “normal” so far, and far from the figures registered in 2011. At that time, more than 500,000 people fled to Tunisia. The minister asserted that the 2011 scenario could not be reproduced. The country’s current situation can in no way allow it to happen, due to a difficult economic climate coupled with a vulnerable security situation caused by the spread of terrorism. The national army, which is currently weak and which, in 2011, gave full support to customs and border officers, is focused on the fight against terrorism. The country’s national interest takes priority over solidarity and compassion, despite those things being heavily present. In this regard, Mongi Hamdi explained that given the precarious economic situation in Tunisia and the large numbers of Libyans in the territory (estimated to be over one million), the country can no longer accommodate additional refugees. He did not rule out the possibility of closing the Tunisian-Libyan border if the influx of refugees intensifies.
He stressed that, in such an event, the borders would only be open to Tunisian nationals, whose number was estimated at 80,000, as well as to individuals who had special cases. Regarding refugees coming from Egypt and Jordan, Mongi Hamdi clearly stated that they would be allowed to cross the Tunisian-Libyan border provided they present a flight ticket from the Djerba airport certifying their repatriation, or that their country of origin agrees to send a plane to repatriate them.
In an interesting Op-ed this week, Thomas L. Friedman discusses a broad range of foreign policy decisions that United States President Barack Obama implemented during his presidency. The president reflects on the short comings of the NATO-led Libyan Operations that ousted Colonel Qaddafi, where his “hands-off” foreign policy may not have the best solution for Libya:
“I’ll give you an example of a lesson I had to learn that still has ramifications to this day, and that is our participation in the coalition that overthrew Qaddafi in Libya. I absolutely believed that it was the right thing to do. … Had we not intervened, it’s likely that Libya would be Syria. … And so there would be more death, more disruption, more destruction. But what is also true is that I think we [and] our European partners underestimated the need to come in full force if you’re going to do this. Then it’s the day after Qaddafi is gone, when everybody is feeling good and everybody is holding up posters saying, ‘Thank you, America.’ At that moment, there has to be a much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies that didn’t have any civic traditions. … So that’s a lesson that I now apply every time I ask the question, ‘Should we intervene, militarily? Do we have an answer [for] the day after?’ ”
It is noteworthy to mention that the president reiterated his intention of extending his hand to communities in the Middle East that apply the principle of “No Victor/No Vanquished”. This proclamation would confirm that the current U.S. administration has no intention of picking sides in the latest Islamist-Nationalist spat.
Even though almost two years have passed, the memory of the events of the 2012 assault on the US Consulate in Benghazi still looms large over the White House. In a very interesting piece on today’s New York Times, Mark Landler, Alissa J. Rubin, Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper present a detailed account of the lead-up to the decision taken by President Obama to authorize limited airstrikes on IS militants in Iraq as well as the delivery of humanitarian aid to the displaced population of Northern Iraq. The authors make an explicit reference to the weight that the events occurred in 2012 in Libya and the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens had on the decision making process:
With American diplomats and business people in Erbil suddenly at risk, at the American Consulate and elsewhere, Mr. Obama began a series of intensive deliberations that resulted, only a day later, in his authorizing airstrikes on the militants, as well as humanitarian airdrops of food and water to the besieged Iraqis.
Looming over that discussion, and the decision to return the United States to a war Mr. Obama had built his political career disparaging, was the specter of an earlier tragedy: the September 2012 attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, and has become a potent symbol of weakness for critics of the president.
Clearly, the current administration does not want to run the risk of being seen as leaving behind US personnel and interests due its hands-off regional approach. On the other hand, it is too early to tell if these strikes will mark the first step towards a lasting change in the regional policy approach and if a similar stance will be taken with regards to Libya and the encroachment of Jihadist forces in the eastern part of the country.
Despite the ongoing turmoil marring the country, Libya oil’s production remains steady following the rebound in productivity levels witnessed after last month’s reopening of the Ras Lanouf and Al-Sidra ports and of the Sharara oil field. As confirmed by the Monthly Oil Market Report released today by the OPEC, during the past month Libya’s oil production consistently broke the 500,000 barrels a day mark for the first time since last January, bringing much needed relief to the country’s economy. Nonetheless, the oil sector has still a long way to go before reaching pre-war or late 2012 production levels. Reuters Graphic put together a very clear infographic highlighting this and documenting the fluctuating levels of Libya’s oil productivity during the post-Qadhafi years.
Furthermore, even though oil infrastructures have been spared by rival militias during ongoing clashes, it is still to early to breath a sigh of relief. As the events of Tripoli’s airport have demonstrated, zero-sum logic and the desire to undercut opponents’ sources of income might lead rivaling factions to engulf oil infrastructures in military clashes. This should be taken into consideration especially now, with reports indicating that Zawiya’s oil port is a mere 20km away from clashes, the need to implement a stable ceasefire deal and to launch a national dialogue aiming to mend fractures in the country’s socio-political landscape is more pressing than ever.
Laslty, David Samuels on Bloomberg Bussinesweek wrote a very interesting piece documenting the attempts made in the past years at tracking Libya’s assets stashed abroad during Qadhafi’s rule and how this process led to further squandering of identified funds for short-term political gains:
When asked to provide an example of how this scam works, Hamroush says Ireland has $2 billion in Libyan assets. She knows the exact sum, she says, because Irish officials made a point of telling her how much money they had and where it was located. She took the information to Mustafa Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council, at which point at least one group of asset hunters applied to receive 10 percent of the total, she says. “Somebody in the NTC is either a complete idiot or an evil genius,” she concludes. “Money is being squandered everywhere like mad.”
Giveaways to individuals and militias from Libyan state coffers during her time in office from November 2011 to August 2012 amounted to $20 billion, according to her own estimate. In addition, the government, to buy loyalty, pays 40 percent of the adult population a salary at a cost of about $6 billion a month. While that figure could have easily been covered by oil revenue during Qaddafi’s time, the country’s production is now less than a quarter of what it was. Today, the practice of loading up the budget with public salaries in order to buy public loyalty has continued—but with a difference. “Now there are two or three times as many salaries as before,” Hamroush says, and they are being paid out of the state’s foreign reserves. At the rate that they are being used, the reserves will be entirely depleted in two years.
In an article from the New Statesman, Bernard-Henri Levy points out that the collapse of the Libyan state is a result of very little action in the realm of state building. Levy suggests that foreign powers should have provided assistance in training a police force, constructing a program of disarmament and reintegration of the former combatants and a Libyan national school of public administration. Although the situation is deteriorating quickly, Levy does point out that the fact that it is not too late to act, and that Libya is by no means a country filled with extremists:
The reality is that an international force mandated by the United Nations would be welcomed with open arms and would have little trouble taming the death squads that presently sow so much terror while being so wholly unrepresentative of today’s Libya.
The country has held two free elections since the fall of Gaddafi. Both elections were clear-cut defeats for the Islamists. The first brought to power for sixteen months the most democratic and pro-western leader that the Arab world has produced in a long while: Ali Zeidan. The second, held 25 June, saw only 30 Islamists elected to the 188-seat legislature that has just convened in Tobruk despite calls for a boycott by the jihadist minority.
After gathering for its first official meeting on Monday, the House of Representatives set out to elect its President and Deputies during the past days. Participating representatives elected as President the independent lawyer Ageela Issa from Guba, who narrowly defeated initial frontrunner Abubakr Bahira during the second round of votes. Afterwards, the HoR selected Imhemed Shaib from Zawia as First Deputy Vice President and Ahmed Huma as Second Deputy. Today, the HoR got off to more substantive work. In particular, MP Ziad Daghim announced that the HoR stripped former GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain of his role as Commander of Armed Forces and ordered for an unconditional ceasefire to be implemented under the monitoring of the UN in Tripoli and Benghazi within twenty four hours.
It remains to be seen how forces on the ground will receive this order, particularly in light of reports emerged today that Algeria has been recently asked to lead a military intervention in Libya, under the blessings of a UN and Arab League sanctioned mandate, which might be seen as a (failed) strong attempt to rein in all militias, and undercut their means and power bases, on behalf of national political institutions. Nonetheless, Algeria allegedly refused to intervene outside of its borders on the ground of the defensive role of its armed forces. A similar argument has been raised by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to justify his country’s current stand which seems to be in contradiction with the increasing internal preoccupation expressed for developments occurring in Eastern Libya. A joint statement issued last night by the US, Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian and Libyan Governments further confirmed the reluctance of regional countries to get militarily involved into Libya, even though in the past days talks of intervention have gained ground among external observers.
Finally, as mentioned yesterday, whilst international support for the HoR is strong, internal factions have taken diametrically different positions with regards to its role and legitimacy, and the situation for some HoR members and politicians appears to be still fluid. Most importantly, reports have emerged that a demonstration has been held in Misrata, calling the relocation and transfer of power procedure held in Tobruk an attempted coup against the 2011 Revolution. Furthermore, Benghazi continued to slip into the hands of the Shoura Council of Benghazi Rebels – the umbrella coalition representing various Islamist leaning groups opposed to Saiqa and Haftar forces – that announced new significant territorial gains despite an alleged ceasefire in place in the city.
Some positive developments have taking place in the Eastern province of Cyrenaica over the last couple of days. According to a group of elders in Benghazi, calling themselves a Senate of Tribal Chiefs and Notables, negotiations with both the Benghazi Shoura Council and the Operation Dignity forces are taking place in order to ensure the violence that has struck Benghazi in recent days stops permanently. Apart from some explosions on the Airport Road at around midnight last night, the city has been relatively quiet since Sunday. Some key conditions of the ceasefire include laying down all arms and recognizing the legitimacy of Parliament (the House of Representatives) and submit ting to its authority.
In a joint statement on Monday, the French, Italian, German, UK and US governments called on the new House of Representatives to be inclusive in its work. They said that the house of representatives has the blessing of the international community and would back this new institution until the hopes and aspirations of Libyans were achieved. In retaliation, the president of the former General National Congress Nuri Abu Sahmain and the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Sadik Al-Ghariani, have said that the new House of Representatives is unconstitutional. However, with the legitimacy of the new House internationally and nationally accepted, the arguments advanced by Abu Sahmain and Ghariani are not seen as carrying much weight in the country and may well undermine their own credibility. Reconciliation between the Islamist and Anti-Islamist camps will be key for any lasting peace to take place in the capital. For residents in the capital, even without the dangers of random missiles landing, life has become intolerable. In many places, limited supplies and vast queues at bakers are the now the norm.
It will be interesting to see if military intervention becomes a possibility on the ground. Former UK ambassador to Libya, Sir Richard Dalton, has said the UK and other EU states could send in troops if the authorities request reinforcements. Dalton suggested that the U.K should conduct the necessary preparation now in case that mediation should be successful and Libyan leaders generally request some form of reinforcement for their own embryonic forces.
With the battle for Tripoli’s Airport entering its third week and Benghazi witnessing significant advances from the Islamist side, foreign governments are scrambling to evacuate their citizens and diplomatic missions from Libya, with the British Embassy representing the latest in a long series of closures. The situation at the border crossing of Ras Ajdair remains tense, with efforts being made by Tunisian and Libyan authorities to facilitate a quick solution to the ongoing crisis and the transfer of stranded workers, especially Egyptians. Those who succeed in fleeing the country describe the current situation as being far worse than that witnessed at any point during the Revolution, due also to the use of indiscriminate shelling that is causing an increasingly large number of internally displaced people.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives postponed until Monday its inaugural meeting. The decision came after an informal gathering held in Tobruk on Saturday that saw the participation of 152 of the houses nominal 200 members. However, it is important to stress that while a substantial number of elected representatives attended this meeting, reports indicate that no Misratans were present. As Libyans are hoping for the House of Representatives to quickly establish a government capable of bringing violence to a halt, the decision to boycott its meetings by members elected in Misrata could prove to be the final straw for the House of Representatives’ internal legitimacy and effectiveness. Furthermore, in a statement showing the degree of polarisation and zero-sum logic openly displayed by politicians in Libya, Muhammad Suwan, the President of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood connected Justice and Construction Party, declared that the military operations occurring around Tripoli’s airport were a legitimate response to Haftar’s Operation Dignity in Benghazi. The statement, initially reported by Associated Press, has been denied since through the party’s Facebook page.
Lastly, after a series of concerned remarks from Egyprian President Abdel Fattah Sisi, former Arab League General Secretary Amr Moussa announced that Egypt might step up its role in the ongoing Libyan crisis over concern for regional and internal stability, invoking the country’s right to self defense in light of the political and security vacuum that currently characterizes the region of Cyrenaica.
Violence at the Ras Al-Jadirr Border led to the border crossing being closed by Tunisian authorities earlier today. The crossing has been overwhelmed in the last three days due in large part to the large Egyptian diaspora, who were recently advised to leave the country by their embassy. Egyptian refugees were again blamed for an incident where a group of migrants rushed the Tunisian side of the border. This led to officials firing weapons in the air to disperse the crowd and an immediate closure of the border.
With the success of the protest against Ansar Al Sharia at the Jalaa Hospital in Benghazi, a group of protestors gathered in Martyrs’ Square, before heading down the Airport Road, in an attempt to reclaim the road from the militias. However, the group was turned back at the Ministry of Interior building by militia units. The protestors have since began organizing another attempt on social media overnight.
In an article that I wrote alongside Richard Northern for the Atlantic Council today, I attempt to explain that a mediation process aligned with the new parliament and a new constitutional settlement, backed by the international community, offers any prospect of breaking the cycle of fear and violence in Libya:
A mediation process will not provide an instant solution. It may take time for the militias, who are wary of being sidelined, to accept that there can be no military victory and that they have more to gain through the political process. But the pressures of public opinion, exhaustion, and stalemate will tell eventually. By then, a concerted international mediation effort should stand ready to take advantage of the opening and facilitate a way forward.
Libya’s Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia has said that it seized complete control of Benghazi late on Wednesday, declaring the city an “Islamic emirate,” the group’s representative said. The rebels inflicted a major defeat on Special Forces loyal to retired Major General Khalifa Haftar. Scores of his troops were killed in battles over the past few days. A well-informed source in Benghazi claims that Haftar left for Egypt in order to spend Eid with members of his family who live there. Hafar, however, has denied these claims.
The military success of Ansar Al-Sharia exacerbates a complex situation in Libya. With the House of Representatives set to convene on the 4th of August in Benghazi, Ansar Al-Sharia will surely seize every opportunity to destabilize the fragile government institution. Activist Yusuf Al-Qumati said that the Muslim Brotherhood and those who are close to the movement should determine their position regarding the attempts to undermine the state project in which they participate by virtue of the power-sharing arrangement.
It will be very interesting to see if this recent gain made by Ansar Al-Sharia will last. Haftar stated that the national Libyan army is in control of Benghazi and only withdrew from certain positions for tactical reasons. However, circles close to Haftar attributed the defeat of his forces to the failure of the east Libyan tribes to stand by him as well as to having faith in an appeal for a ceasefire made by former Provisional Council Head Mustafa Abd Al-Jalil.
As the situation in Libya deteriorates towards the end of July 2014, Western countries are debating three key options: withdrawal, mediation, and intervention. The issue is complicated by the security situation which requires withdrawing or protecting diplomatic personnel, while simultaneously attempting to stay appraised of developments on the ground which are happening at breakneck speed. I have waded into these debates with an article in Foreign Affairs, which as a publication tends to reach the upper echelons of the American policymaking establishment. I put forth the case for mediation in that article and criticize the American decision to entirely withdraw its Embassy and to do so in a disgraceful Saigon-esque fashion.
These are the same issues I debate on TV with my close friends Richard Northern and Karim Mezran on Al Jazeera’s flagship talking heads programme, “Inside Story.” I think it was the best TV show i’ve yet been on and I hope you watch it and enjoy it by clicking here.
As written yesterday and in the previous days, the ongoing crisis in Libya is deepening with no side capable of achieving a significant breakthrough, whether in battle or in negotiations. This violent stalemate has progressively engulfed civilian areas and state infrastructures into the battle, spurring several Libyans to temporarily abandon the country via land routes to “wait out” the fighting.
In an article for the New York Times, Kareem Fahim reflects on the symbolic and moral importance that the devastation occurred in Tripoli’s airport has had in spurring people to leave:
The battle for the airport has left it a gutted symbol of a disintegrating state. Lost in the rubble of the airport was the sense of collective purpose that seemed to unite Libyans not so long ago, during the revolt.
“If you’re willing to destroy your airport — that idea of national sovereignty, that we’re all in this together, then the issue of national identity is simply not as important as everyone thought it would be,” said Dirk Vandewalle, an associate professor at Dartmouth College and an expert on Libya who has visited regularly since the revolution.
Realising that the latest Libyan crisis was not going to defuse itself from within, as it often happened in the recent past, international actors have increased their focus on events. The renewed sense of urgency about Libya is well reflect by a recent tweet of Italy’s PM Matteo Renzi, who indicated events in the north African country as his only serious concern in this moment. However, it remains unclear what this renewed interest will concretely translate into and if any actor on the ground will be able to capitalise from it.
The Libya Herald quoted Libya’s UN representative Ibrahim al-Dabashi threatening militias with a statement hinting at a possible hands-on approach from Western countries to the ongoing violence, as seen in 2011, and to future prosecution from the ICC. However, a conference call between US and EU leaders has so far led to a mere renewal of statements of support for the House of Representatives and for a bigger role to be played by the UN. Messages coming from the ground are likely to further embolden militias in their battle, as diplomatic missions are being progressively shut down and foreign expats evacuated from the country, the Libyan government struggle to gather international support for extinguishing the fire in Tripoli fuel tankers. Furthermore, public opinion in Western countries seems to be headed in a different direction than in 2011. This s well reflected by the wealth of op-eds and articles that are being published in these hours portraying and analysing events in Libya only through the prism of the NATO-led intervention; focusing on settling old scores of internal politics and over-exaggerating the importance that Western countries have had in the brewing of the ongoing crisis.
