Libya today has become quite a persistent headache for the world community, in general, and Europe, in particular.
NATO is surely regretting bitterly it has not finished the work it started in 2011 to oust the dictator Qhaddafi. The help extended generously to the revolutionaries, then, by NATO certainly destroyed the Qhaddafi system, but with it went, to date, the Libyan state.
Today it is merely a collection of city-states, or worse tribe-states motivated by rentier privileges oil offers and religious extremism.
Alas, today Libya is a non-state to be added to the growing list of Arab failed states resulting from the destructive chaos of the Arab Spring.
Libya could have simply gone into limbo like Somalia, at some point, if it had remained docile and quiet and the world would have gladly forgotten about it. But, it has not because it has gone awry and it has become a threat to its neighbors north and south.
Andrew Engel, in a research paper entitled, “LIBYA AS A FAILED STATE Causes, Consequences, Options,” published by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy on November 2014, argues quite rightly:
“Libya’s postrevolutionary transition to democracy was not destined to fail.1 With enormous proven oil reserves, the largest in Africa and the ninth largest in the world,2 many of them underexplored, Libya was singularly well endowed. After the revolution, the country rapidly restored production to 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd),3 along with 3 billion cubic meters of gas, and held up to $130 billion in foreign reserves.4 Estimates of Libya’s potential for postwar foreign direct investment ranged from $200 billion over ten years5 to $1 trillion more broadly.6 In other words, Libya was well positioned to transition away from decades of authoritarianism, begin building much-needed state institutions, and provide significant goods and services to its population. Following the revolution, many Libyans dreamed—not unrealistically—of their country developing along the lines of Persian Gulf states with similarly small populations and abundant natural resources.”
The Libyan Migration Hell Gate To “Fortress Europe”
For the lat few years, welcoming and friendly Italy has been patiently bearing alone the brunt of an African migration invasion originating from the Libyan shores. This migration, had it been in a trickle fashion could have gone almost unnoticed by other European nations as their dynamic markets could have accommodated happily this cheap god-sent labor, but it turned dramatic as the number increased and thousands drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.
Alarmed by this human tragedy, that could ultimately go crescendo if unchecked, humanitarian European NGOs called for immediate action. Some suggested flatly to welcome the migrants on the European soil. Under pressure, the European heads of states met to find an acceptable solution. Of course nobody expected Europe to open the gate for mass migration, because such a thing is synonymous of economic suicide for a continent that is hardly recovering from a severe recession.
Instead, Europe has made public its willingness to help the migrant boats in the Mediterranean and set up migrant quotas for member states, a decision that was rejected right away by some member countries. This means quite clearly that this thorny issue will certainly not be easy to solve within the European Union, in the short term.
Libya Is The Major Culprit, What To Do Then ?
The question, then, is what to do to solve this problem, in the long term? Actually, two possibilities arise at this point:
Search for and arrest those responsible for the recruitment of migrants and the organization of the practice into a lucrative business and indict them in international courts with manslaughter charges. This is not an easy task, but if countries in the north of the Mediterranean would seek the help of the countries in the south of the Mediterranean, for that purpose, it could be achieved.
“Invade Libya” to help set up a democratic government instead of the actual myriad powerless city-states. However, this option is not easy and migh be risky for Europe or the West in case the Islamists decide to call for Jihad against the “Christian invaders.” This could easily turn into a quagmire and might threaten the stability of both Italy and tiny Malta and create an area of instability for commercial ships in the Mediterranean. Also, if Libya is to be invaded, who will do the invasion: the European countries themselves or NATO and in this case what would be the reaction of Russia?
For sure, the situation in Libya cannot be allowed to remain as it is, for more the status quo persists, more the risk of proliferation of extremist groups on the Libyan soil will increase and the temptation for the Libyan Islamists to join forces with other extremist groups. Indeed, few years ago, ISIS has conducted highly-publicized collective summary executions of religious and ethnic groups. The presence of religious extremist groups on Libyan soil can also threaten other North African states as well as Europe and the West.
Present Libya Is A Threat To Stability In North Africa And Sub-Saharan Region
In the long run, instability in Libya could be a lethal threat to the nascent democracy in Tunisia where the Islamists would feel emboldened to destabilize the existing government further, especially after the unfortunate terrorist attack on the Bardo Museum on March 18, 2015, which was directed at crippling the tourist industry, the economic lifeline of the country.
Tunisia has painstakingly adopted a very progressive constitution that enshrines women rights and democratic values and sets the groundwork for a long term democracy. So far, Tunisia is the only Arab Spring country that has gone democratic rather than going the way of instability and chaos. Therefore, it has to be nurtured and protected to serve as a role model for other Arab countries in the future.
A chaotic and Islamist Libya could embolden the various terrorist groups in the Sub-Saharan region to create a crescent of terrorism and instability all the way from Somalia in the Horn of Africa to Senegal on the Atlantic Ocean shore, and become a fertile ground for the rise of Islamist governments in this vulnerable area.
So stabilizing Libya would be tantamount to cutting the grass under the feet of the violent Islamists, who dream of the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in the Sub-Sahara region.
