In 2011 when Gaddafi was killed by the mob or the militias, everybody believed that it was a new beginning for the country: a free and democratic Libya. In the aftermath, Libya did not become free and was not democratic, in the least. Instead, it became fractured, violent, tribal, patriarchal and divided. Rather than starting a new chapter and a new life, Libya, alas, was sliding slowly but surely into a tenebrous abyss resembling some sort of a hell or purgatory chamber.
Over the years, as violence became a daily casual occurrence, Libya almost became synonymous of disorder and dissonance in the news and the views and there were even thoughts that it is on its way to become a sister country of God-forsaken Somalia. However, hope emerged anew with the United Nations attempt to negotiate a national agreement through UNMSIL (United Nations support Mission in Libya).
Glimmer of hope, but
On December 17, 2015, the different protagonists of the Libyan crisis reached a historic agreement in the Moroccan city of Skhirate south of the capital Rabat, under the active leadership of UNMSIL. Unfortunately that did not mean the end of turmoil in Libya because there are a lot of splinter groups that were not part and parcel of this accord and that have the means and the will to stand on the way of peace. Besides, there is the lethal ISIS, that is present through proxy organizations all over the country, ready to step into deadly action, and for which such an agreement means nothing.
And no sooner that this agreement was concluded by the main warring factions that the “no, no” answer came from either the marginal groups not invited or the trouble maker ISIS, itself. Indeed, on January 7, 2016 a truck bomb was detonated outside of a police-training center in the western city of Zliten, leaving 65 people dead, the worst bomb attack in years. No group claimed this deadly attack, but the message was crystal clear: peace is not for tomorrow.
The dangers lurking in the dark
Since the time of the Ottoman Empire, a heavily centralized government that delegated minimal power to the regions always ruled Libya and this insured peace and stability to the people and continuity for the state. Tribes existed, but had only an honorific role and a cultural existence, nothing more. They were used, at times, as auxiliaries to strengthen the power of the state and, in return they were given rentier privileges as gratification.
When Colonel Gaddafi toppled King Idris Senusi in 1979, in the name of the revolution, he consolidated further the state and made it all prominent. In return, he subdued the population through direct generous cash handouts and a wide array of rentier privileges. The population did not have to work, in the least, and if they did they held senior positions that did not require much effort. This way Gaddafi guaranteed himself total control of the state and the revolutionary legitimacy to get rid of the recalcitrant individuals or groups, which he did at will.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring in 2011 and the ensuing uprising of the Cyrenaica region against the rule of the dictator Gaddafi, NATO decided to side with the revolutionaries of Benghazi to topple him. However, NATO directed the war operations from the skies and never fielded any foot soldiers to mop up the floor.
As Gaddafi’s forces started withdrawing from various regions, religious and tribal groups moved in and helped themselves to the huge arsenal left behind and with that came the temptation to rule and have access to a share of the oil cake. At the fall of the dictator in October 2011, there were over 300-armed groups, all dreaming of leadership and control.
During the Barbary Coast era, that lasted from the 16th to the 19th century, North Africa developed a taste for piracy, under the religious justification of jihad al-bahr (sea jihad) that protected dar al-slam (the land of Islam) from the onslaught of dar al-kufr (the land of the infidels), especially after the fall of Grenada in 1492 and the ensuing Reconquista. It was very much an easy gain of goods and slaves.
ISIS needs Libya badly for its operations in North Africa: to spread its paramilitary brigades and organize its terrorist networks and, most importantly, prepare its political pawns to take over power, after the chaos. Taking control of North Africa, which is the soft belly of Europe, would amount to getting ready to recuperate, by terror and force, al-Andalus from the Catholic Christians of Spain.
What happens next?
If Libya is not pacified in the near future, the whole world will regret it, at some point later on, as it is regretting today that NATO did not disembark from its airplanes to cleanse the country from extremists, once for all.
Pacifying Libya will help undoubtedly fight religious radicalism in West Africa and cut the lifeline of the lethal Boko Haram, active in the whole of West Africa, as well as, al-Qaeda in the Muslim West that is threatening stability of the Sahel countries like Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Now, the following actions must be implemented, at once, to insure peace for Libya and stability for the rest of the world:
- Transform UNMSIL into a peace-keeping force besides what it is: This peacekeeping force must be of, at least, 10,000 elite soldiers with heavy equipment and NATO air support to undertake the pacification of the country, with obviously the help of government forces sympathetic to the Skhirate accord. This much wanted peacekeeping force could be made of the following countries: Spain, Italy, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan and Senegal.
- Disarm militias: Disarm all paramilitary groups by persuasion, incentive or sheer force and make, by law, bearing arms strictly illegal.
- Train a national army and a police force: Offer the militias the possibility to integrate the army and police force and be under the rule of law.
- Undertake a cultural study: There is an urgent necessity to understand the social and cultural make-up of the Libyan society. The Amazigh and Tuareg people must be granted unconditionally their cultural rights.
- Adopt a federal system of government: Probably the best government system that could befit the numerous needs and the varied wishes and hopes of the Libyan population in political, cultural and religious terms is undeniably the federal system, with which tribal groupings, cultural minorities and religious lodges can, eventually, all identify.
- Help the country set up an open and competitive economy: International economic institutions will need to help Libya restructure its economy especially now that the oils prices have dwindled dangerously and, bearing in mind, that Libya is and has always being a rentier country.
Swift action needed, at once
Libya is on the verge of implosion, due to both internal and external challenges. The Skhirate accord is a good move forward to resolve the Libyan internal conflict, but it is not enough, given that many national groupings have different agendas for the country and have the necessary firepower to see them through.
Now if the armed groups are kept on the loose and not checked, Libya will turn into a new Somalia, that could ultimately be hijacked by terrorist groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda, that have grand designs of their own for the region and the world.
In the present set up the future is very grim and Libya is a lethal danger to Europe, Africa and the Middle East, so action from the international community is needed urgently, before it is too late.