Even though Monday marked the first day of ‘Eid al-Fitr, Libya witnessed a further descent into chaos with increased fighting and destruction in both Tripoli and Benghazi. In the eastern city, Islamist aligned forces launched a counter-offensive that culminated in the conquest of a key Saiqa base in the Bu Attni district, which also comprised training facilities and the headquarters of the 21st Battalion.
Furthermore, reports of a barrage of rockets targeting the Tibesti Hotel and nearby Istiqlal street, where the House of Representatives is set to gather next week, circulated yesterday. These reports should be seen as a further proof that the escalation in violence witnessed throughout the country is the result of a tactical choice taken from certain factions to derail the political transition whilst avoiding to openly reject electoral results, a move that could have proved far riskier in attracting a speedy external intervention.
In Tripoli fighting between Zintani and Misratan forces continued largely unabated despite major collateral damages. On Monday, a fuel depot located nearby the airport was set on fire as a result of ongoing clashes in the area. The fire there has now been declared out of control and has reached another tank, forcing Libyan authorities to plea for external support. A third tank has been reportedly hit today without further consequences.
In other developments, after the failed attempt of the past days, caretaker Prime Minister Thinni and the government have effectively relocated in al-Baida, in an attempt to try and tackle the ongoing crisis from a different perspective and broker a first ceasefire in Benghazi. Mustafa Abdul Jalil also made his voice heard again, talking as the head of the Libyan Council of Notables assembled by the government to facilitate negotiations, the former Chairman of the NTC issued a communicate inviting all parties involved in the Tripoli fights to comply with previously brokered ceasefire agreements. Finally, in the relatively calmer south, the Libya Herald reports that a consensus is coalescing between various and often opposing forces, such as Tebus, Tuareg and the Zwai tribe, announcing their support and material assistance for the Zintani-Operation Dignity block.
As for oil fields and their output, Samir Salim Kamal is quoted by Reuters as saying that ongoing fighting has spared oil related infrastructures and that the fuel depots on fire in Tripoli were destined to local consumption:
“I can confirm that all the oilfields are safe and the production is still around 500,000 bpd,” Samir Salim Kamal, director of planning at the Libyan Oil Ministry, told Reuters. He declined to say from which day the figure was or to give further details.
Two weeks ago, Libya’s oil production has risen to 588,000 bpd but it has fallen since the clashes have started over the capital’s international airport. It was unclear if the Brega oil port has started operating after the government had reached a deal with protesting security guards to end strikes.
As no major development occurred in Libya throughout the weekend, warring sides seem to prepare themselves for a long-lasting and consuming confrontation. Fears that opposing factions will not agree to a ceasefire, let alone come to a peaceful settling of their disputes, are well reflected by the evacuation of the US Embassy in Tripoli, occurred on Saturday morning amid exceptional security measures.
In an article for the Financial Times, Borzou Daraghi focuses on the increasing risk of a Beirut-like scenario for Tripoli. As rival forces eschew areas of influence in different neighborhoods, the airport highway is increasingly playing the role of a novel Green Line, separating forces representing more and more nation-wide opposing blocks and not just the cities of Zintan and Misrata. The article does also a good job of presenting various voices on the ground, reminding us of the individual-level dimension of the crisis and, even more importantly, highlighting how the lackluster developments occurred in Libya during the last three years are marring the strength of the existing social fabric.
At the international level, Special Envoys for Libya from a number of countries and international organisations met on Thursday in Brussels to discuss the ongoing crisis. In their concluding statement, they called yet-again on all parties involved in the crisis for dialogue, while also invoking a more decisive role to be played by the UN in brokering a ceasefire. However, the concomitance of the latest Gaza crisis and of the diplomatic efforts surrounding it surely do not help the international community, and other major regional players like Egypt, to adequately focus on Libyan events. Calls for peaceful negotiations were renewed by the Libyan Government as well through a statement underlying the symbolic importance that the imminent ‘Eid al-Fitr could play in favoring reconciliation.
Finally, the ‘Shura Council of the Youth of Islam’ in Derna issued a statement concerning the arrest, judgment and execution of an Egyptian and Libyan man suspected of murder. The two were sentenced to death by the Shari’a Council of the organization and then handed over to blood relatives of the murder’s victim for carrying out the sentence. Clearly, this event marks an unequivocal attempt by this recently formed Jihadist group to follow the blueprint of other Somali and Iraqi organisations and establish itself not just as a provider of security and charity work, but as an overall alternative for the failing state apparatuses. Putting this and the above developments in perspective, underlines how strongly Libya needs to quickly put an end to the ongoing violent stalemate and prevent the mushrooming of peripheral pockets of institutionalised dissent.
The question on every one’s tongue is will the House of Representatives be nipped in the bud by ongoing violence or will it be able to establish traction against the militias due to its democratic mandate? As clashes have not abated around Tripoli’s airport, a surge in violence has been registered during the past days in Benghazi. Military bases belonging to Saiqa Special Forces have been targeted by repeated attacks and suicide bombings from the Islamist side, leading in turn to a resumption of aerial attacks from the Benina airbase. Furthermore, Saiqa Commander Wanis Bukhamada publicly called for reinforcements to be sent in support of the fight against ‘terrorists’ and for a clear statement on these events to be issued by the Government.
For his part, in a speech to the Libyan people Wednesday night, caretaker Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni reiterated calls for dialogue and restraint, calling in particular on the cities of Zintan and Misrata due to the role played by militias from these cities in recent Tripoli’s airport clashes. Yet when he attempted to go to Tubroq, he was prevented from using Maitiga airport by the Islamist militias that control it.
At the high politics level, despite national and international calls for an immediate transition, the GNC has set August 4th as the date for transferring power to the House of Representatives. It is worth wondering if delaying the transfer of power any further does not run the risk of presenting the new legislative body with an insurmountable and degenerated security situation. Furthermore, since no actor on Libya’s political scene currently possesses the strength to break the ongoing stalemate or tackle it, postponing the work of the House of Representatives can be seen as a bid to wear out the legitimacy of this newly-elected body and to nip its potential in the bud. GNC member Abdullah al-Qamaty from Qaminis openly hinted at this possibility, framing ongoing violence in Western Libya as an attempt to prevent institutional transfer of power.
Lastly, as expected, widespread violence and instability took their toll on Libya’s oil output as well. More details on this can be found in Aiman al-Warfalli and Ahmed Elumami piece for Euronews:
The El-Feel oilfield last week was forced to cut back due to clashes in Tripoli, where the two rival brigades of militias have fought over control of the airport. El-Feel, operated by state-run National Oil Corporation and Italy’s ENI, is protected by security guards from the northwestern Zintan region, whose fighters also protect the airport where clashes have gone on for a week. National Oil Company spokesman Mohamed El Harari said output as of Monday was around 450,000 bpd compared with 555,000 bpd on Thursday.
Still, oil industry progress remains in flux. One of Libya’s ports, Brega, is expected to be operating within a “few days” after the government reached a deal with protesting security guards to end a blockade, NOC’s Harari said.
According to Reuters AIS Live tanker tracking service, no tankers had loaded so far at Brega. One crude shipment left the 230,000 barrels-per-day Zawiya port, supplied by the El Sharara oilfield, which was recently reopened. The Olympic Spirit II, carrying Aframax, crude oil, headed to the Spanish port of Bilbao having left July 20.
Heavy fighting around Tripoli airport has hit a fuel tanker, as an escalation of violence in Libya damages the oil infrastructure for the first time. The fuel tanker, which was close to the airport, burst into flames after being hit by a missile, according to statements and videos posted on the airport’s Facebook page. Underscoring Libya’s chaos, acting Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni and other ministers said were prevented by militias from using the Mitiga Airport to fly to the eastern city of Tobruk. Mitiga, used mostly for military and oil company flights, has been opened to limited international flights since the clashes erupted and Tripoli International Airport was closed.
The undesired consequences as a result of the fighting taking places keep rising. Turkey may evacuate its embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli; Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Thursday, a day after his ministry advised all Turkish citizens to leave the North African country due to the worsening security situation. This is a big blow to the fragile Libyan government, which has witnessed the exodus of a few hundred Turks in Libya in recent months. Adding to the diplomatic blow are reports that the government is preparing a new pricing strategy for its crude exports that may include further discounts after a sales offer last week failed because potential buyers offered “unacceptable” prices, according to state-run National Oil Corporation. Libya plans to offer different crude prices before the end of next month that will compensate customers for the additional risk of loading oil in the country, Ahmed Shawki, marketing director at National Oil, said by phone from Tripoli today. The country reduced July export prices for seven grades of crude by as much as US $1.90 a barrel, according to a price list from National Oil obtained by Bloomberg News on July 18.
Although the situation seems extremely dire, there are grassroots movements on the ground that may be decisive in breaking the stalemate on the ground. Reports are circulating that Zintan’s tribal elders travelled to Al Baida to discuss the situation with some of Eastern Libya’s elders. Brigades from the southwestern city of Kufra have also threatened that they will side with the Zintan militias in order to stop the escalation of violence in the capital city.
The electoral commission finally announced the results of the winners of individual seats in the June 25 poll a day late and at a time when as clashes for control of Tripoli airport take place. Liberal factions appear to be the big winners, unlike the former General National Congress (GNC) which was dominated by Islamists. Benghazi Deputy Younes Fannouch estimated that the Islamists have not won more than 30 seats. He also added that he believes the Liberal factions won 50 seats and the Cyrenaican Federalists garnered 25 seats. Twelve of the 200 seats have not been attributed as the vote in certain polling stations was annulled due to suspected electoral fraud. The remaining 80 seats will go to independents, who Fannouch claims are “opposed to Islamic politics”. The list of successful candidates, along with their photograph, is available on this spreadsheet. The conflict around the Airport has not ceased, with the death toll climbing to 50 after the first week.
The implications of this election can make an already complex situation worse. A defeat in the parliamentary election and the relocation of the only legislative authority in the country to Benghazi will likely lead to stronger coordination and unity between the Islamist militias in Benghazi and Misruata to undermine the NFA-Federalist alliance. If this situation were to unfold, the house of parliament would likely become as inactive as its predecessor, the General National Congress, since the Islamist militias will leverage every opportunity to challenge the government with force and violence. Simply put, the Islamist militias will not allow any political or military faction to undercut their capability to coerce the weakened government to pay salaries and benefits to its members.
As the consolidation process takes place under the Islamist and Nationalist ideologies, only 2 possible scenarios can end this vicious cycle of violence. The simpler situation would be to negotiate a grand bargain between the major political factions. Complicating this option, however, is the need to balance the needs of the militias and the public’s willingness to appease the militias, which will be crucial for the democratic process. The other alternative is to sway the balance of military power in the favor of the more popular Nationalist forces. Although this is a much bloodier and time-consuming process, it may ultimately be the only way to break the stalemate on the ground between two rigid forces.
Fascinatingly although mainstream Misratan militias have joined the fray, the Zintani brigades most notably Sawaiq, Qa’aqa’a, and Madani maintain control of the airport. According to an article from CNN by Jomana Karadsheh, UN officials have not only fled the country but are warning that a dangerous escalation is likely. Furthermore, it appears that Misratan forces are regrouping for another push on the airport.
Addressing the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, Tarek Mitri, head of its mission in Libya, issued a stark warning.”As the number of military actors mobilizing and consolidating their presence within the capital continues to grow, there is a mounting sense of a probable imminent and significant escalation in the conflict. The stakes are high for all sides,” Mitri said.”We are in the middle of an all-out confrontation between two major rival groups in the Libyan capital. That confrontation, born out of the deep political polarization, is playing itself out at the country’s international airport.” Mitri said.
Libya’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdulaziz also addressed the Security Council. He warned of Libya heading toward becoming a “failed state.”Abdulaziz said Libya needed more international support and asked the United Nations to consider a “stabilization and institution-building mission.”
It is quite likely that the anti-Islamist current are pushing for foreign peacekeepers under the guise of trainers, but the international political dimension is not able to move along that line given polarization in Europe post-Crimea annexation.
As the conflict for Tripoli International Airport intensifies, Islamists backlash has seen a strong uptick. One individual’s opinion that will carry some weight is the self-proclaimed Grand Mufti of Libya, Sadiq Gherani, who issued a fatwa in support of attack on Tripoli Airport. The leader of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, Bashir Al-Katabi, also emphasized the need to resolve the current political unrest using domestic alternatives, warning that the use of international forces can have some unintended consequences. Al-Katabi also refused to describe the initial results of the new parliament elections as a defeat for the brotherhood, saying that a great majority of the Islamists won as independents in this election. For our arabic readers, you can access more information about Al-Katabi in this interview. For our english readers, the article can be translated using the Google Chrome browser.
These developments, along with the clashes taking place at Tripoli International Airport, show that the Islamists may not be as organized as the media portrays them to be. On the one hand, you have a very diplomatic formal leadership that recognizes the need to respect the ballot box and to work within the state institutions. On the other hand, there are factions within the Islamists who prefer to use violence and threats. Libyan analyst and commentator, Senussi Bsaikri, said he was contacted by the Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room, a militia backing the GNC, and asked to put pressure on Libya‘s Muslim Brotherhood to lobby for one candidate for prime minister over another. “They said if the Justice and Construction Party continues to stand in front of us, we will attack them and kidnap their members,” said Bsaikri. More information related to the LROR is available in this Financial Times article.
Despite indications from the preliminary ballot results that the Nationalist forces are far more popular, the Islamists will simply not give up in their struggle for power. They have the weapons, vehicles and religious zeal to defend the country against its perceived enemies. These forces include what they describe as drug dealers, human traffickers or liberal politicians they view as having been loyal to Qaddafi.
In another sign of growing turmoil, air controllers halted work in Tripoli, shutting off much of Western Libya from international traffic. On Wednesday, Libya reopened the western Misrata airport, which had been closed with Tripoli after the weekend attack. However, the Misrata Airport will have to be shut again because Tripoli air controllers are also responsible for Misrata. Also, gunmen shot dead Fariha al-Barkawi, a former member of parliament, in the Eastern City of Derna. She is the second prominent woman to be assassinated, following the killing of Benghazi human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis last month.
The strike is designed by the workers to put pressure on rival militias to end four days of heavy fighting over control of the country’s biggest airport. Since the airport violence was instigated by the Libya Shield militia, a Misratan-based militia, this tactic is designed to eliminate any possible incentives Misratan forces may have to destroy the Tripoli Airport for the purpose of luring in more international flight business into Misrata. In the case of Fariha Al-Barkawi, one can see that the rift between Islamist and Nationalist forces is only growing as Rogue General Khalifa Haftar attempts to rid Cyrenaica of the various Islamist factions.
It will be interesting to see what becomes of the Islamist-influenced factions as the official results of the Parliamentary Elections. Outside of Misrauta, Souq-Al Jouma and parts of Cyrenaica, these factions are relying on military force and violence to have their voice heard in the country. One would suspect, at this point, that the Islamists will not honour the election results on the basis of the relatively low turnout.
According to government spokesman Ahmed Lamine, 90% of the planes at Libya’s Tripoli International Airport have been destroyed after shelling attacks on the site by rival militias. “The government has studied the possibility to bring international forces to enhance security,” he told reporters, according to Reuters news agency. It was not immediately clear how many planes were destroyed, but the airport serves as the main hub for several Libyan carriers. Very little shocks Libyans these days, but the latest attack on this vital asset has left many at a loss for words. They didn’t think militia would ever go this far.
The closure of Tripoli airport is hugely significant both for the business sector and for access to Libya from the outside world. In 2012, Tripoli International Airport accounted for around 57% of the 4.9 million domestic and international passengers who used Libyan airports, with Benghazi’s Benina airport (now also closed due to damage) in second place and Misrata third. Some of the immediate implications are likely to be heavy traffic at the Ras Jedir border crossing with Tunisia, which is now effectively the only access point to western Libya, and busier flights from Tunisia to Europe. The true scale of the damage inflicted on the airport is unclear, but a closure of at least several weeks – and potentially much longer – seems unavoidable.
It will be interesting to see if the Libyan government will indeed follow through on its threat of bringing foreign security forces into the country. Although the civilian population would welcome any political solution that weakens the militias, the militias will certainly not allow the government to take its power easily.
Tripoli is bracing itself for a major showdown between the capital’s major factions as the long anticipated fight between the Misratans and Zintanis based in Tripoli may finally have begun. It is noteworthy to point out that brigade commanders are battling it out — not as the media represents, the Zintani and Misratan political leadership who apparently do not endorse the fighting and are seeking to end it. Jomana Karadsheh and Ashley Fantz speak in great detail about the clashes that took place in this CNN article.
Fighting has already erupted in the capital with certain rogue Misratan brigades trying to force the Zintanis out of Tripoli International Airport in the name of ‘securing the capital’. Various Islamist brigades from Tripoli and further afield have lined up behind the activist Misratan units in a bid to oust the Zintani forces and it looks as though the Zintanis are about to get back up from other non-Islamist brigades, including the Warshefana.
The situation is extremely tense and local residents are fearing the worst. Ironically, this outbreak of fighting was only initiated after the betrayal of an agreement struck on the night of the July 12 which was meant to facilitate the impasse. At the July 12 meeting the major respected political actors of Misrata and Zintan pledged themselves to avoiding conflict. It appears that a former militia leader and Misratan congressmen, led the offensive against the Zintani militias in a bid to retake the airport directly– overtly disobeying orders from other top Misratans.
