In 2011 when Libya's former ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, was murdered by the mob of militiamen, many people believed it was the beginning of a new, free, democratic country. Libya, however, did not become free or democratic. Instead, it became fractured, violent, tribal and divided. Rather than starting a new life, Libya was sliding slowly toward some sort of hell.
Over the years, as violence became a daily casual occurrence, Libya almost became synonymous in the news with disorder, and on its way to becoming yet another failed stated, like Somalia.
In spite of that, hope emerged anew with the attempt of the United Nations to negotiate a national agreement through UNMSIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya).
In its Resolution 2144 (March 14, 2014), article 6, the UN Security Council tasked the UNMSIL to support Libyan government efforts to:
- Ensure the transition to democracy;
- Promote the rule of law and monitor and protect human rights, in accordance with Libya's international legal obligations;
- Control unsecured arms and related materiel in Libya and counter their proliferation; and
- Build governance capacity.
Subsequently, on December 17, 2015, under the leadership of UNMSIL, the different protagonists of the Libyan crisis reached a historic agreement in the Moroccan city of Skhirat.
The agreement did not mean the end of the turmoil in Libya: there are still a lot of splinter groups that are not a part of the accord. They have both the means and the will to stand in the way of peace. There is also the lethal Islamic State (ISIS), present throughout the country with proxy organizations, ready to step in, and for which agreements mean nothing.
Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN and head of UNMSIL, made it clear that:
"Urgent solutions must be found to bolster the Libyan-led fight against terrorism and in particular the threat of Daesh [ISIS]. The dire humanitarian situation in Benghazi and other areas needs to be addressed as a matter of highest priority, including through the establishment of a dedicated reconstruction fund for Benghazi. The concerns of the Eastern and Southern constituencies should be brought to the forefront. This work must start immediately. The signing of the Libyan Political Agreement is the first step on the path of building a democratic Libyan state based on the principles of human rights and the rule of law."
No sooner was the agreement concluded than, unsurprisingly, the answer "No" came both from the uninvited marginal groups, as well as ISIS.
When a truck bomb was detonated, leaving 65 people dead, on January 7, 2016 outside a police training center in the western city of Zliten, the message was clear: there will be no peace. No group took credit for the attack.
Libya is divided by tribalism. Many of the armed groups that represent the various tribes of the country could not care less about national unity: they would only lose wealth and power to the increased dominance of the federal government. As a result, they would become insignificant and die out. As long as Libya is in chaos, it benefits them to bear arms.
Other Libyans seem to favor the "Caliphate solution." Hard-core Islamists want a strict and radical Islam to prevail in the Muslim world through the re-Islamization of society. They believe that by countering the influence of the West, Islam can once again become the most important influence on the international scene and regain its long-lost, Golden Age prominence. They aim to make clear that any UN-brokered accord is a Western-imposed subterfuge to halt the inexorable advance of glorious Islam.
From the time of the Ottoman Empire until the overthrow of Gaddafi, Libya was ruled by heavily-centralized governments that delegated minimal power to the regions. This tight rule insured peace and stability to both the people and to the state. Tribes existed, but had only an honorific role and a cultural existence, no more than that. They were used, at times, as auxiliaries to strengthen the power of the state and, in return, were given economic grants.
When Gaddafi toppled King Idris Senussi in 1969, he consolidated the state and made it all-prominent. He subdued the population through generous cash handouts and a wide array of economic concessions. The population did not have to work; if some did, they held senior positions that did not require great effort. This way, Gaddafi guaranteed to himself total control of the state and the legitimacy of "the Revolution" to get rid of recalcitrant or groups or individuals -- as he expeditiously did.
In the aftermath of the "Arab Spring" of 2011 and the ensuing uprising of the Cyrenaica region against the rule of Gaddafi, NATO sided with the revolutionaries of Benghazi to topple him. However, NATO conducted its war operations from the skies, and never fielded any ground forces. In a March 2015 article in Foreign Policy, Ethan Chorin wrote:
"The current situation in Libya is the product of a series of significant mistakes, erroneous assumptions, and myths that date back to NATO intervention in 2011. The United States and its NATO allies made a fundamental mistake in not imposing a robust reconstruction plan on Libya and stabilizing the country before radicalism was able to flourish. Even U.S. President Barack Obama understands that this was a mistake: In an interview last year with the New York Times, he cited lack of a plan for "the day after Qaddafi is gone" as potentially one of his biggest foreign-policy regrets. (The Libyans, of course, share much of the blame too.)"
As Gaddafi's forces withdrew from various regions, religious and tribal groups moved in and helped themselves to the huge arsenals left behind. With that came the temptation to rule and have access to a share of oil reserves. At the fall of Ghaddafi in October 2011, there were over 300 armed groups, all dreaming of leadership and control.
In May 2014, Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, with support from the U.S., Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia, led an army from the east to rid the country of the powerful Islamist groups. His secular-oriented movement, dubbed "Operation Dignity," in spite of a few limited successes, soon faltered miserably.
