April 05, 2015

Libya Unraveling

Yohannan Chemarapally

WITH the country spiraling into violent disintegration, Libyans obviously did not have anything much to cheer about or celebrate on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of their country's so called “liberation”. In fact many Libyans have now become openly nostalgic about the Gaddafi years, when peace and tranquility prevailed and their country enjoyed the highest standards of living on the African continent. Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy in the continent. Netherlands had more people living below the poverty line than Libya four years ago. During the more than four decades of rule under Gaddafi, no Libyan citizen was allowed to own weapons. Today, four years after his brutal assassination, the country is awash with weapons. The UN estimates that 800,000 Libyans have been forced to flee form their homes. Between 50,000 to 100,000 people were killed in 2011 after the military intervention of outside powers in Libya. The aftermath of western intervention in Libya has worsened the refugee crisis. During Gaddafi's time, the Libyan government kept a check on migrants heading for Europe from crossing over and getting on boats to Europe. In 2014, more than 165,000 asylum seekers have reached European shores, most of them through Libyan territory. Thousands more have perished while undertaking the perilous journey on rickety boats through rough seas. More than 4000 Libyans lost their lives as a result of the unrest last year alone. In the contested city of Benghazi, 600 people have been killed in the last three months alone. The Libyan economy is totally dependent on the revenues from oil exports. Today, oil exports have plunged dramatically. Libya's oil fields and export terminals have been captured by various militias. Fighting has also adversely impacted on the export of oil. During Gaddafi's last years, Libya was producing more than 2 million barrels per day. Today it has fallen to 160,000 barrels a day. The country now has to import 75 per cent of its fuel for domestic use. Salaries for government staff have been inordinately delayed. Unemployment along with lawlessness have dramatically risen. Power cuts have become a daily occurrence. Inflation too has been going out of control. The country's finances are being kept afloat mainly due to Gaddafi's far sightedness. Libya had more than $120 billion were invested in sovereign funds in 2011. Those funds are being rapidly depleted. President Barack Obama has conceded that he has learned his lessons from the Libyan fiasco. In 2011, he was lauded for the “leading from behind” American military intervention in the country. John McCain, leading hawk and Obama's Republican challenger in 2008 wrote an article that was full of praise for America's role. “For President Obama, the image of a bloodied Col. Gaddafi offers vindication, however harrowing, of his intervention in Libya”, wrote McCain in an op ed piece in the NYT. The American were at the time gloating over the very low cost at which they got rid of their long time 'bete noire – Muammar Gaddafi. There were no American casualties during the military drive to oust the Colonel. The US only spend slightly more than a billion dollars in its operations to overthrow the Libyan government. The true costs were reflected later, when the American ambassador to the country was assassinated and the al Qaeda, the IS and other Jihadist organizations established footholds. The former American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, had warned Obama about the dangers inherent in enforcing regime change in Libya at the time. He had drawn parallels with the invasion of Iraq and its disastrous consequences. The regime change that the West had instigated and underwritten, masquerading as a revolution, has now emerged as a threat to the global order. Like in Iraq and Syria, the freedom fighters the West had armed and financed are now showing their true colours. Militias, many of them with a definitive jihadist bent and formed on the basis of tribal affiliations, have been running riot. There are now two governments in the country, one based in the capital Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, near the border with Tunisia. The government in Tripoli depends on tribal militias and parties like the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Justice and Construction Party to control the capital and most of the country's territory. They have formed a coalition named “Golden Dawn”. Some of the militias are on the payrolls of the government or their foreign backers. The three main cities of Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata are controlled by militias loyal to the government in Tripoli. The other government in Tobruk, which has the support of the US, EU, Egypt and some of the Gulf monarchies, is allied with Gen. Khalifa Haftar and anti-Tripoli militias, including the notorious Zintan militia. Haftar is a former army officer who had served under Muammar Gaddafi and had later defected to the United States where he had become a long time CIA asset. He now leads an army of his own with the avowed aim of once again reuniting Libya and defeating the militias that prop up the government in Tripoli. The Libyan Supreme Court has deemed the government in Tobruk as “illegal”. The Egyptian and UAE air force has been helping him in his campaign, code named “Operation Dignity”. Since last year, the General has been trying to free the key city of Benghazi from the clutches of the militia. Even more alarming is the growing presence of the Islamic State (IS) in Libya. The IS is openly flaunting its presence in cities like Derna and in Sirte, the hometown of Col. Gaddafi. Under the black insignia of the IS, suicide bombings and beheadings have been carried out in recent months. The IS had earlier claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on a luxury hotel and the Iranian ambassador's residence in Tripoli. Iran had removed its diplomats from the country last year. The attack was only symbolic. The gruesome beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in the second week of February has come in for widespread criticism. The Egyptian government has called on the United Nations Security council to introduce a resolution to mandate a peace keeping force to be deployed in the country. The Egyptian President, has said that the international community has no option other than creating a global coalition to confront the militias in Libya. Italy is the only European country that was in favour of another military intervention. Italy is the country worst affected by the surge of a asylum seekers heading from Libya. All the other major Western countries have rejected the Egyptian proposal for military intervention and have instead once again called for a “political solution” in Libya. Despite earlier statements from senior Italian officials, including the Defense Minister on the need for an international peace keeping force in Libya, Rome too is now calling for a political solution. Washington views the government in Tripoli as one run by “moderate Islamists”. In President Sisi book, there is no distinction between good or bad Islamists. The government run Al Ahram newspaper in a commentary blamed the US and allies for the mess in Libya. Egyptian war planes had launched an air raid on the Islamist dominated city of Derna in retaliation to the killing of the Egyptian hostages. Suicide bombers affiliated to the IS struck in the town of Qubbah a few days later killing more than 40 people and seriously injuring 70 more. The IS has claimed that the attacks were in retaliation to the Egyptian air raids on Derna which also claimed many civilian lives. The Egyptian President is now call for the creation of a pan-Arab force to deal with terrorist threats in the region. Egypt wants to once again flex its muscles as the leading regional power. The Egyptian raid on Derna has infuriated the government in Tripoli and led to a display of disunity among the Arab powers supporting the Tobruk government. Omar al Hassi, the Prime Minister of the Tripoli based government condemned the “treacherous aggression and terrorism” carried out by the Egyptian air force. He said that the Egyptian attack on the town of Derna was conducted “without any solid proof” that those responsible for the killing of the Copts resided there. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initially took the side of Qatar, which had objected to targeting of Derna by the Egyptian air force without prior consultations. The GCC, which Saudi Arabia dominates, quickly retracted from its earlier position and justified the Egyptian response. Qatar and Turkey tilt towards the government in Tripoli and are supportive of the Islamist groups supporting it, including the MB who have successfully fought elections in the country. The MB is on the list of proscribed terrorists organizations in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Gen. Haftar, whose military campaign has the strong backing of the Egyptian President, President Abdel Fatah al Sisi, has said that his goal is to purge the MB from Libyan politics. The MB in Libya is not a big player like in neighbouring Egypt, where the party had handily won a general election as well as the Presidency.