Libya on the brink

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Demonstrators block a main street in the eastern Libyan coastal city of Benghazi during a protest against the extended mandate of the General National Congress, the country's highest political authority, on February 21, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Abdullah Doma)

By: Nizar Abboud

Published Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The partitioning of Libya is no longer the concern of pessimists alone but a tangible reality. Islamists are imposing their rule by force and the government and parliament are paralyzed. Some talk blatantly about their intention to strip the non-Arab inhabitants of the south of the country of their citizenship. Add to this mess direct Western intervention in Libya’s internal affairs and one can only conclude the partitioning of the country is on the horizon.

New York- The United States, Britain, and France collectively decided on direct and total control of Libya's future, after reducing the role of the United Nations to a minimum. The three countries are not even considering the participation of other countries with former major interests in Libya, such as Italy, which had historical links with Libya during and after the colonial era. The same goes for the countries that contributed to the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and the confiscation of his money and provided information, personnel, and military training to the revolutionaries.

In the recent Rome Conference held on March 4, the final statement in paragraph 15 stipulated that "participants agreed to establish an international partnership for Libya to monitor its progress and the implementation of past conventions." Behind the scenes, the international conference was understood to be between the three western states who have veto power in the UN Security Council. This is the new phase of the Libyan crisis, which began with the 2011 revolution with its many patrons and sponsors.

Libyans interviewed by Al-Akhbar revealed their confusion, uncertainty, and fear about the predicament in which they found themselves in after the revolution. Although the Libyan revolution aimed to attain freedom to begin with, they cannot speak freely for fear of retaliation. They said that their country is no longer a state. Even those who are in control are acting as if everything was temporary and that the state is bound to unravel. According to a Libyan source, "Public spending is done outside the regulatory frameworks with no oversight. Theft is rampant on all levels and the National Congress has lost its credibility and seen as an enemy of the people. Everyone is looking for a share of Libya's cadaver."

The Islamists, in particular, do not believe their chances in the democratic process are high, especially after their experience in the past few years. They have gained more power through their current strategy than by using the ballot box. This is why they cling to the security sector through certain figures. Assistant Secretary of Defense Khaled Mohammed al-Sharif, also the commander of the Libyan National Guard, is the number one security official in Libya. Despite the fact that Defense Ministry has changed hands a number of times, he has remained in his post. He has also received training by al-Qaeda.

Similarly, Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, who fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, is now on the side of the US. Today he controls the Moaitiquia base in the Tajoura neighborhood of Tripoli. The base, originally built by the US, had been the largest American base in North Africa before Gaddafi's revolution and can accommodate more than 10 thousand soldiers. However, the base does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Defense Ministry or any kind of Libyan sovereign control.

This is in addition to al-Hadaba prison, which does not fall under official control either. It is directly under the supervision of Khaled al-Sharif and is where top former regime figures are being held, including the infamous Abdullah al-Sanousi. Security is like the oil sector, which is being sold outside state supervision after armed groups took over the oil fields and ports.

There is also a private airport in Misrata, which operates direct flights to Istanbul, away from the eyes of state supervision. Through this airport, fighters are transported to Syria via Turkey. The US is in control of Libya's security sector and is planning to link the country's security to NATO through a number of measures including the deployment of more drones. Today, the US is more concerned about the war on terror in the region than with oil revenues. They left the oil projects to the British and construction and contracting to Turkey.

Belhaj does not seem to have enough popularity to win seats in the elections. Although he founded al-Watan party, it failed to gain a single seat in the Libyan National Congress. Libyans are agitated and are calling for early general elections, but the Islamists are opposed to the idea because they are aware of the the magnitude of public discontent against them. The Islamists seem to be closer to the British in their policies and do not object to London's orders. This is reflected in London's relationship with Abdul-Rahman al-Sowaihali al-Misrati who claims to be representing Misrata, a representation based on his control of a battalion of gunmen.

Many rumors are being circulated in Libya that these figures, especially Khaled al-Sharif, are obstructing the creation of a national army and a unified state. They only believe in tribal security and militias, which give them strength and support from abroad. They know that the democratic process will not be in their favor.

Ever since the revolution, Libya has not had a clear leadership and the situation has only grown more complicated. Geographically, Libya is basically split into three distinct regions and ethnically divided between Arabs, Amazigh, Touareg, and Tubu. The UN played a principal role in the declaration of Libya's independence from Italy in 1951, with the help of the Dutch special envoy Adrian Bildt, which included the three regions of Tripoli, Barqa, and Fezzan. Therefore, the Libyans feel that the UN has a clean record based on their past .

Today, these regions seem to be rivals. Non-Arab minorities living in southern Libya face losing their citizenship. The non-Arab minorities - the Amazigh, the Tubu, and the Touareg- make up almost 8 percent of the population, but are spread over a vast geographical area. Without the loyalty of these tribes to the central state, Libya's southern, eastern, and western borders would be wide open. Since Roman times, the borders were only be protected by these tribes through alliances between their leaders and the central government.

Yet there are those who have come to believe that the country could be controlled through drones if the minorities were to boycott the dialogue. Libya will not be able to regain its national conscience without the real participation of all its social components, based on clear, unifying ideals. Islamic fundamentalism is not a unifying factor because the people are divided over the issue. Libya does not have many religious sects, but there are various Islamic ideologies due to divisions in loyalties. On the other hand, Darna, the base of Islamic extremists is boycotting the dialogue. So the question remains, do the countries with the upper hand in Libya want the country to remain united? The Libyans are certainly doubtful.

Based on these growing problems, it is necessary for the UN to keep a relatively independent role in the Libyan crisis to avoid providing an umbrella for the projects of the countries meddling in Libya’s internal affairs. But there is talk about changes in the UN Libyan delegation and bringing in western blood to replace the current representative, Tarek Mitri.

Warshefana: A Painful Libyan Story

The events that took place in the town of Warshefana, between December 19- 29, 2013, are the best example of the tragedy of blind tribal zeal afflicting Libya. Islamist tribal militias stormed the Warshefana area between Tripoli and al-Zawiya, 40 kilometers from the capital, with thousands of men armed with heavy, medium, and light weapons, including guns, tanks, armored vehicles, and rocket launchers. The militias plundered the city, killing 21 people and injuring more than 100. They kidnapped citizens based on their ethnic identity, executing them or torturing them in secret prisons. Three of those who died from torture were found with their hands tied, after their bodies were dumped outside of a school in the Friday Market area and transferred by citizens to the hospital in Abu Salim.

According to eyewitnesses from the area, homes and shops were burned to the ground after being looted. Water and electricity were cut off from the town for several days. Its factories and farms were destroyed and its cars burned. It was bombarded arbitrarily, including its mosques. The attack targeted regular citizens and several officials. The head of the Shura and Hokama Council, Mohammed Mokhtar Tantoush, was kidnapped, as well as the head of the local council of al-Aziziyah al-Kubra, Omar Ali Tantoush.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan denied knowing anything about the invasion of Warshefana. The same went for Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thani. However, the fighters claimed they were under orders to apprehend 274 suspects. But regardless of the controversy over the names and the number of suspects, the collective punishment of a whole area in this manner is a violation of all human rights and a crime in all senses of the word. In response to the operation, people living in this area said that there are 5,600 wanted individuals in Tripoli and if the same approach is used for their arrest, the capital and all that is in it would be destroyed. They believe the issue to be part of the tribal racism practiced by militias from one tribe against the others.

The residents of Warshefana did not find anyone to complain to about the collective injustice they face in Libya. Security is not under anyone's control. The national army is nonexistent. They could only complain to foreign human rights organizations and the UN delegation in Tripoli.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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