Five years after Muammar Gaddafi’s ousting from power, Libya continues to serve as a reminder of the unfulfilled promises of the so-called Arab Spring. There is no centralized authority, the economy is almost destroyed and the country has fragmented. The situation worsened after the terrorist group Daesh conquered a part of the Libyan territory.
Muammar Gaddafi left Libya with no proper institutions, no trained bureaucracy and no developed civic sense, save the historic rivalry of individual towns and cities, reminiscent of medieval city states. Consequently, Libya’s new power actors launched and are fuelling the local wars that disregard national interest.
Libya’s chaos has been described as a contest between Islamists and more secular factions; between younger “revolutionaries” and older officials and military officers of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime; or between two rival towns in the west, Misrata and Zintan. At its core, the fighting is about centers of power, consisting of town-, tribe- and militia-based networks, fighting for legitimacy in a country devoid of any workable institutions.
The international community is also to blame for Libya’s involution since 2011. Since the ousting of the former regime, western states have pursued a policy that has made a bad situation worse. The worst damage is considered to be its backing of an ill-conceived peace process, the culmination of which has been the imposition of a “consensus” government that almost nobody accepts.
a) Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama considered the 2011 Libya intervention as the worst mistake of his presidency, his main regret being for having failed “to plan for the day after, what I think was the right thing to do, in intervening in Libya”.
b) A recently released report of the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee – based on interviews with all of the key British decision-makers, review of documents, and on-the-ground investigations in Africa – found out that Britain’s 2011 military intervention in Libya[1] was based on “inaccurate intelligence” and “erroneous assumptions”, overstating the threat to civilians from Libyan government forces.
Speaking to the committee, former foreign secretary William Hague conceded Libya has been left in a “terrible state” and said: “In Libya we had plenty of plans but no power to implement them.”
The inquiry stressed that the United Kingdom’s policy decision followed those made in France, which “led the international community in advancing the case for military intervention in Libya”. “The consequence was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal (warfare), humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations and the growth of ISIL[2] in North Africa,” the report said.
The parliamentary report found former Prime Minister David Cameron “ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy”.
c) A further insight into French motivations was provided in a freedom of information disclosure by the United States State Department in December 2015. According to the disclosed document, on 2 April 2011, Sidney Blumenthal, adviser and unofficial intelligence analyst to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reported a conversation with French intelligence officers, who mentioned that France’s then president Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans were driven by his intentions:
– to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,
– to increase French influence in North Africa,
– to improve his internal political situation in France,
– to provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world,
– to address the concern of his advisors over Gaddafi’s long term plans,
– to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa.
A more personal motivation might be added if credit is given to the new disclosures[3] made by French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine (who introduced Sarkozy to Gaddafi). He recently declared that he gave 5 million Euro in cash from Muammar Gaddafi to help Nicolas Sarkozy’s successful 2007 campaign for the French presidency. Sarkozy is currently seeking a presidential nomination for the 2017 elections.
From provinces and tribes to dictatorship and a failed state
Libya’s long stretch of Mediterranean coastline brought occupation or colonization by Greeks, Romans, Persians, various Islamic dynasties and Italy before World War II.
From the Roman period until the Italian colonization, Libya was divided in three historic regions: Tripolitania in the northwest, Fezzan in the southwest, and Cyrenaica in the east, which together became an Italian colony in the early 20th century. The three provinces always were in competition, since each area is home to different denominations and interpretations of Islam, and to a variety of disparate tribes. Many Libyans’ primary identity rests with their tribe, rather than their nation.
The country is inhabited by some 140 tribes, of which 30 have political significance. Some of them spread across the country’s borders with Egypt and Tunisia. These tribes, which have come to dominate much of the local political and security landscape, have been effective at providing some form of security and rule of law in the absence of the state through customary mediation practices.
Gaddafi’s regime relied on the support of his own small tribe, as well as on that of the Warfalla (the biggest tribe in Libya with membership estimated at one million out of Libya’s six million people) and the Magarha (the second largest tribe), both located mainly in the central and western regions of Libya. Their support was not unconditional and these tribes should not be seen as unified entities. Gaddafi’s power base was in Tripoli (capital of Tripolitania), while his predecessor, King Idriss, ruled from Cyrenaica. The revolution that toppled Gaddafi also started in Benghazi, the capital of Cyrenaica, and the fact that this region was most neglected during Gaddafi’s regime, while possessing most of the country’s oil and water resources, served to further the split between east and west.
After World War II, the Italian colony became the Kingdom of Libya in 1951. Muammar Gaddafi’s 1969 coup established a country defined by its dictator, but, at the same time, oil wealth[4] transformed the country of 6.4 million people from one of the world’s poorest into one of the wealthiest in Africa. Oil provided free education and subsidized food, fuel, housing and health care, along with weapon stockpiles.
The Arab Spring uprisings found fertile ground in Libya, and in February 2011 the violence led to the NATO intervention that toppled the Gaddafi regime. The transitional governments that followed proved unable to stabilize the nation and rein in the militias that doubled as police and de facto military forces.
As the crisis in Libya continued, no group has been able to come out on top and impose its own form of stability in the country, a situation inherited from Gaddafi’s policy of divide and rule. Under Gaddafi’s rule, a small group of loyalists controlled the country, leaving powerless Libya’s formal governing bodies, the General People’s Congress and its local committees. Powerful tribal leaders were given influential positions, money and privileges in return for their support, eventually leaving the tribes competing for Gaddafi’s favor. This system was enforced by security institutions like the Intelligence Bureau of the Leader, the Military Secret Service, the Jamahiriyya Security Organization, and the Purification Committees, which reported only to Gaddafi and his security advisors.
After this system was abandoned, many parts of the country are under the de facto control of local militias and tribes, which enter into alliances that benefit them, resulting in a security situation that is much more complex than having two, three, or even four warring sides.
Post-2011 developments
The revolutionaries that toppled the dictator were small locally-tied armed brigades, which grouped together in a National Liberation Army, helped by anti-Gaddafi tribal militias and supported by a NATO no-fly zone. Soon after the fall of the regime, splits in this coalition began to emerge, leading to conflict over territory, power and resources. The armed brigades were unhappy with the technocrats who formed the new political elite, and a multitude of tribes and other groups were determined never to be marginalized or excluded again.
