Libyans, is this really the future you want?
UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon’s noble intention to get an agreement signed by all warring factions in the Libya peace talks has failed for the time being. There are several local ceasefires, mostly mediated by elders, in the north-western region of Tripolitania and in the south-western region of Fezzan but prospects for the UN negotiations look dire. There is a deadlock. How will the situation develop in the next few months and years if no unity government can be formed, no war-deciding external support for one side will be provided, and no major international intervention takes place? In this case the security situation will get increasingly complicated.
Both major factions — the internationally recognised government in Bayda, the House of Representatives (HoR, the current parliament elected in June 2014) in Tobruk and Operation Dignity led by General Khalifa Haftar on one side and the Islamist-dominated “government” in Tripoli, the in-part reconstituted General National Congress (GNC; Libya’s first elected parliament) and Operation Libya Dawn on the other side — cannot win the civil war decisively with military means.
Libya Dawn and Operation Dignity, both very loose alliances anyway, will erode and fragment as the number of war-weary disappointed and hawkish radicals increases within all the factions.
Misrata, the coastal city 185 kilometres east of Tripoli, has realised that even with its powerful militias, the largest single military force in Libya, it cannot overwhelm all the enemies. While some hawkish leaders such as Salah Badi insist on continuing the fight, more and more people realise that an ongoing civil war or a radical Islamist state cannot be in the interest of a merchant city. Misrata will consolidate its over-stretched forces but try to keep key locations in Tripolitania and in Fezzan, as well as in Tripoli, in its hands. Zintan, in the Nafusa Mountains 130 kilometres south-west of the capital, and its Noble Tribal Army will consolidate territorial gains in northern Tripolitania, including stretches of the coastal road between Tripoli and Tunisia and on the main connection to the south. It will try to re-establish control over Libya’s western border, also to control the smuggling business, and keep key terrain in between the oil-gas fields in the south and the hydrocarbon facilities on the coast to be able to interrupt the supply at any time.
All this should allow the Noble Tribal Army to exert leverage on the GNC with the ability to isolate Tripoli at any time. The Zintanis realise that a successful military campaign to seize Tripoli is not realistic. An uprising within the city itself is also no promising option.
It is not unrealistic to think that the several local ceasefires could lead to an at least temporary regional ceasefire in the coastal plain but, without efficient supervision, renewed local outbreaks of hostilities are likely. Both major parties in Tripolitania will reorganise and rearm their forces with the help of international supporters and seek an opportunity to defeat the others.
In Fezzan and in Kufra, the oasis group in the southern Cyrenaica, there will be on-and-off fighting between the Toubou ethnic group and former Qaddafi loyalist tribes on one side and various other Arab tribes and the Tuaregs on the other. Among other causes, this will be about controlling southern Libya’s smuggling business.
In Benghazi, the capital of the Cyrenaica, the bloody confrontation between the Libya Dawn-backed Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (BRSC) and Haftar’s Operation Dignity will continue. Fighters from the Islamic State (ISIS) will become increasingly active in the struggle. If Haftar conquers the city, which is unlikely, the radical Islamists will launch a bloody terrorist campaign. After the setback in Derna, a harbour city midway between Benghazi and the border with Egypt from where ISIS has been chased away by rival jihadists, it can be expected that ISIS will try to retake the city. If they fail, they will retaliate with assassinations and bomb attacks against the population.
In Sirte on the Gulf of Sidra, ISIS will consolidate its territorial gains to prevent events such as those in Derna or a successful counteroffensive from Misrata.
They will secure their open flank to the desert and eventually seize the Jufra oasis group, 230 kilometres from the coast. Thereafter, ISIS will probably conduct an offensive to take oil terminals and harbours on the coast in the eastern Gulf of Sidra. This has several advantages for them.
By consolidating its positions in Libya and further expansion ISIS will attract other jihadist groups in Libya and additional foreign fighters to its ranks. Radical Islamists, including former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) members, will increase their influence within Libya Dawn and the GNC. LIFG, a group with links to al-Qaeda, was established in the 1990s and tried to overthrow the Qaddafi regime but failed.
The human trafficking routes through Libya will remain very attractive. Every year hundreds of thousands refugees and migrants use them to attempt to reach Europe. The recently launched EU maritime operation EUNAVFOR Med will have a very limited effect on human trafficking but will deter piracy and maritime terrorism.
On the political side, the two parliaments with two governments will stay. There won’t be a chance for a widely accepted constitution. Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates will continue to back their respective proxies. Russia will increasingly support the international recognised HoR government.
The Libyan economy will not recover. Strikes, blockades, maintenance problems and terrorist attacks will hamper the hydrocarbon industry. This will keep the revenues for the state moderate.
Ongoing mismanagement and corruption will limit funds for meaningful spending. Foreign currency reserves will be used up in the years to come. Sooner or later, the current “Central Bank of Libya pays it all” approach cannot be sustained. Foreign companies and investments will largely stay away.
The crime rate will increase as none of Libya’s governments will be able to impose order.
The conclusion is that Libya will be slowly sucked further down. A Lebanonisation for years to come will be its destiny. Even a break-up of the country would be on hand. The main question for the Libyans is whether this is the future they want. In the end the only winners will be the radical Islamists and terrorists.