Libya is quietly slipping into chaos while the more established debacles of Iraq and Syria dominate in Western headlines and corridors of power. The more grave and consequential the Libyan civil war becomes, the less attention is paid to it. It’s almost as if the country has already been relegated to an embarrassing footnote in the history books, another ‘oops’ on the growing list of flawed Western interventions.
But it can and will get worse if Europe and its international partners choose to stand idle, because there can be no long-lasting stability in North Africa unless Libya is brought under control.
A Security Crisis
It’s a worst-case scenario that has been unfolding with stunning regularity throughout the MENA region: Islamic State (ISIS) moves into a vacuum and quickly becomes entrenched, bolstering its revenue, recruits, and standing with jihadis worldwide. Many thought that Libya would not provide fertile ground for ISIS expansion due to the country’s tight-knit tribal structure and aversion to outsiders. ISIS appears to be proving them wrong by going the franchise route and aligning its ‘brand’ with pre-existing Libyan Islamist outfits. Now the black flag is flying over Sirte and Derna, providing ISIS with a base to make further gains amidst the fighting between Tubruq and Tripoli. There are also more established, al-Qaeda aligned jihadist groups operating in Libya such as Ansar al-Sharia, which is currently proving a tactical headache for General Haftar’s forces in Benghazi. Continue reading →
CAIRO (AP) — On a chilly night, bearded militants gathered at a stage strung with colorful lights in Darna, a Mediterranean coastal city long notorious as Libya‘s center for jihadi radicals. With a roaring chant, they pledged their allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State group.
With that meeting 10 days ago, the militants dragged Darna into becoming the first city outside of Iraq and Syria to join the “caliphate” announced by the extremist group. Already, the city has seen religious courts ordering killings in public, floggings of residents accused of violating Shariah law, as well as enforced segregation of male and female students. Opponents of the militants have gone into hiding or fled, terrorized by a string of slayings aimed at silencing them. Continue reading →
Interviewee: Mary Fitzgerald, The Irish Times
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor
October 3, 2014
Three years after the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya is unraveling at a pace and scale few analysts expected, says Mary Fitzgerald, a Tripoli-based journalist. She says the violence which teeters on the brink of civil war, is rooted more in regional, economic, and social cleavages than religious differences. “Libya’s crisis is too often reduced to a narrative of Islamist versus non-Islamist,” she explains. “It’s less an ideological battle than a scramble for power and resources.” Meanwhile, she says that international efforts to stem the crisis, which are often viewed suspiciously in Libya, have achieved little.
Supporters of Operation Dawn wave Libyan flags in Tripoli as they demonstrate against the new Libyan parliament, September 2014. (Photo: Ismail Zitouny/Courtesy Reuters)
There are constant reports of violence in Libya. How bad is it?
Libyans talk of their country being at its most serious juncture since the uprising against Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011. The scale and speed of the unraveling this summer has taken many by surprise. The ensuing power struggle has deepened polarization not just in the political sphere but also on the street, and even within families. Many Libyans fear their country could tip into civil war. Continue reading →
Syrian President Bashar al Assad, during a nationally televised speech Tuesday, conveyed a lack of interest in any peaceful settlement to the uprising that began in his country in March 2011. Rather than pledging concessions to the opposition, as he has done in speeches past, al Assad vowed to use an “iron fist” to put down the rebellion. He labeled anti-regime protesters as traitors and terrorists taking part in a global conspiracy against his rule, and especially derided the actions of the Arab states that are voicing rising criticism of the methods he has used to counter the uprising. Both sides have become more violent in recent months, and as the protests drag on, al Assad is becoming less willing to compromise.
Al Assad said the current threat is the most dire the country has faced since the Islamist uprising his father Hafez put down in the 1980s. His reference to this period in Syrian history was likely meant to deliver an implicit warning that he, too, is willing to use as much force as necessary to suppress the new rebellion. The events of last year’s so-called Arab Spring may have led to the overthrow of al Assad’s counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, but they failed to dislodge the Alawite regime in Syria. And after a 10-month uprising, al Assad intends to take all measures within his means to stay in power.
There is a widely held notion in many foreign capitals and newsrooms that al Assad is barely holding on to power. However, there is still no clear indication that he is failing to maintain any of the regime’s four pillars of power: Alawite unity, the supremacy of the Ba’ath Party, the supremacy of the al Assad clan and Alawite control over the military-intelligence apparatus. Al Assad certainly finds himself in an uncomfortable position, but regime change is not the inevitable outcome. Continue reading →
An affable gentleman, “Mahmoud” ushered this observer into the Benghazi People’s Court (Mahkamat al-Sha’b) and showed me the freshly painted courtroom where on December 19, 2006, the current NTC leader and long term CIA favorite, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, twice upheld death sentences by firing squad against a Palestinian doctor, Ashraf al-Hujuj, and five Bulgarian nurses Kristiyana Valtcheva, Nasya Nenova, Valentina Siropulo, Valya Chervenyashka, and Snezhana Dimitrova.
The death sentences were requested by the Libyan prosecutor in his opening statement four months earlier, in the final appeal in the fake HIV show trial case # 607/2003 held at the criminal court in Benghazi.
The appellate judge in the case was none other than the current head of the NATO-installed Libyan National Transition Council (NTC) Mustafa Abdul Jalil, whose formal legal education consisted of sitting in on some Sharia law classes. Following his appellate decision in the case, and for other services rendered to the former regime, Jalil was rewarded with the post of Minister of Justice. He served loyally in that position until American associates encouraged the intensely ambitious Minister to resign on February 24, 2011, the day he joined the Benghazi based uprising, as “leader.”
The world scoffed (especially after the Qaddafis accused the revolutionaries of a lot more outlandish things, from putting hallucinogenic drugs in their Nescafe to being simple “criminals”). These weren’t jihadist terrorists — they were ordinary Libyans seeking freedom from an evil, capricious tyrant. And their leaders were secular liberals, people like Mahmoud Jibril, Mahmoud Shammam, and Ali Tarhouni — who sold the revolution to the West and made NATO intervention politically palatable.
This narrative was challenged as it became evident that some of the best anti-Qaddafi fighters were Islamists like the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, which was later accused by some of killing interim “defense minister” Abdel Fattah Younis. Then, when Tripoli fell in August, one of the most prominent figures to emerge was Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the bearded former emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.