As Gaddafi fled Tripoli, the city was swarmed by two militia forces: one from the western city of Zintan and the other from Misrata, which raced to occupy key positions in Tripoli. The militias ransacked Gaddafi’s well-stocked weapons warehouses, and the Misratans took hundreds of Russian-made tanks. The Zintanis took over the international airport. Several other armed Islamist groups also seized positions for themselves.
After the 2011 uprising, almost everyone considered that the country would have a smooth transition to democracy. For the West, that meant the installation of a particular brand of moderate political Islam but in fact that led to opening the gates to more extreme ideologies. The effort to impose political Islam on state institutions, educational system, finance, business practices and personal code of conduct pushed the Libyan society away from its traditional moderate stance, sowed discord and invited conflict and extremism.
Political parties were hastily formed and two legislative elections were subsequently held, producing the General National Congress (GNC) in 2012, which was dominated by ‘revolutionaries’ and Islamists, and the House of Representatives (HoR) in 2014.
– The National Transitional Council, which was the political face of the Libyan rebels, consisting of former military officers, tribal leaders, academics and businessmen, organized the 2012 elections, which installed the General National Congress (GNC). The liberal nationalist National Forces Alliance beat the Justice and Reconstruction Party (the Libyan wing of the Muslim Brotherhood) and former expatriate human rights lawyer Ali Zeidan became Prime Minister.
The elections did little to diminish the influence of the militias. Indeed, Libya’s numerous thuwar (militiamen) became increasingly powerful: rather than finding the fighters jobs and forcing them to disarm, the government put them on the state payroll.
The primary task of the GNC was to come up with a new constitution within the next 18 months. But the process slowed due to a deadlock between Islamist members and their opponents. The deadline passed before they agreed on a new constitution and the GNC was forced to hold new elections in 2014, resulting in a loss for the Islamist candidates, who disputed the elections’ legitimacy. The 2014 elections also resulted in the formation of a House of Representatives (HoR). Faced by the prospect of falling under the threats and intimidation like its predecessor, the GNC, the HoR convened in Tobruk rather than its official home, Benghazi.
– The contested 2014 election led to the formation of the “Libya Dawn” militias, which took over Tripoli and destroyed the international airport. “Libya Dawn” included former al-Qaeda jihadists who fought against Gaddafi in the nineties, Berber ethnic militias, members of Libya’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a network of conservative merchants from Misrata.
Also in 2014, the “Dignity Operation” was launched by a group of army officers headed by General Khalifa Haftar, who declared that their goal was to put an end to terror in Benghazi. The Khaftar group was composed mainly of Gaddafi-era soldiers and federalists seeking greater autonomy for the eastern region of Cyrenaica, mixed with tribal fighters from the west and the south.
Haftar secured the support of the HoR and was appointed General Commander of the Libyan National Army. “Dignity Operation” was challenged by the well-armed and state-financed “Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council” consisting of extremist Ansar al-Sharia and other formations allied with GNC, supported by the Mufti establishment and boosted by media coverage provided by outlets including the Qatari based al-Jazeera.
“Libya Dawn” (mainly Misratan militias) and “Dignity Operation” (Eastern-based army) and their respective political backers ended up controlling, respectively, Tripoli (and Misrata) and Cyrenaica.
In August 2015, “Libya Dawn” took control of Tripoli, effectively dividing the country into east and west. The Islamists, who had lost power in the HoR, insisted that the GNC was the country’s only legitimate government. At its turn, the HoR members proclaimed themselves Libya’s “true government”. The United Nations and most of the international community recognized the HoR, but Libya’s Supreme Court ruled that the GNC was the national legislature. Effectively, the Libyan state collapsed, replaced by a series of warring city-states.
In parallel with the military operations east and west, the UN mission launched a “national dialogue” that was initially meant to bring together the GNC and the HoR. This evolved to include other parties and persons selected by the UN mission and culminated in the signing, on 17 December 2015, of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), which instituted a Presidency Council (PC) and a Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj, a public servant and parliamentarian.
The United Nations-sponsored peace process, which was launched in September 2014, is considered as having been flawed from the start, holding dialogue sessions between the House of Representatives and the General National Congress despite the fact the neither of them had any power on the ground. Moreover, in October 2015, in a bid to meet its own deadline, the UN announced a unity government of its own, a measure that provoked accusations of violating national sovereignty. The political agreement signed in December 2015 was viewed as having been imposed from the outside.
In fact, the western attitude was motivated by the emergence of Daesh, which took over Sirte in February 2015, which necessitated the existence of a government that could ask for foreign military intervention against the group. However, the new Presidency Council had no power or credibility on the ground, and its legitimacy eroded as it has proved incapable of getting control over the militias and solving the problems facing ordinary Libyans such as the lack of services, fuel shortages, price hikes and the non-payment of salaries. In October 2016, even the Council’s own Presidential Guard revolted against it in protest at not having received their wages. The Guard conspired with other hostile forces in the capital, including the head of the Congress’ government, Khalifa Ghweill, to take over all government buildings.
The December 2015 agreement was widely criticized in Libya, and was seen by many as an attempt to bribe the main factions (General National Congress and the House of Representatives) by continuing their huge salaries and benefits.
The accord also failed to include real forces on the ground. It allowed for two months to remove militias from Tripoli and establish a Presidential Guard, something that did not happen. An important point is Article 8, which gives the Presidential Council full authority to make major appointments, including the general commander of the armed forces. The target was General Khalifa Haftar, who led the fight against Daesh and its affiliates in Benghazi and is fighting militia leaders in the Western region of Libya. The Eastern region opposes Article 8 and wants to have it removed.
Current situation
Overall, two alliances, one Islamist extremist group and one tribe battle for control of Libya, now divided into four main zones of territorial control: the House of Representatives (HoR) in the east, the Islamist-led New General National Congress (NGNC) in the west, Daesh on the coast around Gaddafi’s former stronghold Sirte, and Touareg tribes in the south-west desert (at the borders with Algeria and Niger), with small non-allied armed groups in the north.
Politically, Libya has three centers of power:
a) The Presidential Council (PC), which has been located in the Abu Sittah navy base, near central Tripoli, since 30 March 2016, following the signing of the UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in December 2015. According to this agreement, the PC presides over the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is currently based in Tripoli.
The GNA should be endorsed by the House of Representatives (HoR) which was previously based in Tobruk but could move elsewhere to guarantee the safety of its members some of whom have repeatedly reported being stopped from voting and threatened by members hostile to the GNA. For this reason, the HoR has still not voted on the government, although on two occasions a majority of its members have expressed their support for it in a written statement.
b) The rival Government of National Salvation headed by Prime Minister Khalifa Ghwell – resting on the authority of the General National Congress (GNC), the resurrected parliament originally elected in 2012 – is also based in Tripoli, although it no longer controls any relevant institutions. The vast majority of the members of the GNC (also known as the “Tripoli Parliament”) have been moved to the State Council, a consultative body created under the LPA.
c) The authorities based in Tobruk and al-Bayda, which also have to concede power to the GNA. The House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk is the legitimate legislative authority under the LPA, while the government of Abdullah al-Thinni operates from the eastern Libyan city of al-Bayda and should eventually concede power to the GNA once this is voted into office by Parliament. The Tobruk and al-Bayda authorities are under the control of General Khalifa Haftar, who leads the Libyan National Army (LNA).
Armed groups
– Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) is a mix of military units and tribal or regional-based armed groups, and is not recognized as a proper army by all military personnel across the East or West of Libya. A number of senior military figures refused to join Haftar’s “Operation Dignity” and have since joined forces with his adversaries.
– Tripoli’s armed groups are mainly categorized in terms of whether or not they support the UN-sponsored government led by Fayez al-Sarraj. A majority are either supportive of, or ambivalent towards this government. One of the most important figures supporting the new government is Abdel Rauf Kara, leader of the Special Deterrent Force (or Rada) which is based in the Maitiga complex, also home to Tripoli’s only operating airport. Kara’s Salafist-leaning forces – which number around 1,500 – are currently forming a counter-terrorism unit with members of army special forces in western Libya who refused to join Haftar. Armed groups from the Suq al-Jumaa area of Tripoli, including the Nawasi brigade, also support the unity government. Another powerful figure in Tripoli is Haitham Tajouri, who heads the city’s largest militia. Tajouri, whose forces have threatened and intimidated officials since 2012, is not a particularly political figure. His priority is protecting the considerable interests he has accrued in the capital, and for now he remains ambivalent about the unity government.
Tripoli’s Islamist-leaning militias tend to be the most skeptical of the unity government.
– The city of Misrata is home to Libya’s largest and most powerful militias. Local rivalries feed the fighting between the city’s armed groups. Political and business figures in Misrata support the unity government, which includes the prominentMisratan Ahmed Maiteeq as deputy prime minister. This has helped secure the backing of the main armed groups from the city. A wildcard in Misrata is Salah Badi, a former parliamentarian and militia leader who was a key figure in the “Libya Dawn” alliance in 2014 and who opposes the UN-backed government.
– The small mountain town of Zintan enjoyed outsized influence in western Libya from 2011 until summer 2014, when its militias were driven from Tripoli by “Libya Dawn”. As a result, Zintani forces lost control of key strategic sites, including Tripoli’s international airport which was destroyed in the fighting. Some joined with the so-called Tribal Army – comprising fighters from the Warshefana region on Tripoli’s hinterland and other tribal elements from western Libya – to confront “Libya Dawn”-allied factions. A number of Zintani forces have distanced themselves from Haftar, while others remain supportive. Zintan’s militias, in light of the losses they suffered in 2014, are also assessing how they might fit into the changing order.
– In Benghazi, fighting continues between the forces that joined Haftar’s “Operation Dignity” and their opponents. Key to the anti-Dignity camp is the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council (BRSC), an umbrella group comprising a number of Islamist and self-described revolutionary factions. It also includes the UN-designated terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia. The BRSC fights alongside Daesh against Haftar’s forces.
– Once present in several regions of Libya, the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) has fallen apart and the term is now mostly used to refer to the forces in eastern Libya under the command of Ibrahim Jathran, a former revolutionary fighter. In 2013 his PFG took control of the main oil export terminals in eastern Libya and later attempted to sell oil. Jathran has alternately allied himself with both the HoR and its opponents in western Libya. While Jathran initially claimed to be supportive of Haftar’s Dignity campaign, his relationship with Haftar has since soured to the extent he has accused Haftar’s forces of trying to assassinate him and Jathran currently supports the UN-backed government.
– The “Libya Dawn” militia alliance that formed in the summer of 2014 no longer exists. It was made up of Islamist and non-Islamist militias, armed groups from Tripoli and Misrata, and fighters from other parts of western Libya, including from the Amazigh minority. It had fractured before the UN-brokered deal aimed at establishing a unity government was signed in December 2015.
Nearly all the militias claim legitimacy from their affiliation with competing organs of the weak and fractured government. Government subsidization of militia power arose from the enfeebled state of the formal army and police, which Muammar Gaddafi had marginalized in favor of elite units commanded by his sons and which had largely disappeared during the revolution. Since it could not project its authority and police the country’s periphery and towns, Libya’s transitional authorities, the chief of staff, minister of defense, minister of interior have all at one time “registered” or “deputized” militia coalitions. The result can be described as a “hybrid security order”, a concept describing how the “formal” forces of the army and police work in loose and often suspicious coordination with more powerful “informal” militias, backed by traditional tribal and religious authorities.
Daesh: presence and prospects
Local returnees from Syria helped form Libya’s first Daesh affiliate in the eastern town of Derna in 2014.[5] Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi recognized the presence of ISIS in Libya in late 2014, declaring three wilayats or provinces: Barqa (eastern Libya), with Derna as its headquarters; Tarablus (Tripoli), with Sirte as its headquarters; and Fezzan (southwestern Libya).
Daesh was driven from its headquarters in Derna in 2015 by a coalition of forces which included the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council, an umbrella group comprising fighters led by local jihadists who joined with army personnel who had rejected Khalifa Haftar and his “Operation Dignity”. More recently, the same alliance routed Daesh out of the outskirts of the town.
Daesh began to build its presence in Sirte in 2015, exploiting the frustrations of the locals who felt aggrieved over the city’s marginalization in post-Gaddafi Libya. It has also sought to expand its sphere of influence throughout the surrounding region, taking control of a series of small towns east of Sirte from which it has mounted attacks on nearby oil infrastructure. For the past year, Sirte and the 150-mile stretch of surrounding coastline have been Daesh’s most important territorial presence outside Iraq and Syria, and a hub for its activities across North Africa and beyond – there were links between Daesh in Sirte and Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Daesh also had a smaller presence on the outskirts of Sabratha, a coastal town in western Libya, until a combination of U.S. airstrikes and attacks by local forces managed to uproot the militants earlier this year. Although Sirte is the group’s ostensible base, Daesh sleeper cells operate in Tripoli and in other places in Libya. The Pentagon estimates there are over 6,000 Daesh fighters in Libya, but the UN and many Libyans believe that the number is lower.