In an interesting piece, Maher Chmaytelli shows that strikes in Brega will not disrupt the deal with Jathran relative to Ras Lanuf and Sidra in this Bloomberg article . It also seems that Libya has restored output to roughly 500,000 barrels a day on the El-Sahara. However, no one knows how long that will last given the current tensions in Tripoli and possible spillover effects.
Libya has given a few reasons to be hopeful over the past week. This has been underappreciated. Certainly, Alison Pargeter was spot on to point out the persistence of militia dominance on the ground and the dysfunctionality of central institutions in a brilliant AJE article today. But a lot is moving and shaking and On July 2nd, Libya’s biggest Cyrenaican oil ports — Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra (Essider) with over a capacity of 500,000 barrels a day– were handed over by the federalists to the government and are in the process of becoming ready to receive tankers. Previous attempted bargains with Jadhran fell through or were never implemented because Islamist actors in the GNC and ministries undermined them assuming they could attempt to dominate Jadhran militarily and gain dominance over the oil sector for themselves.
What has happened is that Jadhran’s federalists have essentially stated their intention to finally honour the second part of an April agreement with outgoing prime minister Abdullah al-Thinni to open the ports under their control (the first part related to Zuweitina and Hariga), culminating in their miraculously handing over Ras Lanuf and al-Sidra to the government on Wednesday. It is unclear exactly what the government is offering to Jadhran in return but this should soon become clear as Jadhran begins to assume a new position in the national political scene. This dramatic but not unpredictable development could act as a precursor to further various locally-brokered arrangements to finally truly end the political and economic stalemates of the GNC period. It shows that Jadhran is calculating that the House of Representatives will be far less Islamist-dominated than the GNC was, and that if a grand bargain / unity government is going to occur he would like to be included/have his share of the spoils. Read my take on the big picture dimension of this all in the Middle East Eye by clicking here.
Well the election played out pretty much as expected, with the media coverage of it about as lacklustre as the election itself. Low turnout, but not so bad among registered voters; reporters misunderstood the electoral process; Sporadic violence and one high profile assassination of an inspiring female Libyan human rights activist politician in Benghazi. (Read more on this from AJE here.) This is par for the course given where Libya is at right now. It does seem that many Libyans who voted were motivated to do so by their antipathy for the Brotherhood and Islamist. For more on that read from the NYT here. Tarek Mitri, head of UNSMIL congratulated the HNEC on a well run election, which means as we know that Libyan elections are not bought or stolen at the ballot box which is one of the refreshing aspects about post-Qadhafi politics. For more on the UN dimension click here. Well to sum up, the election does seem to have legitimized Hiftar’s movement to some extent and to have re-invigorated the transition process, but also to have highlighted that Benghazi, Darna, Sabha, and elsewhere are motivated entirely by their own local militia dynamics and civic conflicts and that the election or the policies of electoral governance cannot really transcend those dynamics. Such seems to be how things go in an increasingly localized and perpherially-dominated Libya.
Middle East Eye — an online news source — has established itself as a dynamic and up-and-coming player in the English language in depth coverage of the Middle East. There treatment is serious and their articles tend to rely on a lot of expert analysis and quotes. Here is what they and I have to say about today’s Libyan election.
Most agree that uncertainty lies ahead, no matter which way the vote ends up swinging. “Even people on the ground have no idea what the results will be. There is not enough information,” says Jason Pack, researcher of Libyan history at Cambridge University and President of Libya-Analysis.com. “But it is likely to be a repeat of what we have seen – a large crop of independents with leanings toward the Brotherhood. However, it does appear that the groupings will be less Islamist-leaning because of the frustration of the Islamist takeover of the GNC.”
But while it may be too early to give up hope that the election will prove to be a positive turning point, cracks have already appeared in Libya’s electoral fabric, and Libya continues to have a host of internal and external factors working against it. “The desire to not have political parties participate means that we are going to see a repeat of the deadlock at the GNC, which will mean it will be almost impossible to get a consensus, no matter who is going to be elected,” says Pack.
“Haftar remains unpopular, but his enemies are even less popular,” says Pack. “Libyan politics at the moment are conceived as a zero sum game between two or three larger factions. Until those factions are ready to negotiate behind the scenes and come to a grand bargain, it is not possible for there to be any unifying figures.”
However, if a grand bargain is somehow struck behind the scenes, the new House of Representatives may finally find itself empowered and acting at long last to reach into local communities and bring unity, explains Pack. “If that miraculously happens, the elections will be a great success, and it won’t have mattered that turnout was low,” he says. “If the body is empowered to act in a legitimate fashion, that will be amazing.”
One would hope she would have said more, but it is quite impressive that she got the interview and noted that Hiftar has the same megalomania combined with extreme sensitivity to being slighted that Qahdafi exhibited. To read her article in the Guardian click here.
Although this is a PR move by Haftar it points out the extend to which Ansar al-Sharia can only expand and grow on Qatari funding and some outside expertise and that the various militias are fighting as a proxy conflict between Turkey and Qatari on the Misrata/Islamist side and Egypt/UAE/Saudi/and the West on the Zintani/Haftar Side… Read the article from ABC here. Also there was a good article about why the USA should be wary of Haftar in today’s INYT by Ibrahim Sharqieh of Brookings... I 100% agree with the piece and its meta-message about US policy towards hiftar is 100% correct.. I just have an issue about the use of the word civil war… we are not experiencing and are not going to see a civil war in Libya.. using that word ‘civil war’ gets US audiences all up in arms and confused so I think it is risky to refer to what is happening or might happen there as a civil war. But Sharqieh knows his stuff so he no doubt has his reasons.
As of June 2014, Libya-Analysis.com needs you. If you are interested in being a part of the Libya-Analysis.com ® team, please email me at Jason@Libya-Analysis.com. We are currently expanding and looking for a Program Manager position which is a half-time position as well as a range of various part time consultants, researchers, informers, etc. Hence, if you have specialized knowledge on Libya that is commercially relevant and you follow the political situation closely, possess good writing skills and have a few hours a month to spare, please get in touch as we might be able to forge a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Some more good common sense from Mattia Toeldo of ECFR. In this article, he points out how the upcoming June 25 elections can only be a success if a pre-existing political reconciliation happens behind the scenes. On this I couldn’t agree more.
A “reconciliation” meeting between Libya’s opposing coalitions was due to be held on 18 June under the auspices of UNSMIL. However, the meeting had to be indefinitely postponed, because elements close to General Heftar’s anti-Islamist coalition accused the UN of being biased in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. At the moment, the warring parties have made no commitment to recognise the election results.
Lack of recognition of the results from all sides in the Libyan political sphere could turn out to be a major cause of regret for European policymakers. Holding elections in the current situation, with the country divided between two warring coalitions, is an uncalculated risk. Polls may actually accelerate violence rather than solving Libya’s problems.
- See more at: http://www.ecfr.eu/blog/entry/three_things_to_watch_for_in_the_libya_elections#sthash.ay5rQbck.dpuf
My recent critically acclaimed think-tank report, co-authored with Karim Mezran and Mohamed ElJarh, "Libya's Faustian Bargains: Breaking the Appeasement Cycle" is now available for purchase in hardcopy in the UK and US on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. You may buy it for $30 plus shipping and handling in the US by clicking here or for 25 GBP with free shipping in the UK or Europe by clicking here. The report examines the threats to Libya's stability, provides a detailed mapping of the militia landscape, and details policy options for the Libyan government and its international partners.
Ethan Chorin has long argued that America and the West were wrong to engage with Qadhafi. Weirdly he somehow believes that American and Western incorrect actions back then have led to Western failures and missteps in post-Qadhafi Libya. For me the issues are rather separate. The Western countries have made many policy missteps in their attempts to support Libya post-Qadhafi but the irony is that these mistakes have not only not been systematic but they have been quite haphazard and grounded in an ability to engage sufficiently.
On May 28, Chorin wrote an op-ed in the NYT which sketched out some of the key dilemmas facing American policymakers relative to Hiftar’s movement and in this regard, he and I agree. The US should clarify that it is not and will not support an anti-democratic takeover in Libya that mirrors Sisi’s power-grabbing behaviors in Egypt and would negate and undo the transition process in Libya. On this Chorin and I are 100% in agreement. And yet, he made a range of very false and counterproductive assertions. Ironically, he did so without even attempting to demonstrate or support his claims. Therefore, I felt as a matter of principle compelled to set the record straight by writing a letter to the editor of The New York Times. I think the editors there immediately understood that they had published potential falsehoods and were eager to use my letter to set the record straight. You may read my letter published in the June 9, NYT by clicking here or read my review of Chorin’s book by clicking here. Also the text of my letter is presented below:
Re “The new danger in Benghazi” (Opinion, May 28): Ethan Chorin correctly warns of the danger of Gen. Khalifa Hiftar’s anti-Islamist paramilitary movement attempting a crude power grab. Mr. Chorin’s counsel to American policy makers to distance themselves from General Hiftar while reiterating their support for Libya’s derailed formal transition process is a wise one.
Yet where Mr. Chorin errs is to write that “America has gotten into trouble in Libya by not taking clear positions. During the 2003 rapprochement, we told Colonel Qaddafi we had conditions for reconciling with him. Then we didn’t enforce them.” This is the same sort of analysis Mr. Chorin puts forth in his book, “Exit the Colonel: The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution,” in which he claims that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi outfoxed the West, which engaged in Libya out of greed.
Mr. Chorin’s conspiratorial analysis is sexy, but plays rather loose with the facts. The United States enforced the terms of the 2003 bargain with Colonel Qaddafi as much as it could. Moreover, the American foreign policy establishment and business community never fully embraced Colonel Qaddafi. It was their calculated engagement with the dictator that opened Libya up for a modicum of economic development, globalization, and eventually a revolution aimed at freeing the Libyan people.
The writer also insinuates that the Islamist takeover in Benghazi was due to American actions and inactions. In reality, it was due to the Libyan General National Congress’s policy of appeasing the militias. Getting the facts of this history right is essential. The facts highlight that Libya’s destiny is decided by Libyans and that the West must engage in a supporting role with whatever legitimate government is in place (no matter how flawed or weak) and seek to help the Libyan people fulfill their aspirations to be full-fledged members of the international community.
Jason Pack, Cambridge, England
The writer is a co-author of “Libya’s Faustian Bargains: Breaking the Appeasement Cycle.”
In a rare encouraging development, the rule of law has been acknowledged as supreme and the institutions of the Libyan state as legitimate arbiters of power and due process. You can read more about this amazing development from AJE, or Libya Herald, or The Economist. My take on the upshot is:
After having the Libya Shield force help him occupy the PM’s office, pseudo-Prime Minister Ahmed Matiq held his first cabinet meeting on June 2, escalating the confrontation between him and Abdullah Thinni over who has legitimate claim to the Prime Ministerial office. You can read more from the Libya Herald here.
Despite a new vote in Matiq’s favour, Thinni has refused to recognize the transfer of his power to Maiteeg until the GNC clarifies the vote in a procedurally sound way, despite an opinion from the GNC’s Legislative and Constitutional Committee that the vote was valid. Maiteeg’s cabinet met in the prime minister’s office on June 2, and Thinni has reportedly move to another government building.
The conflict between the two prime ministers weakens the government’s ability to respond to the ongoing militia fighting instigated by General Khalifa Hafter, whose “Operation Dignity” has pledged to rid the country of “Islamist militias.” Hafter is conducting the operation without authorization from the government or the GNC. The conflict escalated over the weekend with aerial bombings against suspected Islamist strongholds in Benghazi. What we are seeing is the logical conclusion of the increasing polarization between Islamist and anti-Islamist militias, local councils, and national political actors. I sketched this conflict and provide the essential background for it in a think tank report I cowrote with Karim Mezran and Mohamed ElJarh for the Atlantic Council. It is now available for purchase in hard copy by clicking here. It makes the essential reference work for any policy maker, consultant, or academic trying to make sense of militia/government relations as we present a comprehensive militia map as well as lay out the policies that both the Libyan and Western governments need to adopt to prevent the collapse of the transition process. The first step is to achieve a grand bargain between the major interested factions, the second step is to restart the transition process under clearly defined rules of the game.
Elections for a House of Representatives to replace the GNC have been called for June. But the violence, and the triangular conflict between the GNC, Maiteeg, and Thinni, might make polling impossible. Matig’s arrogation of power of the past days appears that a compromise between the two claimant PMs is unlikely.
As if Libya really needed another nested political crisis! Well despite the convincing nature of Ahmed Matig’s re-election, it is still not uncontested that he is prime minister. Some say he Matig is PM elect but Al-Thinni apparently doesn’t think so. This shows the polarization between the two camps with everyone having to take side and deal with their alternative command structures and alliance networks.
Following Maetig’s election, Thinni said he had been presented with two letters from the General National Congress (GNC), one from GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain asking him to resign, and another from the GNC first Deputy Ezzedine Al-Awami asking him to stay on.
The Caretaker Prime Minister told reporters that, given the ambiguity, he had passed the matter on to the Ministry of Justice which had responded with its verdict two days ago. Read more from LH by clicking here.
Sometimes Jihadists can conduct savvy public relations campaigns, but a lot of the time they seem to just put their foot in their mouth and play into their opponents hands. This is what appears to have happened with Ansar Sharia’s latest pronouncements. Moreover, the escalation of conflict in Libya’s East appears to have been just what the doctor ordered for Hiftar as he can demonstrate that he is the only one of Libya’s leader’s serious enough to take action. You can read here how Ansar al-Sharia have denounced Operation Karama as a Crusade against Islam. Or you can read here about the airstrikes in Benghazi here which appear to be a broadening of the anti-Islamist campaign to include a crackdown on MB aligned groups like the Feb 17 Brigade.
Spokesman for General Khalifa Hafter, Mohammed Al-Hijezi, confirmed to the Libya Herald that the Libyan National Army was carrying out the operation which was targeting February 17 Brigade and Ansar Al-Sharia forces at the Gwarsha Gate.
Sporadic fighting has taken place in Benghazi throughout the day after Ansar Al-Sharia last night surrounded Benghazi Security Directorate (BSD), demanding the release of three prisoners and exchanging fire with security forces.
The sound of bombing and anti-aircraft fire ould be heard across Benghazi. Residents said these were the worst clashes in the city since General Khalifa Hifter launched Operation Dignity over a week and a half ago.
I am of the belief that Hiftar is not the most powerful player in the anti-Islamist coalition and that the Saiqa and the Zintanis are militarily more important, however politically it can’t be denied that he is emerging as a power player, stakeholder, and deal maker. Now is the time for him to make a deal with his enemies and preserve the peace in Libya. Ian Black of the Guardian consulted me in a crafting an article which puts forth a useful overview of the situation. To read it you may click here. I disagree with George Joffe’s pronouncement that things may disintegrate into Civil War. I don’t see that as on the cards for Libya.
In less then a week key army units, political parties and tribal forces have rallied under [Hiftar's] banner. On Thursday tension mounted when a powerful brigade from Misrata [opposed to Hiftar] deployed in the centre of the capital. The renegade general’s moves are being closely watched both at home and abroad.
Heftar’s old links with the CIA have come back to haunt him – with enemies denouncing him as an American “agent”. In Libya‘s charged political mood, the accusation is toxic but it may be misleading or simply old news. For the record the US has denied backing him; he has also denied being in contact with Washington. Several former senior US intelligence officials told the Guardian that, while they did not have direct knowledge, they did not believe the US was backing Heftar. Instead, they say, his current offensive should be seen as an audition for future US backing. By showing that he can take on the Islamist militias and win, he establishes himself as somebody the west cannot ignore.
In February Heftar put his head above the parapet with a televised speech denouncing the government and announcing its overthrow. The dramatic appeal failed to spark an uprising but it marked Heftar out as the figurehead for opposition.
Critics compare him to Egypt’s army commander Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, who overthrew the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi last July and is now poised to be elected president. Heftar, like Sisi, is said to have the enthusiastic backing of the fiercely anti-Islamist United Arab Emirates, as does his ally, the former prime minister Mahmoud Jibril. Heftar even created a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – the same name used by the Egyptian military.
But direct comparisons are not helpful. Libya’s armed forces are nothing like as strong as their mighty Egyptian counterparts. “No one is fooled when Heftar says he is leading the national army,” said Jason Pack of Libya-analysis.com. “That’s just another militia.”
Heftar’s momentum could change that. His Operation Karama (“dignity”) has blazed across Libya with army units, tribes and the largest non-Islamist party, the National Forces Alliance, all declaring their allegiance. But victory is far from certain – and the risks are considerable.
“Heftar’s initiative is responding to a deeply felt need,” said Libya expert George Joffe. “Even if he is not the man of the moment he might appeal to a popular mood that will allow him to carry on. The danger is that it will collapse into civil war.”
The Media (Western and Arab) seems to be slavishly presenting the pronouncements of Khalifa Hiftar without delving deeper into the realities that are emerging on the ground in Libya. Here is one of the better articles from Middle East Online but it still falls prey to this pattern. Each side has its own prime minister and its own narrative so not questioning what is going on and seeing multiple viewpoints is absurd.
Claiming to speak in the name of the army, Khalifa Haftar Wednesday urged the country’s highest judicial authority “to form a civilian presidential high council tasked with forming an emergency cabinet and organising legislative elections”.
Highlighting the seriousness of the security threat, the navy’s chief of staff, Rear Admiral Hassan Abu Shnak, his driver and two guards were wounded Wednesday when gunmen attacked his convoy in Tripoli.
Despite the tensions, the situation was almost normal in Tripoli and Benghazi, where shops, banks and governments were open.
Prime Minister Ahmed Miitig called Wednesday for dialogue among all protagonists while affirming that “Libyans don’t want to be ruled by the military,” referring to the rogue general.
