LIBYA AFTER KHADAFI
There are over 250 different militias roaming in Libya today. They don't follow orders, especially those coming from central authorities. They are an aggregation based on clan or tribes, political or religious beliefs, extremism and terrorism or, in some cases, on a common criminal past or on family relations. Few, definitely a minority, are those militias pleading allegiance to the central government. They survive on the money flowing from the State, whose hope is - at least on a temporary basis - to rein in their excesses and, in a yet undetermined future, to disarm them.
But Libyan factions also have other sources of economic income: exaction, extortion, and kidnappings. They apply their rule of law, that hardly ever coincides with State justice. Revenges, rivalries, arbitrary arrests and family feuds often end up in a bloodshed. Murders have become the daily bread in a country going adrift. Several issues still have to be settled in a civil war among the cruelest in the region. And the elimination of members of the security forces has become systematic in Cyrenaica.
The State - if one can call it as such that resemblance of central authority trying to rule over Libya today - does not have the military or persuasive strength to dissolve the militias. It had tried to absorb them within a legal security framework, but without success. Militias draw their legitimacy from their fight against Muammar Khadafi's loyalists. But those who actually fought were joined by all those criminals who fled or were freed from jail during the civil war. The majority of them is still at large. They have created mobs that are looking for legitimacy by self-defining themselves as militias.
The Libyan police is incapable of contrasting them. They don't have the strength to do it, nor do they know whose orders to follow. Impunity reigns sovereign. In April 2013, alcohol containing methanol was sold on the market and killed over 100 people with its poison. The attempts by police to arrest those involved lead to an armed clash that was won by the criminals. A government envoy was sent to negotiate a cease-fire. And, of course, since then none of the culprits had been put under arrest.
There is also competition between militias over the control of the territory. And disputes are solved manu militari. This is a recurrent phenomena especially in big cities like Tripoli, Misrata, Benghazi or Zintan. We should all bear in mind what happened in June 2012 in the militia war over the control of the Tripoli international airport. Or the temporary closure of the airstrips in Mitiga in January 2013.
The balance of power between the Kabyles is also in tatters. This was one of the pillars that allowed Muammar khadafi to reign, it went beyond the centuries-old rivalry between Cyrenaica, Fezzan and Tripolitania. This was one of the basis of social cohesion and of the cohabitation keeping Libyans together. A society that is largely archaic, conservative, hierarchical and that relies on tribal laws and behaviors. The civil war has tainted the relationship between the kabyles with deaths and revenges that continue until today in the fight between clan militias.
There are different estimates on the number of members in the ranks of armed Libyan militias. Authorities in Tripoli speak of 40 thousand men. Other figures point to over twice as much. Still way too many. Being a militiaman has now become a respectable job that ensures a decent salary. They seize other people's houses, obey to their boss and take care of their own interests. Militias also manage their own detention centers, as recently discovered by the government and as denounced by humanitarian organizations.
Abu Anas al Libi
A leeway to terrorism
A weak State incapable of ruling and commanding leaves a large leeway to terrorism. The killing of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens on September 11 2012 in Benghazi is there to prove it. Criminality and terrorism are confused and intersect. The arrest on October 5 2013 in the outskirts of Tripoli of Nazih Abdul Hamed Nabih al Ruqai, also known with his nom de guerre Abu Anas al Libi, confirms, if need be, that Libya has become a host country and a target for Al Qaeda. Al Libi is one of the top terrorists, he had been on wanted list for 15 years and had a 15 million dollars bounty on his head. He had been residing in Libya for over a year, back at home in a place he felt secure after his peregrinations in Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Salafist brigades have taken over Cyrenaica, including the Ansar al Sharia militia responsible for the assassination of the U.S. diplomat. They include around 200 well armed men that Libyan security forces have been unable to face. Another extremist group, the "Vanguard of the Caliphate", claimed the responsibility over the killing of a Sufi cleric, Sheikh Mustafa Rajab al Mahjoubi, in Derna in September 2013. A homicide in the struggle between Salafist extremists and moderate Sufis.
After years in prison, Abdul Hakim Belhaj, former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and involved in acts of terrorism, has now become one of the most influential actors in post-civil war Libya. Belhaj has founded his own party, the Nation Party, and benefits from a certain prestige regardless of the recent accusations involving him in the killing, in March 2013, of a Tunisian leftist politician, Chokri Belaid. He refutes the allegations.
Several militias have declared their affiliation with Al Qaeda. And Libya has now become a breeding ground for terrorists, that are trained and then sent to other conflict zones in the Middle East. The risks of a contagion in the countries neighboring Libya, also facing internal unrest and instability, is extremely high. Tunisia often closes its main border point with Libya at Ras Jader, fearing both arms trafficking and terrorist infiltrations. For the same reasons, Algeria and Egypt have both reinforced their border patrols.
The south of Libya has been declared off-limits by authorities - the official terms is "closed military zone" - because it is outside the government's control. This is the reign of ravager bands and has become the ideal space to cultivate independence claims by local Berber populations. The area is rife with arms, drugs and migrants' trafficking. In practice, the Libyan borders with Sudan, Chad and Niger are all closed. While Kufra is often the theatre of clashes between Zuwiya and Tebou tribes.