Since August 2016, the U.S. military has carried out more than 360 airstrikes in support of pro-government forces from the nearby city of Misrata. Small teams of elite U.S. commandos have helped local fighters push deeper into the coastal enclave, where officials say less than 100 extremists remain. Administration officials estimate that Daesh controlled the whole city at the start of the campaign, but they only remain in one square block. But still, the militants have continued to hold out.
While the White House had hoped to quickly wrap up the U.S. air campaign in Libya, the Islamic State has mounted a tougher-than-expected defense in Sirte and beyond. However, military analysts agree that it appears unlikely that Daesh will defend Sirte to the last man, since Sirte and Libya have been opportunistic battlegrounds for the group. It is more probable that the bulk of Daesh fighters in Libya will look to withdraw from Sirte, go into hiding, or regroup elsewhere: either in Libya’s unmanageable southern desert, or in their home countries. Most of the group’s leaders, many with direct links to Daesh’s leadership in Iraq and Syria, are thought to have left Sirte.
Since the Pentagon has recently tracked Daesh militants escaping the fighting in Sirte, U.S. officials fear they could be preparing to mount a counter­attack on allied Libyan forces. Consequently, the Pentagon has begun laying the groundwork for expanded air attacks to annihilate them, part of a final push by the Obama administration to counter multiplying threats across the broader Middle East. The flight of Daesh experienced militants could pull the United States deeper into the conflict, potentially worsening the instability in Libya.
While pushing Daesh out of Sirte would be a significant achievement for Libya and a symbolic success for its new government, it would not remove the threat posed by Daesh to Libya and its neighbors, nor would it end Libya’s struggle with political crisis and instability.
In Libya, Daesh will still have the chance to exploit and foment instability. For the moment, the Misrata and other militias are working together in Sirte, but just a few months ago they were fighting each other, and all are likely to want to claim an eventual victory against Daesh. Even more problematic is the fact that the Libyan National Army (LNA) – itself more of a militia based in eastern Libya than a national institution – has remained almost entirely absent from the battle against Daesh. The LNA’s commander, General Khalifa Haftar, has thus far refused to submit to the authority of the UN-baked GNA in Tripoli and is on the record as vowing to defeat Misratan militias, which he accuses of being terrorist groups similar to Daesh.
Destroying the jihadist network in Libya will not be easy given the current chaos in the country and the main condition for success is seen as being the installation of a government in Tripoli which has control over the entire country. Unless Libya’s political divisions are resolved and a clear political and military arrangement is in place to control the whole country – not just on paper, but on the ground – victories over Daesh or policies to stop cross-Mediterranean migration will only be temporary fixes.
The “Haftar factor”
While the UN-backed GNA government has been busy trying to clear Daesh out of their Libyan stronghold of Sirte, General Khalifa Haftar, the initiator of “Operation Dignity” and commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), has been fighting his own war – against the same group that pushed Daesh out of Derna. He has steadily been amassing power and territory of much of eastern Libya, which now extends to within 50 kilometers (31 miles) of Sirte.
At the beginning of November, LNA Spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmary told reporters at Libya’s Embassy in Cairo that his forces have control over 70 percent of the country’s territories.[6] On September 11, Khalifa Haftar-led LNA seized the “oil crescent” ports, allowing the resumption of crude exports, and tipping the country’s balance of power in his direction. His victory in the oil crescent has pre-empted and overshadowed Misrata’s anticipated victory in Sirte, shifting power away from the GNA and western Libya, toward Haftar’s forces in the east. Consequently, General Khalifa Haftar became what most strategists see as an important element to be taken into account in any strategy or plan for the future of Libya.
Khalifa Haftar, who knew Muammar Gaddafi as a young military officer, was a loyal follower of the Libyan leader until 1987, when he turned against his onetime patron when Gaddafi repudiated the failed campaign in Chad.
What came to be called the “Toyota War”, because Chadian troops used pick-up trucks mounted with French guided anti-tank missiles to neutralize Gaddafi’s armor, shattered Haftar’s close relationship with the Libyan dictator. After Haftar was captured in 1987, Gaddafi disowned him.
Abandoned and angry, he struck a deal with the CIA, fled to the United States and lived in exile in Northern Virginia. He is known to have settled near the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, and while he was there he supposedly developed a close relationship with the U.S. intelligence operatives who backed several plots against Gaddafi, and with the opposition group the National Front for Salvation of Libya.
A covert operation code-named “Tulip” was approved by President Ronald Reagan’s White House, that aimed to channel support to dissident groups with the goal of overthrowing the Libyan leader (Gaddafi had ties to terrorist groups and was allied with the Soviet Union and Reagan branded him “the mad dog of the Middle East”). It was in Chad that Haftar’s men connected with U.S. intelligence agents. According to one former official, the Libyan soldiers under Haftar were trained by personnel from the CIA’s Special Activities Division, the agency’s paramilitary arm. The planned coup attempt failed and U.S. officials were forced to rescue the Libyans in 1990, when a new Chadian leader prepared to throw them out. The men were flown to Nigeria and then Zaire, but it soon became clear that no African leader wanted them. Six months later, a U.S. military aircraft flew about 350 Libyan rebels to the United States. Some of the rebels, including Haftar, continued to train with weapons in rural Virginia in anticipation of another coup attempt. He eventually split from rebels but remained active in dissident circles.
It was Haftar’s time as a leading Libyan opposition figure in America that helped him when he returned to his homeland in 2011. People believed that he would lead the fight against Gaddafi, but he failed to secure the backing of interim leaders to head rebel military operations against Gaddafi.
In February 2014, the general released a video announcing a military coup and criticizing the inability of the then-central government to confront armed Islamist groups that had grown strong after the revolution. The coup had no success, but soon after, with support from tribal and political factions, Haftar launched “Operation Dignity,” aimed to clear eastern Libya of militant groups. As Libya’s political crisis expanded, the HoR lawmakers in the eastern city of Tobruk named him their top military commander. Haftar’s actions also won him favor from some ordinary Libyans desperate for a response to rampant crime and lawlessness.
