May 4, 2012

TSG IntelBrief: Libya: The Long and Formidable Road to Stability

As of early May 2012, the prospects for stability and the realization of the shared goals that led Libyans to finally revolt against the autocratic rule of the late Muammar Qaddafi remain uncertain. Political infighting, intertribal violence, disregard for international law, and a confused electorate present formidable obstacles to building the type of unified and resilient nation both Libyans and much of the international community hoped for in the wake of a long-standing dictatorship.

October 23, 2011 marked a new era in Libyan history as the National Transitional Council (NTC) formally declared the nation liberated from Qaddafi's era of tyranny. On the same day, the NTC Chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, called for forgiveness and reconciliation. Nearly six months later, however, Libya remains arguably more divided than it was under Qaddafi's regime. A united and fully functioning Libya has yet to replace the reality of a country struggling with a host of profound challenges.

While members of the international community had urged strong measures against the Qaddafi regime, several of the key players – most notably the U.S., the U.K., and France, the P3 of the UN Security Council – though apparently mindful of the complex situation, have been thus far unwilling to address several of the key obstacles that Libyans must overcome. Their involvement would be crucial during this period of transition as the international community's support could help contain – or, at least, mitigate – the adverse effects of the recent changes in Libya as well as the spillover effect of the ongoing chaos in the Sahel region.


The Fractured State of the National Transitional Council

A number of recent developments have been indicative of what could significantly undermine Libya's fundamental stability. Of prime importance is the fact that the NTC is no longer perceived as the legitimate body it once was when the rebel forces were maneuvering to oust Qaddafi last year. Its inability to exert full control over the essential matters of state has become obvious since the fall of Tripoli in September 2011. As but one example, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, deputy head of the NTC and its official spokesperson, had to resign on January 22 following earlier protests in Benghazi against the alleged lack of transparency within the NTC.

The frustrations felt by Libyans has also been manifested in the form of proclamations for factional autonomy, as when 3,000 people reportedly attended a meeting in Benghazi on March 6 where they sought to  declare independence for eastern Libya (Cyrenaica). (After gaining its independence from Italy in 1951, Libya was originally split into three federal regions – Cyrenaica, Tripolitana and Fezzan – until it became a unitary state in 1963. Cyrenaica notably contains an estimated two-thirds of the country's oil reserves.) The attendees elected Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi, who is also a member of the NTC, as the leader of the newly declared region.

More recently, the growing schism between the interim government under the auspices of Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib and the NTC has led to a steady exchange of accusations between the two entities, where each holds the other responsible for underperformance. Despite Chairman Jalil's recent reassurances that the NTC does not wish to jeopardize the forthcoming elections in June by dismissing the cabinet at the eleventh hour, the deteriorating relationship between the two key Libyan bodies does not instill confidence among many observers. This political infighting will only introduce additional confusion for Libyans faced with the prospect of determining their own future for the first time since Qaddafi's 1969 coup.

Nevertheless, the array of concerns is not limited to political circles alone. The proliferation of arms and a plethora of militia "brigades" have also seriously weakened the overall security situation. It has been extremely difficult – at times even impossible – for the NTC to control either the "brigades" or the sporadic violence exploding in different parts of Libya that have resulted from the increasing interethnic and intertribal tensions that have already left hundreds dead and countless wounded.

Despite the recurring perils from armed groups and the pressing need to disarm the "brigades," the recent UN Security Council resolution 2040, while renewing the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), mandated UNSMIL to assist the Libyan authorities in merely the demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants into civilian life. On the other hand, the term 'disarmament' was deliberately not included in the text.

Equally concerning have been the large scale reprisals (including killings) and increasing human rights violations that have taken place in a desire to settle old scores. This has not only added to the growing humanitarian crisis in some parts of the country, but has also made the process of reconciliation difficult. Such chaos in a post-conflict area often serves – as it is now – as a fertile ground for recruitment by extremist elements. This is particularly troublesome given the proliferation of heavy weaponry in Libya and several neighboring states.


A Question of Legitimacy

Questions abound regarding the legal standards being applied in deciding the fate of Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, who was captured by a rebel militia faction last fall. Although UN Security Council resolution 1970 referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the ensuing debate over who should try him has only further highlighted the NTC's lack of control over "brigades." In this case, the Zintan militia has repeatedly refused to transfer Saif Qaddafi to the central authorities since his capture in November 2011. On the other hand, the ICC has thus far failed to report to the UN Security Council the failure of Libyan authorities to produce the accused. Analysts conclude that the P3, in particular, are only too reluctant to highlight any breaches of international protocol by the Libyan authorities.

The June elections, if held on time, will be significant in determining the long-term fate of the country. However, the national elections will only garner widespread support and the elected candidates their much-needed legitimacy if the electoral process and the results are inclusive, take into account different regional demands, and assuage the fears of ordinary Libyans over the lack of security, transparency and uncertainty regarding their political and economic future. The recent decision by the NTC – one that seems inexplicable for both its reasoning and timing – to forbid from participation those political parties formed along religious, tribal and ethnic lines is expected to have grave consequences in a country where some of the strongest voices belong to the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamists.

To ensure stability for Libya and the wider Sahel, it is necessary for the international community to directly acknowledge the many challenges that have prevailed in Libya over the past few months. This should also be applicable to the international community's partnership with the post-Qaddafi Libyan authorities. Such engagement would significantly help ease the process of transition, which, if not carefully managed now, could not only exacerbate the instability, but also very likely lead to civil war.




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