The Ultimate Solution: Bring Back The Monarchy
Libya today is split between an Islamist rule in the west and the south and a secular power in the east. The two blocks have failed militarily to neutralize each other and have also failed to reach a compromise in the recent UN-conducted negotiations in the city of Skhirate in Morocco. So, all the classical avenues for conflict resolution have been explored to no avail.
Short of an external invasion, the only solution possible today is an internationally-guaranteed package to bring back the Senussi monarchy to reign and have a limited rule, as a referee power, and guarantee, as it were, a democratic system.
Concerning this alternative, Prince Idris calls for the restoration of the monarchy, and on this particular point Oskar Aanmoen , Senior Europe Correspondent of Central Royal:
“Although it will become difficult for Libya to become a monarchy again, it is not impossible. Prince Idris wants the Libyan people to be able to choose whether they want to get the monarchy back. The Prince, therefore, does not want to force monarchist reforms in the country, but he wants a referendum, after peace has been created in the unstable African nation. As the Prince said, he wants to “leave the freedom of choice to the Libyan people.”
According Prince Idris, an election next year will not be possible. Still the restoration of the country’s 1951 post-independence constitution would create peace so there can be held democratic elections later. The 1951 constitution will give the three historical districts of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan more independence, which can stop the rivalry between different ethnic groups.
Prince Idris has said that he is willing to act as temporary head of state. He added, however, that if he were head of state he would not enter into political life and that being head of state would not include being head of government. This would be something that, in practice, would give Libya a temporary monarchy until elections have been held and a possible referendum on a future permanent Libyan monarchy.”
A national conference could be held anew in Morocco or elsewhere in the region, to officially enthrone the descendant of the Senussi dynasty and negotiate a constitutional monarchy status for the country, with a new constitution to be presented to the people for a referendum.
If accepted, then the monarchy could be restored with the mandate to, firstly, nominate a national union government that would put together a national army and a police force and, then, organize legislative elections within two years’ time, at the latest.
In this regard, Declan Walsh wrote an insightful article entitled, “A Radical Idea to Rebuild a Shattered Libya: Restore the Monarchy,” in The New York times of February 24, 2016:
“Frustration with the United Nations process has helped the royalists. They would be happy with any symbolic figure who could lead the country for a while, said Mr. Sikta, the campaigner. But the preferred candidate was Crown Prince Mohammed. “Not forever,” Mr. Sikta said. “Just until we hold an election. He can use his influence to bring the militias into line.”
But a king without an army would seem foolhardy for a country awash with weapons and violent grievances. And, in the tradition of Libya’s unruly polity, even the royal family is not immune from factionalism.
In the hotel lobbies of Tunisia and Morocco, where much of the discussion over Libya’s future is taking place, the crown prince faces competition in the form of a cousin, Prince Idris al-Senussi, who is also offering his services as a nation-builder.
“Libyans need someone they can look up to, a father figure,” Prince Idris, a businessman based in Italy, said by telephone. “I don’t say that I should lead. But if people want me to hold a position, then I am willing.”
NATO’s Role In Libya
During the popular uprising following the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011, NATO’s aerial bombardment helped the rebels defeat Qaddafi but the demise of the dictatorship instead of bringing peace, stability and welfare enthroned the religious-ethnic dictatorships still in place today preventing the stability of the country and increasing the fragile regional security, especially at a time when violent Islamism has become a furtive threat worldwide.
NATO may be called upon, anew, to finish the job and mop up the mess in this country. It does not have to go it along but can bring in the Arab countries of the south Mediterranean into the picture, mainly ; Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt with ground forces to stabilize the country in conjunction with the West through the implementation of the following necessary actions:
Disarm militias: Disarm all paramilitary groups by persuasion, incentive or sheer force and make, by law, bearing arms strictly illegal.
Train a national army and a police force: Offer the militias the possibility to integrate the army and police force and be under the rule of law.
Undertake a cultural study: There is an urgent necessity to understand the social and cultural make-up and fabric of the Libyan society. The Amazigh and Tuareg people must be granted unconditionally their cultural rights.
Propose a new constitution taking into consideration ethnic , cultural and religious ground factors and set up an agenda for elections.
Adopt a federal system of government where the monarchy plays the role of guarantor of national union and integrity: Probably the best government system that could befit the numerous needs and the varied wishes and hopes of the Libyan population in political, cultural and religious terms is undeniably the federal system, with which tribal groupings, cultural minorities and religious lodges can, eventually, all identify.
Action Needed At Once, Before It Is Too Late
Libya is on the verge of implosion, due to both internal and external challenges. The Skhirate Accord is a good move forward to resolve the Libyan internal conflict, but it is not enough, given that many national groupings have different agendas for the country and have the necessary firepower to see them through.
Now if the armed groups are kept on the loose and not checked, Libya will turn into a new Somalia, that could ultimately be hijacked by terrorist groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda, that have grand designs of their own for the region and the world.
In the present set up the future is very grim and Libya is a lethal danger to Europe, Africa and the Middle East, so action from the international community is needed urgently, before it is too late.
Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.