Seizing the Oil Crescent ports
In September 2016, the LNA launched operation “Swift Thunder”, seizing from the Petroleum Facilities Guard – an armed group aligned with the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) – the key oil terminals of Zueitina, Brega, Ras Lanuf and Sidrah, in the oil-rich heartland locally known as the Oil Crescent.
The operation brought an end to the two-year hiatus of Libya’s international oil exports. Since then, tankers have been loaded (mostly with crude that has been in deep storage) and funds for repairing oil facilities have been allocated. To the West’s surprise, Libya’s National Oil Corporation chief, stationed in Tripoli, allowed Haftar and his allies to sell the oil, a move that put further question marks against GNA’s legitimacy and ability to lead the country.
Observers note that General Haftar allowed the oil export revenue to be channeled through the Tripoli-based Central Bank of Libya, which is under the control of the UN-backed Presidential Council which he opposes. With that move, Haftar scored political points, gaining legitimacy among Libyans from both east and west. By letting the oil flow, Haftar can claim he is rising above politics and is acting in the best interests of the Libyan people.
On the other hand, since he controls the Presidential Council’s access to oil revenues, General Haftar can use this as a bargaining tool to get what he wants. Acknowledging the importance of these developments for GNA, on September 27, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj announced that Haftar or his allies would be represented in the new government. Also, the Speaker of the HoR and supreme commander of the armed forces, Agilah Saleh, promoted Haftar from lieutenant-general to field marshal.
Local observers note that through his recent moves, Haftar appears to be playing the “long game” of building up legitimacy, leverage and influence. He hopes to finally acquire a strong enough position to seize the leadership of Libya for himself, whether through political negotiations or through military force. Haftar said he has styled himself on Khalid Ibn Walid, a 6th century military commander and companion of the Prophet Mohamed, who conquered lands from Spain to Persia and oversaw the unification of a vast caliphate.
An interesting development was noted last October, at the sixth Gathering of the Libyan army, attended by the head of the High Council of State, Abdelrahman Al-Sweihli, the GNA Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj and the Defense Minister-designate Mihdi Al-Barghathi. While the military officials and attendees originally included in the final statement of the gathering a reference to General Khalifa Haftar as being “a war criminal”, the Presidency Council rephrased the final statement and deleted the reference.
The reference to Khalifa Haftar as a war criminal was announced on TV, but the Presidency Council later claimed in a statement that the classification was just a rumor and incorrect. Local observers mentioned that the reason behind this change was the intention of Fayez al-Sarraj to install Khalifa Haftar in a leading position in the Libyan Army command.
Internal and foreign support
While he was often considered a “rogue” general, Khalifa Haftar says he gets his legitimacy from the tribes and big families of the east that pushed him to start “Operation Dignity”, and that is where he has gotten his funding.
Haftar has solid support in the eastern region of Libya (the former State of Baqa in the period when Libya was under the federal system after its independence in 1951). He also has considerable and growing support in many cities in the west. While he is known to be supported by former Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and other strong, rich Libyan and Arab backers, he denies that foreign governments are supporting him, whether the Saudis, the Qataris or his old friends at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
However, he has powerful allies, including the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which have encouraged his campaign in the eastern part of the country. French troops have been using Benghazi’s Banina air base, where Haftar’s forces also operate.
Haftar has been pursuing a similar media discourse to that of Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who seized power after overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mohammad Morsi in July 2013. He uses the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood (that Sisi associated with terrorism), although Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood is hardly the dominant political force in the country. In this manner, Khaftar attempted to exploit Egypt’s woes to his advantage, hoping also to get attention from various western governments. Haftar is widely understood to have Egypt’s backing, not just because they want influence in Eastern Libya, but also because Egypt is against the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies in Tripoli.
Since he emerged as an important post-revolution figure in 2014, Western governments have struggled to define an effective policy to deal with Haftar, who has styled himself as an antidote to extremists while building his own power base and shunning the political process brokered by the United Nations.
Hoping to signal support for the GNA government, U.S. diplomats have steered clear of Haftar, but they do not expect a future for Libya without him. Haftar’s role in the earlier CIA-backed attempt to overthrow Gaddafi injects another element of complexity into American efforts to end Libya’s long crisis. A former senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Haftar’s connections across the Middle East and beyond have made it difficult for the Obama administration to develop a strategy to confront or co-opt him. “Even if there had been unity of thought within the U.S. government, we didn’t have the capability to marginalize him and we also didn’t have the capacity to integrate him.” U.S. officials hope to build support for giving Haftar a regional military position in the unity government, but it seems unlikely the general would accept a subordinate job.
Military support on the ground
While the political attitude towards Khalifa Haftar is not clearly defined, this is not the case for the military operations on the ground.
Libyan media have recently obtained leaked audio recordings of what appears to be United States pilots speaking with the control tower of the Banina airbase (controlled by Khalifa Haftar’s forces). The pilots’ communications show the participation of different types of aircraft used for military transport, including suspected U.S. Air Force planes such as the CN-35. The aircraft are thought to have been helping Haftar in his fights against rebels in eastern Libya. The recordings appear to have been taken between June and August and indicate that at least 14 flights have taken place between the Banina airbase and other airbases used by NATO forces (air stations on the Italian islands of Sicily and Pantelleria and an airbase on the Greek island of Crete).
The revelations came after Libya’s UN-backed government reacted strongly to France’s confirmation that its special forces had been operating in the country. Last July the French government announced that three of its soldiers had been killed in a helicopter crash in eastern Libya during an intelligence-gathering operation, the first time Paris acknowledged its presence in the country.
Russia has also recentlysent several military advisers to assist forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, in a support effort conducted through UAE and Egyptian mediation assistance.The Russian contingent aims to help re-assemble Haftar’s forces, renew the weapons systems they have, and overhaul their air and naval defense systems. The sources said several meetings between the Tobruk-based government, that Haftar supports, and Russian officials have been taken place in Cairo this year.
The U.N. envoy to Libya acknowledged that support for the unity government is declining, threatening to collapse the Western project in Libya and creating the prospect of indefinite civil conflict and terrorist activity. That may help general Haftar as he consolidates his position and continues to portray himself as the only man who can save Libya.
Many Libyans believe that Khalifa Haftar, with support from Egypt and UAE, may move to the western region of the country to unify it under his military control. To many in Libya this is a suitable scenario, after five years of suffering, a lack of security and the arbitrary and often violent rule of over hundreds of militias. While General Haftar would have to face a strong and well-armed militia forces from Misrata along with militias in Tripoli, the ongoing battle of Sirte left the Misratan militias with no great appetite to challenge General Haftar’s forces.
