By Grzegorz Gil
This paper identifies three possibilities of the future development of this country (gradual stabilisation, Jihadisation and fragmentation) and considers the likelihood of each in characteristics and the international context.
Fragmentation of Libya
Considering the acute civil strife could Libya fall apart? Immediately after the revolt of 2011, Saif al-Qaddafi, the oldest son of the Dictator warned Libyans of upcoming radicalization and the fragmentation of Libya into a dozen or so emirates if the uprising engulfed the entire country.
Undoubtedly, in the past months Libya has been a place of gross human right violations that exacerbate regional divisions and the lack of trust.
As of the moment of writing, territorial control over Libya is divided between local militias (Tuaregs in the west, Toubou in southern Fezzan), Libya Dawn (northern Tripolitania), the government in Tobruk (all of Cyrenaica and Zintan surroundings in the west), and Islamic State-affiliated groups, e.g., Ansar al-Sharia.
Thus, this scenario stresses the factor of political, ideological and tribal fighting over power as the second civil war erupted in the middle of 2014 and the new actors which emerged in such security vacuum.
The creation of Libya Dawn, a loose coalition in Misrata, was aimed at countering anti-revolutionary and anti-Islamic forces led by Qaddafi-era military officer Khalifa Haftar.
This made its initial success relatively easy as local proxies in the west had aligned with Libya Dawn and targeted Haftar’s allies in the west (Zintani Brigades and Wershefana tribal militias).
The GNC conglomerate seems to be united by the fear of an Egypt-like military dictatorship. However, the split between hardliners in the GNC and more moderate Misrata has widened in recent months.
The latter seemed to want a political solution in the spring of 2015 to promote its own cause.
This could easily obstruct Misrata’s crucial financial and military support for the GNC. Haftar’s Libyan National Army wants to eradicate all Islamists regardless of their affiliation. He is a divisive figure even within the Tobruk government.
Even with the coalition’s focus against Haftar waning, a conflict between regional and local interests may follow.
If the country were to be unstable for an extended period of time, tribes provide the best protection against weak government and Libya fragmenting. The stalemate in the UN talks makes this scenario more probable.
Anas el-Gomati, director of Libyan think-tank the Sadeq Institute calls the UN talks into question as many Libyan forces fight for regional objectives and economic survival of their own region, not for Libya Dawn or Libya Dignity, which makes Libya’s future more knotty.
The prolonged stalemate and chaos will force both sides to find clashing sources of legitimacy and income as the HOR government in Tobruk tries to sell oil separately because this had built up legitimacy of the NTC in 2011.
This could lead to the demise of the current Libyan state and the emergence of an Islamic caliphate and separate and warring Tobruk and Tripoli aspirations for statehood emerging.
There is also another traditional player. The federalist movement led by sheikh Zubayr as-Sanusi – a descendant of former king Idris – which calls for autonomy of Cyrenaica (Barqa in Arabic).
His supporters were disappointed by the political and economic marginalisation of eastern Libya after the country had been unified, and some factions boycotted consecutive elections due to their too small representation in the national assembly.
The region in less populous than Tripolitania but far richer as hydrocarbon reserves and gas and oil infrastructure are predominantly located in the eastern Sirte basin (80%), while the only oil field in western Libya is in Fezzan.
As a result, the three regions are doomed to cooperate.
It is worth noting that the Barqa Council’s goal is not to utterly secede from Libya, but the movement has evolved in recent months with the stronger footing of jihadists.
However, in spring of 2015 the GNC was becoming more moderate, while al-Thinni (HOR) has to face many hardliners on his side eager to militarise state-building.
Some of them want to the restore monarchy. Generally speaking, the climate of religious conservatism in eastern Libya makes it easier for the militants to operate.
For some observers post-intervention Libya has simply become a militia state.
The state which is awash with rival militia groups: islamist militias (Libya Dawn, Libya Shield and other pro-GNC forces), jihadists (Islamic State, Ansar al-Sharia) or pro-government groups representing the HOR.
Therefore, today’s Libya is characterised by the distinct militant dynamics in its western, central or eastern part that in fact have split the country apart.
Today’s Libya is no longer the same, as Qaddafi reign changed its social fabric and western intervention has not answered many questions. As Qaddafi’s primordial instruments of stabilisation has passed the lack of modernization will result in the next tyranny or chaos.
The problem is that post-Qaddafi Libya has never really experienced a period of peace and is now captured by plethora of militias which are not integrated into the state.
Conversely, it was the Libyan state which has been integrated into the militias. However, the current narrative in Libya goes beyond a simple Islamist – non-Islamist division. It seems to en-compass inter-Islamist splits amongst Islamist State, AQIM, the Muslim Brotherhood, moderate Islamists, and hardliners.
Secondly, it involves revolutionary versus counter-revolutionary semantics and Bedouin – non-Bedouin provenance.
Thirdly, relationships between the various stakeholders of Libya’s stabilisation are constantly in flux. As long as the future of Libya is treated as a zero-sum game by its warring factions of differing orientations, the situation could only deteriorate.
It is not in the interest of either Libyans or the international community to have Libya fragmented as the international community (buyers) wants to know who is a legitimate government (oil seller) in Libya.
As Libya’s rebound in oil output contributed to a near 30 per cent drop in oil prices in the second half of 2014, these developments could also divide the world’s biggest producers and
consumers. Each fragmentation of Libya could sooner or later stand for a failure and the beginning of the next crisis in the Maghreb and Sahel region (e.g. Mali).
In the long run Libya’s stability and unity seems to be hostage to oil production and inclusive state-building with concerted assistance from international actors who fear the spread of jihadism.
The latter could lead to a stronger UN peacekeeping operation aiming at disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of rebel forces or takes the form of UN Peace Building Commission assistance in Libya.
Prospectively, a new conference on Libya is needed to build a government of national unity to avert Jihadisation or state collapse that would be damaging for the West. The alternative is a really enduring conflict.
Thus, the success of the third experiment with Libyan statehood requires a combination of modernizers, Islamists, decentralization, and external support. However, most countries haven’t taken sides and prefer UN peace talks though they have some distinct interests, e.g., France primarily wants stability in southern Libya that preserves peace in northern Mali.
The United States perceives Libya through the lens of a prospective Islamic State foothold, and many others prioritize energy security. However, what they should have in common about post-Qaddafi Libya is to support its state-building overseas (training of Libyan security forces) and on the ground (expertise, policing) with balanced tribal and regional representation.
The goal also needs to be realized in cooperation with the Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab League that helped to topple Qaddafi. Undoubtedly, it won’t be an easy task to break the current political deadlock and then build a modern state in Libya.
The long-awaited December 2015 accord to form the government of national reconciliation could be a harbinger of the right direction. One that has been necessitated by the rising ISIS threat in the region.
Grzegorz Gil – Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, Faculty of Political Science, Department of International Relations.