Transitions in Focus: Libya

Libya was thrown into further flux this past week amid reports of the death of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. His exact condition remains unclear; Haftar was reportedly hospitalized in Jordan after suffering a stroke before falling into a coma after his transfer to a hospital in France. Other sources reported that eastern strongman passed away while in Paris. Reports of his death, while unconfirmed, will significantly impact the calculus of Libya’s major players, both domestically and regionally. Haftar’s death could serve as an opportunity to revive political dialogue, but it could also trigger an escalated conflict between Libya’s competing factions that would further fragment the country.  
Reports that Libyan Gen. Khalifa Haftar is in a coma will deepen the chaos in a country that has been in flux for the past seven years. Haftar is a military strongman whose forces have fought Islamist militias, but has himself proven to be an obstacle in efforts to unite Libya.

Media organizations reported that Haftar had slipped into a coma after suffering a stroke. He was flown to Paris earlier in April after falling ill in Jordan.

If Haftar is incapacitated, or dead as some unconfirmed reports suggest, it could create a vacuum which would be hard to fill, said Karim Mezran, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“There are no figures of Haftar’s stature who can control special forces, tribal groups, and Salafists all at once,” Mezran said.
The situation in North Africa is developing in unexpected directions. Challenged by the Libyan crisis and the consequent threats that derive from its instability—continuing violence, expanding terrorism, and flourishing organized crime—it could be reasonably expected that a more assertive cooperation would incur among the North African countries. However, this is hardly the case: Tunisia is embroiled in a difficult economic and political moment with strikes and protests in many parts of the country, and Algeria and Morocco are facing their own developing crisis while Libya is slowly collapsing into a state of semi-anarchy.
The situation in Libya seems irrevocably stalled. The internationally recognized government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli and the Abdullah al Thinni government in al Beida—supported by the legitimately elected parliament of 2014, now residing in Tobruk—are as distant as ever. The Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) is only as good as the effort invested in it. Last fall, gridlock between the groups prematurely cut off political negotiations to amend the LPA and hence any chance of a political deal between the two rival factions. Talks of holding national elections are in the abstract. Without a constitution, elections could not dampen the power grabbing mentality on the ground in Libya.

Former French president faces probe over campaign funds

Commentators and analysts have long wondered about the speed with which France acted to support rebels that rose up against Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s longtime leader, in the spring of 2011.

The official narrative sees Henry Bernard-Levy, the French philosopher and opinion maker, as playing a pivotal role in pushing then French President Nicolas Sarkozy to assume a proactive position on intervention to protect the citizens of Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi.
The political situation in Libya has slowly reached one of apparent paralysis while the military situation is continually evolving with frequent clashes across the country. Given the lack of any progress, the whole approach undertaken by the international community has clearly failed and desperately needs a new strategy. Political negotiation alone, without one that engages the various militias, will not yield new gains. One adjustment to the strategy could include investing in the development of local authorities at the municipal level and engaging them in the slow process of reconstructing state-society relations—an essential component of state rebuilding.
Algeria has a problem knocking on its door: Libya. A relative powerhouse in North Africa, a combination of political and economic issues has weakened Algeria in recent years, limiting its engagement in Libya while it dealt with its more immediate concerns at home. Despite these challenges, Algeria may step up in the face of continued instability in Libya. However, after years of taking only limited action, Algeria is left with a weak hand to deal.
An unusual protest erupted in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi on February 15, 2011. Enraged by the arrest of a human rights activist, protestors clashed with police and supporters of Libya’s longtime ruler, Moammar Gadhafi, who responded with brute force. Two days later, activists called for a “day of rage.”

The protests spread like wildfire across Libya, whose neighborhood was already being buffeted by the so-called Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings. Longtime leaders, including Gadhafi, were ousted in the Arab Spring revolutions. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and millions were displaced from their homes.

Seven years later, Libya is mired in chaos.
On February 17th, Libyans will celebrate the anniversary of a revolt that ultimately toppled and killed Muammar Qaddafi, ending his forty-two-year oppressive rule. This anniversary and others in the region are regrettable reminders of how the expectations in the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring compare to the reality on the ground seven years later. Many countries that sought to depose a tyrannical leader now find themselves in worse circumstances. Libya and Syria in particular have faced extreme violence since 2011. In both states, the political and security vacuums from internal fractures allowed the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) to rise and thrive. In Syria, this same vacuum allowed Russia to gain military influence and involvement in the conflict. Russia is likely to use current unstable conditions in Libya today for its own interests, much as it has done in Syria, beginning over two years ago.