If Khalifa Haftar can demonstrate that he offers a more stable alternative, with the support of allies such as Egypt, the UAE and Russia, it is conceivable that he might eventually achieve his goal, especially if the international political scene undergoes a vast upheaval because of the U.S. elections.
Regional and international interests and influences
While no political or military actor came yet with a credible and possible solution to the Libyan quagmire, foreign powers, regional or more distant, were always acting to promote their interests in the country.
According to a recent report released by the International Crisis Group, while a group of mainly Western countries have already recognized the Government of National Accord, another group, led by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia, is giving Khalifa Haftar overt and covert political and military support, as has France on counter-terrorism grounds. “Ostensibly concerned with finding a solution to Libya’s divides, it [the second group] publicly subscribes to the peace process but undermines it and offers no concrete alternative,” the report mentioned.
No other Arab country plays as powerful a role in Libya as Egypt. The relationship between Tobruk and Egypt is not just defined by significant arms deliveries but also by a shared political project: eradicating political Islam and enhancing the autonomy of eastern Libya. For Egypt, according to some authors, having Cyrenaica – Eastern Libya – under a leader that is friendly to Egypt (as is Khalifa Haftar) would create a buffer zone with Daesh and a territory that could not be used by any opposition to the regime in Cairo.
That is why, on the one hand, diplomats and the Egyptian MFA have given assurances of their support to the UN-led political process; on the other, the security apparatus has supported Haftar even when it was clear that he was on a collision course with UN-backed unity efforts.
The United Arab Emirates
Although sharing some of the same goals as Egypt, the UAE has a more nuanced position on the situation in Libya. Reportedly, it has been more supportive of UN negotiations and ultimately less engaged on Libya since its intervention in Yemen. Nevertheless, Emirati weapons are still delivered to both Haftar and the militias of the city-state of Zintan, according to a report from a UN panel of experts. Moreover, the UAE’s political influence should not be underestimated. The Libyan ambassador to Abu Dhabi, Aref al-Nayed, is ideologically one of the most important figures on the Tobruk side. He was even evoked as a potential prime minister.
As an example of the UAE’s deep involvement in Libya, experts pointed to the scandal involving the former UN’s envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, who had corresponded in secret with Abu Dhabi while attempting to negotiate an end to Libya’s civil war, with the leaked emails showing he was taking the Emirati position despite his role demanding neutrality. It was also reported that Leon was due to begin a new $46,000 per month job directing the Emirates Diplomatic Academy at around the same time.
On the military field, recently released air traffic recordings suggest that Emirati fighter pilots were taking part in a multinational military operation involving British, French and US forces that coordinated air strikes in support of general Khalifa Haftar battling Islamist militia groups from a base near Benghazi.
Turkey and Qatar
In 2015, Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East irritated most of the Gulf States (with the exception of Qatar). Consequently, Egypt (where Abdul Fattah al-Sisi had taken power against the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013), together with the United Arab Emirates and other anti-Brotherhood Gulf States, began to support “Operation Dignity” launched by general Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey thus became entangled in a proxy battle that has pitted it against the majority of the Gulf States. In June 2014, Haftar accused Turkey and Qatar of supporting “terror”. The Justice and Development Party (AKP, President Erdoğan’s party) denied these links, arguing that it supports national reconciliation and that it is working with all parties to promote political dialogue.
Turkey has also been accused of having links to Ansar al-Sharia, the terrorist organization based in Benghazi that has been blamed for the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in the city.
Ankara’s position remains relatively straightforward and its policy will continue to pit Turkey against Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and other Arab states suspicious of the Brotherhood and political Islam.
Neither Turkey nor Qatar have the same level influence on the Government of National Salvation that Egypt and the UAE have on the Tobruk side.
According to a UN panel of experts, Turkish companies have delivered weapons to one side (the defunct “Libya Dawn” coalition) and Qatar has links with one Libyan politician and former jihadist – Abdelhakim Belhadj. Yet none of the major Libyan actors respond to input from Ankara or Doha the way that Tobruk aligns itself with Cairo’s policies.
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has the advantage of older networks inside Libya. When Gaddafi was cleaning up the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG, a terrorist network of the 1990s) he asked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to send sheikhs to re-educate the LIFG fighters. The views of a Saudi cleric – Sheikh al-Islam Rabee’ bin Hadi al-Madkhali, who took the view that pious Muslims must adhere to the person in power (wali al-amr) were promoted in Libya, in opposition to Libya’s cult of saints and Sufis and against the kind of political Islam of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the LIFG.
After the 2011 intervention, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar tore through Libya, with the various Saudi supporters going after the Muslim Brotherhood.
Across the country, from Tripoli to al-Bayda, the Saudi influenced clerics and groups remain strong and are getting stronger. Tripoli’s Abd al-Rauf Kara and his Special Deterrence Force (previously the Nawasi Battalion) is one flank of the Saudi-backed fighters, while another sits in wait inside Haftar’s Libyan National Army as well as in Haftar’s Benghazi enemy, Ansar al-Sharia. Their politics is as virulent as that of Daesh, although they are not keen to demonstrate this in public.
A significant recognition of the Saudi influence in Libya came at the end of October, when, following talks in Washington with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there had been discussions on “a multinational group meeting of the main stakeholders” in order “to take certain key steps that could actually strengthen the ability of government to be able to serve the people of Libya”. This was seen as an indication that Saudi Arabia is expected to take a major role in trying to solve the Libyan crisis.
There has been a growing view among international diplomats that Riyadh has the influence not only with the various Libyan parties but also with the regional powers that have been backing one side or another in Libya. According to diplomatic sources, if Saudi Arabia becomes involved “the Qataris and Emiratis will have to pull back”. Riyadh also has strong influence with Egypt and with Turkey.
An interesting and interested player in Libya is Russia, which officially supports the U.N.-Western process of establishing a Government of National Accord. However, the Kremlin has supplied weapons, likely via Serbia and Belarus, to the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, who is also supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. After Haftar’s successful takeover of the oil terminals in Libya’s Sirte basin and his hard line against Islamist groups in Benghazi, the West currently appears to have accepted the reality of his power and, by extension, Russia’s influence in Libya.
An official confirmation of this trend came at the end of October when the Valdai Discussion Club announced that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that “should there be a request from the authorities of Iraq and Libya on Russia’s participation in operations against terrorists on territories of these countries, the Russian leadership would consider them carefully.”
