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Books on Libya

Update No: 102 - (26/06/12)

The Arab Awakening in Libya brings Anarchy for the People and Democracy for Arms Smugglers. At least the Oil is flowing…

The Libyan Constitutional Assembly elections have been postponed until July 7. While the temporary authorities in the National Transition Council (NTC) have indicated logistical and organizational reasons for the delay, the fact remains that Libya remains unstable. The NTC struggles to maintain authority outside of Tripoli as tribal and regional militias roam unabated, wielding their sticks and threatening the civilian population. The Central army, in absence of a permanent central authority with an electoral mandate, lacks the power and resources to confront the armed gangs that terrorize the population. At no point in its history have weapons been available to so many Libyans. In the Qadhafi period, weapons were restricted to the elite revolutionary armed forces; even the conscript army had barely access to old rifles, let alone rocket launchers and explosives. In the post-Qadhafi ‘democracy’, weapons can be found everywhere. Indeed, they can be found everywhere. The continuing anarchy in Libya and the proliferation of arms, as opposed to the establishment of the rule of law, is fuelling ever larger arms traffic throughout North Africa and beyond.

The US defense establishment in the Pentagon is concerned that the weapons continue to flow into the hands of militants claiming affiliation with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has carved out a stronghold for itself in eastern Mali. The almost daily frequency of attacks by Boko Haram islamist militants in northern Nigeria may also be attributed to growing regional instability and the related regional propagation of weapons in the wake of the collapse of the Qadhafi regime. In mid-June, Tunisian authorities intercepted there trucks thought to be transporting weapons from Libya to Algeria; the episode suggests there has been a complete breakdown in border security at the regional level, let alone the national one. The trucks were destroyed by Tunisian a military aircraft after the occupants raised its pilot’s concern by firing at it. The dynamics of the action itself betray the fact that hapless amateurs have taken up a large role in arms smuggling, leading to conclude that the arms trade is what has really been democratized in Libya.

The first elections since the end of the Qadhafi era come as Libya has become ever more decentralized as central authority is undermined by an undisciplined lot of militias struggling against each other and the NTC. Although the elected government, once in place, should theoretically have a firmer mandate to intervene against the militias and diffuse their power, it is difficult to envisage how it might achieve this, given the extent of the anarchy. Moreover, members of the former Jamahiriya administration (along with declared sympathizers of the former regime) have been banned from running in the elections. This means that the few Libyans who have any kind of administrative experience will be barred from running. The United States has already performed this experiment in Iraq in the wake of the collapse of the Baathist dictatorship, dismantling the Iraqi army and barring former Baathists – the only ones with actual experience in running the State – from government. The NTC has tried to manage the situation though countless checkpoints and establishing a new ‘national army’.

The result has been more of a continued repression of the population than any real success against the militias. Moreover, the NTC has also engaged in the sort of diplomatic blunder that was the trademark of Qadhafi, when the Zintan militia which captured Seif ul-Islam detained four members of an International Criminal Court (ICC) delegation, who came to visit the deposed dictator’s son Seif ul-Islam. When Seif was captured in the southern Libyan desert it was suggested that he be tried by the ICC in The Hague, only for the NTC to insist he be tried in Libya. One of the ICC visiting judges is an Australian and her detention prompted a visit by the Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr on June 18 in an attempt to win the release of the two women and two men being held by the Zintan militia. The ICC delegation – notwithstanding the fact that its members are all nationals of the NATO countries that facilitated the demise of the Jamahiriya - is accused of having tried to pass on documents to Seif on behalf of a ‘former ally’. That the Zintan militia, or any other for that matter, can still wield this sort of diplomatic embarrassment causing power is a reflection of the NTC’s inherent weakness.

There appears to be a lack of any real political or legal system in liberated Libya. Similar disconcerting incidents have occurred in the area of Benghazi, where the revolt effectively began. The British ambassador suffered an assassination attempt; his car was attacked by RPG’s; the International Red Cross offices in Misrata were bombed, killing one person and injuring many others while a bomb exploded in front of the American consulate in Benghazi on June 12. On June 5, though not resulting in any casualties, the most bizarre, and perhaps the most indicative incident, occurred. A militia, claiming disagreements with the NTC over its arrest of one its leaders, commandeered the Tripoli airport. The NTC managed to regain control of the situation after several others; however, flights had to be diverted, departing planes were grounded or prevented from taking off.

These incidents along with an accumulation of continuing skirmishes costing lives from Sebha to Kufra and the western Jebel area testify to a situation that is far beyond the NTC’s control. In some cases, such as the attack on the US ambassador, the culprits were associated with radical islamists, upset over a drone attack in Pakistan that targeted and killed a Libyan member of al-Qaida. Eastern Libya has been one of the most prolific suppliers of jihadist elements to theatres of war in Iraq and Afghanistan against NATO forces. Many were captured and detained in Guantanamo Bay or other US military detention centres; others spent time in Libyan jails. They are now free; while some have accepted the rules of the democratic process; many are free to act in apparent impunity, continuing their challenge against the very same representatives of the forces without which Libya would still be a “Jamahiriya”. It now remains to be seen if the elections, initially scheduled for June 19, will actually be held on the new date of July 7. The NTC seems unable to ensure the necessary security while, rather than becoming more accepting of the NTC’s authority, the tribal and islamist forces have intensified their intransigence.

The electoral delay, of course, damages the NTC and Libyan unity. The further the elections are postponed the less authority the NTC will have to legitimize the power positions it will have to adopt against the tribal and jihadist gangs. The government must offer a semblance of security before it can hope to get the foreign investment necessary to rebuild the country. The final candidate lists have not been published (at the time of writing) and there are too many ‘parties’ and too many candidates, creating a confused mess in which few Libyans have any viable information to guide their vote at the ballot box. The political climate of anarchy is also such that there are no assurances that the losers’ will accept the voters’ decisions. The situation remains in flux and unpredictable. The forces undermining Libyan unity have made their uncomfortable presence felt in June; hopes of an orderly disarmament of the militias are fading and the islamist forces led by ‘al-Qaida’ affiliated characters such as Hakim Belhadj and others have been given room and scope to organize. Nevertheless, not all is lost. Oil production has reached levels close to those preceding the revolt, amounting to some 1.6 million barrels a day (bpd). The NTC has set an ambitious target of surpassing the production figures reached in the Qadhafi period, aiming to achieve 2 million bpd’s before the end of 2012. While American oil majors, as indeed all those from NATO countries, are welcome and encouraged to invest in order for Libya to reach that goal by the NTC, it is clear that there are many competing pockets of authority in Libya that are not as keen on seeing a stronger Western presence. In Monte Carlo they would say “les jeux sont faits”! 

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