- (july 2021)
Nations in Crisis: Libya
Of all the nations in crisis of 2021 Libya is the one that is closer to finding a peaceful solution to its instability.
Libya was probably the richest country in Africa until 2011 when its brutal
dictator Qaddafi was deposed and executed, one of the most dramatic events of the "Arab Spring".
Libya immediately descended into chaos and terrorists staged brazen attacks.
In June 2012 an Islamist group called Ansar al-Sharia attacked the US embassy in Benghazi and killed the US ambassador.
Nonetheless, there was hope from the beginning: in
July 2012 Mahmoud Jibril, head of a secular party, won the first free elections in Libya after Islamists had won both in Tunisia and Egypt.
It was a signal that Libya could be ruled by a secular democratic regime.
Unfortunately the Qaddafi government dissolved and the new government was unable to take control of the country. As usual, the Western powers had underestimated the power of clans. Between 2012 and 2014
more than 100 prominent Libyans were assassinated.
In May 2014 former general Khalifa Haftar, a US citizen who lived in exile for two decades in Northern Virginia before returning to Libya in 2011, launched an operation against Libya's Islamists and conquered Benghazi, the main city in the east.
In September 2014 Islamists briefly seized Libya's capital Tripoli and the country's parliament had to move to Tobruk, near the Egyptian border.
In February 2015 ISIS captured 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya and beheaded them, an action that triggered Egyptian retaliation.
In February 2016 ISIS had conquered enough territory that the USA decided to send the bombers.
In April 2016 a unity government was installed in Tripoli, headed by Fayez el-Sarraj, while former general Khalifa Haftar still held Benghazi and
parliament speaker Aguila Saleh Issa remained in Tobruk. On top of this, the
Muslim Brotherhood had won elections in Egypt and was sponsoring the Muslim Brotherhood of Libya, headed by Khalid al-Mishri.
Libya has been split for years between the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) in the east.
In May 2018 Fayez al-Sarraj's GNA, Haftar, Issa and the Muslim Brotherhood agreed to hold national elections.
However, Khalifa Hifter reneged on his pledge and in April 2019 he marched his troops towards Libya's capital Tripoli.
In January 2020 he imposed a blockade on the export of oil.
That was a veritable declaration of war and it precipitated an international crisis.
In January 2020 Turkey sent troops to Libya to protect the government of national accord led by prime minister Fayez al-Serraj in Tripoli from Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA), while Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt backed Haftar.
Mercenaries flocked to Libya. There are now an estimated 20,000 foreign fighters in Libya: Syrians (sent by Turkey), Russians (the "private" military force "Wagner", possibly funded by the United Arab Emirates), Sudanese, Chadians, etc.
Russia's stance was particularly ambiguous because the Wagner forces are certainly Russians but at the same time Russia never stopped recognizing the GNA as Libya's legitimate government.
In June 2020 Haftar's offensive collapsed and he had to retreat to
the central coastal city of Sirte. In September 2020 he ended the oil blockade.
Meanwhile, Libya had become the easiest country to transit through for African migrants trying to reach Europe. Many of them perished in the Mediterranean.
For example, in April 2015 a Tunisian fishing vessel carrying illegal African emigrants to Europe capsized off the coast of Libya, killing more than 1,000 people.
In February 2021 a Government of National Unity (GNU) was born out of the ashes of the GNA, this time including the Haftar-backed House of Representatives based in the east, and Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh was appointed prime minister.
Libya got a petroleum minister for the first time in five years.
There took place a peaceful transition of power from Fayez al-Sarraj, the GNA's prime minister, to Dbeibeh.
The good news is that in June 2021 a conference was convened in Berlin and
the parties agreed on the 2018 elections to be finally held in December 2021.
All foreign fighters are supposed to leave Libya.
Oil output has returned to 2019 levels (1.25 million bpd) and is projected to increase in 2022.
Libya's army also seems to be more in control of the country. For example, government troops killed Mohamed al-Kani, a warlord allied with Haftar who is responsible for one of the worst massacres of the civil war (in Tarhuna, 65 kms southeast of Tripoli).
It is unlikely that Turkey and Russia will leave Libya any time soon: not even the government is eager to see them go as they provide additional stability in their respective territories.
Turkey was in fact formally invited by the GNA. The GNU would have to rescind that invitation.
