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Warning: Western leaders backing Libya’s warlord risk enabling European migration crisis

Marco Giannangeli

Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar is “so inexorably linked to the Russian state that every decision is now taken in the realm of what Moscow finds acceptable”, warn experts. And this includes weaponising migrants. Western diplomats who engage with Libyan hardman Khalifa Haftar are hindering Europe’s capacity to curb Russia’s growing influence in the North African country, experts warned last night.

And they could pay a heavy price if Moscow chooses to engineer mass waves of migration which could “stretch European infrastructure and unity”. Using Benghazi as an alternative Libyan capital, the General – who received his military training in the USSR – is now completely reliant on Russian military might for his power. There are 2,000 Russian mercenaries employed by the Wagner group in Libya today. They were joined recently by a further contingent of 1,500 regular Russian troops.

Russia’s entrenched presence in Libya already presents several threats to Europe and the UK, in the form of plundered gold and diamonds which bring billions to Moscow’s war chest, Russian oil sales and control of the port of Tobruk from which it can threaten Nato interests just 700 miles away. Now, the weaponisation of desperate migrants offers another, deniable and non-military method of exerting pressure on the West.

It means that Russian leader Vladimir Putin can use Haftar to hold a gun to Europe’s head should he seek leverage in UN Security Council votes or in the event of military setbacks in Ukraine. European leaders and the US have been trying to court Haftar for the last two years.

In March the UK struck a £1m deal to ensure Libya’s formal government in Tripoli stops migrants from crossing into Europe, instead repatriating them to their countries of origin. But this holds no sway over Haftar. Italian PM Giorgia Meloni has twice visited Benghazi, offering valuable concessions and economic contracts in return for Haftar’s pledge to clamp down on migrant flows from Libya. The first meeting last year was followed by a 600 per cent rise in migrant flows from Cyrenaica. And action by Western leaders is offering no deterrence.

On Thursday, Libya’s UK ambassador Dr Martin Longden met with Haftar in Benghazi to “relay the view that all parties should engage in the UN’s political process.” Jalel Harchaoui added: “The UK, US, France, Italy all sent their diplomats to celebrate and honour Haftar’s armed coalition in Benghazi on Thursday – barely weeks after Russian armed forces sent tens of thousands of tonnes of military hardware “At the very same time, the same Western democracies vow to combat corruption and Russia’s expansionism”

When countries like Italy legitimise Haftar and offer incentives, it has a knock-on-effect, he said, adding: “Once Italy becomes engaged with reconstruction projects it can no longer support, say, a British call for sanctions.” And it will not work, because when the West talks to Haftar, it is talking to “someone who is inexorably linked to the Russian state”.

“He considers Russia vital and every decision is now taken in the realm of what Moscow finds acceptable,” said Mr Harchaoui Russia has already used migration as a weapon in 2023, when crossings from Belarus to the EU increased by 62 per cent. Frontex, the EU’s border police, has warned that an increasingly isolated Putin choosing to move migrants to Europe’s doorstep – both along Russia’s eastern borders and through proxies in the south, including in Africa – is a major threat to security for 2024.

Now, Moscow controls the borders around Haftar-occupied Libya including Chad, Niger, Sudan and Egypt. “Imagine if the situation in Sudan worsened and migrant numbers increased and Italy began to panic,” said Mr Harchaoui “It now has to face a power base backed by Russian forces. Options have dwindled.”

Alia Brahimi of the Atlantic Council think tank said: “More than a security issue, this is fundamentally a humanitarian emergency, and short-term deals with human rights abusers erase from the picture the desperate people trapped in an abhorrent cycle of violence involving enslavement, forced labour, sexual exploitation, and organ theft. “Libya is fast becoming a mafia state, where a few individuals own almost all the criminality. The same Russian proxies who run large human trafficking rings are also trading in illegal drugs from Syria as well as vast quantities of fuel stolen systematically and in plain sight from the Libyan state, which ends up with Russia’s allies in Syria and Sudan.

“Haftar is very unlikely to abandon his strong relationship with Russia as this will risk his entire empire. So the Libyan migration crisis is a weapon open to Moscow. “Illegal migration from Eastern Libya has a capacity to stretch European infrastructure and unity. And this is something that Russia is very alive to.”

“The UK, US, France, Italy all sent their diplomats to celebrate and honour Haftar’s armed coalition in Benghazi on Thursday – just  weeks after Russian armed forces sent tens of thousands of tonnes of military hardware. Meanwhile, the same Western democracies vow to combat corruption and Russia’s expansionism”.  Jalel Harchaoui, RUSI

A second meeting in May seemingly heralded results, with transit figures now dropping as Haftar reins in his criminal gangs. While only 100,000 migrants crossed from Libya into Europe last year – compared with a million in 2015 – this situation can change. “If Haftar has the power to crack down on the number of fishing vessels being used to illegally transport migrants from Libya, he has the power to do the opposite,” said Libya expert Jalel Harchaoui of the RUSI think tank. “He can also just send migrants along to Western Libya. “If something happens in Ukraine, or within the UN Security Council, there is the possibility that Moscow will use Libya as part of its tool kit to exert punishment on Italy or Europe.”

***

Marco Giannangeli is the Defence and Diplomatic Editor at the Sunday Express. He covers defence and security issues as well as Geopolitics around the world and is particularly interested in recruitment and personnel, Nato, weapons systems and other innovations.

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Libya – Road To Dysfunctionality (2)

Wiesław LIZAK

Libya is an Arabic-speaking country and according to most sources it is relatively ethnically homogeneous. Around 86% of the population are Arabs, and 11% of the population are Berber tribes (including Tuaregs inhabiting desert areas).

At the same time, it should be remembered that a large part of the country has Berber roots and the ongoing Arab conquest in the time of the first Muslim caliphs changed its demographic structure in favour of the Arabic-speaking component (both groups make up approximately 97% of the population and the South is also inhabited by the Sub-Saharan Tubu).

However, until today the tribal divisions, characteristic for communities living in this difficult climate, have survived. It is estimated that about 140 tribes and large families with political significance live in Libya.

Considering the relatively short history of the country as an independent geopolitical unit and additionally its creation as a result of external intervention, it is difficult to expect that the Libyans have become a modern, homogeneous nation. On the one hand, belonging to the Arab world and on the other hand, persistent tribal differences, make Libya a specific state where the loyalty to the central government must compete with loyalty to other reference groups created on the basis of tribal identity.

The ethnic differences also overlap with regional differences resulting from the fact that Libya was created as a conglomerate of two provinces which for the past three centuries belonged to one country (the Ottoman Empire) but retained some distinct features.

These differences date back to ancient times. Historically, Tripolitania was a region of the Maghreb countries (today’s Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco), while Cyrenaica was more integrated with the Arab East (Mashrek) in terms of socio-economic factors.

At the time of the Turkish rule in North Africa this was not a problem – both the east and west of today’s Libya were the provinces of the empire.

The relatively large scope of their autonomy made it easier to rule over the vast territory of the country. The Italian intervention, uniting Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, created the premises for full integration of both provinces, but it required time and commitment to promoting modernization processes. Italian rule in Libya, however, lasted only about 30 years and for the greater part of this period the national liberation struggle (led by Umar al-Mukhtar) continued, so unification processes could not proceed effectively.

Of course, this does not change the fact that the epopee of the anti-colonial insurrection was an important factor in building modern identity of contemporary Libyans in its ideological-political layer. The British and French occupation, which lasted for nearly a decade, was of temporary character, so only after gaining independence on December 24, 1951 Libya could launch building a strong state and modern identity.

However, the challenges faced by the authorities were confronted with factors objectively limiting the effectiveness of this process such as the vastness of the territory and the dispersion of the relatively small population, regional differences and low level of development in the social and economic dimension (the oil deposits were not discovered until 1959 and their exploitation began in 1963).

There were also some elements of rivalry between the main centres of both provinces – the capital of Tripoli and Benghazi in eastern Libya which, on the one hand was an expression of historical differences, but on the other hand – of modern aspirations to play the dominant role in the state.

The political dominance of Tripoli was one of the factors driving the mechanism of this rivalry. The Libyan Monarchy tried to use the religious factor to build a new Libyan identity. This factor played an important role, but was only one of many elements shaping social awareness.

Nevertheless, the political role of the Sanusijja brotherhood in the interwar period favoured the use of a religious factor in the process of building the modern national identity.

Entrusting the role of a monarch to the religious leader, Idris I, and the conservatism of the ruling elite around him evoked reluctance and resistance in some social circles impressed by the pan-Arab and socialist ideas which were triumphant at that time thanks to Egypt’s policy and its charismatic leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in the fifties and sixties of the XX century.

The above created the prerequisites of the fall of the monarchy as a result of the coup by the military group of young officers in 1969 and the transformation of the country from autocratic monarchy into an authoritarian regime led by Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi but also – despite the revolutionary rhetoric – based on neo-patrimonial principles referring to local specificity of tribal and rural communities and political patronage.

Libya is a relatively rich country. The main source of Gross Domestic Product is oil, whose vast deposits were discovered in the Libyan Sahara. With the population of several million, it allowed Libya to achieve a high GDP per capita making it one of the richest countries in the African continent.

The geographical proximity made European countries (mainly from Western Europe – Italy, Spain, France, Germany) the main recipients of Libyan energy resources which in turn generates interest in the development of their mutual relations.

As a result of the geopolitical location and energy resources, during the Cold War period Libya became the subject of influences of the Western and Eastern powers which in turn triggered international tensions resulting from the endeavours to gain influence and control of the strategic resources of the country.

This rivalry continued also after the end of the Cold War, although in another geostrategic and economic dimension. Between gaining independence and the military coup organized by Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi on September 1, 1969, Libya remained in the Western powers’ sphere of influence and close relations with the United States resulted in the location on its territory of the largest US military air base on the Mediterranean coast, where about 4 600 American soldiers were stationed (Wheelus Air Base – near Tripoli).

Libya remained in the orbit of Western influence also in the economic dimension (investments in the oil industry). The radicalism of transformations initiated together with the “revolution of September 1” led to the deterioration of relations with the West. The new Libyan authorities with colonel al-Qaddafi in the lead decided to break the existing external connections and took steps to develop an independent development path.

In 1977 al-Qaddafi published the program of political transformation of the country calling it in the ideological dimension the third global theory constituting in fact a mixture of nationalist (with strong references to Pan-Arabism), socialist and populist slogans as well as elements of the Muslim religion.

The program was comprised in the Green Book which, printed in millions of copies and in many languages, was aimed at dissemination in Libya and in the whole world the slogans of the Libyan revolution as the expression of striving for modernization and development based on own resources and own concepts, competitive to the models offered by the developed world.

The wealth coming from the export of crude oil was to be the source of support for ambitious development programs implemented by revolutionary authorities. The anti-Western course in Libya’s foreign policy objectively positioned the country on the side of the Eastern bloc in the Cold War era, nevertheless the radicalism of actions and the high level of assertiveness in Libyan politics made Tripoli a difficult partner for Moscow and its allies.

His unconventional behaviour in foreign policy made the Libyan leader a controversial partner for other actors, building a wall of reluctance around him and inducing readiness to engage in attempts to eliminate the politician who does not avoid actions negatively evaluated from the point of view of the stability of the international order.

Libya has been among others sanctioned by the UN Security Council for more than 10 years for supporting international terrorism (after accusations of organizing the attack on an American plane of the Pan Am Airways on December 21, 1988 over the Scottish city of Lockerbie, which resulted in the death of 259 passengers and crew members as well as city residents).

***

Wiesław Lizak – University of Warsaw

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Failing State: Libya as a Supraregional Security Threat (2)

Canan Atilgan / Veronika Ertl / Simon Engelkes

A Country of Regional Contrasts

The country’s social divide is crucially important for understanding the political fragmentation in Libya. The east, Cyrenaica, is dominated by tribal groups with links to Egypt and is characterised by a social and religious population that tends to be more conservative.

The west, Tripolitania, is more cosmopolitan and oriented towards the Mediterranean. The south, Fessan, is Libya’s sparsely populated hinterland, inhabited by Tuareg and Tubu people who today fight for control of the lucrative border trade, the oil fields and military facilities.

Long before the start of the civil war, the depoliticising of public life in Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya triggered a strengthening of the tribal structures in the regions. The power vacuum after the end of the revolution further encouraged the rise of armed tribal groups and local militias.

In addition to the historical territorial partitioning of Libya, geographical divisions are based in particular on the distribution of national oil reserves. The majority of the oil reserves are located in the “oil crescent”, which stretches from Ras Lanuf in the east through the central-northern city of Sirte to Jufra in the south. Irrespective of this, for decades the revenue from the oil sector flowed to Tripoli, thereby giving rise to the sentiment in the east and south of being cheated out of their legitimate income. Since the oil sector makes up around 97 per cent of the Libyan state revenue, control of oil exports represents an important strategic variable for the future of Libya and the influence of various groups.

In the negotiations and implementation of the LPA, it is predominantly the divisions between east and west that play a central role. The rejection of the agreement by important factions and key protagonists from the east can therefore in large parts be attributed to the perception of a power imbalance in the negotiations and the structure of the newly created system in favour of western forces. Because of this, instead of working to establish peace in Libya within the framework of the LPA, General Haftar and his allies tried to cement their position of power in the east and expand their territorial control, in part by co-opting militias and replacing elected communal councils with military governors.

The takeover of the strategic oil crescent in autumn 2016 is a clear example of these ambitions, and an important means of political leverage against the GNA.

The Effects of a Lack of State Structures on Regional Security

The context of a lack of state structures offers a fertile breeding ground, especially for the proliferation of extremist groups and, in connection with the country’s uncontrolled and porous borders, for increased and irregular migration flows. The consequences of these dynamics in the form of escalating instability therefore constitute a huge challenge for the future of Libya, but also for regional and international stability. State Without Borders Libya is traditionally a country of migration and, prior to the revolution, accommodated an estimated two to three million legal immigrant

workers from neighbouring countries and the wider continent of Africa.11 Irregular migration, albeit at a much lower level than at present, was regulated under Gaddafi by a system of selective allocation of unofficial control over border sections and smuggling routes. Following the revolution, these agreements were rendered void and the increasing destabilisation of the country contributed to the rise in the number of irregular migrant flows to and through Libya, as well as to a rapid expansion and professionalisation of smuggling, which had suddenly become deregulated.

Accordingly, 95 per cent of the 85,183 people who reached Italy between January and June 2017 via the central Mediterranean route had set out from Libya.12 In addition to the vacuum of state control in Libya, the aggravated conditions on the eastern and western Mediterranean routes put the country at the centre of migration flows in the Mediterranean area.

While UNHCR data speaks of approximately 40,000 people registered in Libya (asylum seekers and refugees), the actual figure is estimated to be considerably higher at between 700,000 and one million people. In the present situation, neither the GNA nor other state or non-governmental groups have the capacity to effectively put a halt to smuggling activities. Both the 1,770 kilometers long Libyan coast, as well as the 4,348 kilometers

long land borders with neighbouring countries remain porous. A higher concentration of smuggling activities are evident in the south of the country, where there is a lack of state control and alternative economic activities. Therefore, the southern borders and coastal regions in the west of the country form an easy point of departure for smugglers due to the collapse of the former security structures and the GNA’s lack of capacities. Since the revolution, this has become a hotbed for smuggling networks to expand, for whom control of this increasingly important economic sector means not only resources, but also securing territorial zones of influence as well as consolidating influence in this volatile power structure.

After the fall of Gaddafi, irregular migration to and through Libya grew enormously.

At the end of 2016, the EU and UN began to train the Libyan coast guard in carrying out rescue missions, combatting smugglers and upholding human rights; and provided them with the equipment to do so.14 What is problematic, however, is that the Libyan coast guard has emerged from revolutionary militias from the Libyan civil war and has no professional staff. According to a UN report, in some cases the units themselves are involved in criminal smuggling schemes.

In July 2017, the number of migrants reaching Italy from Libya fell by half to 11,459 people and, in August, this figure fell again by approximately 80 per cent. The causes for this dramatic decline are not clearly identifiable. According to various press reports and expert opinions, the expansion of the activities of the Libyan coast guard and their approach against the search and rescue missions of humanitarian aid organisations might have led to this.

The withdrawal of international aid organisations has, however, resulted in the operations in Libyan waters becoming even less transparent to observers. International observers and experts accuse the Italian government of supporting an agreement between the GNA and militias that allows for some armed groups to be financed so as to avoid further crossings, and to already intervene on the mainland. Therefore, this decrease appears to be merely linked to the interception of migrants.

This does not, however, provide a sustainable solution; and may have the opposite effect with the emergence of alternative migration routes. A challenge of particular urgency is the precarious legal and humanitarian situation of migrants in Libya, which has been documented and criticised time and again by reports from international organisations.

***

Dr. Canan Atilgan is Head of the Regional Programme for Political Dialogue Southern Mediterranean of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung based in Tunis, Tunisia.

Veronika Ertl is Research Associate at the Regional Programme for Political Dialogue Southern Mediter-ranean of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung based in Tunis, Tunisia.

Simon Engelkes is Project Coordinator at the Regional Programme for Political Dialogue Southern Mediterranean of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung based in Tunis, Tunisia.

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A big mess is brewing’ 

Thousands of Russian fighters are flooding into Libya, raising concerns over what the Kremlin might be planning

Russia has been bolstering its military presence in Libya for the past few months, according to a joint investigation from the independent outlet Verstka and the All Eyes on Wagner project. Libya has been mired in civil war since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and Russia has long been accused of meddling in the conflict.

Now, the Kremlin appears to be shipping more military equipment to Libya and the surrounding region and redeploying regular troops disguised as mercenaries, along with recruits from Wagner Group’s Africa operations.

Tectonic shifts’

In the past three months, Russia has begun actively transferring military personnel and mercenaries to Libya, according to Verstka’s findings. These forces are primarily concentrated in eastern Libya, a region under the control of Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army and a Kremlin ally. (The western part of the country, including the capital, Tripoli, is governed by the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord.)

A source within a Libyan security agency reported that at least 1,800 Russian military personnel have arrived in the country in the last two weeks alone. Some were dispatched to Niger, while others remain in Libya awaiting further orders.

One serviceman told journalists that he and several hundred other special forces soldiers were redeployed from Ukraine at the beginning of the year. Several thousand more fighters — both professional soldiers and mercenaries from Wagner Group’s Africa operations — arrived in Libya between February and April. In conversations with journalists, the soldiers themselves acknowledged that their presence in Libya is unofficial. They said that they’re there as part of a private military company, though they didn’t specify which one.

Russian military personnel and equipment have been spotted in at least 10 locations in eastern Libya since the beginning of March. Russian troops are stationed around major military bases, such as Al Jufra Air Base and Ghardabiya Air Base, as well as near smaller ones by Waddan and Marj.

Sources say that some of the newly arrived Russian military personnel are involved in training local soldiers and new recruits from private military companies. Others are carrying out combat missions, such as securing the transport of military equipment.

“There’s never been such a fuss; tectonic shifts are happening here,” one Russian soldier in Libya commented. “I think a big mess is brewing.”

Following the breadcrumbs

Location data from Telegram users show an increase in activity around military sites in Libya. On March 5, a Russian soldier with the username “Andrey” showed up near the Ghardabiya Air Base near Sirte. A few months before, “Andrey” was in Mulino — a city in Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod region where soldiers are being trained for combat in Ukraine. Nearly two weeks after “Andrey” appeared at Ghardabiya Air Base, the Libyan National Army conducted military exercises there.

Soon after, another group of Russian soldiers was spotted in Marj, Libya. On March 17, photos of them were posted on Libyan social media; Verstka and its investigative partners were able to geolocate these photos by comparing the buildings and structures in them with satellite images.

In early May, geolocation data confirmed the presence of two Russian soldiers in Jufra. One of them was the same “Andrey” who’d been at the Ghardabiya Air Base in March. He stayed there until at least April, then moved to Jufra by May.

The second soldier in Jufra was 26-year-old Pavel Vavilov from Russia’s Vladimir region. It’s likely that Vavilov entered the military recently: leaked data shows he worked as a security guard in 2020, and before that, as a taxi driver. He’s faced various legal issues, including a theft conviction. Another Telegram account linked to Vavilov shows a car with a license plate from the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” in the profile picture.

In recent weeks, there’s been a notable increase in shipments of Russian weapons and transport vehicles from Syria to Libya. In photos published on March 30 by the Russian pro-war Telegram channel Military Informant, several Russian Tigr armored personnel carriers can be seen being used in Libyan National Army exercises. Judging by the unit insignia on the front doors, they were delivered to the Libyan National Army’s 106th Brigade.

The channel also released video footage of the exercises. After comparing the terrain, buildings, and landmarks seen in the video to satellite images, Verstka and its investigative partners determined that the footage was shot between Al Jufra Air Base and the town of Waddan.

Russia is shipping a large amount of military equipment to Libya by sea. A source told Verstka that he had personally escorted equipment from a “military port” to various “military bases.” In some cases, the equipment comes to Libya via Syria’s Tartus port. For instance, on April 2, two Russian landing ships — the Alexander Otrakovsky and the Ivan Gren — were spotted in Tartus.

On April 6, the same ships were off the coast of Crete, and on April 8, they arrived at the Port of Tobruk in Libya. These vessels were transporting vehicles and weaponry; one item in the shipment resembled a Soviet-era 2S12 “Sani” heavy mortar system. According to open-source investigators, this marked the fifth such shipment in the last six weeks. Satellite imagery shows that since then, the ships have continued to make trips back and forth.

Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank, drew attention to the fact that Russian military personnel are being redeployed to the Brak al-Shati base in Libya. According to him, the number of Russian-speaking personnel at the base has increased by about 25 percent in recent weeks.

Back in March 2024, investigators from the All Eyes on Wagner project didn’t find any Russian Telegram accounts at the base. However, the situation has changed in the last few weeks. For example, in early May, an account registered to a Russian number was discovered near the base. The user, 28-year-old Russian Maxim Kukol, doesn’t appear to have been connected to the military before 2021. But there’s no public record of his employment after this. However, by 2022, his debts had been cleared.

Geolocation data also shows a steady stream of Russian military personnel arriving at the Tartus port in Syria, which has become a kind of redistribution hub for military resources. Among them is 19-year-old Navy serviceman Anton Zaikin, who was stationed in Baltiysk, in Russia’s Kaliningrad region, in early 2024. By early May, he had relocated to Syria.

A strategic move

Turkey, the U.S., and other countries have repeatedly accused Russia of interfering in the Libyan conflict, including through the use of Wagner Group mercenaries. Journalistic investigations have confirmed that Russian mercenaries have been present in Libya since at least 2019, and experts say the Kremlin has been supporting Khalifa Haftar since around 2018.

In 2023, Russian officials and Haftar held their first public negotiations since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In August, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov met with him in Libya, and in September, Haftar met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Following this, there were multiple media reports of Kremlin plans to build a Russian naval base in Tobruk, Libya (where Russian military cargo arrives from Syria).

In January 2024, shortly before Russia began sending large numbers of troops to the region, Yevkurov visited Libya again. He met with Haftar in Benghazi; Verstka’s sources say that a new Russian military training base is already operating not far from this city. According to Verstka and All Eyes on Wagner’s sources, the Russian contingent in Libya is controlled by four commanders who were previously in Syria. They, in turn, report to Yevkurov.

“I think the Russians are betting on a war inside Tripoli among the militias, so they’re going to shift gears,” said one military source. Another source suggested that the current influx of Russian equipment and the repositioning of troops are intended to supplant Wagner Group forces in Libya and pave the way for further deployments to other African countries.

RUSI’s Jalel Harchaoui noted that an increased presence in Libya aligns with many of Russia’s strategic regional interests. “Libya offers extremely valuable access to the Mediterranean Sea, acts as a southern flank to exert pressure on NATO and the E.U., and strengthens dialogue with other key Arab countries,” he explained. “Importantly, it also serves as a gateway to Sub-Saharan African countries, offering a strategic route to countries like Sudan, Niger, and beyond.”

According to him, cooperating with the Haftar family allows the Kremlin to achieve these goals while minimizing costs. “Roughly speaking, the Haftar family rewards Moscow materially and financially for doing things that are already in its interest,” Harchaoui believes.

The increased military activity in the region may also have something to do with increased pressure for Libya to hold elections. While there have been several attempts to hold elections, plans have often been delayed or disrupted due to escalations in the military conflict. The U.N. has urgently called for elections to be held to prevent the country from sliding further into war.

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Libya – Road To Dysfunctionality (1)

Wiesław LIZAK

Abstract

The developments of the Arab Spring of 2011 extended, among others, to Libya. As a consequence of the armed anti-government uprising supported militarily by the air forces of the Western powers (under the auspices of NATO), the regime of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, who has controlled the state since the 1969 military coup, was overthrown.

The collapse of the current regime has initiated the path to the social, political and economic transformation of the Libyan state. However, the rivalry of local political forces which is a reflection of tribal, regional and ideological divisions, prevented the emergence of an effective political system.

