What’s next for Libya

Jihadists in Libya  are direct threat to Europe: French PM Manuel Valls. Some people even argue that Libya as a state has ceased to exist. Where is Libya heading to in your opinion, into more chaos and violence, and could it be prevented? Read few comments.

Gabriele IacovinoResponsabile Analisti, Ce.S.I. – Centro Studi Internazionali

Until the fall of Gheddafi regime Libya has been a country dominated by anarchy where different militias fought to gain power and control of territory. In this dynamics the fight between SECULAR MILITIAS AND ISLAMISTS has been a trend that destabilized more and more the country. In this perspective jihadist movements reinforced their presence in the country and started to take advantage of this instability. Moreover the new dialectic developed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has been adopted by these Libyan groups that, at the end of last year, arrived to give a bayat (oath of allegiance) to the Caliph al-Baghdadi. In this way they became the representation of Islamic State in Libya and, thanks to this, they could reinforce their militias and begin to operate also in other region of the country then Derna, where they are from. Because Derna is the region of Libya where jihadism was historically strong and was first related to al-Qaeda and now to the Islamic State.

Now, in this situation of strong instability other militias, especially first linked to the Islamist universe, are now defining themselves as Islamic State, as in Sirte. In this way, the country is doomed to fall in a further escalation of violence where also a military intervention by the international community can not be a single way answer to this situation. Also a diplomatic action of the UN supported by the government of countries like Italy, France and Great Britain is needed to try to looking for a solution between the different tribal souls of Libya. Only in this way an international operation could reconcile the country and fight fruitfully the treat of the Islamic State.

Regarding the ISIS treats to Europe, right now they are especially a media campaign. There are not indicators that a direct threat can arrive from the Islamic State of Libya to Europe. More dangerous is the message of the Islamic State that can activate cells in Europe. But, if the situation in Libya will get worst and worst and the instability of the country could permit a strengthening of the Islamic State in the country this situation could represent a serious threat to Italy and Europe, being Libya a safe heaven for jihadist groups.

Edwin BakkerProfessor, Director Centre for Terrorism & Counter Terrorism, Leiden University

It is a difficult issue and the main question is should there be an coordinated (Western-led) intervention or not. The Egyptians and others have briefly attacked IS in that country, but many worry that the situation might get out of hand and that it requires more than just a few air strikes, special force operations or perhaps drone attacks. I would not say that Libya seized to exist. There is still some sort of cooperation between the various factions and some level of a feeling of common responsibility. At the same time there is no progress towards national unity, in fact further defragmentation is a bigger threat and the rise of IS is worrying many inside Libya, in neighbouring countries and Europe. But again, what to do? How to make sure that an intervention solves more problems than it creates? I guess gathering intelligence is now a priority. There seems to be a willingness among certain countries to keep a closer eye on the situation and to prepare for military action. Especially France seems to play an important if not leading role. Italy is worried too and its prime minister has also stated several times that more needs to be done. For now: it is on the agenda and possibly at some military HQ and intel rooms people are preparing various scenarios, but there is also reluctance as nobody wants to dive into a new adventure with uncertain outcome.

Lorenzo NannettiInternational Affairs Analyst

Libya is effectively a failed state, because there’s no single institution government that can claim to control the country (or at least most of it).

The legitimate, internationally recognized government led by Abdullah al-Thani had to flee the capital Tripoli last year and now has taken refuge in Tobruk, and has support from the Operation Dignity lead by General Haftar. In Tripoli there’s a competing, non-recognized government led by Omar al-Hasi and created and supported by the islamist militia from Misurata.  Nearby there’s the militia from Zintan, which recognizes the Tobruk government and competes with the one from Misurata.  Then, in the middle, we have the jihadists of Ansar al-Sharia (largest group in Libya) in Benghazi and the Islamic State forces in Derna. Other affiliated groups are in other places, but are smaller.
Finally, in the south of the country (the Fezzan) we have Touareg and Toubou tribes that do more or less what they want and control trafficking and smuggling as a source of revenue. In other words, the country is divided in several power areas, all competing with each other, all unable, so far, to take control from the others.

The two main groups are those representing the two governments – if they were to find a negotiated agreement to settle political differences, they could unite and defeat the jihadists (also being able to call on outside forces, like Europe, for help) and also find agreements with the tribes in the south. But so far their differences remain, and therefore jihadi groups continue to find space to expand. The problem here is also one of external support: the Tobruk legitimate government is supported by Egypt and United Arab Emirates. The one in Tripoli by Turkey and Qatar… regional competition is a source of competition in Libya too.

If no solution is found, the country is headed towards more fighting between opposing factions and more headway by jihadi forces is likely. At the same time, no external intervention (for example by Europe) looks useful unless a political solution between the two main players is found. They are too big to be “subdued” by force and that would give strength to islamist claims of a “crusade”.

Therefore, any solution likely has to make sure the Tripoli and Tobruk governments find an agreement first (or at least both agree on what to do), and this means making sure regional influencers (UAE, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar) do not fuel the conflict. Once done, Jihadists can be isolated and targeted, and agreements with the tribes in the south found. Europe has lots of interests (political, security, economic) in making this happen – but it has to be seen if UAE, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar share this desire as well. The problem is that influence in the whole Middle East North Africa area is being redefined, and no country is willing to cede that influence to others, not even in Libya. The result is, as said above, that continued competition will just leave space open for extremism to rise and expand.

Ryan CalderAssistant Professor of Sociology and Islamic Studies, Johns Hopkins University

The short answer is that things don’t look very good in Libya. Fighting between Khalifa Haftar’s forces in the east (centered in Benghazi) and Libya Dawn in the west (centered in Tripoli) does not look likely to end anytime soon. A third major entity, Ansar al-Shariah, has also become increasingly powerful. In October 2014, it announced allegiance to ISIS. It is strong in Derna (in the east) and Sirte (in the center of the coast; Sirte has oil, which provides income to Ansar al-Shariah/ISIS). In addition to those, there is a smattering of smaller militias around the country whose allegiances shift constantly. To make matters more complicated, the Egyptian government, largely responding to an attack by Ansar al-Shariah/ISIS against Egyptian Copts working in Libya, is now militarily involved in Libya by attacking Ansar al-Shariah/ISIS. The role of other regional governments, such as those of the GCC, is likely to increase as well, though it will generally not be in the form of overt military intervention but in supporting various factions.

James FearonProfessor of Political Science, Senior Fellow, Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

Libya is in the midst of a complex civil war over control of the central government. There is clearly no functioning state. There are many local bosses and militias, loosely grouped into two broad coalitions that probably don’t have much internal coherence.

I think this situation is likely to continue for some time. At least, it is hard to see one side gaining the strength and coherence to reestablish rule over the whole country any time soon.

James M. DorseySenior Fellow, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University

‎Even though the West has effectively rejected Egyptian calls for expanding the anti-Islamic State coalition to also target Libya, it is in effect making the same mistake of lumping all Islamist together. Egyptian air strikes and unconditional backing of the anti-Islamist Dignity coalition fails to recognize that many in the Islamist Dawn coalition are abhorred by Islamic State actions. The upshot is more violence and more fracturing of Libya.

Paul Sullivan, Adjunct Professor of Security Studies, Georgetown University

Libya is a failed state. It has already fallen apart. It is likely it will vaporize into possibly war lord states or become a protectorate in parts of neighbors. It is very sad.

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