In reaction to the establishment of Haftar's movement, the Islamists, supported by Turkey and Qatar, put together their own front, Fajr Libya ("Libya Dawn"), on July 13, 2014. The declared aim of Fajr Libya was to correct the direction of the revolution and set up a stable government; the undeclared objective was to turn Libya into an Islamist country. Fajr Libya was made up of several Islamist militias, all dreaming of power, wealth and religious consecration:
- The Muslim Brotherhood
- Libyan Shield Militia of Misrata with links with the Ikhwane (brotherhood)
- The Tripoli Brigade, of the famous Islamist leader Belhaj, who had opposed Gaddafi openly
- The Libya Revolutionaries Operation Room
The Fajr Libya front was, in addition, allied to a large group of heavily armed brigades, each controlling one tribe or region and reflecting the disintegration of Libya into small emirates reminiscent of the taifas in Arab Spain.
During the era of the Barbary pirates, which lasted from the 16th to the 19th century, North Africa developed a taste for piracy, under the religious justification of Jihad al-Bahr ("jihad at sea") that protected the Dar al-Islam ("domain of Islam") from the Dar al-Kufr ("domain of infidels"). This religious justification became especially prominent after the fall of Grenada in 1492, and the ensuing efforts to reconquer al-Andalus (Spain) from the Christians. The Barbary pirates' raids meant easy gains of goods and slaves.
Today, the tribal piracy instinct again seems strong, for various reasons. Among them are:
- The affirmation of undemocratic tribal and patriarchal power under the cover of Islam;
- The ability to dispose of the riches of the country directly, by selling oil and benefiting from its revenues without having to pay any taxes to a central government;
- Undertaking contraband commerce and, most importantly, organizing, unhindered, immigration traffic to Europe.
Many of the Libyan groups and warlords therefore see a national reconciliation as a threat to their power and lucrative business. Many believe that with the Zliten terrorist attack of January 7, the warlords were sending a message to Libyan politicians that their political agreement would not go farther than Skhirat, the Moroccan city where it was signed.
ISIS badly needs Libya for its operations in North Africa: to spread its paramilitary brigades, to organize its terrorist networks and, most importantly, to prepare its political pawns, after the chaos, to take power.
Its taking control of North Africa, the soft underbelly of Europe, would amount to getting ready to recapture, by terror and force, al-Andalus from the Catholic Christians of Spain.
In his Foreign Policy article, Chorin notes that,
"Over the last four years, Libya has become a key node in the expansion of Islamic radicalism across North Africa, West Africa, across the Sahel, and into Europe. Arms and fighters have crossed Libya's porous borders, feeding radical organizations from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to Boko Haram and reinforcing radical trends in the heart of the Middle East. If events in Libya continue on their current path, they will likely haunt the United States and its Western allies for a decade or more."
If Libya is not stabilized in the near future, the whole world will regret it.
Stabilizing Libya would undoubtedly help to fight religious radicalism in West Africa; cut the lifeline of the lethal Boko Haram, active in the whole of West Africa; and impede al-Qaeda, which is threatening the Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
To insure peace and stability for Libya, the UN's Skhirat Agreement recommended strengthening UNMSIL to be a peace-keeping force. This peace-keeping force must be of, at least, 10,000 elite soldiers with heavy equipment and NATO air support to undertake the pacification of the country, with obviously the help of government forces sympathetic to the Skhirat accord.
This peace-keeping force could be made of the following countries: Spain, Italy, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan and Senegal. The problem with any UN peacekeeping force, as seen, for example, with UNIFIL in South Lebanon, is that when the first shot is fired, they run. There also seems to be a tendency among peacekeepers, especially in Africa, to trade food for sex with children.
The Skhirat Agreement recommended the following actions be implemented as soon as possible. This is what the participants agreed to, but all they seem to do is underscore the sanctimonious grandiosity of the UN:
1 - Disarm militias:
Disarm all paramilitary groups by persuasion, incentive or sheer force and make, by law, bearing arms strictly illegal;
Comment: Who should do that?
2 - Train a national army and a police force:
Offer the militias the possibility to integrate the army and police force and be under the rule of law.
Comment: Why would the militias prefer that to having their own familiar honey-pot?
3 - Undertake a cultural study:
There is an urgent necessity to understand the social and cultural make-up of the Libyan society. The Amazigh and Tuareg people must be granted unconditionally their cultural rights.
Comment: Is anyone expecting the warrior tribesmen willingly to go along with that?
4 - Adopt a federal system of government:
Probably the best government system that could befit the numerous needs and the varied wishes and hopes of the Libyan population in political, cultural and religious terms is undeniably the federal system, with which tribal groupings, cultural minorities and religious lodges can, eventually, all identify.
Comment: ISIS and the other groups would probably fight this to the death.
5 - Help the country set up an open and competitive economy:
International economic institutions will need to help Libya restructure its economy, especially now that the price of oil has fallen steeply. Libya is and has always being an oil-producing country where most of the natives never worked.
Comment: This is the problem of so many oil-producing countries in which whoever is in charge does not want to share the spoils.
The problem always seems to be: Who should be doing the hard and dangerous work -- the boots on the ground to mop up.
Libya is on the verge of implosion. The Skhirat Agreement, with its good intentions, is not enough. If the armed groups are left on the loose, Libya will effectively be the newest failed state. At present, Libya is a lethal danger to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
The Skhirat Agreement (left), with its good intentions, is not enough to save Libya from Islamist militias such as Fajr Libya (right).
Dr. Mohamed Chtatou, an author, is a Professor at the University of Mohammed V in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Saudi and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East and Islam.
 First Taifa period (1009–1106), second Taifa period (1140–1203) and third Taifa period (1232–1287).