As a result, Libya has evolved into a dysfunctional state and the processes of internal destabilization and lack of state borders control generate threats also for the international environment of the country (West Africa, East Africa, Europe).

The developments of the so-called Arab Spring have brought significant political changes to many countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Despite the expectations of democratization and socio-economic reforms, as a consequence of the mass anti-government insurgences, in most countries affected by this process their effects proved to be far from expected.

The social energy released in the process of contesting the existing political order turned out to be insufficient to give to the processes of changes following the fall of political regimes the political vectors aimed at increasing political liberties and economic freedom.

Apart from Tunisia, where the transformation of 2011 has so far resulted in the democratization of the system and the liberalization of political life, in other states where previous regimes have been subjected to contestation the authoritarian regime has been restored (Egypt) or anarchization of the political system lead to the civil war and/or dysfunctionality of the state.

Libya constitutes an example of such developments, as following the overthrow of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime it failed to create stable structures of political power and the country gradually plunged into conflict fuelled both by internal contradictions underlying the rivalry of various political-military forces and external influences of regional and non-regional actors pursuing their own strategic interests in this part of the world.

Prerequisites Of Libya’s Dysfunctionality

Libya has the location of strategic importance – located in the northern part of the African continent at the Mediterranean Sea, it has a relatively long coastline (1775 km), which both in the past and today has attracted the interest of the superpowers seeking to control the Mediterranean Sea and adjoining areas.

The mild Mediterranean climate and good conditions for colonization in the coastal area since antiquity attracted consecutive waves of conquerors and settlers – from the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, through Arabs and Turks, to the Italians in the modern era.

Libya, however, was not a separate geopolitical entity in the past but rather constituted the part of larger empires that extended their rule over the neighbouring territories. The name of the country comes from the ancient inhabitants of this land, referred to by the Greek with the term Libue (Libyans) – they were a part of the Berber communities inhabiting North Africa since prehistoric times.

The inhabitants of this land were also called similarly by ancient Egyptians and Romans. The name ‘Libya’ appeared in contemporary times on the world map only in the twentieth century along with the change of the legal status of these territories.

In 1912, as a result of the Italian-Turkish war (1911-1912), two coastal provinces of the Ottoman Empire – Tripolitania (western part of the country) and Cyrenaica (eastern part) – were united within the new territorial unit becoming Italian colony. The third province of the country became, Saharan and almost uninhabited, Fezzan.

Officially, since 1934, these three territories were united within one geopolitical entity called Libya, although the name itself had appeared in the area before. De facto (along with the transformation of Morocco into a French and Spanish protectorate in the same year), this ended the process of dividing Africa by the European colonial powers.

The establishment of Italian domination over Libya became an impulse for the birth of the resistance movement. For more than twenty years (until 1935) the struggle for the liberation of the country from the colonial system (mainly in the area of Cyrenaica) was conducted by the partisans (mujahedin) under the command of Umar al-Mukhtar, who – after being captured in combat and sentenced by Italians to death in 1931 – became a national hero and a symbol of the national liberation struggle.

Libya remained under the Italian administration until 1943 when it was taken over by British troops as a result of the wartime allied offensive. Formally, the authorities in Rome waived all claims to this territory in the peace treaty concluded with the victorious allied states in 1947.

During the transition period the administration over the country was held by Great Britain (provinces of Tripoli and Cyrenaica) and France (south-western province of Fezzan). At the same time, it was a period of activation of local political forces striving for the political emancipation of the country.

The question of the future of Libya was the subject of negotiations of the victorious Allied Powers. In the absence of an agreement among them regarding the future international legal status (in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, territories detached from the defeated countries should be included in the UN trust system) ultimately it was decided to grant Libya full independence. Finally, on December 24, 1951 Libya was proclaimed an independent state as a monarchy. Its first (and as it later turned out also the last) ruler was King Idris I (As-Sajjid Muhammad Idris al-Mahdi asSanusi).

He originated from the religious-social movement with Sufi tint called Sanusijja, whose founder (in the 1830s) was the grandfather of the future ruler, Muhammad Ibn Ali as-Sanusi. This movement played a very important role in the history of the country, being one of the birth factors of local nationalism with a strong anti-colonial tinge and the later ruler, Idris, was a de facto inter-war period (while in emigration in Egypt) ideological political leader of the anti-colonial insurrection (Umar al-Mukhtar was the military leader of Sanusijja).

Libya is a country with large territory (about 1.75 million square kilometres) but the vast majority of its area is a desert (about 93% of the area). Only the coastal areas of Libya ensure convenient conditions for their inhabitants. The Mediterranean climate and soils, suitable in some areas for the development of agriculture, make the vast majority of the 6.5 million citizens of the country live there.

The dry tropical climate in the interior entails extreme temperatures.10 Desert areas are characterized by permanent water deficit but also in coastal areas the amount of water available for economic purposes is limited (a characteristic feature of the landscape of these area is the lack of permanent rivers).

In Libya, however, there are huge reservoirs of underground water (in the area of the Sahara) which constitute about 70% of the country’s water resources and are exploited for the needs of coastal cities by supplying them through the water supply system. Unpopulated and inhospitable areas of the interior were in the past and are now a difficult place to control and, as a result, may constitute a shelter for various forces contesting the existing political order.

In the absence of effective central authority this factor becomes even more important. At the same time, communication routes leading to the Sub-Saharan Africa countries go through the interior.

Their control is therefore of strategic importance for the stability of the entire region, especially the areas neighbouring Libya in the south and south-east (Sudan, Chad, Niger – these countries are perceived as highly unstable).

To some extent, this also applies to the eastern and western neighbours of the country – Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria.12 These Arabic-speaking countries lie in similar geographical latitudes, which makes them similar in terms of climatic and landscape factors and makes their borders (especially in the Sahara) difficult to control and thus easy to penetrate (in all directions).

The abovementioned feature of the borders in the region has become even more meaningful in connection with the rapid development of means of communication in the twentieth century.

***

Wiesław Lizak – University of Warsaw

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Features of the US role in the post-Bathily era

Abdullah Alkabir

The resignation of the UN envoy to Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, did not constitute a significant development at the local level, for several reasons, the most important of which was his inability to make any breakthrough into the crisis, and the decline of UNSMIL’s role in general in almost all files. However, it is considered an important event at regional and international levels, driving countries involved in the Conflict, to prepare for all possible scenarios following the resignation.

Everyone following up on the Libyan issue is aware of the circumstances that brought Bathily to this mission, following the failure of the major powers at the UN Security Council to name a new envoy. Despite the fact that the UN Secretary-General proposed several names for the vacant position, they could not gain the consensus of the major powers at the Security Council, and in light of the continuing such disagreement they all accepted the African Union candidate, Senegalese politician, Abdoulaye Bathily.

The position is important for the major powers and their allies in the region, because all political solutions and settlements will be handled by the special envoy, and then approved by the UN Security Council. It is very logical for all countries concerned with the crisis to prepare for the next phase, which is expected to be led by the US diplomat Stephanie Khoury, who will take over as acting head of mission succeeding Bathily, in conjunction with the return of the US embassy to work from Tripoli, and then Khoury will receive strong diplomatic support to implement her plan, after she officially takes over and resume her duties by mid-next month.

What are the features of the US role in the Libyan crisis in the next stage?

The US move to announce the return of the embassy to work from Tripoli, then the drive for the US diplomat Stephanie Khoury to the position of deputy head of UNSMIL, to take over as head of UNSMIL following Bathily’s resignation, are strong indications of greater US involvement in the crisis, by keeping the Libyan file in its hand through Khoury.

The biggest motive for this new move is due to the growing Russian influence in Libya, reaching dangerous levels that require the USA to pay more attention to Libya, to protect its interests and those of its allies.

The former US Special Envoy to Libya, Jonathan Weiner, revealed, in a lengthy analytical article published by the Middle East Institute, the intense Russian military activity in Libya, that could result in the establishment of a naval base, as well as other bases in the center and south of the country, where Wagner elements are present. Besides, providing Haftar with billions of counterfeit currencies to enhance his influence and authority, and with this effectiveness, Russia expands its activity in sub-Saharan African countries.

Obviously, there is nothing new in Weiner’s statement about Russian support for Haftar, as it is among the facts spelt out in the periodic reports of UN Security Council experts, and Moscow’s acknowledgement by some of its officials of such support, and its justification that it was done at the request of the authorities in eastern Libya.

There is also nothing new in Weiner’s article, about the failure of UNSMIL to oblige Libyan leaders to work together to reach a political solution, as well as his account about the political and military developments over the past few years.

However, what is important in Weiner’s article is his call on the US administration to defend its interests, because increasing Russian presence in Libya is a threat to US national security.

Weiner’s warnings, and certainly other political figures, as well as reports from centers of research and strategic studies, and intelligence reports, seem to have found listening ears in the White House offices, prompting the US embassy to return to function from Tripoli, and Khoury takes over the leadership of the UN mission, succeeding Bathily, and some circulated reports about military training for some local factions carried out by a security company linked to the US State Department.

There is no doubt that these developments are extremely dangerous, requiring all national forces to overcome their differences and conflicts, and to look at the possibility of the Russian-Western confrontation escalating to a critical point turning Libya into another arena for this confrontation, and to work together to spare the country the dangers of this scenario by all available means.

Abdullah Alkabir, political writer and commentator

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Failing State: Libya as a Supraregional Security Threat (1)

Canan Atilgan / Veronika Ertl / Simon Engelkes

Ex-U.S. President Barack Obama once described the United States’ and its allies’ lack of success in ensuring stability in Libya following the fall of the Gaddafi regime as one of the biggest failings of his time in office. Indeed, the country is sinking ever deeper into chaos.

Now, the action plan by Ghassan Salamé, the United Nations’ new Special Representative for Libya, is expected to revive the peace process. If this does not succeed, the security situation risks escalating further – with far-reaching consequences both for neighbouring countries and Europe.

Introduction

Six years after the former Libyan ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi was overthrown, hopes of democracy, stability and growth in Libya have not come to fruition.

The country is descending into chaos. Politically and territorially fragmented, with a plethora of rival state-run and non-gov-ernmental actors and alliances, porous borders and little prospect of imminent stabilisation, Libya represents a security threat for its neighbouring countries, the wider Mediterranean region and Europe.

The UN-led peace process, which resulted in the Government of National Accord (GNA) in December 2015 under Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, has so far been unable either to consolidate its control over Libyan state territory, or to make noticeable improvements to the living conditions of the Libyan people.

Furthermore, the government’s authority is openly contested by both of the other self-proclaimed parliaments in Libya – the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk in the east of the country and the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli – as well as by a number of non-governmental armed factions. De facto, there is no government that controls the whole of the Libyan territory.

In the absence of a united national army, various actors are competing for power and resources. Armed factions are gaining a foothold at the local level. In many cases, this is accompanied by control over illegal economic activities, especially the smuggling of goods and people.

This all creates a situation that offers room for manoeuvre for extremist organisations too, such as the group known as Islamic State (IS). These organisations recognise and exploit the national power vacuum as a convenient opportunity to expand their activities and even local territorial control in Libya.

Political and Territorial Fragmentation

Looking Back: Revolution and Civil War

In contrast to the rebellions in the neighbouring countries of Tunisia and Egypt, the 2011 protests in Libya escalated within the space of a few days and developed into an armed conflict between the forces loyal to the regime and those rebelling against it. The overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, which was accelerated by the support of the international powers, gave the loose consortia of rebels no opportunity to develop their organisational structure or a programme for the future of Libya and the transition process.

The absence of influential, political and civil society leaders who could have filled the power vacuum after the fall of Gaddafi, contributed to the chaos following the revolution.

The government elected in 2012, the GNC, likewise failed to stabilise the security situation. Instead, the armed groups were integrated into a form of parallel security sector and from that point on received salaries from the state to prevent an escalation of the security situation. To date, none of the three Libyan governments has succeeded in curbing the influence of these informal armed groups and transferring control to a state-controlled security unit.

Libya does not have a unified, nationally controlled army.

Nonetheless, further escalation of the simmering conflicts was prevented until 2014. The fragile stability ended with the parliamentary elections in June 2014, which, marked by violence and low voter turnout, meant a clear defeat for the Islamist forces and which were subsequently annulled.

The elections took place in the context of the simmering conflict between General Khalifa Haftar’s groups from the east, consolidated under Operation Dignity, and the Libya Dawn coalition from the west formed as a counter-response. The confrontation culminated in a civil war that claimed thousands of victims, turned almost half a million people into internally displaced persons and brought the country’s economy to a virtual standstill.

After the defeat of the Operation Dignity coalition around the strategically important airport in Tripoli, the elected parliament, the HoR, moved back to the eastern city of Tobruk. Meanwhile, the GNC reconstituted itself as a rival government in Tripoli.

Libyan Political Agreement” and Perspectives

The negotiations in favour of a political agreement for the creation of a unity government that would end the conflict between the rival parliaments began in January 2015 under the direction of the UN. This government was set up to guarantee the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of elections; and to act as a trusted partner in the fight against IS.

The process resulted in the signing of the “Libyan Political Agreement” (LPA), which envisaged the creation of a Presidential Council that would assume the formation of a Government of National Accord and, until then, would replace the existing governments. The intention was to involve members of the Tripoli based GNC in a newly created advisory institution: the High Council of State. The HoR in Tobruk was to remain in existence as the single national parliament.

A binding Cabinet agreement by a parliamentary vote of confidence was determined in order to secure democratic legitimacy for the new government. However, some central questions remain unanswered, especially as regards the regional balance of power and the configuration of the security sector.

Due to the ongoing deterioration of the economic and security situation, the danger posed by the spread of IS as well as international pressure on account of increased migration flows, a speedy signing was ultimately preferred to further negotiations. In the following months, these unresolved questions led to a loss of legitimacy of the Presidential Council and the newly formed government.

To date, the HoR has not given the vote of confidence necessary for legitimising the new government. Both General Haftar and the GNC withdrew their support for the GNA unity government, established themselves as rival governments in Tobruk and Tripoli respectively, and consolidated their respective power bases through military initiatives by loyal, armed groups.

Meanwhile, the new government also lost public support in the face of the worsening living conditions in the country. According to UN estimates, 1.3 million people, a fifth of the Libyan population, are dependent on humanitarian aid, while the number of internally displaced persons is rising. Ongoing displacement, a collapse of the markets, and plummeting production have made the food shortage more acute; and electricity and water are also only available in limited quantities across the country.

Additionally, the healthcare system has collapsed: 60 per cent of the infrastructure functions only in part or not at all and there is a lack of medicine and clinical equipment. The public administration has almost completely crumbled and the banks experience a shortage of cash. Due to the unstable security situation, most humanitarian organisations are forced to operate from the neighbouring country of Tunisia and aid services often do not reach all those affected. These daily challenges fuel the conflict further.

More than one and a half years after the signing of the LPA, the implementation of the “Political Agreement” appears to be infeasible in its current form. Renegotiations of the key elements with the involvement of those actors who have so far been neglected, seem unavoidable in order to overcome the political blockade and prevent further escalation of the conflict.

This realisation has sparked a new willingness to negotiate.6 To the surprise of many international observers, a meeting between the GNA Prime Minister al-Sarraj and General Haftar on 25 July 2017 brought about an agreement to hold a ceasefire, as well as parliamentary and presidential elections at the start of 2018.

It is assumed that a structural change to the Presidential Council underlies the agreement, which would reduce the institution to three members and secure Haftar a central role in Libya’s political system along with al-Sarraj and HoR President Agila Saleh.

At the end of September 2017, the new UN Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, presented a new action plan for reviving the peace process. The plan envisages a revision of the “Libyan Political Agreement” by a committee, before a national Libyan conference votes on the individuals responsible for the new executive.

The conference under the direction of the UN Secretary-General will aim to bring all previously excluded or under-represented stakeholders to the table. Members of the High State Council and Islamist-spectrum militias allied with the GNA had feared marginalisation within the framework of a renegotiated LPA. It now remains to be seen how successful the renegotiation of the balance of power in Libya will be.

***

Dr. Canan Atilgan is Head of the Regional Programme for Political Dialogue Southern Mediterranean of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung based in Tunis, Tunisia.

Veronika Ertl is Research Associate at the Regional Programme for Political Dialogue Southern Mediter-ranean of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung based in Tunis, Tunisia.

Simon Engelkes is Project Coordinator at the Regional Programme for Political Dialogue Southern Mediterranean of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung based in Tunis, Tunisia.

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Mediterranean Sea Objective for the African Corps (2)

Deliveries of military equipment to the port of Tobruk

The delivery of military equipment and vehicles from Syria to Libya was the most visible aspect of the increased Russian involvement in Libya observed over the past few weeks. 

The port of Tartus in Syria was the point of departure for Russian military vessels used to deliver military equipment to Libya. This port has already been used in the past for Russian deliveries of wheat and military equipment, and as a departure point for Russian ships operating in the Mediterranean Sea.

Two Russian vessels were spotted in the port of Tartus on 02nd April 2024. The vessels, Ropucha class landing ship LSS Aleksandr Otrakovsky and Ivan Gren, were later spotted off the Cretan coastline on 06th April.

The Aleksandr Otrakovsky is a large landing vessel that redeployed from the North Sea to the Mediterranean in late 2023.

One of the two Russian military vessels was filmed by Libyan media in the port of Tobruk, confirming the Russian presence on April 08, 2024.

This latest delivery oft was reported by some sources as the fifth delivery of Russian equipment to Tobruk over the last 45 days. The equipment delivered includes vehicles and weapons, such as 2S12 Sani mortars or BTR and BM APCs.

Kremlin interests in Libya and North Africa 

Since the death of Prigozhin in August 2023, the Russian Ministry of Defense has relaunched discussions with Libya and Marshal Haftar. The Russian Defense Ministry delegation led by Yunus Bek Yevkurov has visited Libya four times since August 2022 and was seen by commentators as a major new boost for Russian engagement in the country.

Marshal Haftar was also invited to Moscow in September 2023 after being considered « an imperfect and outmatched military leader » by Russian private agents in Libya in 2020. It appears Russia has changed its mind and is here to stay and extend with a navy base on the Mediterranean Sea. 

For Jalel Harchaoui, the Kremlin’s objective in Libya is clear: “Libya offers ultra-valuable access to the Mediterranean, serves as a southern flank to pressure NATO and the EU, and enhances dialogue with other key Arab countries. Importantly, it also acts as a passageway into Sub-Saharan Africa, offering a strategic path into countries like Sudan, Niger, and beyond. Thus, Libya holds crucial strategic value for Russia, and the Haftar family’s cooperation allows Russia to secure these objectives while minimising costs. Said crudely, on a material and pecuniary level, the Haftar family rewards Moscow for doing exactly what Moscow wants to do anyway. In all cases, Russia has been in the process of becoming as strong as possible on Libyan soil, knowing that that strength will have several uses”.

Not only is Russia intensifying its military activities in the East of Libya but also its diplomatic activities in the West. Since 2023, Russia has aimed to reopen a consulate in Benghazi and an embassy in Tripoli.

The new ambassador, Aidar Aghanin, an Arabic speaker who was director of RT channel in Arabic and served in Jordan, divides his time between the two Libyan cities having established his headquarters at the Radisson hotel in Tripoli.

During the Africa Russia summit in July 2023, the government of Mohammed Yunus Al-Menfi (in charge of Tripoli) was received directly in a bilateral meeting with Vladimir Putin. On May 9 from Moscow while the Haftar clan visited the Russian government, 

Belqacem Haftar, one of Marshal’s sons, declared having met with a Russian diplomat to discuss the unification of the Libyan political factions and resolve the political and military crisis . Other Libyan officials from Tripoli are expected in Russia very soon.

But it’s not just about Libya. The Kremlin has placed seasoned personnel in other neighbouring countries such as Algeria.

On site, Russian interests are represented by Valerian Shuvaev, Arabic-speaking and French-speaking ambassador, who served as number 2 in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Morocco.

In Morocco, it is Vladimir Baibakov, also Arabic and French-speaking, who was ambassador to Mauritania. Alexandre Zolotov has been Russian ambassador to Tunisia since 2022.

Arabic-speaking and French-speaking, he has been stationed in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Oman. These ambassadors are figures from the Primakov school, a former senior executive of the KGB and Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1996 to 1998.

According to a Western diplomatic source, these diplomats and Kremlin representatives are not there by chance: “It’s to be noted that most of the Russian ambassadors managing the Northern African region around Libya are seasoned diplomats with significant experience in the Middle-Eastern countries. Some are even francophones, showing a renewed strategic interest from Russia in this region”.

Another important figure in the Kremlin’s security spheres is in the region: General Serguey Surovikin, the former commander in charge of Russian military operations in Ukraine.

Dismissed from his position for his links with the Wagner group following the death of Evgeny Prigojzhin, he took the post of military representative in Algeria. According to a source who prefers to remain anonymous, Surovikin was regularly in Libya during his year of exile. According to unverified sources, he is currently returning to Russia to be called for more important functions.

With its feet in the Mediterranean waters, the Kremlin takes the lead in a corridor going from North Africa to the borders of the Sahel while reaching their Syrian base. Russia has become the new security partner of a region destabilised by terrorist violence, coups, civil war and illegal immigration.

Can we trust that Russia will effectively manage local instabilities and can we afford to delegate responsibility for security issues at the gates of Europe  to Russia?

Can we also imagine that Russia will not take advantage of the immigration lever (materially or in the information sphere) as we have seen them do on the border with Belarus?

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Mediterranean Sea Objective for the African Corps (1)

Even before the death of Prigozhin in a plane crash in Russia on August 23, 2023, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus Bek Yevkurov went to Libya the day before to meet Marshal Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army which controls part of Libyan territory.

Libya, which had been quite neglected by Russia delegating its affairs to Evgeny Prigozhin and some GRU operators, seems to once again become a strategic country for Moscow serving as a link between its expansion in the Sahel and the installation of a Russian naval military base in the Mediterranean.

On site, a source from the Russian Ministry of Defense, from whom we were able to cross-check all the information, told us that he had been to Libya several times before the war in Ukraine. He says there has never been so much noise, tectonic shifts are brewing here. He thinks “great chaos is brewing.”

With Verstka, an independent media, and the support of Radio Svoboda, the Russian service of RFE/RL, we discovered that thousands of Russian Defense Ministry personnel as well as “Wagner” recruits were transferred to Libya since the beginning of the year under the cover of a paramilitary organisation, probably African Corps.

Arrival of thousands of Russian fighters in Libya

According to information obtained by our consortium, Russia has been transferring Russian military and fighters to Libya for the past three months. According to a Libyan security source that we consulted, there are already 1,800 Russian soldiers in the country for the past two weeks.

They are mainly grouped in Eastern Libya, in territories controlled by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army and its affiliated militias. Some of them were transferred to Niger while others remained in Libya awaiting further instructions, according to the consortium source.

This information is also shared by a Russian Defense Ministry source, who indicates that several hundred members of the special forces were redeployed from Ukraine to Libya at the beginning of the year.

Several thousand professional military personnel and other fighters belonging to the Wagner Group’s « African Directorate » arrived in Libya from February to April. According to the Russian security source, the soldiers are in Libya unofficially and are presented as representatives of a private military company. AEOW believes that it could be the new African Corp brand carried by the GRU Special Actions Service outside Ukraine commanded by General Andrey Averyanov.

According to our consortium sources, part of the Russian military personnel is responsible for the education and training of Libyan fighters and recruits of the “African Directorate”. The other part carries out targeted missions such as the transport of military equipment, said one of the interlocutors at our consortium.

The Russian contingent in Libya would be controlled by four commanders rotating between Syria and Libya. In turn, they would report directly to Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.

Thanks to technical OSINT tools, several individuals of Syrian nationality were also detected among Russian individuals on military bases. The @KHADORA1 account was recently detected at Al Kharoba airport, which has been used to transport equipment by Russian planes since December 2023.

Active military bases

Our sources indicate the presence of this new contingent on several bases affiliated with the LNA: Kharouba/Al Khadim, Jufra, Tobruk, with two further bases in the south. They also mention the existence of a new training camp near Benghazi which we have not been able to identify. Nevertheless, our online research detected a revival of the Russian presence and events in recent months.

Ghardabiya airbase, IVO Syrte

A Russian personnel under the name “Andrei” was identified in direct proximity of the airbase. The appearance of this account correlates with a parade/military exercise held by the Libyan National Army (LNA).

The event was geolocated south of Ghardabiya, at the following coordinates: 30.815761, 16.86251. Using satellite imagery from Sentinel 1, All Eyes on Wagner were able to accurately determine the location where the Pantsir systems were located during the exercise. The small runway is only visible on Sentinel 1 and does not appear on  platforms such as Google Earth.

Al Marj

Pictures of alleged Russian mercenaries visiting a shop in al Marj were released on Libyan social media on 17th March 2024. All Eyes on Wagner confirmed the pictures were taken in al Marj through reverse image and image geolocation techniques.

