Libya Politics & Security
Libya Politics & Security digs into the details of the country’s diplomatic and military battles, while assessing what the outcomes of war and diplomacy might be.
Whilst its monthly sister publication, Libya Focus, uses its monthly perspective to sit back and take stock, Libya Politics & Security provides a weekly evaluation and analysis of events within the country’s political, economic, and security spheres as they happen.
As well as explaining the shifting alliances and rivalries on the ground, our author is an experienced diplomat who takes into account the international discussions surrounding peace talks and intervention.
At 3,000-4,000 words, Libya Politics & Security examines the implications of fast-moving issues with long-term implications, such as the challenge of Islamist extremism or the status of critical energy infrastructure. Where loyalties can come down to the level of individual cities, and are often divided between them, this publication offers a dedication to the details that will define the country’s future.
Libya Politics & Security provides a weekly evaluation and analysis of events within the country’s political, economic, and security spheres as they happen
Looking to the future – rebuilding Libya
It will take many years and a significant amount of investment to repair the damage done by Libya’s civil war. The economy has largely collapsed, with the erosion of even basic services such as healthcare and electricity.
Vital oil exploration and production infrastructure has now been significantly damaged. This includes collateral damage inflicted during the civil unrest that exploded in early 2014 as well as a systematic targeting campaign from IS which began in 2015.
Libya will not easily return to the 1.6 million b/d of oil it was producing before the 2011 revolution, although the National Oil Corporation (NOC) reported in June
Demand for new infrastructure is high, but construction work has been virtually frozen since 2011 because of the security challenges and difficulties of doing business in Libya.
Even if the country eventually re-unifies under the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) the many interest groups may still prefer the force of arms, rather than the spirit of compromise.
There are currently powerful groups that will not recognise or negotiate with any unified Libyan government. They are bi-products of Libya’s civil war, and can only be defeated if the root causes of that war are resolved.
The decisions that will ultimately shape Libya’s future are being made now. It has been difficult, if not impossible, for the country’s disparate interest groups and governing institutions to make decisions or work with the international community since the 2011 revolution, but, for the first time in years, there is reason for optimism.
Unity & legitimacy
Renewed international focus on Libya has led to significantly increased pledges of assistance from the US, EU, NATO and others to assist a re-unified Libyan state confront the root causes of conflict and disunity. The private sector and non-governmental organisations will also be key in these efforts.
Time will tell whether: international pressure from sanctions; regional and international support for the GNA; and domestic pressure from a population that is tired of war; will eventually pressure these spoilers into accepting the process.
All signs indicate that, if unity is confirmed, Libya will receive the international support that it requires, and the opportunities that investors and the country’s people have waited patiently for will eventually arrive.
Brazil’s economic ties with China have strengthened considerably over the last two years, and Chinese companies are showing a keen appetite for Brazilian assets in the power sector and for infrastructure as a whole. Bilateral relations are good. There has been little visible engagement with the U.S. since President Donald Trump took power, but there are no areas of serious dispute.
Under Temer, Brazil is less inclined to pursue a nationalist agenda, although left-wing groups remain vocal in their opposition to opening up the oil sector to foreign investors and international oil companies.
The origins of the war
The Libyan civil war accelerated in 2014 because of the dispute between two rival sides — one Islamist and the other pious but more secularist. The fact that the Libyan government was unable to successfully confront destabilising militias and external interference in domestic affairs also contributed to the conflict’s complexity and endurance.
Tension between the Islamists and secularists has been a defining feature of many states in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, most notably in Tunisia and Egypt.
In Libya, an earlier incarnation of the post conflict government known as the General National Congress (Congress), came to be dominated by Islamists. They used force to obtain more power and refused to cede control to the House of Representatives (House) which was elected in 2014 and dominated by secularists.
The Congress and its associated militias occupied Tripoli after the House was elected in June 2014. They controlled the capital and much of western Libya until April 2016, when a significant number of the Tripoli and western militias, municipal and tribal leaders pledged their support for the GNA.
The House, having fled Tripoli and re-established itself in Tobruk, allied itself with anti-Islamist forces to control most of eastern Libya. Neither recognised the other, and their battle for the control of key institutions severely undermined both the effectiveness of the government and the confidence of investors. Convincing these rival factions to form a single government is the core objective of the country’s peace process.
The most prominent among those fighting against the Islamists have been the forces led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, with his so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) which has fought to expel Islamist extremists from Benghazi since 2014 and declared victory in the battle for Benghazi in July 2017.