It is expected that the GNU will similarly invite
Russia to stay in return for full recognition and severing ties with Haftar.
What is missing is a charismatic figure who can become an inspiring leader
during the transition towards democracy. That figure may exist, and he was the West's best hope before the 2011 revolution: Qaddafi's son Seif, a graduate of the London School of Economics who sounded not only "westernized" (his main residence was luxurious villa in London), but also seriously committed to a gradual transition from his father's dictatorship to a modern parliamentary democracy. When the revolution started, Seif tried to flee the country to Niger but was arrested by a tribal leader. Luckily for him, this tribe never sides with either faction of Libya and eventually (in 2017) Seif was able to buy back his freedom. Informal polls show that, if Libyans voted today, Seif would be the most likely winner of the popular vote: he is a celebrity, nostalgia for Qaddafi's dictatorship is running high among the Libyan population, and the other politicians are viewed as corrupt as Qaddafi was (they all got rich through widespread
embezzlement and smuggling, selling Libyan oil while the people suffered).
Seif blames Obama for the destruction of Libya: not because Obama led the NATO attack that killed his father but because Obama abandoned Libya after destroying its government (Obama, incidentally, has admitted as much himself).
This feeling is shared by many Libyans as well as Europeans, and of course very much in Russia: it was the USA's reckless bombing campaign that destroyed Libya and left no viable institution behind.
The fact that Seif is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and that he was convicted and sentenced to death by a Libya tribunal are details in the chaos of today's Libya.
Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh (aka Dabaiba) is a businessman from the eastern port city of Misrata who had run the state-owned Libyan Investment and Development Company (LIDCO) for Qaddafi, and after the revolution founded the Libya al-Mustakbal (Libya Future), which could have become a viable party of economic growth.
His uncle, Ali al-Dabaiba, owns the Salam satellite channel broadcasting from Turkey.
Dbeibeh is not charismatic but can probably count on Turkey's support.
Former interior minister Fathi Bashagha is known to be plotting behind the scenes to resurrect his political career as a populist who listens to the plight of ordinary people.
He is affiliated with (or at least supported by) the Muslim Brotherhood and
used to be Turkey's trusted man in Libya before he was suspected of
secretly working for Egypt.
Despite his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood,
he has cultivated friends in both France and the USA and seems to have the
support of Libya's richest businessman,
Husni Bey, he chairman of the largest private holding company (HB Group).
However, Bashagha seems to have an enemy in grand mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani,
a strong ally of Turkey.
The Muslim Brotherhood (whose stronhold is Bashagha's city of Misrata)
is not particularly popular in Libya (unlike in Egypt)
and its fortune has always depended on Turkey's support.
The movement has recently renamed itself Revival and Renewal Association in order to appeal to the West.
Domestically, it seems to have lost to the competition of the more radical
Salafi movement (who adhere to the teachings of Saudi cleric Sheikh Rabee bin Hadi al-Madkhali), especially in the desert regions.
Salafist militias also fight alongside Haftar.
In January 2020 it was the Salafist-dominated Infantry Brigade 604 that "gifted" the central Libyan city of Sirte to Haftar: he didn't have to fight for it.
If the duration of a tenure were proportional to the chances of becoming the next leader of Libya, then the winner would be a mysterious man,
Sadik el-Kaber, the governor of Libya's central bank: he is the only high-level official who has never been removed from his job since the 2011 revolution.
Indirectly all the parties and warlords of Libya have to deal with him.
He may have survived in his job because he keeps a low profile but he may
be a compromise figure that every powerful Libyan politician would accept.
The central bank is the only civic institution of Libya that has always worked, no matter what.
Haftar too has his fans. He is credited with dismantling and expelling the Islamist militias from eastern Libya. He would probably be an authoritarian leader, but so was DeGaulle in France after World War II. Haftar's main problem is that indirectly he united western Libya against him when he tried to take the capital Tripoli. Militias spontaneously converged on Tripoli from all over western Libya to defend it from his assault. His siege of Tripoli lasted one year and caused a level of destruction not seen before in the capital. People there have not forgotten. Had Haftar negotiated with the Tripoli government, he may have had a chance to become the first president of a reunited Libya.
If the reconciliation holds, the elections take place smoothly in December,
, the foreign powers stop fighting by proxy and simply provide security, and if the Libyan people elect a charismatic leader,
Libya could be on its way to become again Africa's richest country.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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