The pictures were taken on one of the streets of al Marj and the shop identified.

In addition, an account associated with a Russian phone number was located at the al Marj airport. The account appeared in the area in February 2024. We were unable to collect any further information about this account.

Waddan

On 30th March, the Telegram account Milinfolive, associated in the past with the coverage of Russian military and Wagner Group operations in Africa, published several photos of a Libyan National Army (LNA) training exercise.

The vehicles were identified as being the 5-door versions of the Russian made Tiger SBM VPK-233136 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC).

The unit badge visible on the pictures allowed us to confirm the unit of the LNA to which the vehicles were delivered. The Tiger APCs featured in Milinfo Live’s video were delivered to the LNA’s 106th “Syrte” Brigade, commanded by the son of Marshall Haftar, Saddam Haftar. The brigade had already received TAG Terrier LT79 vehicles in 2019.

Brak Al Shati

According to Jalel Harchaoui, associate fellow at the British think tank Royal United Services Institute, the Brak Al Shati military base has seen its workforce increase by almost 25%. Using various OSINT tools, we were able to confirm the presence of Russian military / former military personnel around Brak al Shati airbase. This presence is relatively new. Previous investigations, as recently as March 2024, had not revealed such presence, suggesting it is quite recent.

One of the detected accounts belongs to a Russian soldier registered under a Russian number under the nickname “Arkan”. The owner of the account is 28-year-old Russian Maxim Kukol. In other users’ phone books he is listed as « Scumbag ».

Until 2021, it had no connection with the military domain according to Russian administrative databases. Kukol lived in Sochi and worked as a security guard, storekeeper, loader and factory worker. In 2022, he lived in Voronezh with no further indication of his profession.

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Can we finally agree that UN’s Libya mission is not working?

Hafed Al-Ghwell

Nearly a decade and a half after a supposed “awakening,” Libya is still paralyzed by division, conflict and the pursuit of narrow self-interests by a range of actors disguised as well-intentioned support.

Today, the North African country remains suffocated by quarrelsome rival administrations: the internationally recognized Government of National Unity in Tripoli and the eastern-based Government of National Stability. The last notable effort to bridge this divide culminated in the creation of a joint committee by the House of Representatives and the Government of National Unity-aligned High State Council, which aimed to pave the way for national elections.

Although initial drafts of the electoral legislation were agreed upon and approved, the proposed laws soon became the latest point of contention due to their controversial provisions and technical issues, as identified by both the UN and Libya’s own elections watchdog. Additional amendments only led to further disarray, with the High State Council firmly rejecting the revised legislation and stalling all progress.

The UN Support Mission in Libya, led by Special Envoy Abdoulaye Bathily, found itself yet again in the challenging position of having to mediate a political process among squabbling Libyan institutional stakeholders. Bathily resolved to invite said actors to a series of sit-downs to hash out resolutions to the contested provisions and discuss the possibility of forming a unified government that could oversee progress toward elections.

Inevitably, that initiative also fizzled out, stifled by irreconcilable differences, conflicting conditions and demands from the involved parties, which were keen on hijacking any process threatening their grip on power. It effectively closed the book on the UN mission’s eighth attempt at steering Libya’s ruling elites toward elections and national reconciliation.

Moreover, parallel dialogue initiatives — i.e., a meeting in Cairo under Arab League auspices in March and efforts by the African Union to organize a national reconciliation conference in early February — though aimed at supporting the political process, did not help further the UN Support Mission in Libya’s objectives. Historically, parallel discussions outside of Libya tend to prioritize the elevation of foreign interests and elite bargains among the Libyan actors they support, legitimizing their entrenchment. 

These are just the latest developments that highlight some of the challenges facing the UN mission as it tries to navigate a frustrating stalemate, with outside influences and conflicting internal proposals hindering mediation efforts. Thus, it came as no surprise when Bathily’s next move was simply resigning, becoming the eighth envoy in just 13 years to hang his hat, while Libya remains in limbo.

Bathily’s departure, like those of his predecessors, is a testament not to individual failings but to systemic inadequacy in the UN mission’s design, ambition and capabilities. His departure signals the need for an overdue rethink of the international community’s disappointing approach toward Libya, if the ultimate goal is the realization of a stable and unified state free of corrosive influences.

From its inception, the UN’s Libya mission was kneecapped by a limited mandate — attributed to the international community’s hesitancy and fragmented engagement. Initially given a mere three-month authorization, the mission has ambled along for more than a decade without the assurances of enduring commitments from influential global actors that still demand progress. Despite notable achievements, such as the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement in 2015, the framework has been fundamentally limited by an inability to compel concessions from rival factions or assert significant influence over external parties responsible for Libya’s paralysis.

Critically, the mission has been shackled by the very nature of its creation and the shifting dynamics it was designed to navigate. Rapidly evolving from a need to stabilize post-revolution Libya into addressing deep-seated political divisions and external interference, its mandate has consistently proven ill-suited to the complexities of the Libyan context. It has devolved into merely managing failure, rather than being a well-orchestrated attempt at resurrecting democratic governance in a post-Qaddafi Libya. Its emphasis on mediation and political dialogue, while noble, has failed to account for the leverage that will be necessary to fully enforce ceasefires, manage the transition to governance or curb the influx of arms and mercenaries bolstered by self-interested external meddlers.

The fracturing of the Libyan body politic, with the emergence of dual governments and empowered militias, has posed perhaps the most significant challenge. An enduring stalemate remains underpinned by a lack of consensus on constitutional and electoral frameworks, deepened by the entrenchment of local and international stakeholders in the status quo. These conditions have rendered the UN mission’s efforts to foster reconciliation and pave the way for national elections increasingly quixotic.

Besides, the repeated renewal of its mandate, with only incremental adjustments, reflects a persistent underestimation of the complexity of Libya’s political dynamics and the level of intervention required. This cycle of temporary leadership, envisaged as a bridge to Libyan autonomy, has instead translated into a lack of continuity, authority and, ultimately, effectiveness. 

Addressing the litany of challenges requires a rethinking of the international engagement strategy. Reengaging global actors must revolve around a holistic reimagining of the UN Support Mission in Libya’s mandate, capabilities and goals to align with the current realities of Libyan society and politics. Such a recalibration necessitates an empowering of the mission — or its successor entity — with a robust mandate that includes explicit provisions for security reform, disarmament and the integration of armed factions into a unified national framework.

Moreover, the international community must confront the realities of foreign interference by establishing mechanisms for accountability and enforcement against those who flout sanctions or continue to fuel the conflict. Enhanced coordination and pragmatic engagement with regional actors are crucial to reconciling divergent interests and reining in external influences that are increasingly weaponizing their reach to undermine painstaking dialogue on state-rebuilding.

Finally, the UN mission must evolve to facilitate a genuinely inclusive political process, one that transcends elite negotiations to incorporate a broader spectrum of Libyan society. This involves not only mediating between political factions but also bolstering civil society, local governance and mechanisms for grassroots participation that targets engaging disaffected youths.

The road to a stable, unified Libya is fraught with complexities that have stymied eight UN envoys. It has left even more Libyans convinced that the status quo may just be preferable, rather than an “end state” that the global community cannot properly define. However, what lies ahead requires not the abandonment of international mediation but its reinvention. Acknowledging and adapting to the multidimensional nature of the Libyan crisis, underpinned by a steadfast commitment to Libyan sovereignty and self-determination, is paramount. Only through a concerted, reconfigured approach can the international community hope to catalyze a sustainable resolution to Libya’s turmoil.

***

Hafed Al-Ghwell is a senior fellow and executive director of the North Africa Initiative at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

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Why armed groups still dominate Libya, 13 years since the fall of Qaddafi

Nadia Al-Faour

Muammar Qaddafi’s capture and killing by rebel fighters near his hometown of Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011, failed to usher in the era of stability and democracy that Libyans had hoped for when mass protests erupted earlier that year.

Instead, despite the best efforts of the UN Support Mission in Libya, the country remains deeply insecure, divided by two rival administrations, and fragmented among a plethora of armed groups vying for control.

“The fracturing of the Libyan body politic, with the emergence of dual governments and empowered militias, has posed perhaps the most significant challenge,” Hafed Al-Ghwell, a senior fellow and executive director of the North Africa Initiative at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, said in a recent op-ed for Arab News.

“An enduring stalemate remains underpinned by a lack of consensus on constitutional and electoral frameworks, deepened by the entrenchment of local and international stakeholders in the status quo.”

Libya is split between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah based in Tripoli, which controls barely a third of the country, and the Government of National Stability of Gen. Khalifa Haftar based in Benghazi.

The latest effort to bridge this divide culminated in the creation of a joint committee by the House of Representatives and the Government of National Unity-aligned High State Council, which aimed to pave the way for national elections. These, however, are still yet to take place.

A meeting in Cairo under Arab League auspices in March and efforts by the African Union to organize a national reconciliation conference in early February also did little to help UNSMIL bring about elections and national reconciliation.

“Rapidly evolving from a need to stabilize post-revolution Libya into addressing deep-seated political divisions and external interference, (the UN’s) mandate has consistently proven ill-suited to the complexities of the Libyan context,” said Al-Ghwell.

“It has devolved into merely managing failure, rather than being a well-orchestrated attempt at resurrecting democratic governance in a post-Gaddafi Libya.

“Its emphasis on mediation and political dialogue, while noble, has failed to account for the leverage that will be necessary to fully enforce ceasefires, manage the transition to governance or curb the influx of arms and mercenaries bolstered by self-interested external meddlers.”

On April 16, Senegalese diplomat Abdoulaye Bathily tendered his resignation as the UN’s special envoy for Libya, saying he was unable to support the country’s political transition while its leaders continued to put their own interests above finding a solution.

“Under the circumstances, there is no way the UN can operate successfully. There is no room for a solution in the future,” Bathily said in a statement at the time, announcing the delay of a national reconciliation conference originally scheduled for April 28.

“The selfish resolve of current leaders to maintain the status quo through delaying tactics and maneuvers at the expense of the Libyan people must stop.”

As the country’s finances are split between the two governing powers, which are backed by competing foreign players, the matter of their legitimacy in the eyes of Libyans and the international community remains an issue.

Foreign involvement is arguably the main reason why Libya has been unable to move on and establish a unified, stable administration. By sponsoring their preferred side in the conflict, experts say external actors have periodically added fuel to the fire.

Indeed, experts believe Libya has become little more than a playground for competing foreign interests, with the spoils of war — oil, arms contracts, and strategic influence — up for grabs.

To further these aims, various outside interests have sponsored militias inside Libya, thereby compounding and prolonging the fragmentation of the nation’s security apparatus.

Haftar commands the Libyan Arab Armed Forces, also known as the Libyan National Army. Although multiple armed groups serve under its banner, many operate under their own command structures and engage in their own raids and patrols across eastern Libya.

Meanwhile, in western Libya, prominent militias such as the Stability Support Apparatus, Misrata Counter Terrorism Force, Special Deterrence Forces (known as Radaa), 444 Brigade, 111 Brigade, Nawasi Brigade, and Joint Operations Force engage in their own state-sanctioned activities.

These include intelligence gathering and surveillance, street patrols, border security, and overseeing migrant camps.

“In today’s Libya, armed groups are the only entities capable of projecting power and maintaining territorial control,” Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow at the UK-based Royal United Services Institute, told Arab News.

“These groups lack a limpid chain of command and do not always follow the authority of the central state or manage their personnel in a clear and organized manner. They are inherently informal, often flawed, and dysfunctional.

“Despite their shortcomings, they are powerful when it comes to controlling territories and using force.”

Although these armed groups have been tasked with improving the nation’s overall security situation, they frequently clash with one another. This violence has shown little sign of abating, despite international efforts to establish a unified government and security apparatus.

Fifty-five people were killed in August 2023 when Radaa and the 444 Brigade engaged in running street battles in Tripoli. In February this year, at least 10 people, including members of the SSA, were shot dead in the city.

During this year’s Eid Al-Fitr celebrations, clashes broke out in the capital between the SSA and Radaa militias. Although this most recent bout of violence incurred no casualties, it raised fresh concerns about the country’s perilous security situation.

While the humanitarian situation in Libya has somewhat improved since the UN-facilitated ceasefire agreement of October 2020, civilians continue to bear the brunt of political and economic instability.

Militia skirmishes have resulted in the internal displacement of some 135,000 people. Another 300,000 are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN reports from 2022.

The dire humanitarian situation was made worse by the devastating storm that pounded the Libyan coast in September last year. Storm Daniel burst two dams in the eastern city of Derna, with the resulting torrent of water flattening everything in its path.

The storm killed at least 5,900 people and displaced more than 44,000, according to the US Agency for International Development.

“Achieving stability in Libya requires a long-term strategy that would take many years and involve significant commitment from key foreign states,” said Harchoui.

“This would demand dedication and the willingness of countries like the US to challenge their regional partners, such as Turkiye, the UAE, and Egypt. It’s a major undertaking by all means.”

The SSA and Radaa are not under the direct authority of Libya’s interior or defense ministries. Nevertheless, they receive public funds and operate independently under a special status granted in 2021 by the prime minister and the presidential council.

Armed groups in Libya are often accused by the UN and human rights groups of committing war crimes with impunity. A report published by the UN last year found that these militias had engaged in murder, rape, arbitrary arrest, and slavery.

A 2023 report by Amnesty International also found that groups like the SSA, LAAF, and several others had committed acts of sexual violence, abductions, mock executions, and had restricted freedom of expression.

Libyan civilians have no power to hold these groups to account — particularly those backed and legitimized by the state.

An initial step toward achieving stability, Harchaoui believes, is recognizing that armed groups have infiltrated government institutions to become integral parts of the Libyan state and are “increasingly involved in corrupt and illegal activities.”

He said: “Tackling corruption should therefore be the initial focus, as this would slow the expansion of armed groups into areas beyond physical security, like government administration, finance, oil, and wealth extraction writ large.

“Once corruption is addressed, further steps can be considered.”

There are, however, multiple factors behind the Libyan military’s inability to rein in the country’s many armed groups.

Chief among these is that Libya’s “political leaders, economic institutions, and foreign states still need the protection of these armed groups for day-to-day operations,” said Harchaoui.

“This protection is needed for activities like oil production, diplomacy, contract signing, and counterterrorism intelligence gathering.”

These operations, he says, allow these groups to become more entrenched and powerful — and, in turn, make it more difficult to reduce their influence.

“This paradox means that continuing to rely on these groups for daily operations only strengthens them, preventing the ultimate goal of replacing them with formal forces some day in the future.”

There were some green shoots of change in July 2023 when the two rival administrations agreed to set up a committee to oversee the sharing of Libya’s significant oil revenues.

In a statement at the time, UNSMIL said it “welcomes the decision announced by the Presidential Council to establish a High Financial Oversight Committee to address fundamental issues of transparency in the spending of public funds and fair distribution of resources.”

Nevertheless, far from emerging from the Qaddafi era with greater openness, economic growth, and productive engagement with the international community, Libya continues to endure lawlessness and institutional collapse, becoming something close to a failed state.

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Ominous Russian Military Moves Spark Fears Over NATO’s Southern Flank

David Brennan

Russia is diverting more resources to its newest Mediterranean hub as Moscow seeks to grow its influence and outcompete Western rivals in conflict-ravaged parts of North and West Africa, reports say.

The independent Russian site Verstka, the All Eyes on Wagner project and the U.S.-funded media outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty have reported that at least 1,800 Russian soldiers and mercenaries have been deployed to Libya in recent weeks, seemingly expanding a project years in the making.

The burgeoning Russian outpost could prove a threat to “Europe’s soft underbelly,” which is already proving vulnerable to persistent migration flows. Moscow’s influence might be sharpened if it can secure the use permanent naval facilities along the Libyan coastline. The Kremlin is reportedly eyeing the port of Tobruk, which is already serving as an important hub for its power projection across Africa.

“The Mediterranean is the most crucial frontier in the defense of ‘Atlanticism,'” Alp Sevimlisoy—a millennium fellow at the Atlantic Council and regional geopolitical analyst—told Newsweek, referring to the ideology that sits at the heart of NATO’s North American-European collaboration.

“Russia, regardless of its intent to set up this port or whether it’s actually going to have the operational capability to do so, is putting more and more resources into Libya,” he continued.

Newsweek has contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment by email.

Russia’s Africa Hub

Moscow has been building influence in Libya since the NATO-facilitated overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, after which the country split into several warring factions. The North African nation of about 7 million people is now largely split between the Government of National Stability led by Osama Hamada in the east and the United Nations–backed Government of National Unity led by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh in the west.

The former is supported by the Libyan National Army—headed by Khalifa Haftar, who effectively holds sway over all of eastern Libya. Recent years have seen Haftar draw closer to the Kremlin, with the 80-year-old visiting Moscow for the first time in 2023 to meet with President Vladimir Putin.

The Wagner Group—now in the process of being brought entirely under Kremlin control following former leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s abortive coup—has been active in Libya in support of Haftar’s forces since 2019. Under a new leader, Russian intelligence veteran Andrey Averyanov, Wagner—now renamed the Africa Corps—has been increasing its activity in Libya.

“That uptick in the official engagements with Haftar has been very notable,” said Tim Eaton, a senior research fellow in the Middle East and North Africa program at the British think tank Chatham House.

He told Newsweek, “And I think what people who follow the issues around Wagner—and now Africa Corps—seem to be hypothesizing is that what was a more mercenary-based payment arrangement for Russian support is becoming more institutionalized and more formalized engagement between the eastern Libyan forces under Haftar and the Russian government.”

Libya offers Moscow both a foothold in the Mediterranean and a way into what is sometimes called the “Coup Belt” of unstable Sahel nations, where recent political turmoil has seen governments turn to Russia in a bid to eject French and American influence.

“It’s what Libya gives them in terms of potential access to other areas of Africa, and particularly in the Sahel,” Eaton said. “Libya seems to provide a land bridge for those interests.”

The Mediterranean Front

Russia’s war on Ukraine has colored Moscow’s contest with the U.S. worldwide. In the Mediterranean and North Africa, Libya appears to represent a weak spot for the Western allies.

“It’s clear that the Americans fear the establishment of a Russian base on the Mediterranean,” Eaton said. “Of course, there’s already significant Russian presence in Syria. Indeed, the most recent influx of arms has come via Syria.”

Sevimlisoy suggested that NATO should quickly meet the evolving challenge with decisive action. “We need to urgently move toward creating a MEDCOM, which would be a stand-alone NATO military command that would govern the Mediterranean for all intents and purposes,” he said.

He added, “We have to start putting boots on the ground, and we have to make it a NATO effort.” Sevimlisoy also proposed an expansion of nuclear weapon sharing in the Mediterranean region beyond Italy and Turkey, who host such arms, and farther afield.

“If you want to counter Russia in the Mediterranean, you do so by countering them in the Mediterranean but also countering them in the Baltics so that they’re already kept busy on that front,” Sevimlisoy said.

A nuclear expansion, he continued, could include the deployment of U.S. Ohio-class submarines to the Mediterranean—as the U.S. did temporarily after Hamas’ October 7 attack against Israel—and even a rollout of hypersonic technology, once available.

“Eventually, we’ll be able to place tactical nuclear strength onto hypersonic missiles, and at that point, we will have revived a level of nuclear deterrence unseen since the onset of the Cold War,” Sevimlisoy said.

NATO, he added, should also consider new “stay behind” organizations across Europe akin to those put in place during the Cold War in case of a Soviet advance.

Sevimlisoy framed a more muscular NATO presence in the Mediterranean as necessary to deter not only Moscow but also Beijing.

“A couple of years ago, we had Chinese warships passing through the Mediterranean,” he said. “Today, they’re passing through. Tomorrow, these are direct conflict lines.”

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Can federalism bring stability to Libya?

Federica Saini Fasanotti

The divisions in today’s Libya have deep historical roots, which have left the country without functional institutions. A decentralized, federalist approach could help build stability, but the international community will likely insist on repeating past mistakes.

In a nutshell

  • Modern civil conflict in Libya has deep historical roots
  • Decentralizing power could allow Libyans to build stronger institutions
  • The West seems intent on repeating failed approaches to the conflict

During Italy’s colonization of Libya (1911-1943), fascist colonial police engaged in ruthless counter-guerrilla warfare were struck by how antagonistic the Libyans were against each other. As they reported back to Mussolini: they found Arabs pitted against Berbers, Cyrenaicans against the denizens of Tripoli, and clan against clan in an atavistic struggle for land. In fact, it was the Italians who unified Libya after several military efforts. As I described in 2016:

The Italians occupied the [Sirtic Corridor], an ideal break line, and conquered the oases of al-Jufrah, Zellah, Awjilah, and Gialo, isolated in the Cyrenaic desert more than 150 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. Shortly afterward, three [mobile groups], formed by thousands of Italian soldiers, moved in from Tripolitania and Cyrenaica in a pincer movement. The target: the rebels in the Sirtic Corridor, who also fell. These developments allowed the unification of the two colonies, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, under the leadership of Marshal Pietro Badoglio. This was a major shift: Until that point, Libya had two political governments, two military commands, and two different administrations.

Libya, as we know it today, did not exist a century ago. At that time, the most fundamental identity was not the concept of “nation” but that of “tribe”: Libyans recognized themselves in their tribes and were loyal to them. The Italians understood this fact and used it in their favor, through the classic conqueror strategy of divide and rule.

But it was not only the Italians who leveraged tribal hatreds. Muammar Qaddafi (1942-2011) himself took ample advantage of these divisions during his 42-year-long dictatorship. Qaddafi laid the foundation for what Libya is today: a divided country without functional institutions or a ruling class worthy of the name. Modern politics in Libya is not the art of governing the state for the good of its citizens, but rather the pursuit of privileges. Those who have managed to seize power in the past 13 years – since the outbreak of the rebellion against the Qaddafi regime in the spring of 2011 – have rarely relinquished it.

Since the fall of Qaddafi, there have not been many cases of Libyan leaders cycling out of power, with rare exceptions like Fayez al-Sarraj, the former prime minister of the National Accord Government, who was appointed in 2016 after the United Nations-brokered Skhirat Accords in Morocco and left office in 2021.

Much more common are officials like Aguila Saleh Issa, who has been the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Tobruk since the beginning of the second civil war, immediately after the 2014 Libyan parliamentary elections (the country’s most recent ballot). The dysfunction of a decade-long rule without electoral accountability would be unthinkable in most democratic regimes. However, such elites do not seem to be interested in even trying to build consensus in a badly divided polity.

A neo-medieval system

This state of affairs is the result of an anti-modern way of governing that goes far back, even before the emergence of state sovereignty as a concept. In 1977, Australian professor Hedley Bull wrote in his canonical The Anarchical Society about a hypothetical weakening of the sovereign state that would eventually overcome the existing system. He presented many scenarios, but one still seems particularly appropriate in the case of Libya: “neo-medievalism,” a modern variant of the medieval political organization.

In a neo-medieval system, the notion of sovereignty – the supreme power over a given territory and its inhabitants – evaporates, giving way to an agglomeration of overlapping powers in which none can achieve exclusive obedience from its citizens. In this proto-state, there are no functioning institutions. War is no longer understood as occurring between states. It takes place between groups within former state boundaries so that violence becomes a daily constant.

In the mutation of today’s Libya, different centers of power have emerged: Tripoli, Benghazi, Tobruk, Misrata, Sirte, Sabha, Murzuq, Zintan and beyond. The management of power has further fragmented in the hands of different armed groups who can exert violence, substituting a monopoly of force with an oligopoly of force.

In the face of this now institutionalized “genetic mutation,” it is clear that democratization by imitating other successful examples cannot work. Democracy is not an exportable facility. Libya is still at a proto-state level, with the requisite institutions either nonexistent (like a unitary government), fragile (like the High Council of State), or hegemonic, in the sense that they are left unchecked by counter-balancing institutions (like the central bank). It matters little on this score that Libya enjoys oil riches – that is nothing but a driver for further conflict. The events of the past 13 years have only reinforced this thesis.

Repeating the same mistakes

Immediately after Qaddafi’s overthrow, the UN established a dedicated support mission in Libya, UNSMIL. Despite a rotating cast of special envoys, this mission is nowhere near succeeding in its primary goal: to set the country up for elections and then for healthy governance. This has been the mantra for all these years, touted at numerous international conferences on Libya. But, as a keen observer of the country, Libyan-American scholar Hafed al-Ghwell, has recently noted:

Doomed to fail before it even began, we are seeing a recurrent pattern of failure that betrays a stubborn reality: conventional diplomacy is ill-suited for the complexities of Libyan politics. Influential actors still refuse to confront the uncomfortable truth that repeated interventions have yet to materially shift Libya’s political elites and institutional stakeholders toward the reconciliation that the country so desperately needs.

Indeed, everyone involved in the Libyan affair has tried to put their own signature on the project, which has only served to diminish the authority of the UN mission. For example, in July 2017, a meeting was held in Paris between the then leaders of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The two signed onto 10 principles, including a ceasefire, the establishment of a regular army and the preparations for an election that Mr. al-Sarraj had sought to hold in March 2018.