Haftar became an increasingly dominant figure but also became an increasingly polarising figure and a subject of dispute in the international community and during the peace process. Eastern elements would like him to have a prominent role in Libya’s future, while the Islamists in the west see him as a Qadhafi-era criminal.
Bridging the political divide
This was never a fight between two unified armies and their governments. Instead, loose coalitions of militias and interest groups with shared identities are rallied around competing parliaments and, at times, switch allegiances.
But their fragmentation has been one of the most significant developments of the war.
This explains why some peace talks have succeeded, and why other groups have remained committed to armed confrontation.
The Government of National Accord (GNA) and the outlook for its success
The more moderate elements from both sides came to support the UN-mediated peace process that created the Libyan Political Agreement which established the GNA with international backing.
This saw Islamists and secularists, as well as representatives from each of Libya’s three historic regions, brought together into a unity government.
Its successful establishment would be the best prospect of a stable future for Libya.
Its establishment has been strongly resisted because elements from both sides have undermined the UN process. The House in the east has deliberately avoided approving the GNA for nearly two years largely because pro-Haftar elements within the House feel they can use this power as leverage to add more preconditions before its legitimacy.
One possibility for ending Libya’s civil war would be growing support for the GNA as the internationally recognised unity government but this relies on strong popular support which currently appears an increasingly unlikely and eastern Libyans see rule military under Haftar as an appealing alternative.
The other more likely end is the continued, destabilising chaos within which groups like IS thrive but the international community has an interest in preventing this outcome. Haftar — who is strongly supported by Russia, Egypt and the UAE — is becoming stronger and that any political solution will have to see him playing a very major role in Libya’s future.
If the House accepts the GNA, the international community would provide it with funding and military support which would attract the support of even more Libyans.
The major challenge will be to ensure the legitimacy of the GNA and ensure that it improves the lives of ordinary Libyans rather than become another corrupt and aloof body, that is detached from them.
The intention and ability of Libyans to work together is essential but the most divisive issues in the future will be those of: Khalifa Haftar’s role in the military; what kind of international military support should be endorsed; should Libya have a federal structure and a presidential system?
Security challenges and the long-term risk
Unity is an immediate priority in order to overcome the threat of Islamic extremism.
There are many different types of Islamists in Libya: some have participated in the UN peace process and even Haftar’s campaign against IS in Benghazi. It is helpful for long-term stability that moderate Islamists are allowed a legitimate within Libya’s politics.
Some groups like the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC) and the DRSC from Derna, have various connections with al-Qa’ida and will pose a long term challenge to the government if they do not moderate and demobilise, or agree to official integration.
IS in Libya
It is important to emphasise that the establishment of IS in Libya is a consequence, and not a cause, of state collapse and it is important to stress that IS in Libya has numerous enemies.
IS relies on divisions among its opponents because, if they eventually unify, then IS would be unable to prevail. But the various factions also mean that they have to compete for terrain, loyalty and resources.
A second point is that IS has so far disproportionately relied on its use of foreign fighters. This fits with its ideology of a borderless caliphate unifying like-minded Muslims, but Libyans are highly suspicious of such foreign entities.
But ultimately, because IS is a product of Libya’s civil war, the most significant factor and best opportunity to defeat the group will be in solving the political dispute behind that war.
That is why the political dialogue and national reconciliation are so important, but there is a risk that IS will succeed in disrupting these processes.
A pattern has emerged whereby international military planners try to target IS alone but this could make the situation worse, because they sometimes work with individuals or groups that are undermining political unity.
Libya’s abundant problems, including IS, will only be resolved through unity, long term reform, and institutional development. Both Libyans, and the world, must co-operate to achieve a legitimate government. The complete defeat of IS in Libya, and the return of investment, can be achieved on that basis. But it is wrong to think that either can occur whilst the disputes surrounding who rules Libya remain unresolved.
Latest blog pieces
The presence in Berlin of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien may be a sign of greater US engagement on Libya which is no doubt motivated by Russian and Turkish muscle-flexing. Washington has reportedly been...
Domestic Politics & Policy Even if the Berlin process culminates in a conference in mid-January 2020 — that unites domestic and international policy behind a single framework for political reunification — it is unlikely that Libyan government institutions will...
Dozens of pro-Turkish Syrian mercenaries reportedly landed at the recently re-opened Mitiga Airport on about five flights from Turkey to support Khalifa Haftar’s opponents in Tripoli. Allegedly in reaction — and video evidence purportedly showing Syrian fighters in...