Well, it is not surprising that it would come to this (another attempted anti-GNC) coup as there is a constant and increasing polarization of Libya’s political factions into opposing camps. And no one can agree on what constitutes legitimate parliamentary practice — so much so that Libya does not have an agreed upon Prime Minister at present. That Khiftar has linked up with the Zintanis who form something of his Western extension is exactly what we would expect given the alliance network that has formed against the Misratans and Islamists throughout the country. For those of you interested in reading about the background to the current events and getting a sense of who the different players are please consult the militia mapping I conducted with my colleagues Karim Mezran and Mohamed Eljarh in a recently published Atlantic Council report, “Libya’s Faustian Bargains: Breaking the Appeasement Cycle”. For a quick primer about what is happening right now, the Libya Herald is as always about the best English language source available. It is clear that many in the Libyan populace support any actions to repress the Islamist extremists they see in their midst and crave a Sisi-like figure, yet is is unclear to even seasoned Libya observers if ‘the populace’ will support the crudeness with which this anti-Islamist putsch has been undertaken. Moreover, talking to friends in Libya, I have heard that the public relations campaign undertaken on behalf of the Putschists has been very weak and unconvincing indeed. Will Misrata sit idly by while their candidate Matig and their grip on the GNC is undone? Will they attempt to negotiate and then resort to violence? Allahu ‘Alam (God only knows) What seems clear is that a grand bargain is now needed between Libya’s myriad actors and compromise and long-term thinking must be the order of the day or the future of the country and the transition will already be lost. Below is the quick Libya Herald article to catch you up to speed.
A group of five officers identifying themselves as the “Leaders of the Libyan Army” have announced the suspension the General National Congress (GNC) and that the current government is to remain in office. In a four-point plan laid out by Colonel Muktar Fernana, a Zintani former head of military intelligence, the “Leaders of the Libyan Army” this evening announced that the Constitutional Assembly would take over the work of the GNC and that Abdullah Al-Thinni’s current government would oversee the formation of the military and security forces. The statement essentially blocked the premiership of Ahmed Maetig who was elected by the GNC at the beginning of this month. Congress was supposed to vote and accept Maetig’s new government today before the attacks on the GNC building began. It is not clear if the five were linked to the assault on Congress, undertaken by the Qaaqaa and Sawaiq brigades, or to Colonel Khalifa Hafter, whose forces also call themselves the “Libyan National Army “. The two brigades have stated that they are not under Hafter’s orders. Fernana’s statement concluded that the people of Libya “would never accept to be controlled by a group or organisation which initiates terror and chaos”.
No matter how you slice it, releasing a convicted terrorist as a means to free a kidnapped ambassador is appeasement and sets a dangerous precedent which is likely to lead to further kidnapping. I expanded on this argument in a piece in the Middle East Eye.
On the face of things, it might seem a fair proposition to speculate that high-level decision makers in the Jordanian or Libyan governments would understand iterative game theory – the study of strategic decision making – better than the thugs of ragtag Islamist militias. However, recent events suggest the Libyan militias are geniuses at extortion, blackmail, kidnapping, and intervening in the political process. So much so, that it seems they are displaying a good grasp of the nuances of game theory.
As Karim Mezran, Mohamed Eljarh and I have explained in a recently published Atlantic Council report, “Libya’s Faustian Bargains: Ending the Appeasement Cycle”, appeasement is always a trap – the more you practice it the harder it becomes to break out of the cycle.
So the situation in Libya today has reached something of the natural conclusion of the cycle of appeasement of which kidnappings are only one manifestation. Other key manifestations are granting important government posts to militia- or jihadist-aligned individuals such that whole branches of the government, especially the Defence or Interior ministry, have been colonized by specific localities, regions, or militias.
The primary issues must be solved by Libyans themselves, who need to confront the enemies of law and order in their own midst and double down on their transition process to constitutional governance. Nonetheless, Libya’s nascent central authorities could use a little help from their friends.
Here is an interesting article by Mansour Omar Al-Kikhia in Al-Jazeera English which comments on why Ahmed Matig has become the PM and how his connections with business and Misrata hold him in good stead for his job but nonetheless his selection shows the deep rivalries in Libya’s West and yet does not show a way forward for their conclusion.
The new prime minister is Ahmed Maiteeq, a 42-year-old businessman who lives in Tripoli but has strong links to Misurata. His uncle and backer is Abdul Rahman al-Swaihli, an influential member of Congress and the Swaihli dynasty of Misurata. Maiteeq was elected by the General National Congress (GNC) in a nowdisputed vote to form a “crisis government of national unity.”
Maiteeq major rival was Omar al-Hassi who hails from the east of the country. Hassi is not a particularly impressive figure yet he obtained the support of Zintan as well as some of the progressive votes in the GNC. The Cyrenaican vote was split between Hassi and another candidate from the east who was even less impressive.
So why Maiteeq? Why bring to the fore a relatively unknown political novice? First, he has huge guns behind him that has given him an edge that none of the other prime ministers possess. Second, he is young and brings a different perspective to the table. Third, he pleases the business community in the country. To read the whole article click here.
Jordan’s ambassador to Libya has been freed after being abducted by gunmen in the capital Tripoli last month according to the BBC. This shows a kind of appeasement as the Jordanian government had to cave into militia demands to get their ambassador released.
Here is some more fascinating analysis from Dirk Vandewalle in the NYT. I certainly agree with some of Dirk’s points and strongly agree that a new electoral method is needed for the house of representatives to make the body at all functional and not fall pray to the same cleavages as are present in the GNC. He points to the key issue of allowing a voting method that allows Libyans to express their solidarity with each other instead of stressing their local allegiances.
Libya faces fiendishly difficult problems, but there is at least one tangible issue that could be fixed fairly easily. Reforming current electoral rules would close the gap between the people and their leaders, and make good on an enviable asset that is rare in such fragile countries: a popular consensus on major issues that transcends cleavages over smaller ones. To read the whole article click here.
In this GammonVillage article I explain the novel round robin format used in the backgammon tournament I hosted at my home in Cambridge, while also analyzing the interesting positions and cube decisions that ensued.
In the past few decades, the knockout tournament format, with progressive consolation rounds and a last chance, all consisting of matches of odd-number of points (i.e. 7 or 11 or 17 pointers) has achieved a near-hegemonic status within the backgammon world, but it is far from the only conceivable tournament format. In fact, some of the best and most respected tournaments in the world use other formats. Partisans of Swiss tournaments (e.g Chicago Open) or double elimination tournaments (e.g. Nordic) will say that those formats are not only more enjoyable but are more likely to favor skill, while being conducive to all attendees having fun and getting in as many meaningful matches as possible. Sadly, although Chicago and Nordic are universally respected few tournament directors are willing to apply their spirit of innovation to their own tournaments.
Having experimented with many possible tournament formats, I believe a round robin format of different match lengths — especially stressing even-numbered match lengths — can be particularly enjoyable, while also rewarding a deeper understanding of match score dynamics and human psychology. This format certainly has its draw backs as it is time consuming, is best suited for smaller more “intimate” events, and requires having a suitable number of participants. Nonetheless, it maximizes the amount of backgammon played by all the participants and promotes the social aspect of the game by assuring that all participants play with and get to meet each other. Although it is impossible to declare one tournament format as the ideal, having now hosted a round robin tournament of different match lengths, I can say fairly definitively that it promoted the psychological and intellectual challenges that we all relish in backgammon. To read the whole article click here.
Another uniquely and characteristically Libyan controversy is emerging: opposing factions are disputing who is Libya’s legitimate Prime Minister. Those who don’t want Ahmed Matig to be prime minister allege that the voting session in the GNC had closed before he got the requisite 121 votes, while those supporting him say that although the deputy head of the GNC (Awami) tried to close the session what matters is that Nuri Abusahmain the speaker of the GNC and President of Libya gave his approval for the voting to continue even though he was not present. There are many articles out there on what has or has not transpired and many of them lack credibility. Therefore, I’m presenting one from the Economist which I believe to be carefully researched.
On May 4th Ahmed Omar Matiq (pictured), a 42-year-old Islamist-leaning hotelier, was announced as the new prime minister by the second deputy speaker, who said the candidate had won 121 votes in the 200-member congress, one more than required. But the first deputy speaker disagreed. He said that the only legal vote was the one he had himself supervised earlier in the day, when Mr Matiq had gained just 113 votes, too few to clinch him the top job.
For the rest of the day confusion prevailed. The congress declared Mr Matiq to be the new prime minister. But the prime minister’s office contradicted it, saying that Abdullah al-Thinni, who had been appointed to the job only in mid-March, was still in the post. “Libya has Two Prime Ministers” was the headline in that evening’s English-language Libya Herald.
The next day the congressional speaker, Nuri Abu Sahmain, who had been absent during the previous proceedings, emerged to announce that Mr Matiq was indeed the new head of government, apparently under terms granted to the speaker enabling him to make decisions by decree. Mr Abu Sahmain had been absent since prosecutors announced last month that he was being investigated for possible sexual impropriety with two women, a touchy issue in Muslim Libya. But after he had declared Mr Matiq the prime minister, opposition members of the congress challenged the legality of the process. Mr Abu Sahmain then announced that Mr Thinni would anyway stay in place for another two weeks, since the British-educated Mr Matiq would need time to prepare for a congressional vote of confidence before his government could get going.
Here is a piece from Rori Donaghy of Middle East Eye situating the kidnappings in Libya and negotiations for the release of the Jordan Ambassador within the larger political context of the situation on the ground.
“Regarding the file of Libyans jailed in Tunisia … Tunisia confirms its wish to cooperate with the Libyan government, especially with the kidnapping of the Tunisian diplomats” he was quoted as saying in the LANA statement.
While Banun’s comments suggest Libyan authorities have a semblance of control over negotiating an end to kidnap incidents, analysts say it is the militias who retain ultimate power.
“The Jordanians have backed down, given the kidnappers what they want, and the Libyan authorities should be easily able to negotiate a deal securing the ambassador’s release” said Jason Pack, researcher of Middle East history at Cambridge University and president of Libyaanalysis.com.
“By acquiescing to the militia’s demands authorities are setting a dangerous precedent” he added. “Both governments should have avoided giving in to the kidnappers, ridden out the consequences and shown there is a price to pay when international norms are violated”.
You are cordially invited to a Panel Discussion held at noon on May 5th at The Atlantic Council’s offices at 1030 15th Street, NW, 12th Floor (West Tower) Washington, DC. Jason Pack, Karim Mezran, and William Zartman will discuss the appeasement cycle in today’s Libya and how the central authorities can attempt to break free. We will also discuss the role that international actors can play in the process. For a formal invite click here.
Slowly slowly the limited deal with Jadhran may be coming into the implementation phase and Zuetina is likely to start exporting soon following Hariga which has been open for a couple of weeks already. The more contentious and serious issues of Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra have yet to be resolved. Read more from Dow Jones here or from Reuters here.
Libyan rebels occupying eastern oil ports had agreed to reopen two terminals three weeks ago, including the 70,000 barrels-per-day Zueitina, but Zueitina’s reopening was delayed because of technical problems. Another terminal, the 110,000-barrel-a-day Hariga, restarted exports mid-April following an agreement between the government and rebels led by militia chief Ibrahim al-Jathran who are seeking greater autonomy for eastern Libya. Two larger ports–Ras Lanuf and Es-Sider–have yet to be reopened.
I’ve spoken to a lot of Libyans today. Some GNC members, some from families associated with the Monarchy and everyone feels in a good mood about the prospect of getting some crude flowing and lessening tensions between East and West. So on this occasion I’d like to share a very deep music video that summarizes the mood of some in Libya and in the Libya field right now… It has the deep name ” WE ARE HAPPY FROM TRIPOLI” and is sung by Pharrell Williams and has great vantages of Tripoli. This is one aspect of the political situation… and how many of us will feel if the oil blockades are truly going to be over and Brent crude will continue to plummet…. and Libya will know some development and stability and movement towards normalcy.
On Sunday April 5, the negotiations between Jadhran and the government seemed to have borne fruit with a compromise that will open up the previously blockaded oil ports. It is unclear if this deal represents government appeasement, hard bargaining, or a win-win for both sides. Only time will tell. The idea of Cyrenaica getting a regional percentage or quote of the country’s oil earnings does seem counterproductive in the long run and an unfortunate way to resolve the standoff, but the idea of a corruption probe and a system to oversee exports sounds beneficial as any step (even one taken under duress) that improves transparency in Libya is a good thing. So this could be a banner day for Libya, and a serious movement in the right direction… as said above only time will tell. To read a Reuters article about these developments click here.
Libyan rebels occupying four eastern oil ports agreed with the government on Sunday to gradually end their eight-month petroleum blockade, which has cost the North African state billions in lost revenues. Zueitina and Hariga ports, held by federalist rebels demanding more autonomy from Tripoli, will open immediately while the larger ports, Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, will be freed in two to four weeks after more talks, the government said……
Jathran’s movement set up its own self-declared federal government in the east, where many feel they have long been neglected by Tripoli. They made three key demands on the government, including a system to share oil revenues, a probe of corruption and a committee to oversee oil exports….
The oil deal does not necessarily end protests that have shut western oil production facilities such as the 340,000-bpd El Sharara oilfield for weeks. Protesters in the west have few ties with the east and are splintered into small groups lacking a joint leadership, which makes it hard to negotiate with them.
I know this is a touch late but Flair Loop of the Libya Monitor did such a good job condensing many of the essential dynamics at play in the country right now that this little piece of humour deserves my reposting:
In a surprise move, the interim government has announced plans to send a Libyan into space by 2020. An unnamed official cited in the local press said today that a new national space agency would be created to run the project, which aims to lift off by the end of the decade. Its first mission has been provisionally titled the Astrological Pan-Galactic Revolution In Libya (APRIL-1), although the name is still subject to GNC approval.
“Despite the security situation, financial crisis, political deadlock and widespread labour unrest in the country, we felt this was definitely worth spending lots of money on,” said the official, who described the project as a “top priority”.
“The programme will have a budget of LD100bn ($80bn), although we’re not really sure yet where the funds will come from.” Despite the announcement, there are already reports of arguments over whether the shuttle will blast off from Tripoli or Benghazi. “This is under discussion and we will decide on it very soon, probably in 2018,” said the official. The news has however prompted concerns among motorists that the mission could reduce the amount of gasoline available on the local market. Long queues were already forming at Tripoli petrol stations this morning.
It is unclear if splits among Jadhran supporters will make reaching some kind of compromise with the government more or less likely. Although an advocate of negotiation I think the government must keep all is options open as I have advocated with Haley Cook in an article in April 4ths Majalla and Sharq al-Awsat. Reuters wrote an important piece laying out the major clevages on the ground.
Libya has seen evidence of “good intentions” at indirect talks with eastern rebels which could lead to the lifting of their blockage of major oil ports within days, a government minister said on Thursday. But in an example of the chaos and shifting alliances typical of the OPEC producer, divisions in the rebel camp became apparent on Thursday when a senior member told Reuters he and seven others had quit the rebels’ leadership team in a conflict with top leader Ibrahim Jathran….
The resignations of the eight members of the rebels’ so-called politburo on Thursday leaves leader Jathran with a deputy and a self-declared prime minister to finish talks. Other members quit earlier, accusing him of concentrating power….
n another sign of growing turmoil, a hospital in Benghazi on Thursday called on Ansar Shariya, an Islamist militia labelled a terrorist organisation by Washington, to protect its premises while health workers went on strike to protest against a series of shootings inside clinics, staff said. Read more by clicking here.
Amid rumours that Thinni is undertaking negotiations with Jadhran, even though he knows Jadhran refuses to compromise the following details have emerged that the striking oil workers of the central Petroleum Facilities Guard were actually still being paid even after they started their strike and began blockading the oil terminals. This is a perverse and counterproductive form of appeasement indeed. Read more from the Libya Herald here.
In this article in the NYT, which I co-authored with Professor Brendan Simms, we make the bold (and idealistic) point that the Eurozone countries need to forge a complete Union to deal with the challenges (both economic and political) that they face in the 21st century. This message inspires me as I believe multilateralism and a greater union of the Western democracies is in fact the only way to deal with the world’s many intractable political questions: from North Africa to Russia to China and elsewhere. This union of the West should not create antagonism with other powers, but rather help distribute economic gains more fairly and stabilize the transition to a multipolar world. Hope you enjoy the article.
If today’s euro-zone countries do not unite to face the Russian threat, Europe will cease to be a player on the world stage. Mired in debt and divided between a thriving North and underemployed South, Europe’s failure would establish it as a power vacuum — inviting aggression in its borderlands…. Constructing a democratic European superpower in the midst of a crisis won’t be easy, and the dangers of doing so “on the fly” were amply illustrated by Europe’s abysmal performance during the Bosnian crisis of the 1990s, when it required American muscle to deal with a third-rate military threat. The strategic challenge now posed by Russia is far greater, and the failure to confront it will have correspondingly grave consequences.
Not only was it not his best performance, but the translation was horrible and Amanpour asked the most trite, naive, American-focused questions and managed to mispronounce every Arabic name. Way to go, CNN! I would say that this interview reflects increasing polarization between Islamists and non-Islamists in Libya and the international communities inability to arrive at a nuanced appreciation of the complexity of various factions in Libya. Watch the interview by clicking here.
It is a horrible shame that Libyans are not able to benefit from the resource wealth they are sitting on. It is also a shame that at this moment it would be so damn helpful if they could. Read more from Reuters.