While French President Emmanuel Macron claimed this as a diplomatic achievement, it was no such thing. Internal tensions continued to escalate, especially in the Libyan capital. When the French leader decided to hold a second conference in May 2018, all hell broke loose in Tripoli that summer due to the dissatisfaction of militia cartels that had not been called to the negotiating table.

A missing constitutional foundation

Over the years, I have written extensively about why elections are not the solution in Libya unless the proper constitutional ground is prepared for them to work, and unless there is an outside force to prevent elections from becoming an occasion for civil war, like the one that erupted in Libya in the summer of 2014 (and continued until 2020).

As the analyst Ferhat Polat has recently written:

[F]or Libya to conduct successful and legitimate elections, the rival factions must agree on a constitutional framework well in advance. Creating a new constitution should outline the governance structure, define the roles and powers of the central authority, and establish clear rules for presidential, parliamentary, and electoral processes.

At the moment, not only has this not been done, but it is likely that highly polarizing figures will run for president in any elections that are held (as has happened before). There is no clear political agenda, as there was none in 2021, weeks before the election deadline.

In February 2017, I argued:

Libya is still too immature, politically, to overcome the atavistic divisions among the people and tribes of what once were known as the historical regions of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan. These divisions have impeded real leadership – in its absence, the international community must come in to help Libyans build from the bottom, in small steps. Rather than funnel money to militias, international actors should help fund roads, power plants, refineries, hospitals, and, above all, schools. Qaddafi purposely under-invested in developing Libyans’ minds and professional skills – instead of sending military advisers, international actors should support Libyans’ efforts to build a civil service. The Turks, Italians and Qaddafi always used violence and an iron fist. That never truly succeeded, and to overcome this impasse now, a change of course is needed.

I have not changed my mind since then.

Scenarios

Most likely: The UN persists in the elections dream

The most plausible outcome is that the UN will stubbornly continue to force the issue of elections using current systems and approaches – ones that have so far not been successful. While elections could eventually be held, even successfully, they will not guarantee peace or stability. Without robust institutions, Libya will continue to flounder in conflict.

This will have dire consequences, with elites squandering more international aid and the future of the Libyan people. Though rich in oil, Libya will not be stable enough for the industry to benefit its people any time in the foreseeable future. Countries in the region will worry about the instability spilling over into their own territories and could decide to get involved, potentially intensifying and extending the state of conflict.

Less likely: A new federalist approach

Though it would be operationally complex, it is not too late to institute a system of decentralization that would keep rival groups in Libya from preying on each other and jockeying for loyalty. That could look like allowing each faction to create and develop its own institutions. Once that process is underway, mechanisms could be put into place to help achieve stability, whether in the form of regional (German-style) or municipal (Swiss-style) federalism.

This approach is anathema to Western powers, some of whom prefer to support separatist elements of their choosing, while others worry that it could spread destabilizing separatist activity in other African countries. If allowed to develop smaller institutions from the ground up, Libyans would be more likely to invest in these governance systems, creating a more solid foundation. This could then support investment and build the potential for greater regional stability. Such scenarios remain unlikely, however, since they require a paradigm shift that is one step too far for many Western leaders and those at the top of international institutions.

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Russia’s Africa Push Sparks Alarm: ‘Great Chaos Brewing’

Isabel van Brugen

Russia has rapidly expanded its military presence in Libya, an investigation has found, sparking alarm at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and the West amid the war in Ukraine.

Citing sources within Libyan security agencies and the Russian military, the independent Russian site Verstka, the All Eyes On Wagner Project, and the U.S.-funded media outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, found that in the past few weeks alone, at least 1,800 Russian soldiers and mercenaries were deployed to the north African country, with some transferred on to neighboring Niger, where tensions are brewing between Moscow and Washington.

Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has maintained a covert presence in Libya following the NATO-backed ousting of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Washington has accused Moscow of using its mercenaries in Libya to interfere in conflict in the country.

After a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Libya’s eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar in late September 2023, Bloomberg reported that a defense accord was being laid out that would see Moscow expand its military presence in eastern Libya, and could lead to a naval base.

At the time, Jonathan Winer, a former U.S. special envoy to Libya said that the U.S. was taking the threat “very seriously.”

“Keeping Russia out of the Mediterranean has been a key strategic objective—if Russia gets ports there, that gives it the ability to spy on all of the European Union,” he said.

Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry for comment by email.

Hundreds of soldiers from Russian special forces units, accompanied by thousands of mercenaries and regular troops, were relocated from Ukraine to Libya at the beginning of the year. Russian military personnel and equipment have been seen at bases in at least 10 locations in eastern Libya since March, the investigation found.

A source from the Russian Ministry of Defense told the All Eyes On Wagner Project, that he had visited Libya on numerous occasions prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“He says there has never been so much noise, tectonic shifts are brewing here. He thinks ‘great chaos is brewing,'” the project said.

Some of the most recent arrivals from Russia and Ukraine have been taking part in targeted combat missions. Others are training local forces and new recruits for the Wagner Group, the investigation found.

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Why Isn’t the U.S. in Libya?

Frederic Wehrey

Outside powers take a growing interest in this oil-rich African state where the U.S. Embassy has been closed since 2014.

Success in diplomacy, like success in life—to borrow from an old cliché—largely depends on showing up. But for over half a decade, the United States hasn’t been showing up in Libya, at least not in a way that is sustained and meaningful. It speaks to a U.S. State Department approach to the country that is often more akin to sloganeering and wishful thinking than implementable policy.

Caught in the crossfire of inter-militia fighting that raged throughout the Libyan capital of Tripoli in summer 2014, U.S. diplomats shuttered their villa-based embassy and evacuated to Tunisia. They have yet to return, even as conditions in Libya have become considerably safer in the past years and other foreign embassies have either reopened or are in the process of doing so.

Their absence is due in part to the politicized legacy of the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, which killed then-Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans and unleashed a flurry of Republican scapegoating in Congress that has yet to fully abate. That tragic episode has also made Biden administration officials unusually risk averse in signing off on the embassy’s return to Libya.

Earlier this month, though, there were signs for guarded optimism that this may be changing. At a March 22 hearing of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified that his department was “actively working on” reestablishing a permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in Libya, though he declined to go into specifics about what steps the State Department was taking, or a timetable.

The State Department has included funds for the return of the embassy to Tripoli in its budget request to Congress—a good thing—but it’s not clear if this funding will clear the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, or if and when Blinken will move forward with the reopening.

Without a physical presence in the country, the U.S. diplomats working on Libya will continue to be based at the U.S. embassy in neighboring Tunisia. But, as I’ve seen firsthand during extended fieldwork in Libya over the years, many of the Libyans who matter are unable or unwilling to make that trip, often for financial or political reasons. 

As a result, U.S. diplomats are unable to build trust with, understand, and possibly influence key Libyan players. Half-day in-and-out stops by senior U.S. officials to heavily fortified airports or ministries in Libya are hardly a viable substitute for continuous visibility and interaction.

These deleterious effects have only compounded as Libya’s security and energy importance has grown in recent years and a bevy of outside powers have taken a growing interest in the oil-rich African state.

Russia deployed thousands of Wagner Group mercenaries, regular personnel, and advanced weaponry in 2019-20 to support a military bid by eastern Libya-based warlord Khalifa Haftar. Haftar sought to topple the internationally recognized government in the capital. Though that effort failed because of Turkish military intervention, Russia continues to enjoy a spoiling influence in Libya. Most notably, it is propping up Haftar’s armed coalition, the Libyan Armed Forces, giving him the means to maintain his grip over vast swathes of Libyan territory and to block the export of Libyan oil—as he did from April to July 2022, precisely when crude prices were skyrocketing because of the Russia-Ukraine war. That self-serving act harmed ordinary Libyans, European states that receive Libyan energy exports, and the global economy, while conveniently benefiting the Kremlin.

Wagner fighters have also ensconced themselves around oilfields and inside airbases across southern and eastern Libya, from which they’ve ferried personnel and material into African states in the Sahel. Here, they’ve presented themselves as an appealing alternative to what locals perceive as an overbearing French—and American—neocolonial order, offering autocrats a suite of services, ranging from military training and counterinsurgency to propaganda and personal protection, while committing horrific abuses in the process.

It is a measure of just how seriously the Biden administration views Libya as a springboard for Russian power projection, as well as a potential source of illicit financing—Wagner personnel are already said to be tapping into Libyan oil revenues—that it recently dispatched two high-level emissaries to eastern Libya to meet with Haftar. 

CIA Director William Burns traveled to Benghazi in January, followed by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf in March. The details of their full discussion with the famously obdurate Haftar remain unclear, but it likely centered on his support for planned elections in Libya later this year and a mix of pressure, warnings, and incentives to compel him to cut his ties with Moscow and eject Russia’s mercenaries from Libyan soil.

But herein lies the longtime problem with Washington’s policy toward Tripoli—a problem that a sustained diplomatic presence may diminish but certainly can’t remedy completely.

U.S. officials from successive administrations have historically viewed Libya through the singular lens of some other U.S. policy priority, assigning it the role of a supporting actor a larger strategic drama:

(a) the quest for energy security,

(b) the fight against terrorism—especially the Islamic State, which set up a powerful affiliate in Libya—and now

(c) the United States’ rivalry with so-called great powers that many in Washington see playing out across the African continent and in the Middle East. 

As a result, the United States and its allies have pursued contradictory policies in Libya that have empowered an array of venal Libyan personalities and let the country more fragmented.

Relatedly, U.S. officials have often sacrificed the North African state on the altar of other, more pressing policy imperatives in the Middle East—namely, Iran and the Arab-Israel conflict—when they believe the United States requires the support of key Arab states such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, two habitual interferers in Libyan politics.

According to this calculus, transgressions by these Arab partners in Libya, including breaking the arms embargo, enabling Haftar’s illegal bid for power and war crimes, and killing civilians in drone strikes, did not merit the expenditure of U.S. diplomatic capital in the form of a firm rebuke or pushback.

The United States’ distance from and disinterest in Libya has also produced a myopic reading of the country’s complex challenges.

The current fixation on a “Libyan-led” process toward parliamentary and presidential elections is a case in point. Holding those elections by the late fall or winter of this year is the centerpiece of an ambitious roadmap unveiled by the new U.N. envoy to Libya, the veteran Senegalese diplomat Abdoulaye Bathily. The United States and other Western states say they are enthusiastically backing this plan, but it is fraught with pitfalls, lacking in details, and seems destined to repeat the mistakes of the past.

There’s no question that the Libyan people want and deserve a legitimate, elected executive authority after more than a decade of ineffective appointed transitional governments and rump legislative bodies. But as it is currently construed, Bathily’s plan cedes too much control over the convening of elections to a coterie of avaricious Libyan politicos and militia bosses who benefit from the frozen status quo and are exploiting the election’s procedural and legal questions—over candidate eligibility, sequencing, and the powers of the presidency—to stall, obstruct, or otherwise shift balloting in their favor.

With so much subterfuge underway, it is nearly impossible that voting will occur on schedule, and if by some miracle it does it is likely to be marred by insecurity or violence, boycotting, and lack of free campaigning and ballot counting. In one of many worst-case post-election scenarios, Haftar might claim to win the south and east and accuse the other districts of fraud, leading to the further dissolution of the country—something that the elections are intended to avert.

All of this suggests that U.S. policymakers, following the United Nations’ lead, seem to have unrealistic expectations about what voting by itself will accomplish, especially when Libya’s political, financial, and military institutions remain so fragmented and leading figures have escaped accountability for past crimes.

As in the past, elections seem to be an end to themselves, with little forethought given to the day after voting.

For many Libyans, then, and for those of us foreigners on the ground in Libya during the previous elections in 2012 and 2014—when nationwide voting didn’t put an end to Libya’s conflicts and divisions but merely reconfigured them—and in 2021, when another United Nations plan didn’t produce elections at all, Bathily’s roadmap elicits a sinking feeling of familiarity.

To be clear, U.S. development assistance policies toward Libya at the local level have been commendable and comprehensive, focused on bolstering civil society; promoting human rights, justice, and peace building; training journalists; running workshops for elected municipal governments; and helping Libyan citizens adapt to the looming challenges of climate change. But none of this important work can be effectively done from outside the country or even from the confines of a fortress-like embassy—a truism that Stevens recognized and put into practice during his time as ambassador. And while he may have pushed the limits of person-to-person diplomacy, much has changed in the past decade in how the State Department deals with risks and protects its diplomats abroad.

Sensibly applying these improved security measures to Libya when reopening the U.S. embassy—while avoiding quick-fix solutions and grounding U.S. policy in local Libyan realities—is the best way to honor Stevens’s legacy and help Libyans achieve the future they deserve.

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Frederic Wehrey, a senior fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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What will happen following Bathily’s resignation?

Abdullah Alkabir

Contrary to his previous briefings, the UN envoy to Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily spoke in his last briefing in mid-April, before the UN Security Council, in a different language and a sharp tone, in which he criticized the political class, describing it as selfish at the expense of their country’s interest, expressing his disappointment with them and their stubborn resistance to his initiative.

He noted the turning of the country into a playing ground, on which competition rages between regional and international parties, driven by geopolitical, political and economic interests, calling on the UN Security Council members to assume their responsibilities, to oblige all stakeholders to support the efforts of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), to restore unity and legitimacy to Libyan institutions through political dialogue. 

Such departure from previous diplomatic language was a clear indication of the end of Bathily’s work as a UN envoy through the submission of his resignation, which he later announced during his press conference, after about 18 months in this position, during which he did not make any achievement that would end or bring the political crisis closer to the end.

The most important question today is what comes after his post becomes vacant. As a routine administrative procedure, his deputy, US diplomat Stephanie Khoury, will assume leadership of the mission for several months, with a direct mandate from the UN Secretary-General, which does not require a vote at the Security Council.

This is a repeat of the resignation of former envoy Ghassan Salamé and the US diplomat, Stephanie Williams assuming the task of heading the mission and managing the implementation of the mission and supervising the Tunis-Geneva Dialogue Forum. Due to the difficulty that the Security Council experiences in agreeing on naming the next envoy, Khoury may continue in her position for quite some time.

Bathily’s failure in his mission cannot be considered a failure of his own due to his weak abilities or lack of seriousness- the man took on the mission in an optimistic spirit, and did everything in his power to bring the main parties to the negotiating table- as much as it is a failure of the international system, represented by the major powers that have the decision in their hands at the UN Security Council, and to a less degree failure of the regional parties involved in the conflict, as the UN envoy is a representative of the interests of all these parties, which have an internal extension through their local allies, as a balancing point between all these intersecting and conflicting interests, in a crisis that has reached advanced levels of complexity.

An attempt to anticipate the post-Bathily era requires a careful return to his last briefing, in which he described the humanitarian political and economic scene accurately and realistically, without flattery or illusions.

The conclusion of his speech was a warning against violating the ceasefire agreement and therefore, the country’s return to armed conflict, referring to the movements of Haftar’s militias to Sirte last February, and to the volatile confrontations and clashes between the armed factions at the capital and its surroundings. The political stalemate will push some armed parties to activate military solutions and change the map of alliances according to the interests of these parties.

The decline of political solutions is not only limited to local parties. Over the past weeks, arms and ammunition shipments have flowed east and west, from major countries active in the Libyan affairs, as the British delegate to the UN Security Council indicated that Russia had sent ships loaded with weapons to the port of Tobruk, while the Russian delegate spoke about training of Libyan armed factions in the western region, carried out by a security company linked to the US State Department, and several social media pages reported the landing of the US military aircraft at Al-Watiya airbase.

***

Abdullah Alkabir, political writer and commentator

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The UN Libya envoy’s resignation shows why the political transition is failing

Karim Mezran

The most recent United Nations (UN) special envoy for Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, resigned on April 16, announcing his decision to the press shortly after reporting it to the Security Council. He had been appointed to the post only eighteen months prior, in September 2022, following the resignation of his predecessor, Jan Kubis.

Bathily’s resignation was motivated by the UN’s inability to successfully support the political transition process that it has been trying to foster in Libya for more than a decade in the wake of the country’s civil war and enduring political fragmentation. As Bathily pointed out, the reason for this inability is that Libya’s various political actors are unwilling to place the collective interest above their own personal interests.

Bathily bluntly described the leaders of the country’s political factions as lacking “good faith,” rendering UN initiatives futile and ruling out the possibility of any solution to the country’s current chaotic and unstable political impasse. His resignation, and his candid assessment of the political process in Libya, demonstrate the slim prospects for UN initiatives in Libya so long as national leaders remain unwilling to collaborate.

Bathily described the attitude of Libyan political leaders as driven by a “selfish resolve” to defend their individual interests and impede the transition process through political and administrative expedients. Bathily’s criticism is directed at the major political figures in Libya whom the UN special envoy had often described as the “big five”: General Khalifa Haftar, Mohammed Takala, Mohamed al-Menfi, Aguila Saleh, and Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.

For these five political figures, the transition process doesn’t offer any incentives, but rather would severely limit their current ability to control the political system and the national economy. Particularly frustrating for Bathily, after almost two years of continuous initiatives that these internal actors systematically boycotted, the UN needed to put off a planned national reconciliation conference, which was initially scheduled for April 28 and is now postponed indefinitely due to the rival parties’ intransigence. 

The reasons for Bathily’s criticisms are clear. Although a relative calm has returned to the country since the failure of Haftar’s siege of Tripoli in 2020, this calm has not facilitated the resumption of national dialogue nor the start of the necessary transition process to organize national elections. Instead, this quiet period has allowed the different political factions’ balance of power to freeze in place. They are now unwilling to give up their respective spheres of power by initiating an unpredictable transition to elections that could subvert the status quo.

The web of individual political interests, moreover, is closely linked to a variegated framework of parallel interests, including control of the economy, corruption, management of the various militias that control most of Tripolitania (although in a disorganized manner), and deep ties with organized crime, which runs trafficking of all kinds in Libya.

Bathily’s resignation thus demonstrates how the role of the UN special envoy to Libya has become frustrating and devoid of real prospects over time. In 2020, Ghassan Salame resigned after two years in office citing health reasons, although he expressed deep disappointment at how the transition process had been systematically opposed by both local actors and the foreign powers and regional actors that have been intermingling in Libya since the 2011 revolution. He was succeeded by Jan Kubis, who in turn resigned in 2021 without clearly specifying the reasons, although he had clearly determined that it was impossible to fulfil his mandate.

The question remains how and whether the United Nations intends to appoint a new special representative. Talk among insiders indicates that the next special envoy could be Stephanie Koury, currently the vice head of the UN mission in Libya, who would take up the post on an interim basis pending new guidelines from the Security Council.

But regardless of who replaces Bathily, the next special envoy will not be able to solve Libya’s longstanding political impasse as long as the leaders of the country’s factions remain unwilling to meaningfully engage with the UN’s initiatives. The country’s political stasis is unlikely to shift anytime soon.

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Karim Mezran is director of the North Africa Initiative at the Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council.

Libyan Patriarchal Customs Deny Women Their Rights to Inheritance (2)

Maher Al Shaeri

The law protects the women’s rights

Musa Al-Qunaidi, a specialist in public law and lecturer at Misrata University, says, “When we talk about law in this context, we are talking about Law No. 6 of 1959, regarding the protection of women’s right to inheritance. Article 2 stipulates that it is impermissible to withhold payment of the share of inheritance to which a woman is entitled. And Article 5 stipulates that anyone who violates the provisions of this law shall be punished by imprisonment as well as being made to pay the woman the share of the inheritance to which she is entitled.”

Ahmeed Al-Mourabit Al-Zaydani, head of the Victims Organization for Human Rights, agrees. He says that depriving women of inheritance constitutes violence against them. Based on Article 2 of Law No. 6, he argues that it is impermissible to withhold from a woman her rightful share of inheritance, or to prevent her from benefiting from it or disposing of it.

On the question of substituting a financial reward for the rightful inheritance, Al Zaydani says that, as long as this is done with the woman’s complete consent, and there is no coercion or fraud involved, then there is no problem with such a substitution, provided the woman has full legal capacity and is over the age of eighteen. The compensation must also equal the real value of the inherited property or possessions.

However, if the compensation is made under coercion – seizing her share of the inheritance, and forcing her to accept financial compensation under the pretext that the inheritance from the property will go to a stranger (her husband) – then this is not permissible and is a violation of the text of Article 2. Some women were able to obtain judicial rulings on their inheritance rights and were forced – under threat – to give them up. Others were pressured to accept small sums of money or even remain silent about their rights without any of the “consolation” amount they are sometimes given

Holding on to traditional customs and norms

Muhammad Al-Ghaithi, a member of the Committee of Elders and of the Dispute Resolution Committee, sees no objection to the fact that assets and property are inherited by male heirs only. He says that this is common practice in the eastern region and even in all of Libya. For Al-Ghaithi, the reason is that “across Cyrenaica, the prevailing practice is that a person owns a particular plot of land that belongs to him entirely and exclusively.”

According to Al-Ghaithi, splitting up land means it will be wasted, and divided between tribes, “What we are seeking usually is for the entire land to be ours as one family; this is the main reason.” Al-Ghaithi points out that some people do not have much money to pass on when they die, but do have a lot of property. So, males who inherit are not able to compensate female heirs financially for their share in the property. They therefore take full possession of it. He says, “We know that this is forbidden by law, but the brothers who inherit are not able to price the land and give money in compensation.”

What happened to the law?

Today there is much discussion and back and forth about the law – now in its 65th year – as the country waits for a “new” constitution, which is in the process of being drafted. In 1973, the Libyan state suspended the constitution, established in the 1950s, on orders from Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled Libya from September 1, 1969 until February 2011. Gaddafi ordered the abolition of all laws and regulations in force in Libya, and so the state has no constitution. The majority of laws today are those that were in force when Libya was a kingdom under the country’s founder, King Idris al-Senussi.

Maryam Hussein, a member of the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA), explained to us about how women are deprived of rights to inherit and how the CDA sees this. Article 49 of the draft Libyan constitution stipulates that “the state is committed to: supporting and caring for women and enacting laws that guarantee their protection and raise their status in society; eliminating negative culture and social customs that detract from their dignity; prohibiting discrimination against them; guaranteeing their right to representation in general elections; and providing them with opportunities in all fields, while all necessary measures will be taken not to prejudice or harm rights women have acquired and to support them.”

Custom rules

Only discussing laws and constitutions does not get to the heart of the problem, though. The issue is not that easy, according to Dr. Salma Al-Shaeri, a specialist in contemporary social issues. She says that for Libyan women to demand their inheritance through the courts and judicial system is considered shameful by society and damaging to a family’s reputation. This in turn leads to more persecution and oppression of women and the harnessing of all means to prevent them from gaining their rights. “In fact, things have gotten to the stage where some families have stolen the identity of women so as to waive the right to inheritance in their name. This case recently happened in the city of Derna,” she says.

Even though the constitution remains suspended, laws are still in force. The author of this report has managed to obtain a complaint filed by two women in one city against their brothers. The men had categorically refused to give them the inheritance due to them from their father, who left properties worth millions, forcing them to go to court.

When the men appeared before the judge and were faced with the legal documents, they promised to give their sisters what was rightfully theirs. The two women therefore concluded that the matter had been resolved. But the men did not keep their promise, showing that social custom in Libya can even prevent judicial rulings being implemented. The brothers have gone as far as threatening that their sisters will be killed if they make any further complaints.

“Women are intimidated or persecuted if they make a complaint against their brothers to obtain their rightful share of the inheritance. Lack of knowledge leads some women to sign documents giving up their rights to an inheritance in return for a symbolic sum of money, which is paid just to silence them.” Some women have even faced death threats.

“If the case comes to court, social customs remain a stumbling block for women when trying to secure their rights to inheritance” Musa Al-Qunaidi argues that when it comes to punishment, this is a matter for judges not legislators. Every crime has its appropriate punishment, and the judge has the right to sentence people to between one day and three years in prison, according to the law.

Back to pre-Islamic times

“Depriving women of inheritance is a remnant from pre-Islamic times. Women had no inheritance rights until Islam came and removed this injustice against them.”

So says Dr Salma Al-Shaeri, a specialist in contemporary social issues. She points out that the problem goes beyond depriving women of their rightful inheritance and has devastating social effects, including stoking hostility and hatred between a sister and her brothers. It can affect sons and daughters on both sides, while some women may resort to taking some action in revenge, which would harm the reputation of the family.

Dr Al-Shaeri also argues that depriving women of a large portion of their property inheritance creates an economic disparity between them and their brothers, who alone benefit from the returns on the property, while the women remain economically inferior.

Women are the answer

The public prosecution service cannot initiate a criminal case on its own, explains Musa Al-Qunaidi, but needs first to receive a complaint from an inheritor claiming her rights from brothers or other relatives. Only after that can the prosecution proceed with the case.

Al-Qunaidi believes that the problem comes down to the fear that women have, and their failure to act against those who withhold their rights from them. Alongside this are customs and traditions and the failure of the executive agencies of government to carry out their duties once the matter reaches court.