The oil factor
A country that produced and exported a good portion of about 1.5 million oil barrels per day (worth 50 billion dollars of revenues in 2012 alone) is now reduced to extracting 150 thousand barrels, only half of which go abroad. The reason behind this fall? Militias control oil terminals and production sites and demand a greater share of the profits. This initial request was gradually diluted and replaced by "political"claims, like an investigation into oil revenues expenditure in an alleged fight against corruption, and on the the need to divert part of that income to federal authorities. It is not by accident that federalist and independence claims are on the rise in Libya today. Cyrenaica, for instance, produces 80% of all Libyan oil and demands a greater cut. This is the prodrome of a State falling apart. A film we've already watched in Somalia.
The Libyan State, or what is left of it, pays the militias to enforce security at oil producing sites, but they want more. Tripoli is incapable of kicking them out (and it would have to be verified that they have the force to do it), also in the fear that a military confrontation could lead to damages to these vital infrastructures. We are currently in the paradox that the Libyan government has warned all oil tankers from reaching the terminals controlled by militiamen or they shall be attacked. This is the way militias are trying to compensate their loss of government salary.
But Libya - we should keep that well in mind - has been funding and still funds its operations with the revenues from energy products. If these go missing, all those salaries and social services provided by the government are at stake and the State simply risks going bankrupt. Furthermore, part of these revenues are used to import refined oil products (petrol and gasoline) that fuel the domestic market. Libya is in the same situation Iraq still is. A major oil producer where petrol is mainly sold on the black market. And all of this is happening in Libya today.
The wrong direction
Corruption has now become endemic. Even Muammar khadafi had been incapable of ridding his country of it. But he had used it as a tool during his rule. Corruption has become so widespread in Libya that it has become the main source of income for many families. Tripoli already tops the most corrupt countries in the world index.
For this reason, a law approved by the Libyan General National Congress - the Parliament - in July 2012, dubbed "law of political exclusion", sets the non-eligibility to public posts for all the members of the past regime. An initiative strongly against any attempt of national reconciliation and that has exacerbated social tensions. One of the major flaws of the law is that it has not contemplated all those Libyans that switched to the rebels during the civil war. But probably the main aim of this bill was to get rid of politicians like Ali Zeidan (former Ambassador under khadafi and current Prime Minister), Mohammed Megaryef (former Ambassador too and Speaker of Parliament when the law was passed) and of about 30 other members of parliament. Suffice it to remind that some congressmen were kidnapped during the Parliamentary process to approve the bill. And it is not a coincidence that Megaryef has survived a couple of attacks since the law was promulgated.
In the mean time, the Supreme Court in Tripoli, namely its Constitutional Section, has recently re-introduced polygamy. Even what little khadafi had done in 40 years of rule to elevate the social status of Libyan women has been lost. The same goes for electricity, and mainly in the capital, that is now rationed. At night it is better off to stay at home. The risk of moving around after sunset is too high.
This is why the Italian embassy has confined all of its personnel working in its diplomatic representation to a hotel - the Watan - across the street from its premises. Italians, to go to work and back home, travel a mere three or four meters on public soil. Security measures have been reinforced following the attack on the Consulate in Benghazi on January 12 2013. Tripoli is now at the mercy of militias. In August 2012 three car-bombs exploded in the Libyan capital followed by clashes between clan militias in several neighborhoods in Tripoli. Some of them, like Souk al Juma, as still off-limits.
In this context of total dissolution, on October 10 2012 Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped for a few hours outside the hotel he lives in - the Corinthia - in downtown Tripoli. The abduction was carried out with impunity, without any reaction from the body guards and as if it had become normal to kidnap an government official in plain day.
Some sources initially hypothesized that this was an arrest following a warrant issued by a judge. Others claimed this could have been a reprisal attack by islamist militias following Abu Anas al Libi's arrest by the United States. The U.S. had the nice idea of going public about the Prime Minister's support to their extraordinary rendition. This is why the abduction was also considered an attempt to push Ali Zeidan to resign. In this case, evidence could point to Berber leader Nouri Abusahmasin, with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. He is the President of the National Council and the institutional deputy of Zeidan, who is a secular and liberal leader, is case of his resignation.
For whatever reason, the Libyan politician was released after a few hours. A sudden remorse had struck the abductors? Not at all. But the menace of an armed intervention to free the Prime Minister by the Misrata and Zintan militias was a factor to be accounted for. In case of a clash, the Tripoli militia (self-defined "Chamber of the Libyan revolutionaries") would have surely been annihilated. Even the detention and trial of members of the past regime is controversial. Zintan still refuses to hand over khadafi's son, Seif al Islam, to a tribunal in Tripoli. And always in Zintan, there are ongoing clashes targeting the Mashasha ethnic group, originally from Niger.
The Balkanization of Libya is a hard fact. Since March 17 2011, when the revolution started, and following October 20 2011, when khadafi was eliminated, Libya has gone a long way, but in the wrong direction. A bloodthirsty dictator, that had granted order across the country, was replaced by social chaos. Libya is today a nation going adrift where rule of law has dissolved.
Those who fought in rebel ranks in the utopian pursuit of a nascent Arab Spring are now faced with a disintegrating State, a never born or desired democracy, a rising terrorism and an increasingly widespread islamic fundamentalism. If one were to draw a balance, the result would be and is disastrous.
It is possibly following their experience with Libya that the United States opted against an intervention in Syrian affairs. History teaches, for those who know how to read it or interpret it, that each time a country exits a totalitarian regime, and has a population that has not acquired sufficient sensibility towards the concepts of democracy and peaceful cohabitation, the end result is always social anarchy. Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia are a direct witness of this deduction..