The head of Eni has met with Libya’s prime minister to discuss the growing importance of Libyan gas to Italy, as the Ukraine crisis highlights Italy’s reliance on supply from Russia…. In a statement on Monday Eni said the key issue discussed in the meeting between Scaroni and Abdallah al-Thinni was the importance of maintaining and increasing Eni’s current production levels in Libya. ”Following the recent evolutions in the international political scene, Eni’s CEO also underlined the growing importance of Libya to Italy’s gas supply security,” it said.
In this four part article based on extensive interviews with the players, I will dissect the 25 point final between Lars Trabolt (DEN) and Vyachslav Pryadkin (UKR). The way the match unfolded, the dice gave Slava the opportunity to decisively steer the match in the direction he wanted and to take Lars out of his game plan and comfort zone. In fact, all players in the 4-7 PR range should study Pryadkin’s performance; it provides many insights into what match strategies may be successfully employed against the world’s best (if the dice cooperate!). Bearing this intro in mind, I hope you follow this four part series to be published with Prime Time Magazine over the course of 2014. This first article, will show a range of positions where Lars overcompensated for skill difference choosing to limit gammonish volatility….
Studying the match I found that cube play, unsurprisingly, constitutes the greatest window into a player’s soul, yet surprisingly, opening checker play as well as decisions of when to volunteer shots, hit aggressively, or play purely also provide a fair amount of insight into player psychology/tendencies. This may be the case because in the early game it is impossible to do precise calculations and one must go on gut instinct. Similarly, the issue of volunteering shots or avoiding many blots frequently demonstrates how comfortable the player is with short term tactical risk for potential strategic gain.
To read the whole article click here.
This saddening statistic captures the mood of political and personal recklessness and abandon which prevails in today’s Libya and was nurtured by both the Italians and Qadhafi. It is interesting to note that two former Italian colonies, Eritrea and Libya, are the two most dangerous places to drive in the World! As Italy had so few colonies this doesn’t seem like a coincidence but rather a causal relationship. Read the full article here.
It gives Libya a road traffic fatality rate of 60.1 fatalities per 100,000 population (on a population of six million), the highest figure of any country in the world. The next most dangerous place to drive in the world, according to the World Health Organisation, is Eritrea, with a fatality rate of 48.4.
The 2013 rate for Italy is 7.2, France 6.4, Germany 4.4, the UK 2.75 and US 10.4 — meaning that someone is more than eight times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident in Libya than in Italy and 22 times than in the UK….. The soaring rate is attributed by many to young reckless drivers now ignoring traffic regulations in the absence of traffic police to enforce them. However, Libya was already one of the most dangerous places in the world to drive under Qaddafi. Libya’s rate just before the revolution was 40.5 — making it at the time the third most dangerous place on earth to drive.
The anti-American insurgency in Iraq, and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan, was characterized by jihadist militants attempting to prevent the US from training Iraqi and Afghani security forces. This was done by bombing police and army recruitment and training centers. This tactic has just been used in Libya to devastating effect, revealing the extent to which the fight against the central government in Libya is being waged by members of the global jihad who are only capitalizing on the chaotic local conditions. Read more from Reuters here.
A car bomb exploded outside a Libyan army base in the eastern city of Benghazi on Monday, killing at least five people and wounding others, hospital sources and a security official said.
A hospital official in Benghazi said the five were killed when the bomb exploded as people were leaving a graduation ceremony for officers in the army.
In an amazingly daring and bold operation, US Navy SEALs have responded to requests from the Libyan and Cypriot authorities, to seize the stateless oil tanker which was commandeered by the Jadhran’s federalist movement and was sailing around the Eastern Mediterranean looking to sell its oil. This American move demonstrates many things: 1. Obama is a strong leader with a Foreign Policy vision who is willing to exercise force in a targeted manner to uphold the aims of the USA and the international community. 2. The US has not turned its back on Libya. 3. The majority of the Libyan people welcome this kind of international support. And 3. It is quite clear that ‘we’ cannot and will not let the Jadhran style federalists win, now that federalism of this kind is not about administrative decentralization but is actually about Brigandary, piracy, lies, and dysfunctionality. To read more about what has just transpired here is David Kirkpatrick’s summary for the NYT.
United States Navy commandos seized a fugitive oil tanker in the Mediterranean waters southeast of Cyprus on Monday morning, thwarting an attempt by a breakaway Libyan militia to sell its contents on the black market, the Pentagon said. No one was hurt in the operation, the Pentagon said in a statement.
The seizure of the oil, which the United States Navy says it is now returning to Libya, is also a blow to the ambitions of Ibrahim Jathran, the leader of the eastern Libyan militia that sought to sell the oil. Mr. Jathran, who has presented himself as a kind of Libyan Robin Hood, has led an eight-month blockade of Libya’s main oil ports to demand more political autonomy and a bigger cut of the oil revenue for his region, which contains most of the country’s oil reserves.
But in addition to depriving the Libyan government of critical revenue, Mr. Jathran has also irked American and international concerns that have stakes in the Libyan oil industry. The willingness of the United States military to stop illicit exports appears to even out the balance of power between the government in Tripoli and Mr. Jathran’s militia in the east. While Tripoli has been unable to force Mr. Jathran to reopen the ports, he appears unable to sell the oil on his own either, returning the two sides to a stalemate.
Lost in the current upheavals has been this encouraging piece of news reported by Libya Herald:
Tripoli, 12 March 2014: In a hectic day yesterday, apart from voting to withdraw confidence in Ali Zeidan and discussing elections to replace themselves, the General National Congress (GNC) also agreed to the consensus principle for minority rights and approved a budget for new regional building projects.
GNC member for Obari Tahir Maknni, told the Libya Herald the principle would be defined in full and drafted at a later date. He said however that, now it had been agreed to in theory by Congress, there was no reason why another round of voting to elect representatives from the Tebu and Amazigh communities to the Constitutional Assembly should not go ahead.
It appears the tanker has escaped port, Zeidan order guys to fire but they wouldn’t and maybe Islamists in the army deliberately didn’t fire because they knew that letting Zeidan seem incompetent would bring down his regime and force him out of the country as it has done. The road ahead for Libya now looks very rocky indeed. What is clearly needed is a national unity government. For a quick overview of how things played out David Kirkpatrick’s NYT piece is a good start.
Sadly, one of the most feared events heralding further collapse of the Libyan state has taken place. A North Korean oil tanker has actually docked at Sidra, one of the Eastern oil ports held by armed federalists, and loaded a cargo of 350,000 barrels of crude oil, leading the group one step closer to selling the oil and stealing the proceeds away from the rest of the country where it could easily be siphoned into the personal pockets of protest leader Ibrahim Jadhran.
As we wrote on 6 March for the latest issue of RUSI Newsbrief:
“[I]f eastern federalists aligned with Ibrahim Jadhran were able to secure international recognition for a Cyrenaican autonomous region, or managed to sell their oil on the open (global) market without government permission, the federalist menace would be immeasurably strengthened. The government would then be faced with the options of accepting the de facto partition of the country or re-igniting a hot war to reclaim the oilfields. Even worse, Jadhran’s successes could inspire other armed ‘warlords’ to imitate him by seizing territory. In this scenario, Libya’s myriad militia groups would initiate a carve-up of the national patrimony.”
Why was no military action taken to prevent this tanker from docking when a Maltese-flagged tanker was successfully prevented from docking at Sidra by the Libyan Navy in January? The answer may worryingly lie in the political infighting between the GNC and Prime Minister that have plagued the country for months. According to the Libya Herald:
“This evening, Zeidan said that the Army Chief of Staff refused to take orders from him or the Ministry of Defence and would only answer to the GNC and Commander-in-Chief – a role temporarily occupied by GNC head Nuri Abu Sahmain. This does not explain why no action has yet been taken, however, as Gajam said this afternoon that the General Chief of Staff, Abdulsalam Al-Obaidi, had been instructed to take the necessary action to deal with the ship as an illegal target.”
The government response, too little too late, has been to threaten to attack the already-loaded tanker, but ending up between a rock and a hard place. While it would be disastrous politically to allow the tanker to leave, it would be an environmental disaster if the oil from the damaged ship spilled into the harbor.
I have written an article with Haley Cook in the latest issue of the RUSI Newsbrief published by the Royal United Services Institute entitled, “The Future of Libya: Is ‘Pakistanisation’ a Foregone Conclusion?” This article looks at the possible paths for Libya after the third anniversary of the 2011 uprisings and the 20 February constitutional committee election. In the best case scenario, Libya would be stable and prosperous with a vibrant, diversified economy, strong human capital, and robust democratic institutions. In the worst case scenario, the Libyan state would collapse into complete chaos, with the government controlling barely only the capital and the rest of the country fragmenting into renewed civil conflict by warlords grabbing resources. In our estimation, given the current state of affairs, the future lies somewhere inbetween.
As we have written:
“There still remains a narrow window for Libya to navigate its present obstacles, but this opportunity is fast closing as the state’s finances rapidly deteriorate in the face of oil blockades, and as the political legitimacy of the country’s parliament is imperilled by popular protests and the fudged compromises that have allowed it to temporarily overstay its mandate – but which have also transformed it into an Islamist-backed body.”
“The most likely political future for Libya, however, is a hybrid scenario that falls short of Afghanistan-like anarchy, but allows for an overwhelming level of political patronage and corruption that would prevent Libya from truly reaching its economic and democratic potential. Such a scenario might be termed ‘Pakistanisation’, since the Libyan state would remain weak but intact as its various institutions were carved up and subjected to a loose power-sharing arrangement.”
You can read the full article here.
And I don’t mean that the world’s Foreign Ministers spent most of the Friend’s of Libya conference talking about Ukraine, but rather Lindsey Graham’s Tweet as described by James Traub of FP:
Obama’s cautious response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukrainian region of Crimea has confirmed his growing reputation as a weak-willed figure whose faltering leadership has sent a message of impunity to the world’s bullies. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham recently tweeted that Obama’s failure to attack the Libyans who killed U.S. diplomat Chris Stevens in 2012 invited “this type of aggression.” Graham has a partisan ax to grind, but much of the commentariat has followed suit. My colleague David Rothkopf, straining for terms of abuse sufficient to the moment, has written that comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter, the gold standard for presidential weakness, may be “unfair to Carter.”
For those keeping up with the latest scheduled events in Libyan national elections and constitution writing, there has been yet another change to the timeline. February’s amendment to the Constitutional Declaration kept the GNC in power beyond 7 February, under the condition that elections for a new legislature will be held in June if the special February Committee (a mix of GNC members and outside experts) determines that a new draft constitution will not be ready by July. The February Committee has just decided that June’s potential elections would not not only be for a new Congress, but also for an elected president. The new president would select the prime minister, who in turn would select a new cabinet. This new government, the third interim government since the end of the 2011 Revolution, would last for no longer than 18 months.
It is promising to see that the February Committee has already thought long and hard about carefully delineating powers between the President (head of state) and the Prime Minister, given that the lack of clear separation of powers in the current government has caused much deleterious political infighting between President Nuri Abu Sahmain and Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. It also remains to be seen what kind of effect the announcement that the third interim government will be a presidential rather than parliamentary system will have on the new constitution. More on this story is available here from Magharebia: “February Committee proposes new Libya legislature”.
While the eyes of the world are turned to Ukraine, more horrors are happening right in front of our eyes in Libya. Read about the latest and boldest attack on GNC members, their property, and their legitimacy from the Libya Herald by clicking here. The irony is people are protesting the GNC because it is too weak and they want a strong central authority to build the country and conquer the myriad low level insurgencies. Yet they seemingly fail to grasp that obvious that it is attacks like this that are part of the reason why the periphery is dominating the centre. This time the protestors appear to be the Zintan style anti-Brotherhood types making their actions all the more disruptive and pointless.
The number of protestors swelled to nearly 500 late this evening, all condemning the wave of assassinations in Benghazi, Derna and Sirte and denouncing the GNC and government’s inaction over the country’s ongoing security crisis…..
Another young protester said he was there in solidarity with Benghazi which has seen waves of protests this week against the deteriorating security in the city.He said that Congress was completely controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and was heavily influenced by foreign agendas.
Fred Wehrey of the Carnegie institute has just written a very detailed, very interesting, American-centric and security-centric narrative about the struggle between extreme Islamists and the security forces in Benghazi for The Atlantic online. He is brave in the way he has conducted the research and the conclusions he draws.
To enter Benghazi is to enter a city under siege. Unseen assailants spray checkpoints with automatic weapons; security men and military officers perish in booby-trapped cars. The staccato of nightly gunfire and pre-dawn explosions have assumed a customary quality. The culprits go undiscovered and unpunished.
Every day, Bukhamada’s special forces struggle for power and authority with a constellation of Islamist militias with deep roots in the city. Sa’iqa soldiers have been the targets of an assassination campaign, and Bukhamada’s own son was kidnapped in late January. The outcome of this contest will have an impact not only on the city, but also on the future of Libya’s army—and on the country’s democratic transition…..
Today, many Libyans point to the Shield project as the original sin of the National Transitional Council—a Faustian bargain that put the country on a downward trajectory. In the space of two years, the Shields rapidly became a shadow army with greater power than the country’s regular forces. The monthly government salary for a Shield member exceeded that of a regular policeman and army recruit, giving militia members or would-be recruits little incentive to join the government’s security forces…
For the Islamist militias and Shields, Bukhamada’s Sa’iqa is at once an uneasy partner and an implacable foe, in part as a result of historical memory. Under Qaddafi, the special forces spearheaded a ferocious crackdown on an Islamist uprising in Benghazi and the Green Mountains during the late 1990s. Although many leaders of that uprising fought side-by-side with the Sa’iqa during the 2011 revolution, the bad blood runs deep.
Today, many Islamists are dismissive of the Sa’iqa’s capabilities and suspicious of its motivations. Ismail Sallabi, the former commander of the Benghazi-based Rafallah al-Sahati Companies, asserted in an interview with me last spring that nothing could get done in the city without the Islamists and revolutionaries. The Sa’iqa’s ranks were filled with “drug users and womanizers,” and their contributions to security and policing were frequently heavy-handed and clumsy. “They still think they are fighting in Sirte,” he charged. “They would use Grad rockets to go after drug smugglers.” ….
I asked the 22nd Battalion commander about Benghazi’s worsening violence and what should be done about it. He shrugged. “We offered the 22nd Battalion to help Bukhamada but he declined. He said he has it under control,” he explained. And then: “I guess he’s a hero there and he doesn’t need any more heroes.”
Well, among those who registered turnout was not so low. Very interesting is how the re-runs will go in Ubari and elsewhere and most importantly if the minorities will be brought on board via some outside negotiations or appeasement tactics. Read more from the LH here.
Releasing the full figures for the turnout in Thursday’s Constitutional Committee elections last night, the Higher National Elections Commission (HNEC) has reiterated that an attempt to re-run the contest will take place on Wednesday in those polling centres where violence or blockades prevented it happening. If, however, they are disrupted again, the issue will have to be resolved by the General National Congress, HNEC head Nuri Elabbar said.
He said that negotiations with the Amazigh community which boycotted the elections were still at an impasse. However, there were a number of suggestions that had been made to break the deadlock, among them the appointment of Amazigh representatives to the two uncontested Amazigh seats in Zuwara and the Jebel Nafusa.
It has been suggested that the Supreme Amazigh Council be empowered by Congress to appoint them – a move that would, for the first time, give the council official status in Libya.
The biggest blight on the CA elections was the led up to them and not the actually conduct of them. The Amazigh boycott and pure information and campaigning are really what made it impossible for these elections to succeed. Yet, by hook or by crook, the HNEC needs to forge ahead and find away to appoint candidates for the 13 Seats where it was unable to open the polls on Feb 20. Read the key article from Libya Herald here.
The turnout in yesterday’s elections for the Constitutional Committee elections was 45 percent, the Higher National Elections Commission (HNEC) has said. But because of violence, disruptions and boycotts, 13 seats cannot be filled as yet.
A total of 497,663 of the 1.1 million people who registered to vote had done so, HNEC chairman Nuri Elabbar said at a press conference late last night. However, reports from twenty-nine centres in five Electoral regions were still awaited.
The 45-percent turnout, although lower than hoped for, is seen as more than sufficient to avoid accusations that the Constitutional Committee has no legitimacy. However, the appointment of if not all the 13 seats, certainly almost all, is another matter.
Following the 14 February statement by Maj. General Khalifa Hiftar calling for the GNC and cabinet to dissolve and sounding suspiciously like the start to a military coup attempt, the Qaaqaa Brigade and Sawaiq Brigade of Zintan origin issued an ultimatum to the GNC on 18 February to disband within five hours of the statement – or else GNC members would be arrested. The Libya Herald reports, however, that Qaaqaa Brigade members were not seen in the city that night, militia forces did not move from Zintan into Tripoli, nor did the threatened arrests take place.
Each subsequent attempt has emboldened others to try their hand, or to strike out against rivals lest they make a bid for power. Now with conflicting reports out that Qaaqaa Brigade leader Othman Mlaiqitah was wounded in what was possibly an assassination attempt (or a car crash), those who would seek to take hold of the reins of power had best be prepared to weather their own armed opposition.
These possible coup attempts were not enough to further derail the 20 February elections for Libya’s constituent assembly, already suffering from boycott by the Amazigh, polling station violence in Derna and Ubari, and general voter apathy. Preliminary results from Eastern Libya are indicating a possible win for the federalist current, as well as a possible seat for former NTC Finance and Oil Minister Ali Tarhouni according to the Alwasat.ly news website. However, The High National Election Commission has not yet announced any such results on its website http://hnec.ly.
Voting has just ended in Libya on Feb 20 and the good news is that the elections actually happened. The bad news is that formal institutions are being entirely sidelined by informal politics, ultimatums, conspiracies, and popular upheavals. Things are rapidly shifting in Libya and not being on the ground it is very difficult to keep up with all that is going on. Rather than trying to analyze what I do not yet have a grasp on, I will suggest the following articles on the recent events and the Constituent Assembly Elections: Mansour el-Kikhia in AJE on the new politics about forcing the dissolution of the GNC and Ulf Laessing of Reuters on the events of the constitutional committee elections.
The brief October 2013 kidnapping of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan demonstrated that coup attempts are possible, but it is unlikely that any faction in Libya would be able at this stage to garner enough support to hold power. Furthermore, the shadow of the years following Muammar Qadhafi’s own military coup in 1969 still looms over Libya, and current military leadership has not inspired public confidence, making a coup by military members especially difficult.
Following in the footsteps of those in recent months who have made sweeping political declarations without the authority to do so, retired Maj. General Khalifa Hiftar formerly of the Libyan army announced just six days before the elections for the sixty person committee to draft a new Libyan constitution that the military would be taking over, the GNC would be dissolved, and a new political roadmap would be devised.
However, after all of Hiftar’s inflammatory words, absolutely nothing happened. According to the New York Times,
“Then, nothing happened. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan called the supposed coup “ridiculous.” A military spokesman called it “a lie.” None of the Libyan Army’s few tanks or soldiers made any visible moves. The empty Parliament was quiet.”
More on the story is available from the New York Times here: “In Libya, a Coup. Or Perhaps Not.”
Big news. Jadhran’s brother was caught trying to make a deal for Cyrenaica’s oil in Dubai. That the UAE caught him is a great sign as it means that the international actors are helping out Libya’s central authorities even when they might have a financial interest to not do so! This is very good. You can read about it from the Libya Herald here.
Khaled Jadhran, one of the brothers of Cyrenaican break-away leader Ibrahim Jadhran, is awaiting extradition to Libya following his arrest in Dubai on charges of trying to illegally sell Libyan oil.
A close family member denied the charges against Khaled, saying: “He wasn’t involved in anything to do with Cyranaica, he is a businessman.” The relative added that he had been released on bail, which he claimed had been paid by a member of Dubai’s ruling family. “He is now free in Dubai, but his passport was taken,” he said. “Khaled has a travel document allowing him to make one journey and is now waiting for the Libyan prosecutors to report to the Dubai authorities about the charges.”
During the rush after Gaddafi’s détente with the US in 2003, the LIA was courted by successive Western companies and invested in assets as diverse as the Dutch–Belgian bank Fortis and the Italian football club Juventus. Previous reports and court documents paint a picture of an inexperienced management team at the LIA wowed by sophisticated Western financiers. This, however, is a vast oversimplification.
The LIA now claims the deal was clouded by opaque structures and misleading advice. This, however, seems unlikely to be the full explanation despite how convenient it would be for the post-Gaddafi Libyan authorities. Given Zarti’s endorsment of other bad trades for the LIA on which he stood to gain personally, it is far more likely that Zarti and those around him were involved in various side actions with Goldman surrounding the losses. However, Zarti and Goldman would have been very careful to avoid leaving any sort of paper trail.
For Libyan politicians, the pending case represents an opportunity for the country’s new leaders to claw back losses incurred during Gaddafi’s reign, as well as to expose the corruption of the former regime and its nefarious and unscrupulous dealings with the Libyan people’s money.
Here is a very interesting (and fairly long) article putting forth an explanation of why Libya’s transitional arrangements have come unstuck. He suggest the innovative but impracticable solution for the Constituent Assembly to take over the GNC’s governance responsibilities. This isn’t something I would support, because it would tip the balance too much towards Fezzan and Cyrenaica, but Megirisi is right that something needs to be done to change the structures and timelines. Read the whole thing here.
Thus, being the center of Libya’s political system, the GNC — a 200-member parliament filled through the country’s first fair, if not confused, national elections — naturally became the point of projection for Libya’s regional and ideological groups to take their cause national.
This resurrection of the old mindset rendered the new system unable to solve problems it encountered, as factions fought to glorify their own solutions rather than enact a cooperative system. Consequently, it created the popular perception that GNC members are the nation’s decisive power-holders.
This inaction of the official political process forced pressure groups into more coercive forms of lobbying. As the authorities continuously wilted under confrontation, these groups grew more emboldened, advancing from threats to invading institutions, acts of violence, and even withholding key utilities from the capital in order to extort their demands.
Moreover, the entrenchment of opportunistically criminal actors throughout Libya has rendered a powerful shadow force and network of incentives. They are working to prevent the emergence of any systems of security, accountability or transparency, which would dissolve their power base, newly secured privileges, and possibly end in their criminal prosecution.
As the Constitutional Assembly elections at the end of February draw closer, many have started to call for the CA to take on the role of the GNC and to draft the constitution. Although this is a popular idea, a lot of groundwork would need to be done to make it feasible……
Yemen has just announced that it will operate as a Federalist state for the first time in its history. And surprise, surprise, the Southern Yemeni Federalists are still protesting. Yemen has a culture of centre and periphery similar to that in Libya so I wouldn’t be surprised at all, if Cyrenaican Federalists would not accept what ever moderate federalism and decentralization that they get in the constitution and seek to gain more through force even after they have already achieved their aims.
Saba said a federal state comprised of six regions garnered the “highest level of agreement” against another proposal to divide the country into two regions, one in the north and one in the south. Southern Yemeni leaders rejected the accord. “What has been announced about the six regions is a coup against what had been agreed at the dialogue,” said Mohammed Ali Ahmed, a former South Yemen interior minister who returned from exile in March 2012. “That is why I pulled out of the dialogue,” he told Reuters.
Some southerners fear that having several regions would dilute their authority and deprive them of control over important areas such as Hadramout, where some of Yemen’s oil reserves are found.
Nasser al-Nawba, a founder of the southern Hirak separatist movement, also rejected the deal, saying the only solution was for the north and south to each have their own state, as was the case before 1990.
Below is the full text of an article from the Libya Business News
A cabinet reshuffle proposed by Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has been rejected on Sunday by Libya’s General National Congress (GNC).
MP Mahmoud al-Gheriani told Anadolu Agency that parliament turned down the request,“given an earlier agreement to withdraw confidence from the government in mid-February“.
Libya Herald reported that the proposed new ministers were:
Here is a little bit of ‘light’ Libya reading from NBC News, showing how the American media still likes to condense complex multi-dimensional political and social issues, into one dimensional human interest stories with references to violence and sport thrown in.
Earning salaries of up to $8,000 per month and living in mansions and top hotels, a handful of Americans are chasing their hoop dreams in lawless Libya – with the threat of heavily armed Islamist militias and kidnappings providing a constant reminder of just how far they are from home. ”I lived the first 13 years of my life in some of America’s worst neighborhoods, so it’s similar. But I don’t have my family and I don’t have a gun.”
“I live to play the game,” the 28-year-old point guard told NBC News. “Most people think the revolution is still going on but it’s a very safe place. I haven’t had any problems.” However, security is an issue when it comes to games. As a result, Rice’s team often plays in front of just 30 or 40 people who are vetted and searched.
In Benghazi, where two American pros were reportedly detained by Libyan special forces earlier this month, the situation is a lot more unstable, according to another player who asked not to be named due to security concerns. ”It’s a lot more dangerous than I expected,” the player said about the city where a 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. “While the club looks after me and they have put me up in a nice place, I can hear the guns and explosions close by and it’s scary.”
This is a modicum of good news. Read the Libya Herald article here.
Despite months of planning and weeks of security concerns, yesterday’s protests against the extension of the General National Congress(GNC) beyond 7 February passed without incident, attracting far fewer protesters than anticipated.
Some two thousand people gathered in Tripoli and several hundred in Benghazi yesterday, with still smaller demonstrations reported in other towns, including Shahat, Beida, Tobruk and Ajdabiya. Amidst much flag-waving and chanting, protestors carried brooms and dustbin bags, calling for a clean-up of Congress. “Martyrs, martyrs, for you, Libya,” a group in Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square chanted. “Yes to Libya, no to armed groups,” another chanted, referring to the belief held by some that the GNC is heavily-influenced by militias.Independent Benghazi Congressman, Mohamed Busidra, told this paper, however, that the media had exaggerated the public’s desire to see the dissolution of the GNC. “I think personally that everything happening now is due to the political isolation law and Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the National Forces Alliances (NFA),” Busidra said.
There is little English language coverage of this important issue, but AFP explains it as follows:
The congress has adopted a new roadmap and timetable, which allow for two scenarios. A general election is to be held at the end of the year if the constitutional body adopts a new charter within four months of its own election set for 20 February. But if the commission deems itself with 60 days incapable of completing the job, a Plan B allows for it to call for immediate presidential and legislative polls for a fresh period of 18 months.
While Karim Mezran of the Atlantic Council writes in his blog post entitled Deepening Polarization in Libya, No Agreement in Sight:
An emerging and worrying trend of political blocs within the General National Congress (GNC) forming alliances with certain militia groups—creating new and divisive power centers—threatens to derail the transition as these power centers prioritize self-interest over the collective good. The injection of weapons onto the political scene not only hampers substantive efforts to build a new Libyan state, but also emboldens criminal elements and political factions with parochial interests.
Efforts to broker an agreement that would create an opening for nascent institutions overcome this stumbling block have now collapsed. The goal was to have every GNC member sign a pledge upholding these principles. It appears that the two major political blocs—the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party and Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Alliance (NFA)—agreed. Given the fragmented, multi-polarity that characterizes Libyan politics today, however, the proposed solution collapsed after its rejection by, most notably, the al-Wafa Islamist bloc led by Abdulwahab al-Qaid.
Zintanis militias, which have so far reluctantly stood by the government, already pledged to side with the people if it takes an aggressive stance against the GNC. Meanwhile, Misratan militias, who withdrew from the capital amid widespread condemnation following the fatal clashes in Ghargour in November 2013, have promised to return to Tripoli if need be to defend the legislature and the revolution. Out of public view, Prime Minister Ali Zidan manipulates the factions gripping the legislature to maintain a hold on power, despite growing pressure from external forces urging a “no confidence” vote to oust his administration.
And the bottom line is in Mezran’s words ‘The legislature is banking on the fact that the constitutional committee cannot admit weakness, leaving the legislature in power for several more months.’ It is impossible to know the motivations, but if this exists as the widespread view that is quite damaging for the legislatures already woeful credibility. One truly cannot predict if or when there will be an outpouring of public support for a mass upheaval to sweep away the current system.
I’m always skeptical when I read a headline like this and sometimes, the subsequent article just makes me cringe with its gullibility. This time however, Reuters’ Ghaith Shennib adds a little bit of nuance, he knows full well that troops are not going to be deployed against Jadhran and Co. if some ultimatum is overstepped and he lets the reader draw that conclusion. It would be better if the issue was analyzed more directly, but such is nature of journalism these days. You can read the whole thing by clicking here or my selections below.
Zeidan has repeatedly warned he may use force to free up three key ports where protesters demanding more autonomy from Tripoli have cut off around 600,000 barrels per day of oil exports since summer. Negotiations have gone nowhere with the eastern federalists who have set up their own self-styled Cyrenaica government. But local eastern tribal leaders and officials say support is waning for Jathran within the federalist movement. An attempt to load a tanker at Es Sider port ended abruptly when the navy opened fire, making clear how difficult it would be for Jathran to sell oil independently of Tripoli. But with Libya’s nascent army still in training, most analysts say it will also be difficult for Zeidan to send troops to free up the ports, where Jathran has dug in with his own militia.
Reuters has published a boldly titled article: “Support crumbles in east Libya for oil blockade leader”. On the one hand, I’m quite eager for news of the Cyrenaican tribes turning against Jadhran so that the oil can get flowing and the Libyan economy and constitutional process can get back on track. Yet given developments up and till now, I am of course skeptical that things are moving in that direction. So you can read the whole article here to judge by yourself. Or glance at some of the key paragraphs I put below.
Even Jathran’s own tribe and leaders in its hometown speak angrily about getting exports flowing again as capital Tripoli warns it may no longer be able to pay public salaries because the blockade has slashed oil revenues. Surveying the potholed roads and abandoned buildings of Ajdabiya, mayor Salem Abdullah is all for fighting for more autonomy and oil wealth from the central government – but not for the blockade. “We are opposed the closure of the oil ports,” he told Reuters. “This has had a very, very negative impact.”
“The right way for us to have been represented would be by elections,” Abdullah said, slamming his right hand on the office desk in frustration. “If you want to represent by force you cannot talk in name of the people.” Jathran’s al-Magharba tribe is pressuring him to withdraw his men to free up at least 600,000 barrels a day of badly needed oil exports. Several meetings have been held though an attempt to negotiate failed in December. “Sit-ins in front of ports to demand your rights are fine… but shutting down ports is not acceptable. Oil is Libya’s only income and belongs to all Libyans,” said Saleh Atawich, the top Magharba leader.
He has put the strength of his force at more than 20,000 but few in the east believe this, and some oil industry and local estimates put his troop levels at below 5,000….. Jathran says his self-appointed government has formed an oil company to sell crude by bypassing Tripoli’s authority. His group has only appointed a director, and claims to rely otherwise on sympathetic former NOC staff.
Well, nothing like the Libyan propensity to wait for the 11th hour. With only twenty days to go the Libyans have finally announced a date for the Constituent Assembly elections. There has not been enough campaigning or voter registration and it appears that turnout will be far lower than in the GNC elections. Moreover, no one knows how various armed groups will try to influence the voting process to make sure that the constitutional court is staked with people who will support their regional and local interests. Read more from Reuters here.
Here is my latest in the Huffington Post with Brian Klass about what electoral violence and manipulation in Madagascar have to say about larger issues throughout Africa.
Only amateurs steal elections on election day anymore. Today, the pros manipulate elections long before the voting begins — making sure the playing field is so uneven that election day rigging is unnecessary.
In Africa and around the developing world, election-day rigging is amateur hour. International observers easily detect ballot box stuffing. Other forms of pre-election manipulation, however, remain shrouded in an opportunistic cloud, allowing strongmen to do their dirty work and get away with it.
Let’s be clear: this is not to say that Madagascar’s election was stolen. We don’t know if it was, because there was so little transparency surrounding critical aspects of democratic fairness. Western governments also need to recognize that elections are a step forward, not a panacea. Madagascar’s election did nothing to change the underlying dynamics that sparked the crisis. Grenade attacks, bleeding protestors, and Putin-esque power grabs make clear that the crisis is not over. International pressure should address the causes of toxic politics, not just the symptoms.
America can help. During President Obama’s tour of Africa last year, he promised that to build global democracy, America is “interested in investing not in strongmen, but in strong institutions.” But until the lessons from Madagascar’s December 20 vote are learned and policies are adapted accordingly, strongmen will win, democratic institutions will lose, and America’s promise will remain empty words.
Homes across Tripoli will continue to face rolling power cuts until the fighting in Warshefana has ended and security in the area stabilised, the General Electric Company of Libya (GECOL) said today. Read more from the Libya Herald here.
According to the Libya Herald, “No military reinforcements from the north of the country have yet arrived in Sebha, despite government promises and media reports” since the fighting broke out there in early January. Read more here. This is stark indication at how low the government’s willingness and capacity to face down its enemies is.
In retaliation for Egyptian actions against Shabaan Hadiya a leader of the infamous Revolutionaries Operations Room, there has been a revenge attack in Libya which is the kidnapping of Egyptian embassy officials. Read about it from BBC here.
Several kidnappings of officials in Libya recently have been blamed on militias. They are often paid by the government, but their allegiance and who controls them remain in doubt.
On Friday a Libyan militia commander was arrested in Egypt. Shabaan Hadiya is the leader of the Revolutionaries’ Operation Room, one of the militias that sprang up during the fight to topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The Voice of America has published an article with interviews by Karim Mezran and Bill Lawrence entitled “Libya Chaos Worsens”, but haven’t we heard that headline before? It has some interesting bits which I repeat below. For the full article click here.
Gripped by months of political turmoil analysts fear the country is edging closer to a possible break-up. A defiant Zeidan in a bid to head off a vote of no confidence by the country’s parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), told a news conference on Wednesday a vote of no confidence won’t solve the country’s problems. “I would be happy for a vote of no confidence, but we would not be happy for the government to be left to a caretaker government. I have asked the GNC to choose a Prime Minister. I will not leave the country in an executive vacuum,” Zeidan said.
Karim Mezran, a senior fellow with the Washington DC-based Atlantic Council, says that three-fourths of the GNC are against Zeidan and want him replaced but that the prime minister has managed to block a vote by playing to a minority of lawmakers – preventing a required quorum from being reached. “Zeidan is clinging to his position no matter what, but what he is doing in effect is to keep Libya stuck,” says Mezran. “Libya is stuck with a government that is not popular and a Congress that has lost its consensus and the situation is the country is close to becoming a failed state.”
“Libya is not one big mess,” says North Africa expert Bill Lawrence, a visiting professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University. “It is a bunch of little messes that are not very related. So, the string of assassinations in Benghazi is very different from the political game involved in the militias and their GNC allies in Tripoli, which is different from what’s going on in the borders, which is different from the fighting over smuggling of the trafficking in the South, different from the ethnic conflicts in other communities, and what is happening at the oil facilities. We tend to conflate this all because of the catastrophic weakness of the military and the police.” Of the challenges facing Libya, the biggest “existential threat” to the country comes from the federalist movement in the East, says Lawrence. “By resisting the demands for federalism because of fears it will result in the break-up of the country, politicians from Western Libya are in danger of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby their resistance pushes the federalists to become separatists.”
Interviewed for an article for The Guardian, I make the case that the recent killings in Libya are part of the larger situation and that groups that want the central government to fail are clearly taking aim at foreigners.