The Russian involvement in Libya is seen as part of Russia’s return to the Middle East – considered by most analysts as one of this year’s key geopolitical trends – in which the Kremlin is exploiting the fundamental division between the West’s aversion to Islamists, on the one hand, and human rights abuses on the other, a division which often produces equivocation in Western foreign policy. According to some analysts, in the case of Libya, Russia sensed and exploited an opportunity to get between the United States and two of its traditional allies (Egypt and the UAE).
Proposed solutions and scenarios
The absence of a security dialogue and agreement among competing internal and external actors has rendered the December 2015 accord impossible to fully implement. Observers assess that, on its current trend, the peace process is headed for a failure that would leave unresolved the main international issues, such as combating people-smugglers and jihadist groups, and ensure dramatic worsening of living conditions for most Libyans.
Consequently, the international and regional actors involved are currently reassessing Libya’s situation in search of solutions, so far with limited success.
Libya and the future U.S. Administration
According to declarations for the Italian newspaper La Stampa of former CIA director James Woolsey, currently a national security advisor for president-elect Donald Trump, the president-elect is going to make the destruction of Daesh a priority, including in Libya.
Another top priority in Libya of the next Administration would be to consult with and develop a balance among the competing and divergent interests of Libya’s neighbors and regional powers.
Notwithstanding the anti-Daesh priority, analysts agree that Russia and Syria are more pressing issues than Libya for the next Trump Administration.
Solving the Libya problem will likely become more of a compromise, with gains made and ground traded to solve other bigger issues. Egypt is seen to be a big player in fixing Libya, but that country’s relations with the US are not the best.
Even if Libya was a top issue (and not Europe’s problem, as outgoing President Barack Obama sees it), solving the problems would require not only diplomatic effort, but also the development of a powerful national security force.
A view from France
An international meeting called and hosted by France last October – at which also five regional stated were invited, including Saudi Arabia – failed to produce an action plan or come up with recommendations. The gathering was considered an indication of international powers’ awareness of the political shifts taking place in country that would redefine the balance of powers and impact the security situation.
The meeting was meant to identify the means to reach future settlements based on political versus security weight. It was also a bid by western powers to develop a new strategy that takes into account the new balance of powers and possible future scenarios in Libya. It has also made it clear that the 2015 United Nations-brokered agreement needs amendments in order to achieve stability.
However, France’s approach is limited by the divergence between Western powers supporting Libya’s current government, as well as by the fact that it does not have a coherent action plan or strategy to keep up with developments on the ground. The main vision from France is that the conflict between Libya’s east and west would once again result into civil war after Daesh’s defeat.
Failure in London
At the end of October, London hosted an international meeting aimed at salvaging Libya’s Presidency Council, the ruling body established through the UN-sponsored peace process. The aim of this meeting, which was attended by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and US Secretary of State John Kerry, among others, was to try to convince the Governor of Libya’s Central Bank, Sadiq Al-Kebir, to release more funds to the Presidency Council.
Observers noted that the meeting involved Libyan entities with little or no legal authority. The Presidency Council still has no proper legal authority inside Libya, since the council and the agreement of December 2015 have yet to be approved by Libya’s parliament the House of Representatives, which is rejecting what it views as an imposed solution. The House of Representatives’ own mandate expired over a year ago. In addition, the central bank governor attended the London meeting despite the fact that his own term in office expired in September. This was a meeting, therefore, aimed at persuading a figure no longer legally in office to bypass Libya’s financial laws in order to release funds to a body lacking proper legal status.
This situation was seen as a reflection not only of the depth of the Libyan crisis, but also of the way in which the international community has backed itself into a corner in trying to deal with post-Gaddafi Libya, by prioritizing its own agenda (fighting Daesh and dealing with illegal immigration), at the expense of finding a real solution for the country.
Regional actors in Niamey
Also in October, the ninth ministerial meeting of Libya’s neighboring countries was held in Niamey (Niger), with the participation of representatives of regional and international organizations with a view to deepening consultation and coordination between the countries of the region, in order to cope with the current challenges and support the political process in the country.
In addition to the Foreign ministers of Algeria, Niger, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Chad and Sudan, the meeting was also attended by the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative for Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Martin Kobler, Tanzania’s former president and African Union Special Envoy for Libya Jakawa Kikwete, and the Arab League’s Secretary General Ahmed Abu al-Gheit.
At the Niamey meeting, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Martin Kobler, made a statement on the situation in Libya, describing it as “delicate” and said that he was particularly worried about the situation in Tripoli. He mentioned the lack of progress in the “implementation of the Libyan security architecture as envisaged by the Libyan Political Agreement”, but he did not suggest any solution, only mentioning that the fact that security actors operate with autonomy, “leading to insecurity and an inability to create the rule of law”. In a realistic assessment of the situation, Kobler said that the Presidency Council has been unable to provide basic services and there is a worsening economic situation. Observers noted that there was nothing in Kobler’s statement that suggested any new initiatives that could provide a way out of the political crisis.
Informal ways in Geneva
A more informal dialogue with all relevant forces and tribes in Libya is seen as offering solutions. Such an approach was taken in Geneva, Switzerland, on 7-8 October, organized by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.
The dialogue included most factions on the Libyan political scene. The participants agreed that the format and sponsorship by a neutral organization was a platform to build on. They also examined the Libyan model of 1951, when the country was seeking an independent status.
During the period that led to the independence of Libya in 1961, opposing factions from eastern and western regions in Libya overcame their differences and agreed to form a united country under a federal kingdom with three states (the third from the southwest). The federal system was abolished in 1963 and a united Libya emerged.
Various scenarios regarding Libya’s future were developed, based on the trends seen as setting the course for Libya and influencing the developments in the whole region.
a) Researchers Jon Mitchells and Helene Lavoix[7] developed a set of four primary scenarios, with sub-scenarios for the next 5-year period:
Scenario 1: Towards Peace (excepting the Salafi groups): Libya’s actors (excluding the Salafi groups) take the road towards peace. In a first case, they achieve an external brokered peace. In a second case, the main actors reach a point of internal exhaustion from conflict thus creating the opportunity for a more organic peace, which would most probably then be finally brokered through an international conference.
Scenario 2: Continuation of Civil War: Libya’s civil war continues, either on the same terms or different terms – depending on actors and factors. Continuation of the civil war with the same terms will evolve into peace, victory, or conquest.