Ahmeed Al-Mourabit Al-Zaydani, head of the Victims Organization for Human Rights, agrees. He says that depriving women of inheritance constitutes a violation against them, according to Article 2 of Law No. 6. He believes that it is impermissible to not give a woman the share of the inheritance to which she is entitled, or to prevent her from benefiting from it or disposing of it.

“Women can be intimidated or persecuted if they make a complaint against their brothers. Lack of knowledge leads some women to sign documents giving up their rights to an inheritance in return for a symbolic sum of money, which is paid just to silence them. But then they say they were forced into it,” says Al-Qunaidi. Women can sometimes even face death threats. “Money makes people lose their minds,” as the popular saying in Libya has it.

Fathia used to lower her head whenever she passed by the building which she believed should be hers, in full or in part, according to Islamic law. But today she is more determined than ever to obtain what is due to her, and thereby become an example to other women in working to obtain their legitimate inheritance rights.

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Libya’s gold reserves hit new high amid political infighting (2)

Kawthar Zantour

According to a study by CME Group, a US firm that manages stock exchanges, global demand for gold reached an all-time high in 2023, up 3% in 2022.

Security in turbulence

Gold is still considered “the world’s preferred safe haven” because it holds its value without dependence on any issuer or government for trade. By contrast, currencies and bond prices can fluctuate, sometimes wildly.

Market analyst Ross Norman, speaking to Reuters, said: “What makes the gold rally so unusual is that it is occurring despite significant traditional headwinds with the US dollar rising, Treasury yields rising, and the likelihood of higher-for-longer US rates increasing.”According to the IMF, the increased demand can be explained by one of two things.

First, during periods of high economic and political uncertainty, coupled with low yields on currencies—a combination characteristic of recent years—gold has been a safe and desirable reserve asset.

Second, gold is seen as a secure asset where countries face financial sanctions, asset freezing, and the confiscation of financial investments.

The IMF report cited the example of the Group of Seven (G7) countries’ decision to freeze the foreign exchange reserves of the Russian central bank, which prompted Russia to accelerate its gold purchases.

Russia announced in 2021 that its gold assets were fully stored in Russia, likely prompted by concerns over potential asset seizures or freezes amid international financial restrictions, as indeed transpired.

Gaddafi’s piggy bank

During Gaddafi’s rule, Libya prioritised accumulating foreign exchange and gold reserves. Still, its gold and foreign exchange reserves declined after 2014 due to port and oil field closures as militias fought. A report from the World Gold Council suggested that Libya’s gold reserves dropped from 143 tonnes in 2011 to 116 tonnes in 2014, but the CBL refuted this claim, saying its “gold balance has remained unchanged since 2011”.

After Dbeibeh announced new gold purchases, some suggested that this was a cover for another historical gold reserve theft, similar to the looting of 2011. In September 2011, Libya’s then-Central Bank Governor Qassem Azzuz accused Gaddafi of selling a fifth of the country’s gold reserves in the days before his downfall.

Azzuz revealed that 29 tonnes of gold valued at 1.7bn LYD ($1bn) were sold to local traders to finance Gaddafi’s ill-fated war against opponents. “Gold was converted into cash to pay salaries and provide liquidity, especially in Tripoli,” he said.

The remarks by Azzuz came a month after his predecessor, Farhat Bengdara (who defected from the regime in March 2011), confirmed suspicions that Gaddafi was trying to sell Libyan gold to fund his own protection and buy off the tribes. Bengdara said Gaddafi had even offered to sell 25 tonnes of gold to his friend but that Bengdara had advised his friend against the purchase.

The missing tonnes

Efforts to trace the looted gold have failed. Some claim it was buried in the Libyan desert, transported to South Africa, or stolen by foreign parties. Leaks from the former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails in late 2020 alleged that former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (who supported Western intervention in Libya) had his eyes on the country’s gold and oil.

In another account, Libya’s gold and silver reserves (143 tonnes of gold and a similar quantity of silver) were transferred in March 2011. According to this story, it went from the central bank’s vaults in Tripoli to Sabha, a city in southwestern Libya, where major clashes occurred between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces.

Gold and guns

Despite relative and precarious stability today, concerns persist over the potential for renewed conflict in Libya, a divided country with the world’s highest concentration of weapons in the hands of non-state actors. A UN report estimates that up to 200,000 tonnes of weapons are dispersed across Libya. And wherever there is gold and guns, there will be temptation.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Libya’s central bank has been subject to repeated attacks and break-in attempts. In 2016, the US Embassy in Libya expressed “strong concern” at efforts to drill into central bank safes “to circumvent Central Bank of Libya (CBL) control over Libya’s financial resources”.

The US and others have sought to prevent Libya’s wealth from being misappropriated for fraud or corruption. CBL officials say the United States and international financial institutions safeguard it. Certainly, Libya’s gold reserves are still subject to fears about theft, fraud, and diversion.

This is closely tied to the levels and integrity of Libya’s governance systems and adherence to the rule of law. CBL officials say any harm to its gold stock is highly improbable. One wonders.

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Kawthar Zantour – A Tunisian journalist specialised in economic and political affairs, based in Tunisia.

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The Libyan Political Crisis: Implication for Human Trafficking (2)

Skylar Watkins

Hindering Development

Human trafficking has implications that extend far beyond the individual victims. Trafficking undermines the rule of a law of a country and compromises its national and economic security. Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises and is one of the largest illicit industries in the world. Every year human trafficking and forced labor within the private economy generate over $150 billion in illegal profits.

Two-thirds of these profits are generated from commercial sexual exploitation and the remaining third is generated from other means of forced labor. The prominence of the illegal economy prevents open markets from thriving. Even more dangerously, the illegal market oftentimes funnels money into criminal and terrorist organizations, further promoting corruption and endangering the Libyan political system.

A Wider Regional and Continental Issue

Human trafficking is not only an issue in Libya and has become an increasingly prevalent issue within the African continent, particularly due to a lack of institutional capacity. At any given time, it is estimated that 3.7 million people in Africa are in forced labor and slavery. Almost a quarter of all trafficking globally occurs in the continent. The most common type of trafficking in Africa is forced labor, however there are over 400,000 victims of sexual exploitation in the continent and approximately 99% are women and girls and 21% are under the age of 18.

Despite global efforts, including funding and resources provided by the US, very few African countries have fully met the minimum standards set forth by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) that the Department of State utilizes to rank countries for its Trafficking in Persons Report. In 2023, Seychelles was the only African country to achieve a Tier 1 placement, meaning that the country is meeting the minimum standards set forth by the TVPA. A majority of African countries are Tier 2 countries, meaning that the countries do not meet the TVPA’s minimum standards but is making a significant effort in an attempt to meet these standards.

North Africa in particular is an attractive spot for irregular migration due to its close proximity to southern Europe. The heavy flow of migrants in Northern Africa further threatens the stabilization and development of the region, allowing criminal networks such as human trafficking to intensify and grow across the region. Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia all ranked as Tier 2 countries in the 2023 TIP Report.

Egypt was ranked as a Tier 2 Watchlist country, meaning that the country is ranked as a Tier 2 country but is at risk of falling to Tier 3. Algeria was ranked as a Tier 3 country, meaning that it does not meet the TVPA minimum standards, nor is it making any significant effort to do so. North Africa’s TIP rankings exemplify how, even when countries are attempting to meet these standards, they are failing to succeed and are unable to meet the minimum standards to combat trafficking effectively.

US and International Interventions and Efforts

As of August 2022, the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Office has dedicated over $225 million to active anti-trafficking projects globally, many of which work within Libya. Examples include the $750,000 project to support the expansion of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) in select Sub-Saharan African countries and Libya. This project specifically looks at the Islamic State’s organized exploitation of migrants through human trafficking.

Despite US funding and interventions in the continent, trafficking persists, and nations continue to fail to enhance efforts to combat this crime. As of August 2023, the State Department’s TIP Office manages over $61 million in anti-trafficking projects in Africa alone. Although many of these projects have had positive impacts, overall, they have failed to foster long-term and effective international changes. This is certainly not to say that funding for anti-trafficking efforts is pointless; in fact, it is critical. However, the lack of change seen in Africa’s TIP Reports and the consistently high rates of trafficking on the continent point to inefficiencies in generating substantial change.

Internationally, Libya is a party to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children (2000), which acts as a supplement to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Although the country has lacked the institutional capacity to eliminate human trafficking, the United Nations has attempted to act within the country.

For example, the United Nations Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL) was adopted in 2011 through resolution 2009. Since then, the mandate has been renewed through 31 October 2024. Although the primary purpose of the mandate is to support in the transition of power, the mandate also includes the monitoring and reporting of human rights violations.

Furthermore, in October 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 2240, which authorized member states to seize and inspect vessels in Libya that are suspected of being used for either human trafficking or migrant smuggling. The mandate has been renewed annually and was most recently renewed for another year on September 29th, 2023. The U.N. Security Council specifically calls upon member states with the proper jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for human trafficking and migrant smuggling and cites member states’ obligations under international law.

Other global efforts include a 2019 EU and UNODC join-program to combat human trafficking and migrant smuggling in North Africa (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco). The program is worth over $15.8 million and aims to enhance border patrols’ capacity to detect and intercept traffickers; strengthen the capacity of first responders to identify and protect victims; enhance law enforcement’s skills and knowledge regarding investigative techniques; and strengthen skills in adjudicating human trafficking and smuggling cases.

Conclusion

Human trafficking in Libya is only one of many humanitarian crises being perpetuated by Libya’s status as a failed state. Despite the efforts of the international community, the human trafficking situation in Libya seems to be heading in the wrong direction. US and international resources are being funneled into addressing the issue, but not in an effective manner that will create long-term change. In order to address human trafficking in Libya, the instability in the country must be addressed. Without proper internal institutions to protect victims, prevent trafficking, and prosecute traffickers, long-lasting change is not possible, and the full extent of the issue remains unknown.

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Skylar Watkins was a research intern with the Africa Program in Fall 2024. She is a senior at Pennsylvania State University graduating with her B.A. and M.I.A. in International Affairs with concentrations in International Security and Humanitarian Development.

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

Will a new embassy mean a new approach for the US in Libya?

Hafed Al-Ghwell

In Libya’s fractured political and security landscape, the evolution of hybrid armed groups into near quasi-state actors has become a significant challenge obstructing the nation’s progress toward stability, security and sovereignty.

A convoluted dynamic is now the norm, whereby nonstate actors are firmly welded to what remains of Libya’s still functioning institutions, creating new political economies that thrive on a predatory governance model that is detrimental to the fabric of Libyan society. This strange mesh of political leadership, financial systems, transnational organized crime and heavily armed groups with foreign backing now ties any prospects of a promising Libyan future to the almost impossible task of dismantling these groups and the political economies that sustain them.

Hybrid groups in Libya have morphed into complex entities with vertically integrated operations that span from imposing tolls on urban streets to divvying up national resources — embedding themselves deeper within the country’s sociopolitical fabric. The political process in Libya, marred by division and inertia, often appears as a facade, with the real power dynamics being dictated by bargains between these groups and political elites. Such arrangements not only disenfranchise the Libyan populace but also cement the authority of these actors, making the transition toward a functioning state increasingly unreachable.

The timid return of the US to Libya with a new ambassador, after many years of failures, can be a positive step to at least a limited extent, given the major mistakes Washington has made in Libya over the past few years, such as engaging with and giving legitimacy to some of the worst characters that emerged after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi.

The pending withdrawal of more than 1,000 US personnel from Niger, reports of a series of shipments of advanced Russian hardware to Tobruk and even the establishment of Russian military bases in the Eastern part of Libya might have caused some panic and a few sleepless nights across the Atlantic. By returning to Libya, the US will be able to put diplomatic boots on the ground, so to speak, which may help it make some serious headway in countering the existing and emerging threats, if only to safeguard American strategic interests in the Southern Mediterranean.

So, how can Washington succeed in, for instance, countering Russia’s deepening influence in eastern Libya and the likelihood of Western “over the horizon” counterterrorism operations going “blind” in parts of the Sahel? The US must take an active role in steering political and diplomatic activity toward rebuilding the collapsed Libyan state, rather than its repeated policy failures of trying to arrange a compromise between the thuggish forces that created this ever-expanding mafia state.

As such, a reengaged US policy toward Libya must also prioritize the dismantling of Libya’s corrosive political economies, which are central to the power and influence of its armed nonstate groups. This endeavor is indispensable for slowing Libya’s fragmentation and energizing efforts toward unified governance.

Until then, however, Libya’s political impasse will persist, driven by a mafia-like ruling elite that prioritizes power and money over the populace and a financial system that is disproportionately reliant on oil revenues, which creates an endless cycle of opaque wealth distribution favoring the elites. The morass of semiofficial, mostly state-funded, hybrid groups — benefiting from state privileges while exerting mafia-like territorial control — remains the greatest barrier to any meaningful progress, state rebuilding and security sector reform.

For more than a decade, these groups have enjoyed unchecked expansion. Not only have their numbers grown exponentially, but US diplomats and military officials have also injected them with credibility through public meetings and photo opportunities showing America’s officials smiling while standing next to the worst of Libya’s thuggish spoilers and mafia leaders.

Washington’s strategy must therefore prioritize the dismantling of these economies through a multifaceted approach that includes encouraging transparent, equitable financial systems to cut off the flow of oil revenues to armed groups. There must also be robust support for nontraditional interventions that can quickly offer viable alternatives to discredited militia membership and foster inclusive political dialogue.

The inclusion of the Libyan populace in the political process — even through holding referendums in the absence of an ability to hold elections — is not merely a democratic ideal but a strategic necessity for degrading the influence of hybrid actors. The widespread mistrust in state institutions and political developments is a direct consequence of a system that allows criminal political elites to escape punishment and that simply benefits these exclusionary elites, leaving the broader population marginalized. Encouraging genuine decentralization and local governance would empower communities and create a bulwark against the resurgence of militia-based power.

Recognizing the pivotal role of security sector reform in paving the way for effective governance in Libya, there has been an intensive discourse among policymakers and analysts over the prospects for the successful implementation of reforms specific to the Libyan context. Yet, despite extensive deliberation, strategic missteps have plagued attempts at reform, such as an overreliance on so-called train and equip programs, which have failed to address the need for sustainable and holistic strategies. Such initiatives, undercut by a shortsightedness that prioritizes quick fixes over the foundational restructuring of Libya’s security apparatus, remain insufficient for long-term stability.

Furthermore, within Libya, officials have engaged in superficial restructurings of security-related ministries, driven by internal power dynamics rather than a comprehensive vision — all a byproduct of those malignant militia-state dynamics. Those decisions only deliver the facade of reform, yet systematically undermine genuine progress while purporting to contribute to security sector reform.

Libya’s security sector is still growing to this day — drawing recruits into a mix of state-affiliated and nonstate militias — meaning the need for interventions cannot be deferred until a nebulous “post-conflict” scenario crystallizes. Instead, the US and its Western partners must draw inspiration from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s more proactive and comprehensive “next-generation disarmament, demobilization and reintegration,” which is well suited to the Libya scenario.

This model, unlike its predecessors, does not await peace agreements and instead initiates action in anticipation of them. Its scope extends beyond piecemeal efforts, integrating activities that align with broader national development aims. Crucially, it functions in tandem with security sector reform, transitional justice and state-rebuilding initiatives. This approach recognizes the dismantling of Libya’s hybrid groups not as a static program but as a fluid political process, one which is acutely attuned to localized contexts.

It is through these initiatives, continuously adapted to the Libyan sociopolitical dynamics, that the US can reengage in a meaningful and credible way. A renewed focus on underpinning long-term solutions over short-term illusionary gains — and recognizing these efforts as inherently political and intertwined with the overarching objectives of national unity and development — would be groundbreaking. Strategic US participation, in concert with international partners, would also help de-incentivize and disassemble the hybrid groups entrenched within Libya’s political and economic sphere, thereby advancing the country toward the dissolution of political gridlocks and the restoration of its sovereignty.

Only by tackling these underlying issues can the US hope to contribute to a stable and unified Libya, where governance and economic opportunities are not held hostage by armed factions, some of them even headed by American citizens without any fear of legal consequences in Libya or the US.

***

Hafed Al-Ghwell is a senior fellow and executive director of the North Africa Initiative at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.

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In Libya, UN failure and Russian influence require updated US policy

Jonathan M. Winer

Since its creation in the aftermath of the Libyan uprising against Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has faced profound obstacles in its efforts to help Libya’s transitional governments restore public security, promote the rule of law and national reconciliation, protect human rights, and make Libyan governmental institutions functional and accountable.

Progress on these goals has been limited. The country remains split between two principal governments, neither of which holds a monopoly on force, instead relying on militias in its respective zone of control. In the west, power is held by the UN-sponsored Government of National Unity, headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh and with its capital in Tripoli. The Sirte-based Government of National Stability, formed in March 2022 and led by Osama Hamada, is endorsed by Libya’s House of Representatives (HoR) and works at the direction of warlord Khalifa Hifter’s “Libyan National Army.” The latter force controls much of the country’s east and south with the help of such foreign actors as Egypt, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Of the many outside powers exerting political influence in Libya, the most enduringly important actor has been Russia. For a decade, Moscow has provided Hifter, the HoR, and the various eastern governments with many billions of dollars in fake Libyan dinars, printed by the Russian state printer, Goznak. This cash was previously delivered, without accountability, to the Eastern division of Libya’s Central Bank; but now, it directly ends up in the hands of Hifter and his sons, for distribution as they see fit.

UN process hits a dead end

In recent years, the main goal of UNSMIL has been to secure national parliamentary and presidential elections that would lead to a single, unified Libyan government with legitimacy, selected by the Libyan people. As the April 16 resignation of the most recent UN special representative of the secretary-general for Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, reflects, however, the UN process is at a dead end. The chances for success in this space in the near term appear nil, as the core processes are largely moribund.

In his final appearance before the UN Security Council (UNSC) to announce his resignation, Bathily cited a litany of reasons for his inability to achieve progress on elections. They included “stubborn resistance, unreasonable expectations, and indifference to the interests of the Libyan people” by Libya’s political leaders. The same descriptions would also perfectly apply to the sins of the foreign actors most deeply involved in Libya; but in his departing screed, Bathily largely gave them a free pass, merely referencing generally “foreign fighters, foreign forces and mercenaries” in Libya, without naming names. He concluded his remarks to the Security Council by stating that the “selfish resolve of current leaders to maintain the status quo through delaying tactics and maneuvers at the expense of the Libyan people must stop.” He asserted that this will never happen unless the UNSC’s members unite and demand it.

Russia’s damaging presence

So long as Russia is led by President Vladimir Putin, no one should expect any such outcome. Using an array of tools — military, economic, and diplomatic — Putin’s support for Libyan warlord Hifter has yielded fabulous dividends for Russia. The initial Goznak dinars enabled Hifter and the HoR to effectively stall implementation of the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement indefinitely as well as to establish their own parallel governments, controlled for all meaningful purposes by Hifter, and to carry out non-security governmental functions in territory grabbed by Hifter’s forces. Bit by bit, with military and intelligence help from Egypt, France, Jordan, the UAE, and Russia, while supported by mercenaries from Sudan and Chad, Hifter and his family were able to extend their geographic reach across Libya.

Hifter only failed to take Tripoli and the eastern coastal region after his brutal April 2019-January 2020 campaign was stopped, principally by the intervention of Turkey. The latter delivered to the Tripoli government and affiliated forces drones, air-defense systems, intelligence, and naval support that ultimately forced Hifter and his troops and mercenaries, as well as the sniper assassins provided by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group, to retreat. Hifter’s and his allies’ withdrawal left behind countless land mines and booby traps, including explosive devices attached to children’s toys like teddy bears.

For Russian forces, the retreat went only so far as the al-Jufra Airbase, in central Libya, where the Wagner Group and related Russian forces hunkered down, building from there a reportedly extensive web of locations for Russia to use to help Hifter (and Russia) control strategic infrastructure by providing intelligence, advice, and operational support. Relying on Libya as its military base, Russia has been able to further extend its influence and military support to governments throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The US’s damaging absence

While Russia consolidated its position in Libya, US engagement was sporadic and inadequate. US influence was severely undermined by the malign neglect of Libya that characterized policy under President Donald Trump toward this war-torn North African state. Breaking with his own State Department, President Trump personally endorsed Hifter, in response to overtures from his Egyptian and Emirati counterparts, thus paralyzing US policy and effectively nullifying American influence just as the Libyan warlord was attempting to seize Tripoli.

Under President Joe Biden, the core of the policy remained unchanged from the one developed during President Barack Obama’s second term: supporting the UN process to secure elections, even as those efforts repeatedly stalled in the face of opposition, overt and covert by such figures as Hifter and HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh Issa. In recent years, President Biden has occasionally dispatched senior officials such as Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns to meet with key Libyans figures, including Hifter, in an evident attempt to counter their reliance on Russia.

But 12 years after the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other US officials in Benghazi, and a decade since the closing of the US Embassy in Tripoli, the United States has yet to re-establish normal diplomatic operations on the ground there, reflecting not only fears of a repeat of the Benghazi disaster but also the lack of priority the US government has given to Libya since the end of the Obama administration. Recently, the Biden administration asked Congress to provide funding for a new US embassy in Libya. It is good to see the United States finally moving beyond the trauma of Benghazi. But the decision to do so is late in coming.

With US policymakers these days consumed by Ukraine/Russia, Gaza/Israel, and managing geopolitical competition with China, the day-to-day management of the relationship with Libya is largely left in the hands of Richard Norland, special envoy and former ambassador to Libya. Yet Ambassador Norland is coming near the end of his time on this portfolio. After a daunting five years of sustained effort, the two administrations he has served under failed to give him the tools needed to more effectively counter the Russian advance amid the triumph of the malignant status quo actors who have flourished under the Russian umbrella. Norland, reflecting US policy, gave enduring US support to UN initiatives on elections that have long been seen as going nowhere.

Again reflecting US policy, he recurrently met with Hifter to seek his support for election processes and for unifying Libya’s military, achieving no apparent concessions. His successor, the recently nominated new US ambassador to Libya, Jennifer D. Gavito, will come into her position as a caretaker unless Washington chooses to adopt a more robust effort. To have any chance of success, US intensified engagement must begin to reshape an environment that has become all too comfortable for Hifter and Libya’s other status quo actors as well as the foreign governments who have promoted them.

Elements of a reinvigorated US policy

Existing US policy on Libya — relying on the UN to do the heavy lifting on Libyan elections, and its inability to decide how to handle the problem posed by Hifter’s devil’s bargain with Russia — has foundered. Beyond reopening the American embassy and having diplomats on the ground, the US should consider what tools it retains to exercise influence there in a way that benefits the people of Libya — and helps to stabilize the region by countering what the Russians are doing to it.

Moscow is continuing to move ahead to further strengthen its foundation in Libya, including with reported efforts to establish a seaport presence along Libya’s eastern coast. This type of development is sufficiently serious for US national security that it ought to be getting the Biden administration’s attention as well as prompt concern from Libya’s Mediterranean neighbors, starting with Egypt. Senior US national security officials working on Libya should consider utilizing multiple coercive tools at Washington’s disposal, including the Magnitsky Act and other sanctions, as recently suggested by Stephanie Williams, former US senior diplomat and acting UN special envoy to Libya.

There may also be fresh opportunities to consider given the emerging “succession” crisis developing between two of Hifter’s six sons, Saddam and Khalid. The 32-year-old Saddam, now in charge of his father’s Libyan National Army, is said to be favored by Moscow; the more sophisticated older brother, Khalid, seems to enjoy backing from Abu Dhabi. In such conflicts, fissures can arise that, in turn, affect the entire environment.

The United States, its allies and partners, as well as those with aligned strategic interests in Libya should also be developing options to make it more difficult for Russia to operate from its airbase at al-Jufra. In this regard, the reported mid-December 2023 shoot-down of a Russian aircraft near al-Jufra, said to be an Illyusin II-76 cargo transport plane, may be instructive. More incidents of this type in the future, carried out by Libyans, could create a disincentive for a continued Russian presence, as could Libyan-led disruptions to supplies of water, electricity, and transport for Russian forces based there.

Taking on the al-Jufra problem is essential to counter Russia’s so-called “Africa Corps,” which is using the base as an airbridge, both to strengthen its position in sub-Saharan Africa and to create conditions intended to force the US into retreating further there, as reflected this month in the forced removal of 1,100 US soldiers from Niger. There is something of a zero-sum game here: the Russian presence and US absence reward local thugs and make it harder for any better options to emerge.

The US will also need to find Libyans to work with who are unhappy with the status quo and seeking political — and non-violent — means to change it. Finding alternatives to the cast of characters who have long successfully opposed elections is a prerequisite for any future UN-led process — or Libyan-led one — to have any chance of enabling Libya to move beyond a system of parallel governments and warlords whose principle occupation is dividing up the spoils.

