Filling the power vacuum in Libya's failed state

Filling the power vacuum in Libya's failed state
Comment: Despite the UN's convenient narrative of fostering unity between Libya's rival governments, NATO has unveiled the stark difference between the normalised discourse of power and the concept of control.
7 min read
08 Dec, 2015
UN continuously ignored the significant presence of ISIS in Libya [GETTY]

Last year, as the first evidence of the Islamic State group in Libya started to emerge, the United Nations countered reports by intensifying its futile efforts in attempting negotiations between Libya's rival governments.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) reiterated the importance of engaging with the African Union and the Arab League for "inclusive political dialogue", and expressed "concern about the growing presence of Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups and individuals operating in Libya", as well as the lack of control over arms trafficking.

Conveniently, UNSMIL's statement failed to discuss how imperialist backing of militias contributed to Libya's instability.

More than a year after various reports regarding IS atrocities, the UN has made public a document pertaining to the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team that was presented to the UN Security Council.

     The report mentions Libya's strategic geographical location as a favourable point for IS

Mainstream media has since abandoned the "Arab Spring" fable, although efforts to address the current scenarios are still incomplete due to dissociation. However, the UN document, while still careful to avoid the unpleasant ramifications of accountability, provides a thorough overview of the intentional miscalculations that contributed to IS establishing a stronghold in Libya.

What started out as downplayed information regarding Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi and Derna is now perceived as a starting point that fuelled the weakening of previous groups in order to pave the way for IS, through the pledging of allegiances and the instability created by overt and covert intervention.

The report describes the threat as "regional and international", while admitting the capabilities of IS in Libya to establish control over territory - the most recent demonstration of which being the takeover of Sirte.

Navigating Libya's power vacuum

The report mentions Libya's strategic geographical location as a favourable point for IS. Combined with the power vacuum created by NATO, as well as the international community's resolve to abandon Libya after destroying it and Muammar Gaddafi, the geographic location cannot be considered in isolation.

Politically, Libya's destruction, as planned by the Pentagon at least since the beginning of "the War on Terror", has provided imperialism with a long-term base through which to encourage instability.

As highlighted in the document, affiliated groups in Libya have not only pledged allegiance to IS, but are also in direct contact with the group's stronghold in Iraq and Syria.

   What's been going on in Libya?

The General National Congress was the Islamist-led elected body ruling Libya for two years following Gaddafi's ousting and death. After its 18-month deadline to form a new constitution passed in January 2014, the body resolved to extend its mandate.

General Khalifa Haftar, a senior figure in the forces that toppled Gaddafi, called on the GNC to disband. In May, Haftar led troops against Islamist militias in Benghazi and the GNC in Tripoli in an offensive named Operation Dignity.

Amid the chaos, an election was held to form the House of Representatives, which took power from the GNC in August. With rival militias ruling Libya's streets, the election turnout was just 18 percent. Islamist militias then launched Operation Libya Dawn to fight Haftar's troops.

With the lack of security in the capital, the House of Representatives hired a Greek car ferry harboured in the eastern city of Tobruk as a temporary legislature.

In late August, a group of GNC members reconvened in Tripoli and claimed legislative authority over the country, effectively replacing the House of Representatives as Libya's parliament. The Tobruk-based House of Representatives remains the internationally recognised government, though its actual authority on the ground in Libya is limited.

Libya's Supreme Court, based in Islamist-held Tripoli, ruled in November that the formation of the House of Representatives was unconstitutional, legally dissolving the Tobruk-based legislature and nullifying its decisions.

The Tobruk-based parliament refused to accept the court's ruling, saying it was made "at gunpoint".

Libya remains torn between the rival parliaments and the heavily armed militias that support each. Allegiances between the militias change frequently, which only adds to the instability, violence and danger faced by ordinary Libyan citizens.

The connection is not without precedents. In the aftermath of Gaddafi's downfall, a significant number of fighters affiliated to militias backed by NATO travelled to Syria to take part in the civil war which has ravaged the country.

The alleged targeting of IS strongholds in the region has contributed to a regrouping of IS fighters in Libya - as well as the joining of forces by other militias and foreign IS affiliates.

Knowledge of Derna being a stronghold for Ansar al-Sharia post-2011 was routinely mentioned and discarded as a solitary phenomenon. However, the downplaying of terrorism as a crucial component of what imperialism had initially invested in the so-called Arab Spring was partially acknowledged following IS attacks in Tripoli - notably the targeting of Corinthia's Bab Africa Hotel in January 2015.

The beheadings of Coptic Christians on the shores of Sirte in February 2015 also contributed towards heightening awareness. However, the UN document also mentioned other instances of macabre rituals by IS, including terrorising Sirte's population with beheadings and crucifixions, while forcing residents to pledge allegiance to the group.

The latter has been largely ignored by mainstream media, unlike with similar tactics in Syria and Iraq, which are being exploited in order to promote further foreign intervention in the region.

In its recommendations, in addition to the sanctions that are supposed to be targeting terrorist organisations operating in Libya, the UN report recommends increased border control due to the influx towards Libya of foreign IS affiliates, as well as increasing "the capability and capacity of border agencies in Libya and neighbouring countries".

This, the UN states, will require international support. However, the recommendations fail to stipulate what form of support the international community is required to provide, which leaves a substantial gap in the analysis as to whether another form of foreign intervention may be concocted through a resolution that justifies another attempt at Western-imposed democracy through bombing.

So far, it seems that the UN is relying more upon organisations such as Interpol to expand its projects and disrupt the link between IS terror and organised crime.

Power and control

If, in previous years, it was easy for the UN to dismiss the terror gripping Libya since the early days of NATO intervention - one might remember the Misrata militias' ethnic cleansing of Tawergha, among other crimes - it is now imperative to shift the political discourse.

After the sordid celebrations following Gaddafi's murder, the international community was audacious enough to justify the ongoing violence as part of Libya's supposed transition to democracy.

Almost five years later, the UN still seeks to extend the transition discourse while it grapples with rival governments - both of which have imperialist affiliations either through the supporting militias or else through alleged CIA assets such as General Khalifa Haftar, as well as the acknowledged footing that IS is gaining in Libya.

     In a move that portrays disdain for the UN, Libya's rival governments have shunned a unity government proposal

In a move that portrays disdain for the UN, Libya's rival governments have shunned a unity government proposal drafted by the former UN envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, in favour of a "power-sharing agreement" signed on Sunday in Tunisia.

Ironically, the reason given for the rejection of the UN proposal was to avoid "intervention of foreign entities and manipulation", despite intervention being the cause of Libya's current scenario.

The rival governments in Libya are serving their purposes and that of their international backers, as well as providing the UN with an additional scope for its existence. Yet, just as the UN adamantly refuses to declare Libya a failed state by citing "hope" and the possibility of forming a unity government, it is clear that diplomatic power has created a form of power and control that bolsters IS' aims.

Meanwhile, UNSMIL's mandate has been extended until March 2016. Given the unfolding of events, it is evident that the UN will seek further means of elaborating the tragedy that Libya has become, in order to monopolise the diplomatic efforts which are serving as a veneer for the militarised approach preferred by Western governments and cleverly dissociated from other wars, in a bid to fighting terror after funding terror.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.