The Shores of Tripoli: Transitioning From Gaddafi

Saarah Javed, University of Maryland, College Park:

Earlier this month, the installation of the new UN-backed Libyan government, the Government of National Accord (GNA), was off to a rocky start, with gunfire and death threats upon the arrival of the GNA Prime Minister in Tripoli.

On December 17, 2015, the UN created the Government of National Accord (GNA) with its base in Tunisia. The GNA unity government aims to bridge the political divide and the polarization of militant groups. The GNA lacks legitimacy in authority and support because of its appearance as an outside, Western influence.

For context, Gaddafi’s military coup in 1969 quickly devolved into 42 years of oppressive rule to the point in which people were afraid to even utter his name . Demonstrations took place in the major city of Benghazi for anti-government sentiment, and a crackdown on protesters who formed the National Transitional Council (NTC) eroded into a full civil war. The international community, specifically the West, aided the rebels against the Libyan regime; the rebels also captured Tripoli and killed Gaddafi. The NTC then held elections, with the General National Congress winning against the Muslim Brotherhood party; this resulted in the wrestling of power and resulting in two main separate governments. The conflict now predominantly revolves around two main parties grappling for power: Pro-Islamist parties (Tripoli government) and non-Islamist parties (Tobruk government).

Libya has seen a history of Western intervention.The NATO airstrikes during the 2011 revolution allowed for Libyan rebels to take over Tripoli and the government then.The UN is interested in transitioning Libya into a democracy with representation of all parties and minorities and in returning safety and security for the region.

The creation of three main governments: the Tobruk, the GNA, and Tripoli government in Libya, leaves room for Daesh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS) to take advantage of the situation. In addition, other tribal and militant groups are currently contending for authority with different motives, making the ability for the GNA to have a foothold in power even more difficult.

Daesh, also vying for power, now controls three main regions: Derna, Sirte and Sabratha. The group has also attacked and taken control of a number of oil reserves such as Sidra and Ras Lanu. Libyan oil can serve as an alternative economic power that can be utilized in place of Syrian and Iraqi oil. They have also reached out to influence and become allies with other militant groups in Libya in order to give them a ledge of power. With continued Daesh attacks on oil-fields, the UN hopes to support military action against Daesh and call to rival governments to respect the GNA’s authority over the oil-fields.

On Wednesday, Daesh ambushed British Special Forces that have been dispatched on Libyan ground, shelling them with machine gun fire. With the continued fighting, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond signaled sending more forces, along with Italian troops to Libya.

On Saturday, 84 migrants went missing after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya traveling to southern Italy. The northern Libyan shore is frequently used as a migration route and subsequently a channel to Libyan militant groups to enter and target Italy.

Of course, the European Union has a stake in the security of Southern Italy due to its geographical proximity to northern Libya, where there are warring parties as well as Daesh control. The close proximity of Libya to the European mainland is of concern for the EU as it may be used a strategic point for launching offensives and terror attacks on Europe as a whole.

Although there are considerable obstacles for the GNA, there have been some successes with their growing support. The GNA, however, lacks the power to combat Daesh and the militaries of the rival governments, notably its staunch opposition, the Tobruk-government. If the West takes military action without GNA assent, it could severely undermine support for the GNA and destroy what legitimacy they already have.

All the stakeholders have a significant amount to lose if the conflict continues for much longer. There needs to be a solution to to prevent further damage to the GNA.

Both the Tobruk government and its allies as well as the Tripoli government and its allies need to be in a state where they are ready to begin reconciliation and commit to working towards an agreement, whether that be through the GNA unified government and the six-membered Presidential Council or another political framework.\

It is unclear whether the GNA will be beneficial as well as the time involved for it be effective; the situation can worsen in time, especially with the growing influence of Daesh in the region.

As the call to military action is increasingly being heard, I would hesitate in assuming this is the appropriate course of action because of its risks.

Increased Western intervention has significant implications for the future of the GNA unity government – it could lead to its downfall. Because the GNA was the first government the United Nations unilaterally formed and instituted, it is seen as a product of foreigners by its Libyan constituents.

The success of the GNA unity government in its legitimacy and successful role in future Libya is contingent on the West- whether the West has the patience, luxury or interest to keep their military intervention at bay.

If the GNA were to become the government in power, it faces many challenges including illegitimacy, the lack of a Libyan-based army and being subject to the demands of the Western and international community. The fact that the GNA does not have an army is particularly concerning because so much of the rival governments’ power derive from their powerful Libyan Dawn and National Libyan Army.

However, with Western involvement seen as an attempt to influence Libya, the GNA’s reign of power will be short-lived. This is further aggravated by militant Islamist groups among others that oppose a transition to a more secular state; in turn, the GNA is seen as the West’s puppet.

Now the question remains of whether further Western military involvement will cause Libya to further descend into a failed state, as seen from previous interventions in history, if the UN-backed government will prevail and become the solution to ending the conflict or if the nature of Western intervention is a move against Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood from establishing long-term foothold in the region, as seen through their previous support for the anti-Islamist Tobruk government and what will replace fill the void of Daesh given they are defeated.

While some may view that just because the Western intervention in the 2011 revolution failed, it does not mean that it cannot achieve success in its future intervention, I believe that history does repeat itself and that Western invention, if not enacted carefully, will spell the defeat of a prosperous GNA-governed Libyan future.

 

References:

  1. http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/20/world/libya-civil-war-fast-facts/
  2. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-01/asylum-seeker-boat-sinks-off-libya/7373542
  3. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3567590/British-special-forces-fighting-Libya-ambushed-ISIS-suicide-bombers-killed-Italian-troops.html#ixzz47Q6AL5z3
  4. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/03/libya-backed-unity-government-arrives-tripoli-160330125804929.html
  5. http://web.archive.org/web/20160127183615/http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=52902#.VyaA5HErLnD
  6. http://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_march_to_folly_2.0_the_next_western_military_intervention_in5083
  7. http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2016/04/07/Libya-inches-towards-a-unity-government-but-can-the-West-wait.aspx
  8. http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/isis/.premium-1.706236
  9. https://unsmil.unmissions.org/
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