“I would stick my neck out and say this is some kind of Salafist or jihadist group,” said Jason Pack, a researcher at Cambridge University who runs Libya-analysis.com. ”The only people who randomly kill foreigners are the jihadists. These extreme tactics are being used by the Islamists at a time the population is turning against them and the government is trying to break free. When they don’t know how to cut a pipeline, killing westerners is an easier way of keeping foreign investors away.”
The prospects of the killers being identified and of security being improved are undermined by the continuing anarchic conditions across post-Gaddafi Libya in which different localities are controlled by communal militias while peace and oil production is only maintained by local deals and pay-offs by the Tripoli government led by prime minister, Ali Zeidan, and the oil companies themselves. ”This is part of a larger trend of extortion,” Pack said.
“The ‘political’ agenda of these groups is merely a veneer for extortion. The Libyan government finds itself in a conundrum because it has practised appeasement and scrambled to meet the demands of the militias. It has laid down deadlines threatened to use force but has never carried out those threats.”
Professor Anna Baldinetti, a good friend of mine and one of the real leaders in the Libya field has asked me to circulate the following announcement to the Middle Eastern Studies community as she is looking for a UK based research assistant.
Here is the announcement
Anna Baldinetti, Professor of History and Political Science at the University of Perugia and former Evans-Pritchard Lecturer at All Souls College, Oxford, is looking for a part-time paid research assistant who is resident in England and has library privileges as a major UK academic library. The successful candidate will be familiar with Arabic and English. Knowledge of Libya and its historiography is a plus, but not required. He or she will be able to help Prof Baldinetti to gather documentation in Arabic on women, family and youth in Libya scattered in various UK libraries (mainly Durham, Oxford, and Soas). The student ( he/she can be based anywhere in the UK) should acquire them by interlibrary loan, make photocopies and send them to me. The pay is 15 euros (about 12 pounds) an hour and of course Prof Baldinetti will refund the interlibrary loans fees as well as other expenses. This is a great opportunity for a young enterprising graduate student working on Libya as it has the potential to develop into further collaboration with Prof Baldinetti. If you are interested please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your CV.
Although some wonder if there will continue to be a whole Libya throughout 2014, I have no doubts. I’d like to first share my article in Majalla with Haley Cook about Libya’s Prospects in the new year. Next I’d like to pass along some content from Libya Business News which was quite succinct and accurate in this context:
As 2013 draws to a close, Libya’s General National Congress has voted to extend its mandate until late December 2014. Given the failure of the parliament to draft a constitution, this is not a surprise, but many have also been disappointed by the GNC’s failure to bring the militias under control and to secure oil exports. A recent decision to make Sharia law the foundation of all legislation and state institutions in the country has also caused confusion, while legislation banning non-Shariah-compliant banking by 2015 is strangling access to funds.
But as we welcome a new year there may be some brightness on the horizon, with the likely resumption of oil exports from Hariga, and a vote of confidence from KPMG, which is launching a member firmin Tripoli. With another challenging but potentially rewarding year to come, we at Libya Business News wish all Libyans at home and abroad a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2014.
David Kirkpatrick’s New York Times investigative report about the causes of the killing of Chris Stevens is the best account yet produced of the motivations of the key players and causes of the tragedy. I am still a little skeptical about the importance of the silly anti-Islamic YouTube video made in California, but I don’t doubt that Kirkpatrick is correct that many different causes combined together to fuel the attack. I also think Kirkpatrick is wrong to down play the revenge element for the killing of Al Qaeda operative Abu Yahya Al-Libi.
Most importantly, Kirkpatrick connects the dots between the killing of Chris Stevens and that of Abdul-Fattih Younis. These events are most certainly the two most significant incidents that have derailed the NTC’s and GNC’s attempts to build a central government and keep the Islamist militias in check. Fascinating, Abu Khattala is directly implicated in both incidents and therefore despite being a mental ill, loner with less than a hundred followers, he can be said to be the key figure who has ‘defeated’ Mahmoud Gibril’s and the NTC’s political vision for post-Qadhafi Libya. What a shame and how depressing. To read the whole report click here.
Sunday’s suicide bombing in Benghazi could be a sign that al Qaeda is no longer using Libya as a haven—but instead turning the country into a battlefield. …. Rami El Obeidi, the former intelligence chief of the rebels during the uprising against Gaddafi and a commander of some of the soldiers who were killed in Sunday’s explosion, told The Daily Beast that his preliminary information showed the bomber was actually from Mali, not Libya. The bomber is likely one of the hundreds of jihadists in Mali who fled north when the French intervened a year ago to quash a radical Muslim insurgency in the sub-Saharan African state, El Obeidi said…. The Libyan army unit targeted was one of the few that had gone head-to-head with hardline Islamist militias and had tried to counter Al Qaeda’s growing presence in Libya. “It had caused serious disruption to jihadist logistics supply routes between Derna and Benghazi,” says El Obeidi. For the whole story click here.
The incident on Sunday comes just days after Colonel Fethallah al-Gaziri, the newly appointed chief of military intelligence in Benghazi, was assassinated during a visit to his family in the city of Derna….The security post’s chief, Fraj al-Abdelli, who was wounded in the attack, said the checkpoint had received several threats since arresting four people in November who were carrying weapons, explosives, money and a hit list.
Today the Arab Spring is 3 years old. Is the movement over? Is it still going on? Is the term ‘Arab Spring’ a legitimate/accurate one? I am actually of the belief that the Arab Spring is long over and with hindsight we now know that the term should only refer to the period of time from Dec 17th, 2010 until October 23rd, 2011. I.e. from when Mohammad Bou ‘Azizi self immolated sparking the revolution in Tunisia until when Qadhafi was killed and the liberation was declared in Libya. Seen in this light the Arab Spring was a North Africa focused movements and events in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen were offshoots, but never had a similar trajectory. The Arab Spring was about using new forms of mobilization and organization to express dissent which had boiled over after long years of stagnant authoritarianism which was not producing jobs or dignity and did not present Muslims with regimes they considered Islamically legitimate. The Arab Spring was ideal in the predominantly Sunni, religious, and highly politically engaged societies of North Africa. It has not fared so well in multi-sectarian (Syria/Bahrain) or non-Arab societies (copycat movements in Africa/Ukraine/elsewhere).
I’ve been musing on these questions because I wrote a retrospective of the Arab Spring for the L.A. Times addressing how the failures to ‘transition to democracy’ in Iraq, Egypt, and Libya have served as excellent warnings to Tunisians of what not to do. Moreover, looking back at the fall out from the Arab Spring movements, it does appear that only Tunisia has a real chance IN THE SHORT TERM to create a society governed by the rule of law, a constitution, and functioning accountable institutions. Read the whole article by clicking here or some highlights below.
Tunisia’s stalled transition remains the last, best prospect for a democratic blossoming from the Arab Spring. Hope lives on because Tunisia has learned from the other derailed democratic experiments in the region, notably in Iraq, Egypt and Libya….
First, learning from mistakes in Iraq and Libya, Tunisian politics are becoming more inclusive, in spite of initial echoes of de-Baathification. Although Ben Ali’s political party was formally disbanded in 2011, the ruling Islamist Nahda movement has shelved a proposed controversial “immunization of the revolution” law, a virtual carbon copy of Libya’s Political Isolation Law…. Third, unlike in Egypt and Libya, Tunisia’s ruling elites having been working toward coalition governance…. Finally, on Saturday, a way to implement this pledge was devised by appointing Mehdi Jomaa, a consensus candidate and the current minister of industry, as the caretaker prime minister…..
So far, however, three years after starting the Arab Spring, Tunisia has learned three valuable lessons from Iraq, Egypt and Libya:
Don’t disband your military or let it act as a state within a state, but do make it powerful enough to provide security. Seek consensus and compromise whenever possible. Include experienced and noncorrupt members of the former regime, or you’ll risk throwing the democratic baby out with the dictatorial Baath water.
As Reuters reports, negotiations between government officials and Eastern separatists could result tomorrow in a deal that would bring an end to over five months of closed oil ports and loss of billions of dollars in government revenue. However, if the armed protesters are unwilling to compromise and begin illegally selling oil out of Ras Lanuf, Sidra, and Zueitina, then the government may follow through on its past threats to meet such an action with force.
It is interesting to note that the self-declared prime minister of a self-appointed autonomous government in the East claims that he will be meeting with a group of government officials directly, while Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan stated that negotiations will not be directly with those responsible but rather through the intermediary of local tribal leaders.
“We will hold talks with a government committee on Saturday,” said Abd-Rabbo al-Barassi, prime minister of Jathran’s self-declared eastern government.
“If they agree on our demands, then the ports will reopen on Sunday. If they don’t agree, then we’ll insist on selling the oil without government coordination,” he told Reuters by telephone. He did not say which officials the group would be meeting in the east.
You can read more here: “East Libya group allows one day for talks on reopening oil ports”.
Magharebia interviewed Ali Hashem al-Zway, head of the Supreme Security Committee for the town of Jaghbub near the Egyptian border, about the difficulties of combating smuggling in remote areas. Libya lacks a comprehensive border security system, and as seen from this interview security is left in some areas to ad-hoc local forces grown out of militias from the 2011 Libyan revolution such as the Supreme Security Committees rather than specialized trained forces with a dedicated budget.
Al-Zway said that among the items smuggled into Libya for sale on the black market were “narcotic Tramadol pills, bags of expired chicken liver and medications…[e]verything you can imagine”, and he also spoke of arresting groups of illegal immigrants from “Egypt, Sudan, Bangladesh and Pakistan” as well as the Libyans involved in the human trafficking.
He complained of not having enough equipment to do the job due to lack of support from the Jaghbub local council and lack of support from the central government. When asked if the government had provided funding and equipment he replied, “nothing, except for three vehicles that we received from the Supreme Security Committee in Tobruk, which we report to.”
You can read the rest of the interview here: ‘Everything is smuggled in Libya’.
I have just published another feature in The Majalla with Haley Cook entitled “Breaking the Libyan Oil Blockade“.
As five months of disruptions in oil and gas production continue, the Libyan government has been unable to negotiate solutions to most of the separate strikes and blockades, and unable or unwilling to use violence. Increasing disruptions to electricity and fuel could turn additional public sentiment against such tactics and help bring an end to the growing economic crisis.
Libya is currently facing one of its most complex dilemmas. The continuing occupation of multiple oil and gas production sites, pipelines, platforms and export terminals by armed protestors has cut oil production to a sixth of the level it was at as late as July. As this cut in production, and thus in government revenue, forces Libya to dip into its savings to keep the government operating, a rash of assassinations of security officials, criminal activity, and sporadic militia clashes have spread the nascent Libyan security institutions thin. A recent political opinion focus group survey conducted by the National Democratic Institute found that “Libyans blame the government for continued insecurity and express a desire for the state to exert its authority and address the issue.”
In lieu of actual progress in the constitutional process, the GNC has voted to have Sharia law serve as THE SOURCE of legislation in the country. The question then becomes does this clarify matters or only further obfuscate them? Will this make the uncertainty about the constitution worse or better? My inclination is that this step only increases the opacity of Libya’s legal system and will further promote dysfunction in the credit markets and in issues surrounding property law, etc. Read the story from AJE here.
Libya’s National Assembly has voted to make Sharia, Islamic law, the foundation of all legislation and state institutions in the country.The immediate scope of the General National Congress”s (GNC) decision on Wednesday was not clear, but a special committee will review all existing laws to guarantee they comply with Islamic law.
The GNC’s decision came shortly before a vote to form a 60-member committee that will draft the new constitution.
On December 2nd, I presented a paper entitled: Libya’s Post-Qadhafi Fissures: Federalists, Islamists, Berbers & the Militias to a general audience at St. Catharine’s College. I started with an overview of the present situation in Libya and then focused on explaining the roots of the social and political fissures in the country at present. To watch on YouTube click here.
An accessible overview from the Washington Post about why training in the security sector in Libya is not going to be a magic bullet for Libya’s woes. The article points out how different international actors are not coordinating on training and are hence driving more unhealthy competition. In fact, as I’ve been saying for years already the majority of training must be in the civilian sectors like water, health, administration, finance, etc. As for military training it can only work if done multilaterally not bilaterally. Read the whole article here.
U.S. officials say the hope is that the General Purpose Force — a trained Libyan military organization — will start to fill the country’s festering security vacuum, initially by protecting vital government installations and the individuals struggling to make this country run. The Obama administration hopes the force eventually will form the core of a new national army.
The United States and its partners, who say they are training to “NATO standards,” are not the only ones moving to fill the security vacuum. A wealth of outside actors are rushing to bolster favored militias or to capitalize on the oil-rich country’s prevailing anarchy. Turkey is conducting military training for up to 3,000 Libyan recruits, and wealthy Persian Gulf states — as well as private companies and black-market arms dealers — are supplying favored groups. Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia also have expressed willingness to play a role in training Libya’s security forces, U.S. officials said. “We have certainly seen multiple agendas playing out in the course of multiple external partners,’’ said the U.S. defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the touchy situation and U.S. goals. For now, Libya’s government and legislature are weak and divided along a deepening fault line. On one side is a liberal-leaning coalition known as the National Forces Alliance, supported by heavily armed militias from the western mountain town of Zintan. On the other side are Islamist groups that include the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist militias.
Even as the United States is shipping Humvees to the government, a Qatari businessman, who insisted that his name not be used, said he recently completed a $14.8 million deal that would supply 100 armored Toyota Land Cruisers to Islamist militias under the umbrella of Libya’s Interior Ministry. Islamist militia leaders accuse the United Arab Emirates, Qatar’s gulf rival, of trying to counter Qatar’s influence by funneling money and training to more secular groups, particularly the Qaqaa brigade, a militia from Zintan that backs the National Forces Alliance.
The Libyan government needs a new approach to its current crisis. Similarly, the international community needs to recalibrate its assistance to Libya. Teaming up with FP’s Mohamed Al-Jarh, we have crafted a policy relevant piece for the Atlantic Council.
On Friday November 15, Tripoli witnessed its bloodiest day since its liberation from Muammar Qaddafi. This current crisis allows the government an unprecedented opportunity to change course and to abandon its previously failed policies. Finally, the inhabitants of Tripoli and Benghazi are attempting to reclaim ownership of their cities from the militias.
To meet the demands of the Libyan people, the Libyan authorities and the international community need to start engaging in efforts at “localizing” power. As we pointed out in the New York Times on October 18, the cancellation of some military aid to Egypt should allow President Barack Obama to redirect part of the withheld funds towards projects in Libya without the need for congressional approval. Furthermore, despite his pledge to not resign, Prime Minster Ali Zeidan should step down and allow for the formation of a national unity government which will fulfill a caretaker function—recalibrating the relationship between center and periphery while overseeing the elections for the constitutional committee. To read the rest click here.
A review of my book by The Spectator magazine shows that the key struggles between the centre and the periphery need to be addressed via localization and incorporating the periphery into the center. Moreover, the reviewer feels that the keys to the present crisis are explained via the central metaphor of our volume. Quite flattering and thanks you David Blackburn. Read the whole article here.
Recent news from Libya has not inspired confidence. Terrorism, riots, murder, a temporarily kidnapped prime minster, oil stuck at export terminals – it’s a dispiriting litany of apparently unconnected events. Yet careful study of the region’s history and the aftermath of the uprisings against Colonel Gaddafi suggest that peripheral forces in Libya are, as they often do, resisting impositions from the centre. That is the central thesis of a collection of essays The 2011 Libyan Uprisings and the Struggle for the Post-Qadafi Future, edited by Jason Pack of Cambridge University. Pack & Co argue that the Libyan uprising was not homogenous. There were ‘multiple simultaneous uprisings’…
Pack & Co make a convincing case that central government, supported by the western allies and their aid agencies, must ‘localise’ (devolve) power by giving the various strongmen a stake in the administration of justice, the economy and the development of public services. Only then, they argue, can Libya build strong civic institutions to withstand greater tremors than those of the moment.
Finally, the revenge of the cake-eaters. I only hope this festival atmosphere can be harnessed into real concrete action to keep the militias out. Read more on Tripolitanian customs and how popular action evicted the militias from the BBC’s Rana Jawad here.
Tripoli residents have been brandishing and eating pastries on the streets this week as a symbol of their victory in forcing militias from elsewhere in Libya to withdraw from the capital. The city is famous for its baryoosh – a croissant-like brioche – but since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, its residents have been derided by some in the provinces as cake-eaters.
The problem for the new government in the two years since the killing of Libya’s long-time ruler is that many of these brigades have refused to disarm and refused to leave the capital – until events last Friday. The bigger quandary for officials will be how to ensure their disbandment and disarmament or integration into the legitimate security forces.
When asked if they were prepared to face militias in the event of further civilian protests against them, the policeman from Benghazi replied: “We are here to protect the people. “If there is a protest, God willing we will be the first ones there.” This will give a sceptical public some hope. But for now the words of Louis XVI of France’s queen is proving sustenance to some of the protesters. “We ate the croissants Marie Antoinette said we should eat and the militias left,” one Tripoli resident quipped.
Three Libya experts Claudia Gazzani of the ICG, Luiz Martinez of CERI, and Jason Pack of Libya-Analysis.com and Cambridge University debated on the German Radio station Deutsch Walle what the EU should do in Libya and the likelihood of separatism. The three shared their widely divergent views about the federalist situation in Cyrenaica and the role the EU can and should play in the country. Read more here.
Jason Pack, Libya expert at the University of Cambridge in the UK, thinks that all support is vital, particularly the training for civil servants. “The Libyans have money and resources and good people in some areas, but they can’t administer their ministries and don’t manage to pay the men guarding the oilfields on time,” he told DW.