Given the Russian initiatives in Libya and elsewhere in Africa, meeting the challenge will necessarily involve an all-of-government approach by the United States, using resources — including intelligence, military, economic, and law enforcement — beyond those wielded by diplomats.

***

Jonathan M. Winer, a Non-Resident Scholar at the Middle East Institute, was the US Special Envoy and Special Coordinator for Libya from 2014 to 2016 as well as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Law Enforcement.

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Russia Is Profiting From an Oil Corruption Binge in Libya

Alia Brahimi

This month, the UN Special Envoy for Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, resigned his position with visible frustration. Bathily was charged with delivering the troubled country to long-delayed elections, as it remains politically and militarily divided between east and west, but the peace talks were performative from the start.

Last week, Canadian police uncovered a conspiracy by two former UN employees in Montreal to sell Chinese drones to Libya, in direct violation of UN sanctions—and also to export millions of drums of Libyan crude oil to China at a heavily discounted price, in exchange for million-dollar kickbacks.

The reality is that a political agreement in Libya is so elusive because an economic bargain has already been struck. And Libya’s oil sector is central to the corruption binge.

For more than a decade now, and particularly in the last 18 months, political elites across the divide have worked together to carve up Libya’s institutions—and their budgets—between themselves, as well as all manner of black-market fiefdoms.

Bathily, a seasoned Senegalese diplomat, found that his Libyan interlocuters were not negotiating in good faith; but there was no rational incentive for them to change the current system or to help the United Nations turn off the taps to their patronage networks and private interests.

Meanwhile, Libyans themselves are experiencing a crippling economic crisis, despite living atop Africa’s largest oil reserves—and in the time of a relatively high global oil price.

In tandem, a geopolitical storm is gathering. Sources indicate that a significant number of new Russian fighters arrived this week in southern Libya—joining the 1800 already in-country—with some of them destined for Niger, and the remainder for Libya’s oil installations.

In addition, since last summer, the Kremlin has put plans in motion for a Russian naval base at Tobruk. On April 8, a vessel escorted by the Russian navy docked at the port and unloaded 6,000 tons of military hardware. But equipment has been coming in for weeks, from radars and communications tools to T-72 tanks.

The base will empower Russia to grow its supply operations—whether of fighters, weapons, food, fuel, dollars, gold, or ammunition—to and from allies on the African continent.

At Tobruk, Russian proxies will gain sway over traffic crossing the larger Mediterranean and expand the smuggling economy around migrants, drugs, and fuel as a source of funds and as pressure points against Europe. Russia will also be better positioned to watch us closely and, perhaps in the future, to use surrogates to disrupt shipping, in the manner of the Houthi in the Red Sea. Furthermore, Russia can mobilize the corruption multiplying within the Libyan oil sector to fund its operations.

It’s not just that its Libyan allies, the family of eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, now have access to the budgets of National Oil Corporation (NOC) subsidiaries and control of the private banks that hold NOC money. It’s also about Russia getting its hands on cash and fuel. Russia is helping the Haftars to print counterfeit 50-dinar notes in large quantities, which the Wagner Group can convert into dollars on the Libyan black market to fund its activities in sub-Saharan Africa. Wagner Group fighters are personally involved in the super-charged fuel smuggling operation gripping Libya—Libya is actually a net importer of refined petroleum products because investments have not been made in local refineries—which is itself a multi-billion-dollar industry.

To illustrate, last year the Libyan National Oil Corporation spent $17 billion importing fuel—in 2021 that figure was only $5 billion. Availability on the domestic market in no way reflects that increased supply—there are still queues around the block for petrol—meaning that the fuel is being smuggled out of Libya systematically and at record rates. And much of that fuel is being bought in the first place from Russia, through upstart brokers registered in Dubai and Turkey.

Furthermore, despite an unprecedented budget of roughly $12 billion over two years, which exceeds even its funding during the Gaddafi era, there is little sign that the NOC is capable of ramping up production to help Europe cope with the fallout from Ukraine. Many Libyans, including the head of the Libyan Presidential Council, are now asking where all of these billions have gone.

This oil corruption is threatening to embroil global energy giants, engineering an element of Western complicity. Last November, the Libyan Attorney General paused the signing of major deal between the NOC and a foreign consortium, including Total and Eni, owing to doubts over the transparency of the tender process for the NC-7 block and the fairness of the terms.

Similarly, a Libyan oil minister—who was abruptly removed from his post last month—warned Halliburton against working with an obscure, newly-registered Libyan entity in its development of the Dahra fields, pointedly advising that this “may raise questions about the possibility of corruption in the oil sector”.

In Libya, economic forces are clearly (mis)shaping political outcomes. In the wake of Bathily’s resignation, disrupting this corruption must be the new paradigm for international engagement.

The Biden administration can take the lead in adopting a financial prism and promoting intensified economic scrutiny, targeted sanctions, improved coordination amongst Western powers—even naming and shaming—to help break established patterns of predatory behavior and therefore the political deadlock favored by the current political class.

For too long the foxes in Libya have paid themselves to guard the henhouse. While the Biden administration cannot force a political settlement on Libyans, it can work to dry up the money to the spoilers. This would energize the potential for a democratic transition in Libya, just as it would deny Russia further opportunities to profit from Libya’s oil chaos.

***

Alia Brahimi is a nonresident senior fellow within the Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council.

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Libyan Patriarchal Customs Deny Women Their Rights to Inheritance (1)

Maher Al Shaeri

This investigation exposes a traditional practice in Libya that enables men to monopolize inheritance of property to the exclusion of women, on the pretext that a woman might pass the property on to her husband and that the family property would be divided and lost, lowering the social standing of the family.

Fathia (pseudonym) feels sadness whenever she walks past the building in which she grew up in the city of Misrata. She believes that she should, by rights, have inherited the building from her father, but her brothers took it for themselves, leaving nothing for her and her sister.

In Libya, there are social norms that deprive a woman of her right to inherit property. If a woman’s father dies, her legal rights are withheld by her brothers or uncles, and thus, it is now abnormal for women to obtain their stated share of properties passed on to them by the deceased.

Fathia, from western Libya, has one sister and five brothers. When their father died, she and her sister failed to receive their share of his inheritance. All of her paternal grandfather’s estates were also in her father’s name, who did the same thing with his sisters, preventing them from receiving their share of the inheritance. Everything went to Fathia’s father. This pattern is repeated again and again in Libya, along generations, instilling a resentment in women, who see no way to stop their inheritance being taken by the men of the family.

Fathia is far from the only victim of this practice. There are many cases of women in Libya speaking out about the tyranny and controlling behavior of their male relatives, and their weakness as they are deprived of rights under the pretext of traditional custom and practice. But most of the time, such conversations are held in a whisper behind closed doors. Again, custom prevents women from speaking out about any pain they might feel.

When Fathia demanded that her brothers give her what is rightfully hers, they were shocked, given that most women stay silent on this issue. They responded, “We do not have daughters who inherit from their fathers. The family does not inherit or hand down property to women.”

Why women are denied property

Property is regarded as one of the sources of tribal power and status in Libya. So, for many years, custom has dictated that properties should be inherited by men alone, since they carry the family name. If women marry outside the family, they are not allowed a share in the property, for fear that it will pass to their husbands, thus increasing the power and status of a different tribe or family, at the expense of the family of the deceased.

Sometimes brothers will compensate their sisters financially in lieu of property, so as not to be accused of acting unjustly. But according to the women impacted, this “meager” compensation cannot be compared to their rightful inheritance. It is a “gift” meant to “placate” women, not an acknowledgement of their inherent right as a beneficiary, as stated in both religious and civil law.

Property is regarded as one of the sources of tribal power and status in Libya. For years, custom has dictated that property should be inherited by men, since they carry the family name. If women marry outside the family, they are not allowed a share in the property, for fear that it will pass to their husbands, thus increasing the power and status of a different tribe or family, at the expense of the family of the deceased.

Mabrouka Besikri, Director of the International Arab Organization for Women’s Rights, has come across many similar cases in the Nafusa Mountain region in eastern Libya, southwest of the capital Tripoli. She explains that brothers deliberately deprive their sisters of their rights as co-inheritors of land. They claim that a woman will bring a stranger into their midst, and on this basis, they take away from the woman her right of inheritance. Besikri adds, “It is possible that some families will give women financial compensation in exchange for their right to land, but they end up owning no land, property, or anything else. This is a clear and obvious injustice, and many organizations have called for it to be brought to an end.”

For his part, Academic Musa Al-Qunaidi, who teaches at the University of Misrata, describes as “weak and feeble” the justifications put forward by male heirs that their “sustenance” will be lost to the family of the daughter’s husband. Salem adds, “A few families do give a woman the right to inherit, but the overwhelming majority withhold this right from her.” The dominance of this traditional practice led Mabrouka Besikri and her team to demand that Libyan women be given the right to inherit.

Human rights activist Manal Al-Hanashi calls on every individual and institution in society to work to protect a woman’s right to inheritance and to achieve this through legal means. “The state and the judiciary must put in place laws and procedures to stop women’s inheritance rights from being ignored or abused, to hold accountable any law breaker, and to spread a culture of justice and equality. Family, schools, and society all need to bring up future generations to respect and appreciate women’s right to inherit.”

Musa Al-Qunaidi believes that, before any discussion of constitutional and legal action, something needs to be done to raise the level of awareness among those sections of society which stand in the way of the right of women to inherit.

Like hitting your head against a wall

Fathia was biding her time, waiting for the chance to return to the issue of her stolen inheritance, when she heard that her brothers had sold some of her father’s property to people outside the family. So, the very thing they claimed they were afraid of – that family property would be lost by falling into the hands of others – had actually happened.

Fathia raised the issue again and demanded that her brothers give her and her sister their share in the remainder of the inheritance – which consisted of many plots of land – and that they should receive the same share as the men. In return, she would excuse them for the way they handled the original division of the inheritance. The brothers stuck by the tribal custom, but after strenuous attempts by Fathia, they finally compromised and gave her a sum of money in exchange for her share in the building that had been sold, but without informing her of its true value or the sale price.

Fathia is fully aware that her brothers have in their possession not only her father’s money, but also the inheritance that had been due to her aunts, who have received nothing. But none of her efforts, either on her own or her aunts’ behalf, have yielded any result. And her brothers have continued to sell off land whenever they need, to fund their children’s marriages, the upkeep of their livelihood, or other things.

In every family

Fatima had no more luck than Fathia. She has three sisters and two brothers. After the death of their father, the father’s property in its entirety – worth millions of dinars – was inherited by the two sons, leaving the three sisters empty-handed. Fatima was reluctant to come out and speak in this report, since the brothers are keen to prevent their sisters from airing their grievances publicly, or going to court, or even discussing the matter.

The author of this investigative report sought the help of a property assessor, and Fatima gave him information on all the properties her father left to them upon his death. The assessor calculated the total value of all these properties at the current price and, based on the correct legal apportioning of the property, it turned out that Fatima’s share was worth approximately 2.7 million Libyan dinars (about $800,000).

The assessor also calculated the market value of the properties inherited by Fathia and her brothers. In this case also he divided the inheritance based on the correct legal distribution. And it turned out that Fathia’s share of this inheritance was equivalent to about one and a half million dinars (approximately $300,000).

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An Iron Curtain may fall again—this time in Libya

Karim Mezran

Libya is still divided between two governments: the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in Tripoli and a government in Benghazi supported by the warlord Khalifa Haftar. Western countries seem to accept this status quo in Libya favored by the new post-Muammar Gaddafi elites.

As long as no Western nation shows interest in stabilizing Tripoli’s political system, the country remains mired in institutional limbo, allowing corruption to flourish. While the Europeans are primarily concerned with irregular migration and thus find it convenient to deal with a semi-anarchic situation; the United States is concerned with terrorism and the spread of Islamist organizations such as ISIS throughout the region, and pays no concern over who governs Libya as long as extremist groups are contained.  This vacuum not only invites external intervention but also presents Russia as the most conspicuous, power-hungry player poised at Libya’s doorstep.

Following the eruption of Libya’s civil war, the conflict swiftly escalated into a matter of international concern, prompting various international actors to align with different factions based on their strategic interests. Turkey and Qatar directly and militarily support the GNA, while most other nations, while formally recognizing the government, play both sides to their advantage. General Haftar, however, is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia. Nevertheless, in 2020, an opportunity to stabilize Libya appeared thanks to the support of Turkish forces leaving Cyrenaica in Russian forces’ hands. 

At first, the Russian penetration in Libya was limited to a few hundred instructors for General Haftar’s LAF in 2015 and 2016. It was only around late 2018 that these Russian soldiers were substituted by a couple of thousand—mostly Russian—mercenaries hired by the Wagner Group, a Russian company owned by a close friend of the Kremlin’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a suspicious plane crash after his mercenaries attempted a coup in Russia in 2023.

Wagner’s presence did not take place suddenly. It was preceded by constant courting by the Russian top establishment, General Haftar, his family, and his officers, not only with generous provisions of weapons and equipment but also with a public show of support for Haftar’s political positions and views, which consisted mainly in his ambition to rule over the whole country. Thus, the Russians had established a strong foothold in Libya by the end of 2019 and the beginning of the attack on Tripoli. All of this happened with almost no reaction from the United States and its NATO allies, even though this has brought armed Russian troops less than a few hundred miles from the southern shores of Italy, the Southern flank of NATO. 

This became even more evident after Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022 as Russian presence in Libya started to raise some questions among commentators, pundits, and military strategists. Still, even when confronted by this evidence, western decision-makers seemed to pay scant attention to the issue. The truth is that the US diplomacy and political establishment in general in the years between 2014 and 2022 were not receptive to any alarm coming from Libya since they had practically checked out mostly due to the shock of the assassination of US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, in 2012. Since then, the US has preferred to delegate the task of untangling the Libyan issue to the Europeans and the United Nations. 

Despite the presence in Tripoli of the United Nations Secretary-General Guterres on April 4, 2019, on a visit with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, Haftar launched his troops in a sudden attack against Tripoli. The US barely reacted, limiting itself to publishing a few diplomatic notes protesting the military operation. It was a worldwide deafening silence that met Haftar’s aggression. The US position sounded to Haftar like a green light for the attack. The Russian component of the aggressor’s forces was primarily formed by contractors—almost all from Moscow’s special forces hired by the Wagner Group. The Russians constituted the better-trained and equipped contingent of Haftar’s army and were the ones who fought harder and got closer to the center of Tripoli. The intervention of Turkish troops in defense of the legitimate government forced the Russians to abandon the capital’s outskirts and withdraw behind the Sirte line about halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi. After a truce was declared between the parties, only about 600 Russian mercenaries remained in Libya, mainly to guarantee that Western Libyan troops and their Turkish allies would not stage a blitz and charge toward Benghazi.

At the end of 2021, reports of an expansion of Russian forces— as it became hard to distinguish Wagner contractors from regular troops—began to appear in the Western press, and it was revealed that Russians were penetrating the territories of countries in the African Sahel ostensibly to protect their economic interests, including mining investments. While this could well be true, they were there with a different purpose, as it was revealed by a series of military coups that mainly overthrew pro-western governments in favor of military dictators who showed evident pro-Russian inclinations. 

The Russians penetrated the territories and political environment of the Sahel countries with the precise purpose of intervening in their internal affairs. Russians are very thorough in their destabilization plans since they do not limit the penetration of a particular country only to their armed forces but, as the Libyan case proves, extend the destabilization to the economic area as well. Between 2016 and 2020, the Central Bank of Libya branch, located and operating in the east under the control of General Haftar, contracted the Russian state-owned Joint Stock Company Goznak to print its version of the Libyan dinar even though Haftar’s administration did not have access to collateral, such as gold, and thus in open violation of various international norms as well as Libya’s Banking Act. The issue of these false banknotes in the order of billions of dollars in Libyan dinars is tied to Haftar’s plans of conquest, as shown by data that noted that 4.5 billion Libyan dinars ($0.93 billion in 2019 value) were dispatched in four shipments from February to June 2019, just as Haftar attacked Tripoli in April 2019.    

It is estimated that Russians flooded the Libyan market with at least the equivalent in Libyan banknotes of more than 10 billion dollars, most of which paid for Haftar’s army and civil officials. The destabilizing effect of these maneuvers is self-explanatory. There are also unconfirmed rumors of another quantity of counterfeited bills being smuggled again into the Libyan market at the beginning of 2024. Despite all this evidence, coupled with the expulsion of French troops from these countries, there was still no American reaction besides some mid-level officials’ “outrage” and vague calls for the return of democracy. With all the above-described strategies, Russia is attempting to establish itself as the dominant power in Libya to control the territory of the country and, from there, safely project its power towards other North African countries and even further south like Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

The ups and downs of Russia’s war against Ukraine, compounded with the tragic events of October 7, 2023, in Israel and following more than six months of the war in Gaza with all the international consequences that these conflicts brought about, absorbed the US attention and capacity to react, even more so than before. But Washington and its allies cannot ignore anymore the importance of stabilizing Libya through a constant, inclusive, and transparent political process accompanied by a forceful action of resistance and pushback against the Russian infiltration by establishing in Libya a new unity government that could lead the way towards this objective. This would go a long way to gratifying the population and winning their hearts and minds to Western values.

***

Karim Mezran is the director of the North Africa Program at the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs.

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As another UN envoy resigns, what next for Libya’s frozen conflict?

Ufuk Necat Tasci

Analysis: The UN has failed to instigate meaningful change in Libya, allowing status quo actors to strengthen their entrenched positions in the divided country. Amid a sharp international shift in attention towards active wars in Ukraine and Gaza, frozen conflicts in the Middle East have become overshadowed. In Libya, one of the places most affected by the Arab Spring, the fighting has subsided but the country remains mired in uncertainty and division.

This political instability was reinforced last week as the UN Special Envoy to Libya Abdoulaye Bathily resigned after just 18 months in his post. Accusing rival Libyan leaders of putting their own interests above finding a solution, Bathily, in his final words, said the UN support mission in Libya (UNSMIL) “made a lot of efforts under my leadership over the last 18 months,” but the situation has deteriorated. “The status quo actors in Libya persist, not due to their invincibility but because of a UN strategy that opts for appeasement over action”

“Under the circumstances, there is no way the UN can operate successfully,” he concluded. “There is no room for a solution in the future.” Bathily’s remarks confirm both the UN’s failure in Libya and the chaotic environment in which it operated, accusing Libya’s rival governments of perpetuating national divisions.

The country is currently divided between the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) in the west, led by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, and the rival Benghazi-based House of Representatives in the east. The UN envoy’s resignation, and condemnation, raise questions about what could come next in Libya’s frozen conflict.

Anas El Gomati, founder and director of the Libya-based think tank Sadeq Institute, told The New Arab that Bathily’s departure is part of a carousel of UN envoys, underscoring a deeper, more systemic issue. According to him, a major impediment to progress in Libya has been the absence of political will among major powers within the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to instigate meaningful change via elections. “The status quo actors in Libya persist, not due to their invincibility but because of a UN strategy that opts for appeasement over action,” El Gomati told TNA.

“This approach has favoured the creation of interim governments that serve as placeholders rather than problem-solvers, allowing those entrenched in power to fortify their positions further.” Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told TNA that even before Bathily became the UN Special Envoy external actors had played a key, and often damaging, role in exacerbating Libya’s stalemate.

“Cairo has maintained for several years that in order to conduct elections in Libya, it is necessary first to dismantle the current Dbeibeh government in Tripoli and replace it with a smaller caretaker government tasked with overseeing fair elections,” Harchaoui said “This tactic by the Egyptians is perfectly dishonest, and they have promoted it both directly in NYC and Washington but also through their support for the speaker of the eastern Libyan Parliament, Aguila Saleh.”

Harchaoui claims that Egypt had consistently contradicted Bathily, a tactic that Washington and others have largely tolerated. “Throughout his tenure, Bathily responded by making small concessions to Egypt, one after another, until his roadmap lost much of its most basic logic, to the point where, for the latest several months, the Bathily process had become devoid of realism and coherence,” he said.

“From this perspective, it is not surprising that the 76-year-old Bathily ultimately gave up and left. What’s important now is that in early March 2024, the Americans had taken the step of appointing a US diplomat as the deputy head of the UN mission in Libya. In practice, this means that Stephanie Khoury will now lead the UN mission in Libya on an interim basis. It’s entirely possible that her new direction may shift focus away from the issue of elections.”

There has also been a failure to pressure Aguila Saleh, the chief of the Tobruk parliament and the longest-standing member of the status quo, alongside the Tripoli-based High Council of State (HCS), to call for simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections. “The UN has preferred to perpetuate an approach that recycles the old guard into seemingly new but fundamentally unchanged interim unity governments. This strategy maintains a facade of progress while ensuring that there is no real threat to the entrenched power structures and, therefore, no real change for Libyans. It’s old wine, in new bottles,” analyst Anas El Gomati said.

Bathily’s resignation stems from the unsatisfactory results of a prolonged period of experimentation. Although the most topical issue now concerning Libya is what the UN, the US, Russia, and other actors will do following the UN envoy’s resignation, some think that war is only a matter of time. In this context, Harchaoui says that as the UN seeks to address its own failures, the main Tripoli decision-makers are leaving little room for dialogue or pragmatic arrangements among themselves that would prolong the current malaise without resorting to violence.

“The Central Bank of Libya continues to block the financial channels that Dbeibeh needs to function and survive as Prime Minister. For this reason, the plan to overthrow the governor has become increasingly tempting for Kabir’s enemies,” Harchaoui argues. “Dbeibeh does not have the luxury of waiting. Therefore, the risk of clashes erupting in Tripoli keeps inching higher and higher,” he added, saying that in the meantime Russia is implementing a bold and rapid military expansion of its presence in eastern and southern Libya.

While a new conflict is always possible, the circumstances now are very different to 2019, when Libyan National Army (LNA) leader General Khalifa Haftar launched a months-long offensive to capture Tripoli. “The prospect of war, while always possible, seems unlikely to manifest in the form of a direct invasion akin to Haftar’s 2019 power grab,” Gomati told TNA. He argued instead that the dynamics within Tripoli might evolve more subtly, with figures like Haftar possibly agitating from the sidelines to manoeuvre strategically into power within Tripoli’s militia landscape rather than through overt military aggression.

“External backers are also critical. Haftar’s backers in the UAE and Russia would not back another conflict. These players have a vested interest in maintaining Libya’s current divided and paralysed state, which serves as a logistics hub, and allowing them to leverage Libya to support the war in Sudan and their interests in the Sahel. Initiating another war in Libya would risk destabilising this advantageous balance, potentially undermining their broader regional strategy,” Gomati said.

“As for the UN’s new envoy in Libya, they are entering an arena where geopolitical interests favour paralysis and internal divisions have created a revenue-sharing mix for the elites like the Haftar and Dbeibeh families,” he added. “Nothing changes that game, apart from the insatiable greed on their respective parts. Without significant changes in the UN strategy towards Libya and a genuine commitment to enforce peace, security sector reform, and hold free and fair elections, the new envoy’s efforts are a different chapter in the same story of the last decade.”

***

Dr Ufuk Necat Tasci is a political analyst, academic, and journalist. His research areas and interests include Libya, the foreign policy of Turkey, proxy wars, surrogate warfare, and new forms of conflict and history.

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A weak, Kremlin-influenced Libya is a threat to NATO and European security

Hafed Al-Ghwell

Russia’s pursuit of a naval presence in Libya’s eastern region, likely to culminate into a base for its nuclear submarines, provides Moscow with more than just a strategic outpost looking towards the entire EU. With the gaze of much of the world fixed on the wars unfolding in Gaza and Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to expand his country’s reach in Africa.

He is now using Libya as a stepping stone to position Russian submarines in the central Mediterranean and place nuclear weapons on Europe’s southern flank. Enrico Borghi, a centrist MP and member of the Italian parliament’s intelligence committee, recently warned that Russia’s interest in Tobruk in Libya is no mystery, which could be a preamble for sending its nuclear submarines there, much like the Soviet Union sent its missiles to Cuba in 1962.

It is clear that having submarines a few hundred kilometres from NATO states would not be good for security. In light of this, Washington’s move to reopen an embassy in Libya a decade after suspending its operations in the country is significant. Not only is a strong Russian presence in Libya, a security threat to NATO and Europe — Libya’s geographic location, linking Niger, Chad and Sudan to North Africa and Europe, makes it of vital strategic importance.

Russian footprints all over

The Russian footprint in Libya has grown substantially, alongside an evolving military presence evidenced by a recent delivery of military supplies to the port of Tobruk. This strategic eastern city saw the arrival of armoured vehicles, weapons, and equipment — the fifth such shipment within a brief span, indicative of a systematic build-up. The supplies, presumed to have been dispatched from Russia’s naval facility in Tartus, Syria were transported by vessels of its Northern Fleet, reflecting an unyielding commitment to Moscow’s Mediterranean gambit that has survived the impacts of the war in Ukraine.

