Saturday, 23 September 2023 04:30 GMT

Understanding Libya's Relentless Destabilization

(MENAFN- Asia Times)

After leading a  in 1969, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi cemented his rule for more than 40 years.  – Pan-Arabism, Pan-Africanism, socialism, Islamic leftism, and others – characterized his leadership, which were further reinforced by a cult of personality.

While  under his rule, Gaddafi attracted resentment among some non-Arab populations,  , and other political opponents.

As the Arab Spring  outward from neighboring Tunisia into Libya in February 2011, protesters and militant groups seized parts of the country.

Loyalist armed forces retook control of much of what they had lost over the next few weeks after the outbreak of the protests, but  toward Western governments saw them seize the opportunity to impose a  and bombing campaign against Libyan forces in March 2011.

End of Gaddafi era

Alongside assistance from regional Middle Eastern allies, the NATO-led intervention was successful in helping local militant groups topple Gaddafi, who was  in October 2011.

Soon after his death, questions were raised about how Libya could be politically restructured and avoid becoming a failed state. After militant groups refused to disarm, they along with their allies began to contest territory and control over Libya's fragile new national institutions.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) had been  to coordinate rebel groups against Gaddafi, and naturally inherited much of the Libyan government after the war. But a number of countries did not recognize its authority, and after  to the General National Congress (GNC) in 2012, Libya's weak central government steadily lost political control over its enormous territory to  .

Libya's population of almost 7 million people lives in a  that has led to the development of strong regional identities among those living in its . There has also historically been an between the two coastal provinces of Cyrenaica in the east and Tripolitania in the west.

A large Turkish and part-Turkish minority also live throughout Libya's major cities, particularly in  . Most of them have descended from the Ottoman troops who married local women during Ottoman rule from 1551-1912, and though not a strictly homogenous group, the majority revolted against Gaddafi as nationwide protests began in Libya.

The historical lack of central authority in Libya's more rural south resulted in widespread autonomy for the  in the southeast. While the Tuaregs  Gaddafi, the Tubu joined the revolutionaries, sparking increased tension between these two tribes to gain control over the city of Ubari, local smuggling routes, and energy infrastructure.

A house divided

Alongside ethnic and cultural disputes, Libya was further  by radical Islamists after the fall of Gaddafi. Mass unemployment among Libya's relatively young population  recruitment for Islamic State (ISIS) and the  .

Having gained battlefield experience and with limited economic prospects, many militants in Libya had little incentive to return to civilian life, while the influx of  also kept the violence going.

Rivalries among these numerous factions helped lead to the  of the second Libyan civil war in 2014. The UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) was signed in December 2015  a Presidential Council (PC) for appointing a unity government in Tripoli but failed to curtail growing violence between local actors.

Two major entities came to dominate the country.  (GNA), which was presided over by the PC, was  in March 2016 to lead Libya, with Fayez Serraj as the Libyan prime minister. This move partly incorporated elements of Libya's political Islamic factions.

The Libyan House of Representatives (HoR), meanwhile,  , and  to Tobruk in Cyrenaica after political pressure and Islamist militias forced it out of Tripoli in 2014. The HoR is  by former General Khalifa Haftar, who commands the Libyan National Army (LNA).

The GNA retained official recognition by the UN as well as  , including the Central Bank of Libya (CBL). But both the GNA and the HoR  over the National Oil Corporation (NOC), while many other national institutions were forced to work with both factions.

Military force has also been integral to enforcing rival claims to Libya's leadership. In 2017, Haftar's forces  Benghazi, consolidating power across much of the east and center of the country. But his  was repelled by GNA and allied forces, prompting an HoR retreat on several fronts. 

A ceasefire between the GNA and the rival administration of the LNA in October 2020, but tensions and violence persisted.

Foreign interference

Libya's civil conflict has also been inflamed by outside powers.  but supported Libyan Turks, some of whom  in 2015, to coordinate with Turkey. Ankara has also supported the GNA with  , money, and diplomatic support for years, and Turkish forces and military technology were integral to  .

Turkey's  in Libya and desire to increase its power in the Mediterranean remain Ankara's core initiatives, and in June it voted to extend the mandate for military deployment in Libya  .

Both Turkey and Qatar, which has also been a , are close with the  and associated political circles in Libya, to attempt to promote a brand of political Islam that rivals Saudi-led initiatives.

With few core interests in Libya, the US has shown tacit support for intervening again in a conflict it had allegedly won,  , US air strikes and military support helped the GNA push ISIS out of many Libyan cities.

Yet Washington has remained  of being associated with the Libyan conflict and with Islamists allied with the GNA, and the US  for decades to pressure Gaddafi before the civil war.

Egypt has been  , providing weapons, military support, and safe haven through Libya's eastern border. Besides protecting  , Egypt's military-led government is also seeking to suppress  in the region after the Muslim Brotherhood briefly  Egypt from 2011 to 2013 after Egypt's own revolution. In 2020, Cairo  .

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have similar interests in suppressing rival political Islamic forces in the region  .

Doing so has brought them closer to Russia, which has also supported Haftar with  . This includes warplanes  by the Russian private military company Wagner, which is suspected of being partially bankrolled in Libya  .

Libya's destabilization complements the Kremlin's attempts to influence Europe. Haftar's forces and supporters managed to block Libyan  and again , threatening continental supply and increasing Russia's leverage.

Additionally, instability in the region and porous borders encourage migrant flows to Europe, often increasing the popularity of right-wing political parties that have grown closer to Russia  .

The HoR has also found less direct aid from France. Officially, Paris has supported UN negotiations and the GNA and has sought to minimize perceptions of its involvement in the conflict.

But the  in Libya in 2016 showed that Paris remained deeply involved in the country's civil war, and it has sold billions of euros' worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to help Haftar. This is part of France's efforts to suppress Islamist groups in Africa,  .

France's position has brought criticism from Western allies. In 2019, Paris  calling on Haftar to stop his offensive on Tripoli, while its support for Haftar has severely  , which has seen its economic influence in Libya decline.

Since the conclusion of the second Libyan civil war in 2020, steps have been taken to unify the country. A Government of National Unity was  in 2021 to consolidate Libya's political forces, and the new Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh  to enforce a ceasefire.

But based on the current dynamics of limited intervention, there is relatively little risk and high rewards for foreign powers to continue destabilizing Libya. Turkey and Russia are also using the conflict to add to their leverage over one another in Syria. 

in Libya and rival local and foreign actors seeking to dominate the country, Libyan citizens risk continuing to be used instead of being helped to ensure a stable and secure future for their country.

This article was produced by  , which provided it to Asia Times.


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