Pack, on the other hand, sees no danger that the country will break apart, and argues that most of the people of Cyrenaica are not separatists. He said there needs to be a common international process. All the states that once rebelled against Gadhafi – even the predominantly Islamic ones – should work together. That, he argues, would send a strong signal to the militias and everyone who stands in the way of a peaceful solution.
Jason Pack has assembled articles by both new and well-known experts on Libya to produce a book of consistently high quality, which is not all that common in edited works. Both timely and excellent, The 2011 Libyan Uprisings and the Struggle for the Post-Qadhafi Future examines the causes and evolution of the Libyan revolution and will help those struggling to understand Libya’s difficulties in building stable political structures that might finally allow its people to benefit from its oil and gas resources.
Looking ahead, he [Youssef Sawani] points out that the elections and politics in general are likely to remain dominated by tribal and local concerns, in what he calls “the inherent indecisiveness of the perpetual dynamics of Libyan life.” In the few months since the book was published, his forecast has proved correct…. Wolfram Lacher provides an essential survey of tribes and tribal politics….
Henry Smith takes this further in his study of the often-ignored but strategically important and restive south, which is heavily influenced by—and can influence—Saharan politics. There is a fascinating analysis of the relationship of the main tribal groups with the center over time, and with each other and with the Tuareg and Tubu minorities. The challenge now is to persuade local groups to commit themselves to national goals. I would have liked to see an additional chapter looking in more detail at the Jebel Nafusa and Misrata. The chapter that breaks new ground is one on Islamists by Pack, Norman Benotman and James Brandon.
This book has appeared too soon to provide answers to many of the questions that it poses, but it is a considerable achievement to produce such a volume so quickly. It will help policymakers, businessmen and analysts struggling to understand the new Libya as its leaders learn from the mistakes of the past and persuade local forces who feel they made the revolution to put national interests above their own.
Read the whole review here.
In an article for Foreign Policy, James Roslington — a Cambridge specialist on Morocco — and I analyze the debate on the legalization of cannabis in Morocco. We look at how the timing of the debate on cannabis is a result of wider trends as the Moroccan state attempts to navigate its way through growing unrest and the global economic crisis in the post-Arab Spring era. To read the whole article click here.
Morocco regularly vies with Afghanistan for the title of the world’s biggest producer of cannabis — its output was recently estimated at nearly 40,000 tons annually — yet open debate on the role of the plant in the country’s economy remains infrequent. In recent years, despite improvements in production, both small farmers and big producers have seen their cannabis-related income plummet.
The Moroccan government has recognized that whack-a-mole policing, by itself, can no longer deal with popular discontent. As part of the Moroccan strategy to insulate itself from the unrest plaguing its neighbors, the state appears to have switched tack — now preferring to employ carrots as well as sticks to tighten its political grip over the restive north. To buttress these efforts, the supreme political authority in Morocco is clearly exploring the possibility of legislation to legalize cannabis. Legalization would boost tax revenue and prop up the economy of the region.
Nate Mason former Commercial Attache for the US Embassy in Libya has finally tried his able hand at op-ed writing. Here he discusses the question of centralization vs. decentralization and how this debate contributes to administrative brokenness in the new Libya. He frames the issue in a novel and fascinating way. I disagree with a few of the points but that is what makes horseracing. In Mason’s vision Libya is too centralized. In my vision it is too decentralized. I don’t consider the current GNC system and the drive for consensus as ‘centralized’ nor do I consider the constant requirement for the levers of government to be pulled in Tripoli as an “issue of centralization.” I see it as an issue of dysfunction. I advocate enough centralization that authority can be devolved to a periphery that is empowered to act but to act only on behalf of the central government. Click here for Nate’s full article.
Libya’s post revolution transitional governments have maintained the “Committees Everywhere” governance style: a consensus-driven and obsessively centralized model created by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. For example, even minor decisions such as prioritizing construction projects in far-off towns and villages remain firmly on Tripoli’s agenda. Local leaders generally select representatives sent to Tripoli based on a combination of loyalty and dispensability, ensuring the representatives lack the authority to make decisions without phoning home. As a result, the General National Congress behaves as a mammoth committee of the country’s local notables. It is no surprise that its decisions are few and irresolute.
In Libya, tribal, religious, and community leaders—not national officials—have so far prevented the anarchy existent since the revolution from devolving into pure chaos. The current, highly-centralized governance structure should be recognized as the Qaddafi holdover that it is, and Libya should look to the traditional community structures that have demonstrated success. In fact, a national dialogue that brings militia and traditional leaders together to discuss governance is gaining traction even as violence escalates in Benghazi and Tripoli. Prime Minister Zidan, with the enthusiastic support of foreign governments, should use his temporarily heightened stature to convene this dialogue as soon as is practical.
The Gulf Cultural Club held an event entitled “Libya: Will Failure Lead to Partition?” with speakers including Libya-Analysis.com President Jason Pack, Dr. Guma El-Gamaty of Libya’s Al-Taghyeer Party, and Libyan British Business Council Chairman Rt. Hon. Lord Trefgarne. The Tripoli Post published a summary of the event here.
The speakers recognized the current difficulties that Libya faces, but none of the agreed with the question in the event title that failure would lead to partition.
As reported from the event in the Tripoli Post:
Jason Pack the author of The 2011 Libyan uprisings and the struggle for the post Gaddafi future said that as a result of the uprisings, Libya has shifted from a decentralised dictatorship back to its more traditional power structure – a weak centre having difficulty making inroads with a rebellious and disunited periphery which does not recognise its claim to be the sole legitimate sovereign.
Many in the backgammon community feel that the World Championships at Monte Carlo are a bit of a misnomer. The World Championships no longer usually feature the majority of the world’s best players and its Championship division field is not the strongest field of players on the international circuit, as the top flights at Chicago and Copenhagen are arguably quite a bit stronger. And yet, in some years the World Championship manages to live up to its billing. Its longer matches and relaxed format can produce stunningly high quality play, dramatic matches, and psychological fireworks. 2013 was such a year. In this article and in another next month, we will investigate the two most important, well-played, and exciting matches of Monte Carlo 2013. These matches also happened to be the only two displayed on the big screen in the main playing room, accompanied by insightful live commentary by Falafel: the Semi-final between Petko Kostadinov (USA) and Lars Trabalt (DEN) and the Final between Vyacheslav Pryadkin (UKR) and Lars Trabolt (DEN)….
In over five hours and thirty games, Lars Trabolt managed to come back from a 0-10 to 23 deficit to reach his third World Championship final in the span of six years. He had done so against a strong, yet clearly fatigued opponent whose tendencies he accurately diagnosed and ruthless exploited. Had Lars not played such brilliant backgammon, Petko’s errors as highlighted in this article would likely never have transpired. Backgammon is a game of Ying and Yang, ebb and flow. Students of backgammon should study and re-study this match for its myriad psychological and positional insights. Fate would have it that many of the key areas of backgammon are amply covered in this match: attacking middle game cubes, backgames, recubes, racing cubes at uneven scores, and the exploitation of psychological dynamics.
To read the full article click here.
Here is the broadest circulation piece I’ve done to date. It is an opinion piece for the New York Times about how “Libya is truly ruled by everyone and no one.” It also assesses why the Obama has a new opportunity to engage further in Libya and doing so wouldn’t be a moment too soon. In fact it might already be too late, but that is no excuse for sitting on our hands. So if you haven’t done so already you can read the piece here.
Some have described the kidnapping as a pseudo-coup. But coups usually aim to overthrow one government and replace it with another. Things are different in Libya. None of the country’s competing armed factions are capable of governing alone. Each wishes to protect its special privileges while preventing its opponents from governing. Libya is truly ruled by everyone and no one.
How Mr. Zeidan emerges from this crisis will depend on his political savvy. His government might fall because of his public humiliation — or he could muddle through. Either way, Western policy makers should seek not to support Mr. Zeidan or any other politician, but rather to bolster the rule of law in Libya. The cancellation of some military aid to Egypt could grant President Obama a novel opportunity to redirect some of the funds withheld from Egypt toward institution building in Libya without the need for Congressional approval. To date, the Obama administration has been hamstrung by Republican obstruction on Libya, which has focused on scoring political points through endless investigations of last year’s attack on the United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Mr. Obama should now seize this opportunity to create a virtuous precedent by switching his financial support from those who have perpetrated a coup to a country that might suffer one.
It would seem that the press has turned very apocalyptic about Libya. Sadly, this is for good reason. Here is a link to a good overview of the different factions in the country.
Zeidan had been held in a government office by gunmen from an Islamist militia allied to the Shield Force. Details of his release are still hazy, but a loyal militia fired rocket-propelled grenades outside the office just beforehand. Riccardo Fabiani, a North Africa analyst with Eurasia Group said militias appeared to be using their muscle for specific demands. But that might spin out of control if accusations Zeidan’s political foes orchestrated his abduction proved true.
Libya is still negotiating with Britain, Turkey and Italy over training for its nascent armed forces, but NATO said last week it was still considering how the security situation on the ground might affect its assistance. U.S. military training is in the planning stages, and Britain has said its main training may start early next year.
The Voice of America website is the only English language forum currently pointing out the dynamic that is quite clear in Libya right now: that after the completion of ‘Eid al-Adha, Zidan’s enemies have return to their efforts to weaken him and oust his government. Some accuse him of being implicated in the bribery scandal of GNC members who wrote personal checks in to federalist protesters occupying the oil terminals in the East in an attempt to buy them off. Others accuse him of complicity with the Americans in the Abu Anas al-Libi affair and yet others accuse him of personal corruption. It looks as if Zidan has chosen to secretly negotiate with those behind his kidnapping as he refused to name them prior to the ‘Eid. In short, even the dramatic events of the last two weeks may not have stemmed the cycle of appeasement and blackmail into which Libya has descended.
Now Libyans are bracing for more turmoil after Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has promised to implicate political rivals in his abduction last week, claiming the incident was a coup attempt by his adversaries in parliament. Zeidan made his threat this week in an interview with Al-Arabiya saying he would name names, of those involved in his seven-hour kidnapping, setting the stage for a political showdown after the end of the three-day Eid religious holiday.
Analysts say the militias form a parallel state and that if Zeidan is to survive, he needs to curb their power – no small feat when Libya has yet to form a national army or a functioning police force since Gadhafi’s ouster. Support for Zeidan has waned among ordinary Libyans who have seen no significant improvement since he was elected last October by a narrow margin in the General National Congress. He is Libya’s third prime minister since Gadhafi’s ouster. “People are getting tired,” said Nareen Abbas, an activist. “While we have seen an improvement in what we can buy with the opening of new shops, this has nothing to do with the government. We have not seen any improvement when it comes to security and there has been no progress on deciding how to elect a committee to draft a new constitution. We are stuck.”
Read more here.
Like their Libyan counterparts, American spokespeople are trying to downplay the damage to bilateral relations that the events of the past two weeks might have had.
As suspected Al Qaeda terrorist Nazih Al-Ruqaii (alias Abu Anas Al-Libi) went before a US judge in the Southern District of New York against the wishes of the Libyan government, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki explained yesterday that the US values its relationship with Libya saying, “we work closely with [Libya] on a range of issues, and we expect that will continue”.
Read more here.
Delving deeper into the symbolism of Zidan’s brief kidnapping and its implications for the US-Libya relationship, I said the following to France 24′s crack research team. To read the whole article click here.
Zeidan’s abduction came only days after Islamic militants and militias expressed outrage over a weekend raid by US special forces that resulted in the seizure of al Qaeda suspect Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Libi.
“Of course it’s linked,” said Jason Pack, president of Libya-Analysis.com and a researcher at Cambridge University. “There’s a great symbolism here. This happened in the Corinthia Hotel, where Western diplomats and businessmen tend to stay. The message is clear: we’re upset you [the US] violated the sovereignty of our country. We’re going to abduct someone you think is important, someone who’s supposedly seen as a Western stooge.”
The Libyan government has denied that it had any prior knowledge of the US raid but this has failed to reassure many Libyans.
On Wednesday, Zeidan met with Libi’s family and assured them that his government would do everything to ensure his legal rights were protected. But the Libyan prime minister has also noted that relations with Washington, a key ally of his government, would not be affected.
Gruß to my Germano-phone readership. Here is an article length interview with me in Der Standard of Austria about the symbolism of Ali Zidan’s capture.
Obwohl viele Libyer darüber besorgt sind, dass Islamisten das Land für Waffenhandel und die Planung von Anschlägen nutzen, gibt es auch einen kleinen Teil der Bevölkerung, der empört darüber war, dass die USA die Souveränität des Landes verletzt haben, um einen libyschen Staatsbürger festzunehmen. Als Reaktion darauf haben sie jemanden festgehalten, der Autorität und westlichen Einfluss in Libyen repräsentiert. Dafür haben sie sich Premier Zeidan ausgesucht.
Das kann symbolisch bedeuten, dass sie im Premier einen Vertreter des Westens sehen – das ist zwar ziemlich absurd, aber ein kraftvolles Zeichen. Die Leute, die das gemacht haben, sind sicher keine Islamisten oder gar Jihadisten. Aber sie wollen sicher keine starke Zentralregierung. Diese Gruppen wollen niemanden – seien es die USA oder eine Zentralregierung -, der sich in ihre Interessen einmischt.
Libyan PM Ali Zidan has been kidnapped, but by whom and why? Most journalistic reports suggest it was the nefarious Revolutionaries’ Operations Room (Ghurfat Amaliyat al-Thuwar) created by Nuri Abusahmain by decree 143 of 7 July. Yet there is evidence to suggest that this is not the case and that hyper nefarious elements such as the Duru3 actually conducted the kidnapping. And yet, others say that the Duru3 is actually behind the Revolutionaries’ Operations Room.
Either way, it is clear that the kidnapping is highly symbolic. It links Zidan to the West and says in a way that all Libyans will understand: American came here to Libya and violated Libyan sovereignty by kidnapping Abu Anas Al-Libi, so we will kidnap someone who the West cares about. And who did they kidnap? Ali Zidan, their own PM. And where did they kidnap him? In the Corinthia. The hotel that most Libyans associated with Western companies, governments and their dealing with the Qadhafi regime.
What does this symbolism mean to some Libyans? It means that Zidan is linked to the West and to the Qadhafi regime and that he lacks legitimacy and is not governing on behalf of Libyans. It is why they accused him of ‘corruption’ in coordinating with the US about the Raid on Abu Anas al-Libi.
What are the implications of this? They are vast. Zidan is tarred and feathered as a collaborator and his positive links to the West are something that one has to conceal in many parts of Libya even though most Libyans still look positively at the US and are happy for capacity building assistance and help in apprehending jihadists.. What will happen next no one knows?
On BBC News Channel at 20:00 on October 7th, I made the controversial and fairly speculative case that the Libyan government was likely aware of the American operation to seize Abu Anas al-Libi and that the raid was tacitly supported by many Libyans and could signal increased US-Libya security cooperation. To watch via the internet a low resolution copy of the clip click here. To download a higher resolution file click here.
In an intriguing Voice of Russia Radio Programme, Brendan Cole points out that Abu Anas al-Libi who was seized in Tripoli on October 5th by US Special Forces agents likely acting in coordination with their Libyan counterparts had been previously granted asylum in the UK even though his terrorist connections were well known.
On the FBI’s most wanted list for more than a decade, a British connection to the man whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai has emerged. He is thought to have arrived in Britain after he and other Libyan followers of al-Qaeda, at the request of Colonel Gaddafi, were kicked out of Sudan.
He went to Qatar before coming to Britain in 1995, where he was given asylum after saying that he was persecuted by the Gaddafi regime. Scotland Yard anti-terrorist officers raided his home in 2000, when he was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list after the 1998 US embassy bombings. By then al-Liby had fled.
In The Atlantic, Will Raynolds and I dissect the views of the Berber community towards the constitution illustrating how Libya’s Berbers are a microcosm of the country as a whole — filled with hope, intransigence, dysfunctionality, and brilliance.
While it is true that Berbers, Cyrenaicans, and Tubu were all disadvantaged under Qadhafi and have not witnessed much economic development since the revolution, the central government is actually bending over backwards to appease their mutually contradictory demands. In so doing, the central government has given away most of their legitimate power and allowed the parameters of the debate to be set by their localist and “Federalist” opponents. Federalism in the Libyan context is code language for a weak central government, with each region having veto rights over important policies. Moreover, it lacks any compelling economical, historical, or structural logic. Yet, this Federalism is increasingly popular among large swathes of the population because it appeals to wounded pride, paranoia, and the discourse of deprivation that characterizes so many of Libya’s insular communities — and which was on vivid display in our conversations in Jadu. Absorbed by communal self-righteousness and victimhood, most Libyans forget that the federalist experiment under King Idriss, from 1951-63, failed, and that it is incompatible with coherent infrastructure plans, a successful petroleum industry (which is absolutely vital to the country), and reducing the myriad layers of government that lead to corruption and inefficiency.
Libya, After The Revolution: A Study Tour with Political Tours
Are you looking to go to Libya and become intimately versed in the country’s political and social fissures as well as the current economic situation?
Political Tours, the current affairs travel company is leading a unique study to Libya this November. (Sat 16 Nov – Sun 24 Nov)
This eight day tour examines how the country can emerge from current instability that has beset it since the revolution. It is the second tour run by Political Tours to the region, and includes meetings with leading members of the government, community leaders, diplomats and local media. The week combines analysis with an overview of key social and economic trends in the country and is designed for policy makers, investors as well as groups with a strong interest in foreign affairs. For further details about the tour please contact Nicholas Wood on 07855 266 151. For more info on how you can attend click here and for special opportunities mention that you were routed to Political Tours via Libya-Analysis.com