The continuation of the civil war might be possible with external forces intervening in Libya, either as an international intervention accepted by the UN, or an ad-hoc coalition of states that intervenes to support one side in the ongoing conflict.
Another sub-scenario foresees the Libyan conflict extending and the theater of war reaching other countries, either currently peaceful, such as Tunisia, Niger, or further afield Italy, for example, or joining with other ongoing wars, such as the war in Mesopotamia (Syria and Iraq).
A third possible outcome of the civil war’s continuation is Libya’s partition, with two alternatives. First, Libya embraces federalism, with a possible division along provincial lines (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, Fezzan). In the second case, the country breaks up, most probably along tribal lines.
The two regional governments in Cyrenaica – the Transitional Council of Cyrenaica and the Political Bureau of Cyrenaica – have already initiated federalism in Libya by announcing Cyrenaica as a semi-autonomous region in 2014. As far as the second case is concerned, tribal declarations threatening secession and the strong regional component observed throughout the conflict make this scenario also plausible.
Scenario 3: A Real Victory in Libya by a Local Group of Actors. Any of the main group of actors is considered as able to achieve victory. In each case, either the victor succeeds in stabilizing the situation and peace follows or finally fails and the civil war continues.
b) Atlantic Council analyst Hafed al-Gwell[8] also developed a set of scenarios for Libya’s future, that he sees possible either independently or in combination:
Scenario 1: Rivals agree to form a unity government in which each faction wins a number of positions, but remains at the mercy of armed militias. This scenario risks a return to a government beholden to armed groups, compromising its sovereignty, integrity and credibility. It would ignite a next cycle of violence once competing militias start fighting again.
Scenario 2: Libya is put under international guardianship, using Arab and African peacekeeping forces with support from NATO to secure the major cities, calm the tense environment, and start a new UN-sponsored political process to determine a future roadmap. In essence, this scenario repeats the same historical experience of post World War II Libya, when allies provided an armed presence and the UN sent the then-High Commissioner for Libya, Adriaan Pelt, to oversee a political process that ended in Libya’s independence and the 1951 constitution.
Scenario 3: Subcontract Libya to the Arab world and let willing and able Arab countries, particularly neighboring states such as Egypt and Algeria, to intervene. This would be akin to what happened in the Lebanese civil war, when Syria was given the green light to enter Lebanon and impose some sort of an occupation, operating from behind the curtain of a weak and willing local government.
Scenario 4: Allow the slow disintegration of Libya as a state (a la Somalia) and try to contain, isolate, and close off Libya. This scenario would require withdrawing international recognition of any government, freezing Libya’s assets and reserves around the world, blockading oil terminals to deny warring groups any revenues, and relying on the usual counterterrorism measures (targeted drones strikes, etc.) to hit terrorist groups. This scenario would deprive terrorist groups and warring factions from funds and ultimately, the different factions would have to come back to the international community asking for a negotiated settlement.
The likely scenario of a power struggle in Libya will be that of Khalifa Haftar and Fayed al-Sarraj attempting to weaken one another. There is a power balance between the two sides, with Haftar having military weight and Sarraj having political influence. Each side is seeking to establish itself, with Haftar looking for a greater role to seize larger swathes of the country to present himself as a political-military leader. However, Haftar does not seem to receive enough foreign support to topple Sarraj. He will therefore have to choose between either joining Sarraj’s government with a deal that would allow him to preserve his military weight, or to reach a deal with foreign players behind Sarraj, without integrating into Sarraj’s government.
Libya put historical and structural barriers in front of any outsiders who would try to build a coherent state, much less create a democracy. Like other failed states of the Arab world, Libya was an artificial, postcolonial creation, the result of an attempt to create a unifying polity where none existed before. Like Syria, Yemen and Iraq, Libya is less a state than a collection of ethnicities and tribes thrust together by geography and colonial convenience rather than common identity. Many of those groups have proud histories of not getting along. There is little that outsiders can do to make the various groups trust one another, much less to create a national identity where none has ever existed.
It will take time and trial and error for the Libyans to develop institutions that the people can trust. Trying to enforce a solution from outside will only push current factions underground. Most probably, no real solution to the civil war will be found in the near future, or perhaps even in the next generation.
At the most basic level, Libya needs to re-engage in the politics of recognition. The more secular, Gaddafi-era officers, politicians and technocrats need to recognize that the Islamists and younger revolutionaries have a place in the new order, provided they support state institutions and renounce ties with violent extremists. For their part, the Islamists need to recognize that not all former Gaddafi functionaries can be excluded from that order.
Trying to overcome a deep and widening gap of mistrust and suspicion among the different tribal, regional, political, and ideological groups that are described as the “Libyan people” will continue to be the most difficult challenge for the country for generations to come.
On the other hand, the tragedy in Libya should serve as yet another reminder that there are limits on what can and cannot be accomplished by outsiders in the Middle East, especially since the major actors have diverging interests.
Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, USA, UAE will continue to play their parts, financing and arming the factions to create a delicate and constantly oscillating balance. Russia is seen to develop more of a presence in the region, acting against United States in the U.S.-friendly countries. Marshall Khalifa Haftar is playing an important part, being supported by Egypt, who wants Libya to be a military-run state. Libya is likely to remain an international battleground for the near future.
Perhaps, if given enough time, the various factions causing the suffering and state failure in Libya and across the Middle East will tire of fighting and consolidate around some sort of compromise government. That will have to be their choice and no amount of insistence from the outside will bring them closer to peace.
[1] The United Kingdom and France led the international intervention in Libya in 2011 with the aim of protecting civilians from forces loyal to then-leader Muammar Gaddafi.
[2] An alternative name for Daesh (IS, ISIS)
[3] An investigation has been under way since 2013, examining claims that Gaddafi’s regime secretly gave Sarkozy 50 million Euros overall for the 2007 campaign.
[4] Libya has the world’s 10th largest oil reserves.
[5] Daesh’s presence and activities in Libya were presented in our previous works:Daesh: From the Red Sea to the Atlantic (January 2016) and Shifting sands in the Middle East: a closer look at Daesh (April 2015)
[6] Posted on 15.11.2016 on, see
[7] Jon Mitchells, Helene Lavoix: Scenarios for the future of Libya within next five years, posted 27.07.2015 on
[8]Hafed al-Ghwell: Four Paths for Libya’s Future, 06.04.2015, Atlantic Council, see

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