The shipment and what it entails are not an isolated development but part of a broader Russian pattern to establish a perpetual military presence akin to its nearly decade-long posture in Syria. Such an expansion is a direct challenge to NATO’s southern flank. 

The introduction of advanced air defence systems by Russian operators in Libya that threaten Western “over-the-horizon” counter-threat operations across North Africa and the Sahel shifts the regional balance of control in the air, while also threatening freedom of navigation since the delivery of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities will negate NATO’s operational reach in its own backyard.

How prepared is the West for Libya’s further decline?

The entrenchment in Libya also serves as a gateway for deeper inroads into Africa where Moscow is astutely exploiting a partnership void, offering African regimes military and economic collaboration devoid of the conditionalised engagements favoured by Western patrons. Furthermore, Russia’s pursuit of a naval presence in Libya’s eastern region, likely to culminate into a base for its nuclear submarines, provides Moscow with more than just a strategic outpost looking towards the entire EU. 

It adds a frustrating layer of complexity to NATO’s security calculus now weighing steady Russian gains in Ukraine, and the long-term impacts of the US pullout from Niger and potentially Chad. Simply put, Moscow’s playbook in Libya is changing from the usual fusion of military engagement with political influence in Libya, partly facilitated by the alignment with regional strongman Khalifa Haftar. 

By supplanting Western influence, Russia’s opportunism and leveraging of geopolitical fault lines have helped enhance its stature even at the height of a needless war in Ukraine. The cascading impact of Moscow’s manoeuvring raises serious questions about the West’s preparedness for the declining prospects of a stable, secure and sovereign Libya. This is why Washington’s decision to reestablish a diplomatic presence in Libya is a strategic bid aimed at countering Russia’s growing presence, while simultaneously bolstering the United Nations Support Mission. 

The US is back in town, however

The move comes after a palpable hiatus pointing to recalibrated approaches in Washington’s Libya file to embody a strategic calculus that transcends traditional diplomacy, for a re-engagement that can effectively counteract Russia’s growing inroads into Africa. It is the clearest reflection yet of the interplay between geopolitical rivalry and the urgency of stabilising a paralysed country on Europe’s southern periphery. 

By re-establishing a physical diplomatic footprint in Libya, the US is taking a rare proactive stance that carries profound implications for Russia’s ascent. The planned facility in Tripoli will facilitate closer monitoring and the ability to challenge Russian narratives and influence on the ground. Re-introducing US diplomats to Libya is not merely a symbolic act. It will allow for persistent engagement with Libyan actors to maintain key relationships and develop a firm grasp on local dynamics that often elude remote diplomacy. 

It also represents a tangible commitment to supporting UN-led mediation efforts and laying the groundwork for pivotal elections. A secure and stable Libya is deeply intertwined with broader interests that, when carefully managed, will help immunise the country from a rising tide of instability that could undermine its transition to a post-paralysis era.

The September 2012 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi cast a shadow over a US return to Libya, stifling any optimism for re-establishing a diplomatic presence. The memory of the Benghazi attacks also galvanised an evolution in US diplomacy regarding Libya that is predicated on security and sustainability. This includes cultivating ongoing on-the-ground engagement with Libyan actors and establishing robust channels for dialogue to address issues before escalations. It is a welcome pivot towards pre-empting potential risks, intervening diplomatically to avert crises, and ensuring the Libyan polity is insulated from worsening regional vulnerabilities.

There’s no time to waste

Libya’s protracted state of fragmentation poses challenges in Brussels’ push to confront migrant surges, as any turmoil between Sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb acts as a catalyst for the mass movement of people towards Europe, with implications for security, political cohesion, and safety net systems within the EU. Furthermore, the power vacuum in Libya could become a breeding ground for extremism that would be difficult to counteract given the enduring presence of mercenaries and foreign fighters, alongside deeply entrenched local militias across a very complicated security landscape.

To achieve sustainable peace, the US and Europe will have to leverage diplomatic pressure and develop effective strategies to uproot the political economies of Libya’s hybrid actors that are key to their longevity. In addition, Western involvement is critical for supporting the UN-brokered political settlement among Libyan actors, by providing an environment conducive to transparent electoral processes and equitable resource distribution. 

Strategic engagement includes recognising Libyan sovereignty and facilitating national reconciliation through initiatives that reflect the “Libyan-owned and Libyan-led” principles, foundational to the UN’s approach and stressed by Libyans themselves. Moreover, efforts to establish inclusive national mechanisms for the transparent and equitable management of Libya’s wealth and resources must run parallel with political mediation. 

Failure to do so risks undermining reconciliation efforts and the building of a stable, secure future by addressing long-term economic and political marginalisation, particularly in Libya’s south. Therefore, focused efforts on economic integration, accountability, and the rehabilitation of Libya’s tattered social fabric, backed by Western support, will be crucial in restoring stability in Libya.

***

Hafed Al-Ghwell is the Executive Director of the North Africa Initiative (NAI) and Senior Fellow at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute (FPI), Johns Hopkins University.

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Al Khadim Air Base, an essential Russian outpost in Libya

All Eyes on Wagner

Identifying Russian activities at Al Khadim Air Base

All Eyes On Wagner was able to identify and follow the journey of an employee of a Russian entity specializing in the extraction of natural resources from the Libyan air base of al Khadim to the Ndassima mine controlled by Wagner in the Central African Republic . Although it was targeted by at least one airstrike, al Khadim remains one of the Russian outposts in Libya. It is used not only by personnel employed at the air base, but also as a transit point used by civilians working in mines controlled by Wagner in the Central African Republic.

Key points:

  • Al Khadim appears to be a key link in the Wagner group’s supply and human resources chain between Libya and the Central African Republic. By following an employee of a mining company linked to Wagner’s operations in the Central African Republic, All Eyes on Wagner identified two complexes, one used as a transit accommodation center between Libya and the Central African Republic, and another apparently used by staff employed throughout the country. Khadim. A compound located within the perimeter of the air base also appears to house former Russian military personnel – perhaps still active – as well as Syrians.
  • By following an employee of a mining company linked to Wagner’s operations in the Central African Republic, All Eyes on Wagner identified two complexes, one used as a transit accommodation center between Libya and the Central African Republic, and another apparently used by personnel employed throughout the al Khadim base.
  • A compound within the airbase perimeter also appears to house former Russian military personnel – perhaps still active – as well as Syrian citizens.

From the Arctic to Bangui

A former Gazprom employee, keen to recount his adventures on Instagram, published on May 7, 2023 several photos of what he calls “a stopover in Libya […] a necessary step on the road to the Czech Republic”. CZ is the acronym commonly used to describe the Central African Republic (Tsaritsyno). Our man, a driller who previously worked for Gazprom in the Arctic, documented his journey from Libya to the Central African Republic on Instagram.

All Eyes On Wagner was able to determine precisely where these photos depicting a dormitory in a metal shed were taken. The location through which the employee transited from Libya to the Central African Republic is a secure compound located 8 km north of the Libyan al Khadim air base, east of Benghazi.

Al Khadim is regularly cited as one of the main hubs from which the Wagner Group and its subsidiaries operate in Libya. All Eyes On Wagner demonstrated the use of the base to transfer weapons from Libya to Sudan. In late June 2023, an airstrike carried out by an undetermined actor destroyed an Ilyushin IL76 allegedly chartered by the Wagner Group.

Thanks to photos posted by our driller, we were able to confirm that Al Khadim, and more specifically the complex located north of the main air base, was used as transit accommodation by the Wagner Group and its affiliated entities to the Central African Republic.

The features visible in the photos correspond exactly to those observed on the installation, and we were able to determine the point from which these photos were taken. The number of beds shown in one of the photos suggests that the facility can be used by at least 100 people.
After transiting Al Khadim, our digger arrived in the Central African Republic, where his Instagram frenzy continued unabated. On May 23, 2023, he posted a photo of himself on Russia Avenue in Djoubissi. The main street of Djoubissi was renamed in December 2022, and inaugurated “Russia Avenue” in January 2023. Our man published a selfie at the very place where the avenue was inaugurated.

Following his journey on “Russia Avenue”, several selfies were published from the accommodation site used in the Central African Republic. The location where the photos were taken was identified as the site hosting the Ndassima gold mine, a site controlled by Wagner.

Thanks to current satellite images, we were unable to determine the exact point from which the photo was taken. The characteristics of the photo nevertheless correspond to those observed on the accommodation block of the Ndassima mine.

Activities at Al Khadim Air Base

The Al Khadim base itself appears to regularly host Russian personnel. Thanks to social media geolocation tools, we were able to identify a Russian citizen deployed in al Kadim. This person was a soldier with the 102nd Motorized Infantry Division, but we were unable to determine if he was still serving in their ranks. We were also able to identify a Syrian Telegram user.

Throughout January 2024, the Telegram account belonging to this individual was located in a secure compound within the airbase perimeter. Accounts were located with greater precision by running multiple geolocation searches around the perimeter of the base, allowing triangulation to determine where they are/were located.

The location appears to be a heavily fortified complex protected by at least two layers of sand fortifications and HESCO bastion walls. Looking at satellite images dated August 2023 and January 2024, the complex does not appear to have expanded and was still in use in January 2024, as vehicles can be seen.

Ties with the Russian army

A reverse search of the username on several social media platforms revealed that the Telegram account “Павел” was serving in 2018 within the Russian Defense Ministry. He posted a photo of his unit patch. He posted several selfies of himself wearing a Russian military uniform bearing the same unit patches.

This patch is worn by soldiers of the 102nd Motorized Infantry Regiment of the 150th Mechanized Division based in Rostov. We were unable to determine whether the Telegram user identified as al Khadim was still serving with the 102nd.

Libya back in the Russian game?

Since the death of Prigozhin in August 2023, the Russian Ministry of Defense has relaunched discussions with Libya and Marshal Haftar. The Russian Defense Ministry delegation led by Yunus Bek Yevkurov has visited Libya four times since August 2022 and was seen by commentators as a major new boost for Russian engagement in the country. Marshal Haftar was also invited to Moscow in September 2023 after being considered “an imperfect and outmatched military leader” by Russian private agents in Libya in 2020. It appears Russia has changed its mind and is here to stay and extend with a direct influence on the Mediterranean Sea.

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The Libyan Political Crisis: Implication for Human Trafficking (1)

Skylar Watkins

Background

For the eighth year in a row, the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report labeled Libya as a Special Case country. Typically, the Department of State gives a country a score from one to three based on their efforts to combat human trafficking.

However, the Department was unable to give Libya a score, since, during the recording period, the UN-recognized Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU) did not exercise control over a portion of Libyan territory and the country’s judicial system was not fully functioning. Because of this, it is impossible to measure the full extent of trafficking in the country. These factors, in addition to the overall political unrest and violence throughout the country, have not only prevented Libya from addressing human trafficking, but have also perpetuated the issue.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking, also referred to as trafficking in persons, is the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.” Human trafficking differs from human smuggling, which involves providing a service such as transportation or fraudulent documentations to assist a voluntary individual in illegally entering a foreign country.

Libyan Political Capacity

Libya’s government and political system have been in shambles since the outbreak of Civil War in early 2011 when rebel forces, backed by NATO, took over Tripoli and killed long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The National Transitional Council (NTC) was established in Benghazi and was recognized by the US and other major powers as the legitimate governing body in Libya. However, the introduction of a new governing body did not foster peace in the country.

In early 2014, protestors began demanding a new election or a replacement of the General National Congress (GNC) after the end of its mandate. In May 2014, General Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), launched ‘Operation Dignity’ to attack Islamist militant groups in eastern Libya. Through the rest of 2014, violence escalated into a civil war between the Islamist group Libya Dawn and the Dignity coalition in eastern Libya.

In December 2015, the UN brokered the Libyan Political Agreement and a partial ceasefire was declared. The UN attempted to establish a new Government of National Accord (GNA), but the parliament in Tobruk refused to accept the government, further intensifying the conflict. Meanwhile, the Islamic State’s presence grew in the country, leading the Tripoli-based GNA in launching Operation Impenetrable Wall in April 2016 to expel the Islamic State.

In October of 2020, a permanent ceasefire was reached between the LNA and GNA through the 5+5 Joint Libyan Military Commission. An interim government was put in place in March 2021 until a presidential election could be held in December of that year. However, the election has been continuously delayed and has resulted in reigniting tensions. To this day, elections have still not been held due to disagreements regarding the electoral framework.

Trafficking in Libya

According to the Global Organized Crime Index, Libya has one of the highest human trafficking ranks in the world, scoring an 8.5 out of 10 for human trafficking. The Global Organized Crime index provides a score to countries based on the scope, scale, and impact of each criminal market with a higher score indicating a higher level of criminality. Libya scored a 1.54 out of 10 on the Resilience Score in 2023, ranking 192nd out of 193 countries and ranking last in African countries. This score is based on the country’s lack of effectiveness in resisting and combatting these crimes and is based on 12 resilience indicators representing economic, political, social, and legal spheres. These scores indicate that Libya does not have the necessary institutions to be resilient against trafficking crimes.

Due to the nature of human trafficking as well as the inability of the Libyan government to identify and prosecute these crimes, an accurate number of victims of human trafficking in the country is unknown. However, in August 2022, there were an estimated 134,787 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Libya, a majority of which were displaced due to the deteriorated security situation within the country. In general, IDPs, due to their volatile situation, are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of sex and labor trafficking.

The 2023 UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission found that state security forces as well as extra-legal armed groups throughout the country have perpetuated war crimes and human rights abuses including forcible recruitment, forced labor, and sex trafficking. However, during the 2023 reporting period, the Libyan government did not report its statistics on the prosecutions and convictions of trafficking crimes.

Migrants in Libya have been especially vulnerable to trafficking. As of August 2023, Libya has had an influx of over 700,000 migrants – mainly Sub-Saharan Africans trying to reach Europe. The influx of demand within the smuggling market to bring migrants across the Mediterranean Sea has also opened up the floodgates for trafficking and other human rights violations. Not only are smugglers participating in the trafficking industry, but also state actors. When migrants are arrested illegally crossing the Mediterranean, they are transferred to detention centers by the Libyan Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM). NGOs have repeatedly reported cases of torture and sexual abuse within these facilities and have been known to accept bribes in exchange for the release of migrants.

In July 2023, UN experts expressed concerns over reports that migrants and refuges within Libya were held captive and then trafficked to an unknown place of detention. This is not an isolated case in Libya. In February 2023, 120 migrants and refugees, some of which were believed to be victims of human trafficking, were released from a warehouse in Tazirbu by the Libyan Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM). These migrants and refugees were reportedly trafficked to an undisclosed location and were detained without access to any legal protection or assistance. Tazirbu, a village in South-East Libya, remains a hot spot for trafficking with approximately 700 individuals being released and trafficked to detention centers over the last two years. Traffickers in Tazirbu have reportedly sent videos of abuse and torture to victims’ families to demand ransoms.

Role of the Libyan Government

Despite known trafficking coming from the region, Libyan national authorities have failed to act. With that being said, parts of the Libyan government have attempted to combat the smuggling and trafficking of individuals. Specifically, Tripoli authorities have utilized legal proceedings and the Libyan Attorney General’s office convicted thirty-eight smugglers who killed eleven migrants by sending them to sea on an ill-fated boat.

Despite attempts by parts of the Libyan government to act, the lack of law enforcement personnel along the borders and within the country have severely hindered Libya’s ability to act. Libya’s Ministry of the Interior (MOI) is responsible for the country’s anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts but has a limited capacity to do so. Furthermore, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) have issued arrest warrants for alleged perpetrators of trafficking, but the limited capacity of police has hindered the ability of the government to pursue these cases further.

In 2022, the MOI and MOJ were mandated to raise awareness of human trafficking crimes and other human rights violations but NGOs report that these offices lack the capacity to fulfill this mandate. Furthermore, according to the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report, due to the lack in identification procedures for victims of trafficking, it is likely that victims have been arrested, detained, or deported for forced crimes including prostitution, illegal immigration, and affiliation with an armed group.

The current Libyan penal code does not provide adequate preventative and protective measures against trafficking. Currently, Articles 418, 419, and 410 of the Libyan penal code criminalizes some form of sex trafficking and prescribes a penalty of up to ten years of imprisonment and a fine. Other measures include Article 425 which criminalizes slavery and prescribes a prison sentence between five and fifteen years and Article 426 which criminalizes the buying and selling of slaves and prescribes a prison sentence up to ten years.

The penal code does not criminalize other forms of trafficking including labor trafficking or sex trafficking that is induced through coercive or fraudulent means. The penal code also does not criminalize sex trafficking that involves adult male victims. Lastly, the Libyan government defines tracking as the transnational movement of victims, which is inconsistent with international definitions.

***

Skylar Watkins was a research intern with the Africa Program in Fall 2024. She is a senior at Pennsylvania State University graduating with her B.A. and M.I.A. in International Affairs with concentrations in International Security and Humanitarian Development.

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

Libya’s gold reserves hit new high amid political infighting (1)

Kawthar Zantour

The country now boasts its highest-ever gold reserves at 146.65 tonnes. Its previous highest was 143.82 tonnes in 2000. Recent foreign exchange transactions indicate that the Central Bank of Libya purchased 30 tonnes of gold last year, boosting the country’s reserves to their highest level since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

It is now widely known that Libya’s gold reserves were looted around the time of Gaddafi’s ouster. Some estimates suggest that 20% of the stock was stolen. Libya recently implemented foreign exchange sales fees that are expected to further depreciate the value of the Libyan dinar by over 27%.

Had it not been for the introduction of these new fees, Libyans would not have known that their central bank had acquired 30 tonnes of gold valued at nearly $2bn back in June 2023, marking its first such purchase in a quarter of a century. When news reached them, Libyans were surprised. The country now boasts its highest-ever gold reserves at 146.65 tonnes. Its previous highest was 143.82 tonnes in 2000.

Dbeibeh and Al-Kabir

Various quarters in Libya, including the Government of National Unity, the High Council of State, parliamentarians, academics, and experts, have criticised the recently approved foreign exchange sales fees. Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh defends the imposition of these fees by citing positive economic and financial indicators, such as Libya’s return to gold storage.

The heaviest criticism came from Central Bank Governor Al-Sadiq Al-Kabir, who was anxious about significant government spending expansion. Last month, Al-Kabir attributed the currency’s decline to informal spending by state institutions and advocated for a unified national budget and the formation of a coherent government.

As Libya’s finance controller, Al-Kabir refused to finance Dbeibeh’s proposed budget and has excluded wage disbursements from consideration. With his decision to restrict funding sources, an open conflict has broken out between the two men. In most other countries, the prime minister would have more heft in this tussle.

In Libya, however, the balance of power and the internal dynamics suggest that Dbeibeh could end up being the one removed from office. The prime minister appears to lack the ability to effectively challenge the Central Bank’s governor, who has been in power since 2011 and has significant control over the country’s finances.

Growing pains

Enhancing its gold reserves is a crucial safety net for Libyan state coffers that could hedge against inflation, economic and financial fluctuations, and geopolitical tensions. It could also diversify investment portfolios while stabilising currency value. However, in Libya, the nation’s gold reserves are seen through both an economic and political lens.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) thinks Libya will have the Arab world’s highest growth rate in 2024, at 7.5%. Foreign exchange reserves are estimated at $82bn. Yet it still grapples with transparency and legitimacy issues, partly because the country has had two governments since 2014—one in eastern Libya, in Benghazi, and the other in western Libya, in Tripoli.

Rampant corruption, institutional fragility, and external ambitions—namely, competing interests for control of Libya’s oil wealth—exacerbate the situation. The Government of National Unity operates in the east, while the Government of National Stability is in the west. Ironically, unity and stability remain elusive. Libya has a troubling history of mismanagement and looting. Many suspect Gaddafi or his closest aides took the gold in 2011. To this day, the gold has never been found or traced despite numerous internal and external investigations.

Counting the coins

According to the London-based World Gold Council, Libya’s reserves are the 28th biggest globally. That means it has the fourth-highest reserves in the Arab world after Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Algeria and the second-largest stock in Africa (after Algeria). In 2000, Libya stopped storing gold. This coincided with the lifting of US-European sanctions and embargos imposed after the bombing of a plane over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, attributed to Libyan intelligence agents.

A central bank’s decision to increase its share of gold reserves can be influenced by a major foreign currency issuer’s imposition of sanctions. By way of example, Russia promptly consolidated its gold assets following sanctions triggered by its invasion of Ukraine.

Libya’s gold reserves were reportedly modest until 1968, at 78 tonnes, but reached 113 tonnes by 1984 and 143 tonnes by 2000. This is when Libya began transitioning from a blockaded state to one embracing openness through initiatives encouraging foreign investment.

In the decade after, Gaddafi granted access to the Libyan carbon industry to Western companies. This opening led to exceptional growth, according to data from the World Bank. From 2001 to 11, Libya’s state assets, gold reserves, and foreign currencies grew sevenfold, from $13.73bn in 2000 to $110.54bn when Gaddafi fell.

The latest World Bank Group data for 2022 put Libya’s reserves at $86.68bn, but today, it faces a shifting political, economic, financial, and geopolitical landscape.

Hedging bets

Dr Saqr Hamad Al-Jibani, an economics professor at the University of Derna, thinks last year’s decision to buy the gold was a defensive move. He told Al Majalla that it was “aimed at bolstering the resilience of the Libyan economy against local and external shocks, supporting the national currency, and enhancing economic stability to cover import expenses”.

Yet despite these efforts, the Libyan dinar continues to depreciate. The dollar exchange rate is now expected to rise from LYD 4.8 to LYD 5.95-6.15. Parliament’s Speaker Aguila Saleh Issa says the exchange rate fees will remain applicable until the year’s end. Many central banks give data on trends that reflect their monetary and fiscal policy choices aimed at addressing current and future challenges, unlike the Central Bank of Libya (CBL).

For instance, the Hungarian central bank justified the tripling of its gold reserves (to 94.5 tonnes), stating in March 2023 that “managing the new risks arising from the COVID-19 pandemic played a key role”. Global concerns over government debts and inflation further enhanced the importance of gold in Hungary’s national strategy “as a safe-haven asset,” it said.

Head for safety

The Hungarians were not alone in their thinking. According to Reuters, demand for gold has surged over the past two years, reaching a record high of $2,431 per ounce on 12 April. Several central banks have made large purchases, including China’s, which boasts the world’s second-largest gold reserve (2,235 tonnes) after the United States (8,133 tonnes).

China has increased its reserves for 16 consecutive months to diversify away from the US dollar amid escalating political tensions with Washington. A report from the International Gold Centre revealed that in 2022, central banks collectively purchased $70bn worth of gold, the highest amount since 1950.

The report attributes this trend to mounting macroeconomic and geopolitical uncertainties, prompting governments to revert to safety. It further predicts that gold purchases will continue at a similar pace in 2024 to mitigate against inflation and currency fluctuations.

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Kawthar Zantour – A Tunisian journalist specialised in economic and political affairs, based in Tunisia.

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A POLITICAL ECONOMY OF ZAWIYA (11)

Armed groups and society in a western Libyan city

Wolfram Lacher

III. Armed group–society relations

Zawiya’s armed groups, such as they exist today, are the product of conditions that have continuously shifted over the past decade: their positions towards successive local and national conflicts, their changing leadership structures, their relations with the authorities in Tripoli, and their financing models.

These factors have transformed the relations between the city’s armed groups and the civilian population beyond recognition compared to 2011. Moreover, they have led to widely divergent outcomes: the city’s four principal forces today differ significantly from each other with regard to their ties with local communities.

A. A transformed relationship

Zawiya’s revolutionary armed groups fought for a cause in 2011 that enjoyed widespread support in the city in subsequent years, and continues to be cherished by many local opinion leaders. Yet, they did not have the deep social embeddedness of local revolutionary armed groups in Misrata and the Nafusa mountains, which had emerged in the context of their communities’ collective struggle against an external threat.

Zawiya’s revolutionaries, by contrast, had organized either outside of their community—mostly in the mountains—or as small, clandestine cells in the city. When they took control of the city as the regime fell, many—predominantly young—men joined them for opportunistic reasons, without sharing the revolutionaries’ deep commitment to the liberation struggle.

Nevertheless, the armed groups enjoyed close relations with the local community in the first years after the revolution. Many revolutionary commanders and fighters were respected members of local society and professionals who gained political or administrative positions after 2011.

They also continued to exert moral authority over the armed groups that controlled abusive and criminal behaviour, at least towards residents of Zawiya. Moreover, several prominent revolutionary commanders focused on crime-fighting, and their groups acquired a reputation for religious devoutness and relative discipline.

According to a former revolutionary fighter, ‘if a father could no longer rein in his son as he committed crimes, he would ask the Na’am Company [of Mohamed Ben Yousef] or the Faruq Battalion [of Mohamed Yousef al-Khadrawi] to arrest and keep him. People knew these groups would treat prisoners well.’

The leadership vacuum and generational change at the head of the armed groups from 2014 onwards disrupted these relationships. The reckless fighting between Hnesh and Khadrawi in the densely populated city centre over a two-year period fundamentally changed society’s perception of the armed groups.

