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Libya: A Broken Country

Hakan Cem Cetin, PhD

Senior Expert
Global Center for Security Studies

Seven years has passed since the Libyan intervention led by the US, the UK and France. Although it was at first hailed as a great success and a model for future operations, the intervention brought a catastrophe to Libya and turned it into a failed state, as it was not supported by a viable strategy to sustain the country after the intervention.

Today, because of the intervention, Libya has been devastated in both economic and political terms. Cities and infrastructure were ruined. The on-going fighting among tribes and militias has led to severe humanitarian and migrant crises as well as extensive human rights violations. The former regime weapons were dispersed across the region, and the ISIS has gained a stronghold in North Africa. Obviously, the intervention in Libya have not just undermined human rights, but also further spread terror. The turmoil in Libya has spread to the neighboring countries like Niger, Mali and Chad. In addition, it created a refugee crisis undermining the stability of all of Europe, so much so that since the toppling of Gaddafi, the Libyan crises has turned into a nightmare for the Western Europe. The chaos in Libya has made Europe become very vulnerable in terms of influx of refugees. The Italian government dispatched its own forces to Libya in an effort to control the southern borders of the country, the migrant smuggling route from Niger. The rising number of Italian forces in the country protested by the rival governments in west and east Libya. Although there was an overall decrease in arrivals in the previous year, in the first weeks of January, the number of people arriving in Italy from Libya was increased 15% percent for the same period in 2017, heaping more pressure on the Europeans to end the political instability in Libya. There are concerns in the West that mounting political crisis in Libya is shattering some of the deals between militias and the Italian government, which aided to the drop in 2017.

In 2011, the US government under President Obama declared that the intervention was a humanitarian decision to prevent the Gaddafi forces from launching an attack against the besieged city of Benghazi. Although President Obama was hesitant to act in Libya, secretary of state Hilary Clinton, national security adviser Susan Rice, White House adviser Ben Rhodes, and UN Ambassador Samantha Power all tipped the balance towards intervention with the intention of a regime change. Believing that it was the right decision to intervene, the US along with the UK and France were forceful in promoting the resolutions in the UN Security Council. It appeared that Gaddafi was in the way of gaining control of the whole country including eastern Libya, where the people deemed to be rebels would certainly be punished harshly.

According to some, as the brutal suppression of protests in some countries like Bahrain in the Arab world have illustrated, civilian protection is not always sufficient to justify a military intervention. They also claim that the intervention in Libya by the US, the UK and France was actually based on a false intelligence, just like in the case of Iraq. Although the goal was to save the civilians of Benghazi from assaults by the Gaddafi forces, this was not confirmed by accurate intelligence. The U.K. parliamentary report declared that there was hardly evidence showing the fact that the forces loyal to Gaddafi was going after civilians in the city of Benghazi. It now seems that because Gaddafi had a hostile relationship with the West ever since, from the beginning of the campaign against him, the purpose of the intervention was a regime change. As Gaddafi didn’t have strong allies in the World unlike Syria, he became an easy target.

As Gaddafi didn’t have strong allies in the World unlike Syria, he became an easy target.

For militias fighting in Libya in the Arab Spring, Gaddafi was a hated object against whom they were targeted to overthrow. Even though this was the case, there was no unity and coordination among them, all of which were fighting their own battle based in different cities. Today, they are more divided than in the past, along their regional and ethnic lines, as well as their ideological stance. There are hardline and moderate Islamists, secessionists, monarchists and liberals, none of whom can comprehend the basic of democracy or the rule of law, because of four decades of authoritarian rule under the Gaddafi regime in the country. That’s why they are incapable of building a new country based on the tolerance, the rule of law and the respect for human rights, all of which are prerequisites to realizing a democratic statehood.

In these circumstances, Libya, since 2014, has been divided between rival governments, each backed by an array of armed groups. That there are two separate governments in Libya is causing instability as well as political crisis in the country. These are the General National Congress (GNC), which is based in Tripoli, and the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is the internationally recognized government in Tobruk. Because of their irreconciliation, Libya has witnessed years of bloodshed and volatility as two competing governments try to assert dominance over each other.

In order to to end this political deadlock and seven-year of conflict, France hosted a meeting at the end of last month between rival factions of the country.

In order to to end this political deadlock and seven-year of conflict, France hosted a meeting at the end of last month between rival factions of the country. Beside representatives from 20 countries, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the UN-recognised government, and the supporter of the Tobruk-based administration General Khalifa Haftar attended the meetings. After the meeting it was announced that Libya’s rival leaders agreed to hold presidential as well as parliamentary elections on December 10th of this year. For many, to be able to hold these elections, General Haftar’s stance is very important, since he is undoubtedly seen as a very important figure in the country.

Considered by some as having aspirations to become next-Qaddafi, and now the strongest man of Libya, Khalifa Haftar has a crucial role in the future of the country. He has returned to the country at the end of April after hospitalized for a couple of weeks in Paris, causing speculations that his health was deteriorated without any chance of healing. Once a former ally of Gaddafi, who later turned into a fierce opponent, Haftar entered the Libyan political scene again to join the revolution seven years ago against the Gaddafi regime, after years of exile in the US. Even though soon after arriving in the country he casted himself as an important player for Libya, Haftar had a tumultuous start in the first years of the revolution and was rejected by the National Transitional Council as a commander of the armed forces. All these developments on the ground did not affect Haftar’s resolution to build an army himself, and with the help of some tribes as well as the supports of some ex-army officers, he created so called the Libyan National Army (LNA), which embarked on an offensive against the radical Islamist militias of Benghazi in 2014. Casting himself as the only one who can eliminate the rebels and bring stability to the country, Haftar has got blessing of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and United Arab Emirates. In 2017, his offensive yielded its fruit, and his army captured Benghazi from the rebel forces.

Some working with him in the past portray Haftar as a corrupt and brutal person who has ambitions to become the next dictator of Libya. Human rights organizations indicate that human rights violations are widespread in the area under the control of LNA. For example, in Benghazi, LNA forces have banned at least 20,000 people who have forcibly displaced largely since 2014 from returning to their homes, accusing them of terrorism.

Human rights organizations indicate that human rights violations are widespread in the area under the control of LNA.

Another figure who has a potential to play an important role in Libya’s future is Saif al Islam Gaddafi, the son of Muhammar Gaddafi, who has announced his candidacy to the Libyan presidency. Although he was released from the prison last year, Saif al Islam’s location has not been revealed ever since, where his associates insist that he is in Libya and desires to assume responsibility for the Libyan future. His announcement to run for presidency has met with mixed feelings, while some support him, others oppose his bid to become the next leader of the country. Although a 2013 law barred Gaddafi-era officials from holding government positions, it was later annulled in 2015. The old regime is still blessed with the backing and allegiance of a number of tribes, particularly some tribes in Sirte, the hometown of Muammar Gaddafi, as well as in the south and the Warshefana region in Tripoli.

It is vital for the international community to engage with all the actors in the scene and reunify Libya

Although the elections scheduled in December could help pave the way for reconciliation, yet, because many of General Haftar’s opponents as well as other important actors in Libya were excluded in the talks, the progression nonetheless has a long way to go. Even so, that all the parties present at the meeting in France were agreed to hold elections in December is a significant development to be positive. Therefore, it is vital for the international community to engage with all the actors in the scene and reunify Libya so as to find a way to end the violence and ensure that the elections will be a success. If everything goes as planned, hopefully, a colossal barrier standing in the way of the country’s potential will be overcome, and there will be a reason for the Libyan citizens to be confidant about the future of Libya.

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