One viewpoint of the origins of the current violence in Libya is that it is a result of the competing political tensions in post-Gaddafi Libya of Centrists, Liberals and Islamists in the General National Congress, which was disbanded in 2014. In this respect it related to the question of the constitution of the future governance of Libya, in particular the degree to which this governance should be Islamist in nature. This places the conflict into the context of competing visions of the type of governance, although we should note that labels such as ‘Liberal’ and ‘Centrist’ are generalisations of political stances, and have unique applications for Libya and a more reductive, simpler, description would be of Nationalists and Islamists. Another view, one more cynical but equally plausible, is that the conflict is a scramble for power and wealth as rivals adjust to a post-revolutionary Libya where power and wealth are up for grabs. Both of these viewpoints point to a failure to craft a new social contract that is fair and equitable to all Libyans while accommodating entrenched political and religious positions.
The subsequent escalation into civil war resulted in a situation whereby there were three governments and associated fighting forces vying for military dominance in Libya while at the same time pursuing a negotiated political solution. There was also the emergence of other actors, amongst these the Jihadists (which included ISIS). It is tempting to view the conflict in terms of the current rivalry between the democratically elected Council of Deputies (CoD), also known as the ‘Tobruk Government’ or ‘House of Representatives’ (HoR), and the rival General National Congress (GNC), but this fails to convey the various interests at play. These include the Zintani Brigades, the Misrata Brigades, the Petroleum Facilities Guard, Tuareg and Toubou militias, which have allied with either side but have their own distinctive interests, and the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC) and ISIS. The military situation of the CoD and GNC rivals at the national level are determined by the support of their allied armed groups and militias, as well as the fortunes of the fiercely independent and distinctly Islamist BSRC and the Jihadists. The third government is the Tripoli based the Government of National Salvation. There is an international dimension to the conflict, with Egypt and the UAE backing the CoD and Qatar and Turkey backing the GNS, and the United States targeting ISIS.
There is a strong argument to made that there are no genuine national level actors in Libya but instead competing governments seeking the backing of a myriad of actors at the regional and local level whom make alliances with the ‘governments’ on the basis of their own interests. In the course of the war these have sometimes changed sides or formed alliances that were temporary and have broken down. The situation is more one of armed groups, ‘city states’, tribes such as the Tuareg (significant territory holders in the south-west) and distinctly Jihadist actors such as ISIS. The continuing failure to reach a political solution at the national level and the lack of a national force to provide security ensures that loyalty to armed groups and the tribes and militias of the city states continues. It also generates a security vacuum outside of the areas where the forces of the competing interests hold sway. Without a general state of peace and security the towns and cities are forced to pursue their own path to security and prosperity. These factors combine to prevent the formation of a national government that will tackle the socio-economic problems affecting the population and which will not be resolved while a Nationalist versus Islamist political situation continues at the national level of politics.
Despite the severe obstacles towards achieving a peaceful solution to Libya’s war, there has been some progress, including the formation of a UN supported ‘unity government’ in 2016. This will be discussed in the next blog.
Next week: Mediation and Negotiation
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Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator.