Analysis: The future of Libya at risk as armed mobilisation and civil war leads to the loss of political strategy

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This paper examines the war being fought in Libya between Colonel Gaddafi’s forces and the opposition with their stronghold in Eastern Libya. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt the opposition was not able to swiftly remove Colonel Muammar Gaddafi from power. Instead a civil war is taking place where the opposition is backed by international forces.(2) This article will focus on the internal war and the consequences for Libya, with particular focus on the arming of the rebel groups. Two issues are of concern: one is the duration of the fighting and the other is what happens when the fighting stops? In a country with high unemployment and insurmountable long-term challenges, will the fighting become a profession and, if so, what are the incentives to lay down arms? Where is the political strategy which is needed to deal with the challenges that led to the civil war?

Background

In 1969, there was a military coup in Libya, staged by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who introduced his own political system, the Third Universal Theory.(3) In the 1970s, he completed his three volumes Green Book which consists of his own social and political theories.(4) He set out on a mission to remove all traces of imported ideologies, including capitalism and communism, and introduced Islam and his own version of socialism; his so called Cultural Revolution.(5) Despite the strained relationship with the West throughout Gaddafi’s reign, rehabilitation was seen in 2004 when Tony Blair visited Tripoli.(6) The country’s tarnished reputation in the West was improving and Gaddafi was able to alter Libya’s image which gave him a seat on the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in May 2010.(7)

Things quickly changed, as people took to the streets to protest the rule of Gaddafi in early 2011, followed by international condemnation and expulsion from the UN Human Rights Council.(8) Further steps were taken when the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on the Gaddafi regime in an attempt to protect civilians.(9) The Libyan people had followed in the footsteps of Tunisia, but unlike President Hosni Mubarak and President Ben Ali; however, Libya’s leader did not resign at the will of the people.(10) Instead, the fighting increased and continues. What initially started out as a non-violent democratic movement across the region soon turned into violent protests.(11) To make matters more complicated, international forces, mainly American, British and French, have joined the opposition in early April 2011.(12)

Current status

Instead of a relatively peaceful protest, as seen in Tunisia and Egypt, Libya is now facing a civil war.(13) The popular revolution had its first eruptions in the eastern city of Benghazi in mid-February 2011 and still maintains a stronghold in the eastern part of Libya.(14) Several rebel groups are still positioned in the Eastern half of Libya, where they continue to arm themselves against attacks from military forces.(15) The opposition controls the strategically important centres such as most of Libya’s oil and gas industry and the coastal processing plants.(16) The rebels continue to fight Gaddafi’s army and there is no evidence of the parties giving up any time soon. Rather, Gaddafi’s forces were advancing with brutal force and were able to regain the strategic oil port of Brega.(17) As Gaddafi continued to retake areas from the opposition, the international community decided to intervene militarily to aid the forces opposing Gaddafi’s regime.(18) The rebels were not enjoying the support they needed to be able to fight the leader’s forces.(19) Instead they continued to fight in the areas where they enjoy support like Benghazi and Raz Lanuf; the result being civil war.(20) There is a risk of a prolonged war in Libya, as Gaddafi’s army continues to regain control over strategic oil centres, like Brega and Ras Lanuf, situated in Eastern Libya despite military intervention from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).(21)

The military intervention in Libya, coupled with the popular mass movements in Egypt and Tunisia, has changed the politics of the region.(22) There has been a redefinition of the legitimacy of politics, resulting in a new dividing-line, where the division is between democratic revolution and counter revolution.(23) If the international community had not intervened in Libya, it would have been viewed as a defeat of democracy; a devastating consequence for international interests in the region.(24) In a country with high levels of unemployment — 30% estimated in 2004 — this may lead to warfare becoming a profession; thus, making it even more difficult to end the fighting, as there are no incentives to lay down arms.(25)

Armed mobilisation and opposition

The prolonged civil war in Libya raises concern as to the ability of the country to reach relative peace. People are joining the opposition and arming themselves to fight for the removal of Colonel Gaddafi.(26) A military base in Benghazi is busy training new recruits, but is suffering from out-dated equipment and recruits with no military training or experience.(27) The rebel forces are now asking for more weapons and training.(28) This is alarming as it will make demobilisation difficult. It will also increase the potential of continued rebel warfare becoming a profession in a country with high unemployment.(29)

The civil wars between 1960 and 1999 lasted on average more than seven years.(30) If violence continues to ‘dictate the politics of the opposition to authoritarianism’, as seen in Libya, the greater the risk for the rebels as it would not be different from Gaddafi’s rise to power in 1969.(31) The military intervention will not be able to establish democracy; Libya is in need of a political strategy, which can advance the original demands of the popular uprising.(32) The ongoing intervention is shifting focus from the demands of an end to Gaddafi’s dictatorship and the need for institutions which protect rights and freedoms.(33) A rapid process of ending military intervention is needed to avoid threats to the regional movement for democracy.(34) A political process is thus needed to pursue the goal of ‘demilitarising the political struggle in Libya’.(35)

Regional destabilisation

The regional instability leads to spill over effects, where militants cross borders and spread both fear and violence.(36) The concern is that the opposition will turn into rebel groups, who will continue guerrilla warfare, not only in Libya, but also in the rest of the region. It is already assumed that arms are being smuggled into Libya and into the hands of the opposition.(37) Two concerns are raised: one is the external issue with regards to international terrorism and regional destabilisation and the other is the internal issues with empowerment of small armed groups. A third concern was the risk of external military intervention. This concern became reality as international forces joined the fighting in support of the rebel forces.

One possibility for Western powers is to arm the opposition with sophisticated portable anti-aircraft missiles.(38) The opposition needs more anti-aircraft weapons, but the concern is that these may be used against Western forces at a later stage or by terrorists as seen in Mombasa in 2002.(39) Small arms proliferation may impact countries, like Chad or Sudan, by renewing or prolonging civil conflict and they may also pose internal threats.(40) Small armed groups may be empowered and prove an obstacle for any prospect of relative peace in Libya, regardless of Gaddafi resigning or staying in office.(41) The war in Afghanistan bears evidence of the risk posed by empowering small armed groups during the civil war in the 1990s.(42) Those Afghan rebels who received external assistance are the ones who are behind the insurgency seen in Afghanistan today.(43) There is fear that this may well become the situation in Libya as a consequence of prolonged conflict. The Western politicians were reluctant to enter into a war in Libya, but there was popular pressure to act if things became even worse and things did become worse.(44) Gaddafi is determined to stay in power and the opposition in the eastern parts of Libya are just as determined to fight back.(45) The brutal advancement of Gaddafi’s forces into opposition strongholds in eastern Libya is fuelling further fuelled demands for international support.(46) There were, however, disputes about the kind of intervention and how, in the meantime, Gaddafi forces continued their abuse as they regained more territory.(47) Intervention by the international community should not be seen as unproblematic. Iraq and Afghanistan are but two examples of interventions gone bad, where the civilian population have suffered the consequences.(48) Continued violence in Libya is a threat towards the popular movements in the rest of the region.(49)

To complicate matters, rumours had it that Gaddafi had brought mercenaries to quell the opposition, which lead to people in the armed forces joining the opposition as a protest to foreigners killing Libyans.(50) The rumours have been difficult to confirm, but several reports of non-Arabic speaking Africans fighting against the opposition exist.(51) The mercenaries are coming from several African countries such as Chad, Congo, Sudan, and Morocco and are suspected of being veterans of civil wars.(52) As the war continues in Libya, forces loyal to Gaddafi recruit more mercenaries from countries like Chad, Mali, and Niger; they are mostly used to control urban areas.(53) Several countries in Africa have experienced and are experiencing rebel groups fighting internal wars against their Governments, with Chad and Sudan only being two examples.(54) This may well become the situation in Libya if Gaddafi remains in power and continue to fight the opposition.

Concluding remarks

Libya’s future is uncertain, both with respect to whether Gaddafi will remain in power and for how long, and the military mobilisation of the opposition. Much depends on the willingness of international intervention and the ability for rapid deployment. Gaddafi forces have in a period of a week been able to regain most of the territory lost to the opposition with dire consequences for those who opposed the regime.(55) The opposition is being armed and the demobilisation of this group is a challenge for Libya. Afghanistan is one of many examples of oppositions being armed during civil wars that later ended up as insurgents.(56) Libya struggles with high unemployment; insurgency may thus become a way of living, making demobilisation even more difficult. It seems likely that the ongoing conflict may be long and drawn-out, resulting in further loss of human lives and deterioration of living standards.(57)

To complicate matters, Libya is facing long-term challenges that are difficult, if not impossible, to address regardless of the prospective civil war.(58) These challenges belong to a political strategy which is non-existent in the face of military intervention. Four major obstacles are especially challenging: the lack of functioning institutions, corruption, the complex tribal system and, finally, the issue of regional division.(59) The future of Libya is uncertain and the ongoing conflict makes it even more difficult to try and overcome the long-term challenges. The empowerment of small armed groups as a way of supporting the opposition, combined with the long-term challenges, makes any prospect of demobilisation and relative peace demanding. The future of Libya is thus at risk due to civil war, armed mobilisation, and the lack of a political strategy.

NOTES:

This article is republished with permission from Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), a South African-based research and strategy firm with a focus on social, health, political and economic trends and developments in Africa. For more information, see http://www.consultancyafrica.com.



(1) Contact Christine Storø through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Conflict & Terrorism Unit ([email protected]).
(2) Rogers, P., ‘Libya and Iraq: a long war’s risk’, Open Democracy, 7 April 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(3) ‘Introduction: Libya’, CIA World Factbook, 8 March 2011, https://www.cia.gov.
(4) Butt, G., ‘Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya’, BBC News, 15 May 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Spencer, R., ‘Libya’s relations with the West: Timeline’, The Telegraph, 22 February 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk.
(7) ‘Libya elected to UN Human Rights Council’, Middle East Online, 13 May 2010, http://www.middle-east-online.com.
(8) Spencer, R., ‘Libya’s relations with the West: Timeline’, The Telegraph, 22 February 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk.
(9) Toczauer, N., ‘Professor addresses turmoil in Libya’, The Observer, 8 March 2011, http://www.ndsmcobserver.com.
(10) Taylor, M., ‘Libya’s challenge: democracy under the gun’, Open Democracy, 1 April 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(11) Toczauer, N., ‘Professor addresses turmoil in Libya’, The Observer, 8 March 2011, http://www.ndsmcobserver.com.
(12) Taylor, M., ‘Libya’s challenge: democracy under the gun’, Open Democracy, 1 April 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(13) Toczauer, N., ‘Professor addresses turmoil in Libya’, The Observer, 8 March 2011, http://www.ndsmcobserver.com.
(14) Pargeter, A., ‘Libya: a hard road ahead’, Open Democracy, 8 March 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(15) Toczauer, N., ‘Professor addresses turmoil in Libya’, The Observer, 8 March 2011, http://www.ndsmcobserver.com.
(16) Rogers, P., ‘Libya: the prospect of war’, Open Democracy, 10 March 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(17) Whitaker, J., ‘Splits over no-fly zone as Gaddafi forces gain ground’, Open Democracy, 14 March 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(18) Rogers, P., ‘Libya and Iraq: a long war’s risk’, Open Democracy, 7 April 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(19) Whitaker, J., ‘Splits over no-fly zone as Gaddafi forces gain ground’, Open Democracy, 14 March 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(20) Ibid.
(21) Rogers, P., ‘Libya and Iraq: a long war’s risk’, Open Democracy, 7 April 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(22) Taylor, M., ‘Libya’s challenge: democracy under the gun’, Open Democracy, 1 April 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(23) Ibid.
(24) Ibid.
(25) ‘Introduction: Libya’, CIA World Factbook, 8 March 2011, https://www.cia.gov.
(26) Toczauer, N., ‘Professor addresses turmoil in Libya’, The Observer, 8 March 2011, http://www.ndsmcobserver.com.
(27) Davies, W., ‘Libya crisis: Rebels in race to train recruits’, BBC News, 4 April 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk.
(28) Ibid.
(29) ‘Introduction: Libya’, CIA World Factbook, 8 March 2011, https://www.cia.gov.
(30) Joshi, S., ‘Arming rebel groups could backfire on the West, as it has done in the past’, The Independent, 9 March 2011, http://www.independent.co.uk.
(31) Taylor, M., ‘Libya’s challenge: democracy under the gun’, Open Democracy, 1 April 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(32) Ibid.
(33) Ibid.
(34) Ibid.
(35) Ibid.
(36) Joshi, S., ‘Arming rebel groups could backfire on the West, as it has done in the past’, The Independent, 9 March 2011, http://www.independent.co.uk.
(37) Ibid.
(38) Rogers, P., ‘Libya: the prospect of war’, Open Democracy, 10 March 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(39) Joshi, S., ‘Arming rebel groups could backfire on the West, as it has done in the past’, The Independent, 9 March 2011, http://www.independent.co.uk.
(40) Ibid.
(41) Ibid.
(42) Ibid.
(43) Ibid.
(44) Ibid.
(45) Pargeter, A., ‘Libya: a hard road ahead’, Open Democracy, 8 March 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(46) Whitaker, J., ‘Splits over no-fly zone as Gaddafi forces gain ground’, Open Democracy, 14 March 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(47) Ibid.
(48) Smith, D., ‘Intervention in Libya? A case of shooting from the hip, slowly’, Open Democracy, 10 March 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(49) Taylor, M., ‘Libya’s challenge: democracy under the gun’, Open Democracy, 1 April 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(50) Smith, D., ‘Has Gaddafi unleashed a mercenary force on Libya?’, The Guardian, 22 February 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk.
(51) Ibid.
(52) Ibid.
(53) Wyatt, C., ‘Libya: The challenges facing allies’, BBC News, 31 March 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk.
(54) Nelson, M., ‘Conflict in Chad: Corruption, Rebels and Neighbouring crisis’, Wesleyan University, 31 May 2010, http://africanworldpolitics.site.wesleyan.edu.
(55) Ibid.
(56) Joshi, S., ‘Arming rebel groups could backfire on the West, as it has done in the past’, The Independent, 9 March 2011, http://www.independent.co.uk.
(57) Rogers, P., ‘Libya: the prospect of war’, Open Democracy, 10 March 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(58) Pargeter, A., `Libya: a hard road ahead’, Open Democracy, 8 March 2011, http://www.opendemocracy.net.
(59) Ibid.