What’s next for Libya?
UN Special Envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon has been trying to herd the scattered Libyan politicians of all political shades around the table in order to negotiate a peace treaty of sorts, put an end to the fighting and establish a unity government that can keep the country together and enable it to serve as a credible member of the international community.
We have all been there before with, of course. Depending on how they are counted, there have been as many as six temporary and transitional prime ministers and governments since 2011 — two of which were elected but did not take office.
The problem, however, has always been not so much forming a government, but rather the ability of any government to actually rule and exercise power and a monopoly on the use of force in a country with hundreds of militias that form temporary and transient alliances only to turn around and fight each other.
In this Libyan circus, no one is holding their breath in the hope that the UN-sponsored meetings in Morocco will actually produce anything more than something that the United Nations can claim as a “success in the long process of international diplomatic efforts” before the camera.
This pessimism is due in large part to the following key missing ingredients in the process.
The first is the lack of a complete package, a new road map and a hard restart of the entire Libyan transition, after four years of total failures, that will ensure that any new government can count on international assistance and even a military force to protect its members and secure the urban centres of Libya, including the capital Tripoli, Benghazi, Misrata and Sabha, where 80% of the population lives.
The second reason has to do with those who have been excluded from the entire Libya transition and UN process, namely, the estimated 2 million exiles scattered between Egypt, Tunisia, the UAE, Jordan and Turkey, most of whom are former allies and officials of the late Muammar Qaddafi. Thus, we are left to wonder how excluding 25% of the population will help rebuild Libya, given all that we have learnt from the ongoing saga in Iraq.
Third, Leon has opted so far simply to keep talking, trying to convince the warring militias that they can divide the pie between them instead of tearing it apart. Unfortunately, he has chosen to use only carrots and no sticks and delayed the UN process of showing the stick of sanctions against individuals who have committed war crimes despite having a clear UN mandate, passed in September 2014.
Finally, Leon has chosen to maintain a fig leaf of international recognition to one side over the others and, in doing so, ensuring that they become far more intransigent and insistent on trying to exclude others in the process.
Given this grim picture, Libya seems heading for the following scenarios:
Agree to form a unity government in which each group gets to have a number of cushy positions and continue being at the mercy of armed militias of one type or another and just label them a “National Army.” Start the whole process again of risking that this government and its ministers will be beholden to armed groups, compromising its sovereignty and integrity and wait until the next cycle of violence breaks out once the militias disagree on something and start fighting.
Take real charge of Libya and put it under international guardianship, send in peacekeeping forces from Arab and African countries with logistical, aerial and naval support from NATO to secure the major cities and calm the tense environment, and, in parallel, start a UN-sponsored political process to establish a new map for the future. In essence repeating the same historical experience of post-WWII Libya, when allies provided an armed presence and the United Nations sent in Adrian Pelt to oversee a political process that ended in Libya’s independence and 1951 constitution.
Subcontract Libya to the Arab world and let willing and able Arab countries, particularly neighbouring states such as Egypt and Algeria, intervene and take ownership of the problem directly. This would be akin to what happened in the Lebanese civil war when Syria was given the green light to enter Lebanon and impose some sort of an occupation, operating from behind the curtain of a weak and willing local government.
Try to isolate and close up Libya by withdrawing international recognition of any government, freezing Libyan assets and reserves around the world, blockading oil terminals to deny warring groups any revenues, and relying on the usual counter-terrorism measures, such as targeted drone strikes to hit terrorist groups when needed. The reasoning behind this proposal is straightforward and simple: deprive terrorist groups and warring factions of funds and wait until they all run out of money and come back to the international community begging for a negotiated settlement and re-engagement.
The question remains, however, who gets to make the decision on which scenario should be selected?