Civilians’ grievances against the armed groups that had sprung up in their midst were further exacerbated by the recurrent killings, the increasingly open sale of drugs and alcohol, the economic hardship provoked by the disappearance of fuel at official prices, and the recruitment of sub-Saharan African mercenaries.

By 2023, Zawiya’s armed groups had come to be widely and intensely despised by the city’s residents. Even former revolutionaries no longer recognized the city’s armed groups as their own. ‘Our groups [jama’atna] [. . .] actually, we should no longer call them our groups’, as a religious figure and former revolutionary put it when discussing the latest clashes in the city.

Another former revolutionary fighter vented his fury towards the militias: Most people simply hate them and fear them. There are so many aliyat [technicals] here, they use them as if they were their regular cars. When a technical drives by you, your first instinct is to take your distance, because they’re unpredictable, they think they can permit themselves anything.

Honorable fighters went back to their civilian lives after 2011, or after the Warshafana war. The young guys who now run the militias, they didn’t even fight in 2011, and now they sell drugs on our street. They’re a threat to my children. I fought in 2011, I lost a brother in war, in our family there are people who lost limbs. I didn’t fight so these groups could rule over us. We just want anyone to establish order—one head, not several.

A prominent former revolutionary commander and long-standing security actor, when asked about his feelings about the GNU’s drone strikes in the city, described a generational rift: The criminals are all young—they’re twenty years old today, meaning in 2011 they were eight years old. They don’t listen to their parents. Our generation grew up in fear [of the regime]. We were persecuted for praying at dawn, even though we were not part of any organized group. But the young guys, they live a life of thuggery [baltagiya], in search of money. So when these strikes came, we were happy about them. I don’t care that the strikes were politically motivated—we were just happy that the technicals disappeared from the streets, at least for a while.

B. Militarizing politics, the economy, and the administration

With revolutionary leaders’ loss of moral authority over armed groups and the generational change at the top, militias faced few barriers to extending their influence over the administration and the economy. In Misrata and the Nafusa mountains, local businessmen and politicians generally had close relations with, and influence over, armed groups—relations that went back to the common struggle in 2011.

In Zawiya, such relations were far weaker, and no longer had any meaningful relevance after the changes armed groups underwent during the 2014–15 civil war.

From that period onwards, Zawiya businessmen stopped making transactions through banks in the city, fearing this would draw the attention of armed groups and expose them to extortion and kidnapping. As a result, bank branches in Zawiya perform a disproportionately small number of letter of credit transactions—Libya’s standard procedure for accessing hard currency for imports.

More broadly, the city exhibits very little private sector investment—with the exception of businesses owned by militia leaders. A prime example is the Nasr Medical Centre, a shiny new clinic opened by Kashlaf in 2019, in the presence of Ali Buzriba and Zawiya’s mayor.

A water bottling company that began operating in 2019 in the Abu Surra area is reportedly owned by Milad. Of course, their state salaries could hardly explain their ability to make such substantial investments. Bahroun, in turn, is said to own cleaning companies that have contracts with public bodies in the city.

The administration itself was subservient to the armed groups. The municipal council of central Zawiya, elected in May 2022, has been docile in the face of armed groups’ excesses. The mayor, Jamal Bhar, has gained a reputation for downplaying or denying problems caused by militia activity outright, apparently fearing a backlash from the armed groups more than the scorn of his constituents.

In May 2022, he dismissed clashes between Bahroun and Buzriba as ‘a quarrel’, and the fighting between Bahroun and the Kabowat in April 2023 as ‘a simple matter [. . .] between families’, and declared the security situation in Zawiya otherwise ‘stable’.

The Zawiya police chief, Ali al-Lafi, known for allowing militia leaders and notorious criminals to operate under the city’s police department, praised Zawiya’s armed groups in a meeting with the author in November 2022, calling them ‘cleaner and more honourable’ than its politicians.

Both the municipal council and the police directorate would be key targets of the protesters’ ire in May 2023. Around the same time, the Buzriba brothers and Leheb successfully lobbied the parallel, eastern-based government to establish new municipalities that they would directly control: Abu Surra and Middle Zawiya (Zawiya al-Wasat).

Persuading the eastern-based government to issue such a decree was easy, since its minister of local government was a relative of the Buzribas’ close ally al-Dhawi. The far greater challenge, however, would be to get the new municipalities recognized in Tripoli, and thereby gain easier access to funding.

While Leheb attempted to obtain this recognition from Dabeiba as part of his rapprochement, the Buzribas were well aware that this was next to impossible for Abu Surra.

Instead, they staged municipal elections in which only their list of candidates was voted on, and their new municipal council was sworn in by the eastern-based government in September 2023. Public services were deeply affected by the dominance of the armed groups.

By 2022, the hospital was led by Usama Ali Sarkaz, who before then had worked with Ali al-Lafi at the police directorate and lauded Bahroun for providing security in central Zawiya. The university administration had split in two, with one part located in Awlad Sagr territory in southern Zawiya, under the influence of Leheb’s group, and another part in the city centre, in Bahroun’s sphere of influence.

***

Wolfram Lacher is a senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin. His research focuses on conflict dynamics in Libya and the Sahel, and relies on frequent fieldwork. His work has been published in Survival, Mediterranean Politics, Foreign Affairs, and the Washington Post, among other publications.

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A POLITICAL ECONOMY OF TRIPOLI’S ABU SALIM (6)

The Rise of the Stability Support Apparatus as Hegemon

Adam Hakan

The political economy of Abu Salim’s SSA

The political economy of the Abu Salim neighbourhood has significantly morphed over the course of the evolution, consolidation, and eventual emergence of the SSA in its contemporary form. Most striking is the fact that the contours of Abu Salim’s local political economy have largely mirrored the expansion and consolidation of Ghaniwa’s group.

As the group expanded to dominate the neighbourhood, it also tightened its grip over economic assets, state institutions, and infrastructure within its areas of control. The centrality of Ghaniwa as an individual to this ecosystem cannot be understated. Moreover, the transformation of his ASCSD into the SSA marked a turning point in the group’s economic capital and the breadth of its financing strategies.

As the head of the SSA, Ghaniwa’s increased political clout and expanded state networks have secured him influence on political economies well beyond the geographic confines of his Abu Salim stronghold. Nevertheless, even this new-found quasi-national stature was leveraged to become part and parcel of the group’s consolidation strategies in Tripoli’s Abu Salim.

Humble beginnings and dependence

In the immediate post-revolutionary era, Ghaniwa and his modest Abu Salim-based group were almost entirely financially dependent on state funding. They also relied heavily on military support through the local military council headed by Burki. Securing an affiliation with the SSC through Bishr was an important milestone for the group as it allowed it to cover its cadre’s baseline salaries.

The group’s equipment was basic, made up of war booty in the form of light weaponry from the Um Durman headquarters Ghaniwa had captured in Abu Salim, as well as a small number of technicals and anti-aircraft guns supplied to the group by the SSC. Relative to its small footprint in Abu Salim and its modest size, however, Ghaniwa’s group was well-equipped.

Nevertheless, it lacked the political, institutional, and social networks to expand, and had virtually no impact on Abu Salim’s political economy. This changed within the context of the Fajr Libya operation and its aftermath, with the subsequent rise of the quartet in Tripoli. During the GNA era, Ghaniwa sought to convert his new-found legitimacy and increased military footprint into more diverse funding streams.

His successful transition from the SSC to the Ministry of Interior’s Central Security Apparatus allowed him to secure a salary baseline for his cadre, freshly recruited from Kikla’s displaced.69 He also benefited from an influx of new weaponry provided to him as one of the only Fajr Libya-aligned units that mobilized to Kikla. Austerity measures imposed by Libya’s Central Bank then meant, however, that direct state funding in the form of salaries would not be forthcoming.

The quartet’s honeymoon era

As part of the Tripoli quartet, the ASCSD leveraged its influence to benefit from Libya’s economic crisis. In the years 2016–18, the Tripoli quartet adapted to austerity by seeking indirect state funding, predominantly by coercing or conspiring with state officials to issue letters of credit to quartet-linked companies to import goods.

They then imported less than the amount declared, or nothing at all, profiting from the then widening disparity between the official and black market exchange rates of LYD to USD. Although on a lesser scale than the TRB and the Nawasi, Ghaniwa’s ASCSD benefited from this scheme. He also threatened and kidnapped multiple state officials, many within the Audit Bureau, to limit oversight on this practice.

The ASCSD also monetized physical access to banks in Abu Salim, which allowed it to tap into other revenue generation schemes—including lucrative credit enrichment by profiting from the black market exchange rate gap. Another scheme included converting cash-strapped citizens’ cheques into cash for a substantial fee. With banking officials fearing kidnappings and extortion, protection rackets became a new revenue stream for armed groups in Tripoli.

Unlike other Tripoli-based groups, which accepted banking officials independently hiring their cadre as ‘guards’ at local branches in exchange for protection, Ghaniwa centralized this funding stream. To avoid ASCSD cadre independently enriching themselves, he solicited lump-sum payments from Abu Salim-based banks to accounts he independently oversaw.

The ASCSD’s most distinctive funding streams came about as the group consolidated control over Abu Salim and its vicinity. Other Tripoli-based groups controlled territory that housed multiple state institutions or companies, ports of entry, or infrastructure that could be easily leveraged to infiltrate the state or derive revenue.

Despite being a strategic neighbourhood and housing some assets, Abu Salim lacked the same qualities. Instead, Ghaniwa opted to build influence within the local municipality, all with the intent to mould Abu Salim’s local political economy. His ASCSD imposed taxes on local businessmen and markets, chiefly the local garment market.

Ghaniwa also took control over the local strategic scrap yard, taxing a portion of its profits to the group. Members of the ASCSD were also deployed with employees of GECOL, imposing the payment of electricity bills on businesses, and enforcing the dismantlement of illegal electricity connections.

Funds collected by the ASCSD supported the group’s expansion, but a portion was also diverted with the help of Abu Salim’s municipal council, and reinvested into local development projects. This included, among others, the maintenance and paving of roads in Abu Salim, as well as the provision of equipment to the local hospital.

This ‘Abu Salim Trust Fund’, controlled almost unilaterally by Ghaniwa, boosted the commander’s social legitimacy in the neighbourhood. Unlike many of the groups outside Tripoli, the ASCSD did not rely heavily on illicit activities, such as fuel, human smuggling, or drug trafficking, to build revenue.

A significant proportion of the group’s funds were—and still are—directly or indirectly raised through the Libyan state; however, with migration management and the detention of migrants becoming more lucrative and politically salient as a by-product of European foreign policy priorities and funding, the ASCSD sought to monetize the Abu Salim migrant detention centre, located in its area of control.

While migrant detention centres generally fall within the de jure authority of the DCIM, the department generally engages with armed groups that de facto control the detention centres. This was the case with the Abu Salim detention centre, with the ASCSD-linked cadre within the centre having become notorious by 2020 for abusing and extorting migrants for profit, as well as diverting international humanitarian assistance material, meant for Abu Salim’s detained migrants, for profit.

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Adam Hakan is a researcher specializing in the study of armed groups in the Middle East and North Africa. His expertise includes analysing the role of rebel and armed factions in state politics, armed group governance and mobilization strategies, conflict economies, and the interplay between armed groups and international actors.

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Small Arms Survey

Large number of Russian troops and weapons arrive in Libya

Ekene Lionel

Russia has begun the deployment of its troops under the banner of the ‘African Corps‘ in southern Libya. Recent events have seen Russian cargo planes landing at Brak al-Shati, offloading scores of soldiers, while cargo ships carrying equipment docked at the port of Tobruk on Libya’s eastern coast. Let us delve into the details of this deployment and its broader implications.

The ‘African Corps’: Equipment and Armaments

The equipment and armaments of the Russian Armed Forces’ ‘African Corps’ have arrived via the landing ships Ivan Gren and Aleksandr Otrakovskiy. These include a mix of light and heavy vehicles, such as pickups, GAZ and KAMAZ trucks, as well as ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft artillery. This deployment is part of Russia’s intentions to consolidating a formidable military presence in Africa.

Expanding Operations

Reports had previously emerged regarding the deployment of Russian ‘African Corps’ units in Burkina Faso and Nigér. However, the scope of operations extends beyond Libya. Russia aims to establish the core structure of the ‘African Corps’ by the summer of 2024, with plans to operate in other African nations, including Burkina Faso, Mali, the Central African Republic, and Niger.

The African Corps: Structure and Leadership

The African Corps, a key component of the ‘African Corps’, will be directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. Oversight will be provided by Deputy Defense Minister Yunusbek Yevkurov, a former president of the Russian republic of Ingushetia. This new military force comprises former Wagner Group operatives and private security contractors affiliated with Russian companies operating in Africa. The formation of the African Legion occurred in August 2023, following the death of Wagner’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin. Recruitment efforts spanned both Africa and Russia, commencing in December 2023.

Wagner’s Continued Operations

Despite its leader’s aborted insurrection, Russia’s foreign minister announced last year that Wagner Group would continue operations in Mali and the Central African Republic. The group’s presence remains a significant factor in the region.

Eastern Libya: Russian Presence

In eastern Libya, analysts estimate that the Russian presence ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 individuals. Airbases like Al-Jufra facilitate Russian military flights, serving as layovers before proceeding south to other African nations. The Kremlin’s strategic objective is clear: to bolster its influence in the African continent.

Leveraging Military Strength

Russia’s control over a portion of diamond mines, oil reserves, and valuable mineral deposits in Africa provides a strong incentive for leveraging military strength. The ‘African Corps’ represents a calculated move to secure and expand Russian interests in the region.

The African Legion will focus on providing security and training services to the African governments that host it, as well as protecting Russian interests and investments in the continent.

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Ekene Lionel – Award-winning defence writer for more than six years, my articles have been featured in several international defence and aerospace websites.

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Russia funneling weapons through Libyan port, eyeing gateway to Africa

Tom Kington

Russian vessels have been unloading thousands of tons of military equipment in the eastern Libyan port of Tobruk this month after repeated visits by Russia’s deputy defense minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov to Gen. Khalifa Haftar, the strongman running eastern Libya.

The shipments, arriving from the Russian-controlled port of Tartus in Syria, contain towed artillery, armored personnel carriers and rocket launchers according to video released by Libyan news site Fawasel Media.

The equipment may in part be used to sustain Russia’s growing military presence in eastern Libya, but are also likely destined for countries further south in Africa like Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso where Russia has ties to leaders of recent coups.

Some experts see the uptick in activity as a result of America’s diplomatic strategy toward Haftar, which has failed to stop the warlord from allying with Russia and given Moscow the chance to pour weapons into the country, turning it into a gateway to supply its growing presence across Africa, the criticism goes.

“Eastern Libya is becoming a significant way station into Africa for Russia, and it comes after the U.S. seriously misplayed Haftar,” said Ben Fishman, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“There has been an continuous U.S. attempt to engage with Haftar, rather than isolate him, but he has repeatedly defied our requests and UN requests and moved closer to Russia. The U.S. approach has been to run the same football play over and over and expect a different result,” said Fishman, who previously served on the National Security Council.

Fishman said that Haftar had received Russian visits and made trips to Moscow while also holding meetings in Libya with Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf and U.S. special envoy Richard Norland.

“Indeed, the day after Norland and the Commander of Africom visited Derna in eastern Libya after the floods last September, Haftar flew to Moscow,” he said.

“Their approach was ‘He will move closer to Russia if we isolate him,’ but he moved closer anyway and Moscow is profiting,” said Fishman.

Through its proxy Wagner mercenaries, Russia backed Haftar’s failed bid to conquer western Libya in 2019 after the country split following the ousting of national leader Col. Muamar Gadaffi in 2011.

American diplomacy has recently aimed at convincing Haftar to take part in national elections to reunite the country, while Moscow has reportedly focused on negotiating a permanent Russian naval presence at Tobruk, giving it a foothold in the central Mediterranean.

As Russian military instructors meanwhile arrive in Niger to support coup leaders who took over the country last year, the fate of a U.S. base in the country from which drone flights are launched across Africa is in the balance.

“For some U.S. officials, Haftar is a good anti-terrorism asset so they are prepared to look away when he abuses human rights or jumps into bed with the Russians,” said a former Western diplomat who declined to be identified.

“But if the U.S. is worried about Russia’s growing role in Africa then maybe it should go beyond occasionally expressing concern,” the diplomat said.

On April 17, a U.S. Navy MQ-4C Triton drone flying out of Sigonella airbase in Sicily monitored Tobruk.

Fishman argued that the U.S. should have enlisted the help of the UAE or Egypt, who back Haftar. “Egypt has no interest in an increased Russian presence across the border in Libya – this was a missed opportunity,” he said.

“We never made it clear that isolation was an option. The next move could be sanctions, although that could be complicated by the fact that Haftar is a U.S. citizen. Aware of the threat, he has reportedly been moving accounts out of the U.S.,” said Fishman.

Before marshaling troops in Libya, Haftar was a CIA asset, living for years in Virginia.

Fishman said, “To reduce Russia’s ability to use Tobruk, there could be disruption of radar use or the stationing of vessels off the coast – but that is now impossible now given our commitments in the Red Sea.”

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Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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Libya: UN envoy’s resignation diminishes hopes for democracy

Jennifer Holleis

After “stubborn resistance” by Libya’s major political stakeholders, Abdoulaye Bathily, the UN special envoy for Libya, has resigned. Analysts say his replacement will need to disrupt the “dangerous” status quo.

This week, another United Nations special envoy for Libya was frustrated enough with the political situation in the fractured country to quit his job.

After 18 months in the post, the Senegalese diplomat Abdoulaye Bathily said he had done his best to get the five key political actors in Libya to resolve contested issues over electoral laws, form a unified government and set the country on a path towards long-delayed elections.

“But my attempts were met with stubborn resistance, unreasonable expectations and indifference to the interests of the Libyan people,” Bathily told reporters on Tuesday.

In the history of the UN Support Mission in Libya — launched in 2011 to help facilitate a political process that would lead to national and parliamentary elections after the ouster of longtime dictator Muammar Ghaddafi — Bathily’s resignation is a repetition of what happened in 2020 and 2021.

In 2020, Ghassan Salame resigned, saying that “for two years, I tried to re-unite Libyans and restrain foreign interference…but for health reasons, I can no longer continue with this level of stress.”

Salame was succeeded by Jan Kubis, who resigned in November 2021, also citing health reasons.

Jalel Harchaoui, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, said that it was quite likely that Stephanie Koury from the United States, currently serving as deputy head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, would emerge as interim special envoy.

“But without the council’s full backing, Koury — if made the interim envoy — may be hamstrung in what she can achieve,” he told the AFP news agency.

Despite the full backing of the council, the special envoy’s impact has been limited for years, given that the country remains split between two rival governments — the UN-recognized government under President Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in Tripoli and an administration in the east led by General Khalifa Hiftar, the commander of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces.

Political vacuum

“I don’t think Mr. Bathily’s resignation is going to have any major impact on the ground,” Virginie Collombier, professor at Rome’s Luiss School of Government and co-editor of the book ‘Violence and Social Transformation in Libya’, told DW.

“Over the past year, Mr. Bathily has been focusing on a kind of shuttle diplomacy, trying to convince the main parties to come together for high level talks,” she said, adding that “he never really managed to bring them together.”

In her view, his resignation will likely deepen the current diplomatic vacuum, in a context where there has not been any real political initiative on the table for the past 12 months. It’s a view echoed by Tim Eaton, a senior research fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House.

“Abdoulaye Bathily’s political process was very much stuck, and there didn’t seem to be much prospect for progress, given that he was seeking agreement among what he called the Big Five,” he told DW.

In Libya’s case, the Big Five refers to Khalifa Hiftar, Mohammed Takala, the chairman of the High Council of State, Mohamed Yunus al-Menfi, the president of the Libyan Presidential Council, Aguila Saleh, an influential speaker of the House of Representatives in Benghazi, which is considered to be the counterpart of the internationally recognized government in Tripoli under Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, the last on the list.

“Three of those five individuals effectively rejected the basis of Bathily’s engagement, and there wasn’t really an obvious way round this,” Eaton said.

In March, al-Menfi, Takala and Saleh met in the Egyptian capital Cairo at a meeting organized by the Arab League. Only afterwards did the group consult with the UN Support Mission in Libya. At the time, observers informed DW that they didn’t believe there was any real intention to change.

No incentives to compromise

For Claudia Gazzini, senior analyst for Libya at the International Crisis Group and once a policy advisor to Ghassan Salame, the former UNSMIL’s envoy to Libya, it is not only the lack of goodwill by Libyan actors that has hampered negotiations until now.

“It is rather the fact that the political and economic landscape in the country gives the current actors very little incentive to compromise,” she told DW.

“The dysfunctional state, the control over the resources and the fact that money from oil sales is going across the country reaching the Eastern side make incentives for a democratic political solution very low,” Gazzini said. She also, however, levied some responsibility for the stalled progress at Bathily.

“He designed a negotiation process that was entirely in the hands of those in power,” she said. “This was a contradiction. He said that it would be impossible to have any process as long as the Libyan leaders were in charge.”

‘Still room for the UN in Libya’

It will take some time until Libya’s next UN envoy is appointed by the 15-member UN Security Council, which operates by consensus.

“What we have seen over time and among the many special envoys is that the personality and the country of origin of the special envoy is important,” Tim Eaton told DW.

The next UN envoy will have to be much more engaged, vocal and proactive in seeking resolutions to Libya’s problems, Eaton said.

In his view, the approach can no longer be about getting the same cast of characters to agree on something that isn’t in their interests.

“The successor is going to have to be willing to disrupt what is a very dangerous status quo, where those in charge of the country are increasingly looting its assets,” Eaton said, “This will necessitate a more inclusive political process, something Bathily failed to deliver.”

***
Jennifer Holleis – Editor and commentator focusing on the Middle East and North Africa

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2 former UN employees charged in conspiracy to sell military equipment in Libya

The military equipment allegedly included drones able to carry multiple missiles

Two former United Nations employees in Montreal have been charged with participating in a conspiracy to sell Chinese-made drones and other military equipment in Libya, Canadian police said Tuesday.

RCMP spokesman Sgt. Charles Poirier said the alleged offenses occurred between 2018 and 2021, when the two men were working at the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency headquartered in Montreal.

Police identified the two men as Fathi Ben Ahmed Mhaouek, 61, and Mahmud Mohamed Elsuwaye Sayeh, 37. Poirer said they violated U.N. sanctions related to the Libyan civil war. The sanctions have the force of law in Canada by way of federal regulation.

“What we found is that through some shell companies, they attempted to sell this Chinese military equipment to Libya, which is a direct violation of the regulation,” Poirier said, adding that the military equipment included large drones that can carry multiple missiles.

Poirier said the regulation prohibits anyone in Canada from supplying military equipment to any of the factions that were fighting in the Libyan civil war, or helping to finance those groups. The alleged conspiracy, he said, would have benefited one of the two main factions in the conflict, which ended in 2020.

“The second part of this scheme was to export Libyan oil to China,” Poirier said. “So at the time, the oil fields were under the control of Gen. Khalifa Hifter and the plan was to sell millions of drums of crude oil to China without anyone knowing about it.”

Hifter’s self-styled Libyan National Army fought against Libya’s U.N.-backed government and held much of the country’s east during the civil war; he continues to be a powerful figure in that region.

Poirier said Mhaouek, a Canadian citizen, was arrested Tuesday morning at his home in the Montreal suburb of Ste-Catherine, Que., and was scheduled to appear in a Montreal court later in the day.

Mhaouek’s alleged accomplice remains on the run. An Interpol red notice — an alert sent to police around the world — and a Canada-wide warrant have been issued for Sayeh’s arrest.

Poirier said investigators have no indication that military equipment or crude oil ever reached their alleged final destinations, but he said if they had, the two co-conspirators stood to gain several million dollars in commissions.

“The theory behind the motivation is primarily financial,” he said. However, it would have also benefited China by allowing it to covertly support Hifter’s faction and by giving the country prime access to Libyan oil.

Poirier said the investigation began in 2022 after the RCMP received what he described as “credible intelligence.”

Both men had diplomatic immunity due to their work with the U.N. Their immunity had to be waived by ICAO before the two men could be charged.

The U.N. organization, which sets international aviation standards, has been collaborating with the police investigation.

“There’s no indication that ICAO was aware of the conspiracy until they were approached by us,” Poirier said.

Police don’t know where Sayeh, a Libyan national, may be.

“He could be in Libya, but with the level of influence and the networking that these men had working at ICAO, he could be anywhere,” Poirier said.

The UN’s civil aviation agency said in an emailed statement that it is committed to upholding Canadian laws, U.N. standards and its own ethics code.

***

“ICAO is fully cooperating with the RCMP investigation of the individuals involved in the complaint, who left the organization a number of years ago,” the agency said. “ICAO strongly condemns any actions of individuals that are inconsistent with the organization’s values.”

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