What is happening in Libya? And how will Egypt react? Libya today has devolved into a violent political struggle between two major blocs: the internationally recognized, Tobruk-based parliament versus Tripoli’s parliament and administration. Over the last few months, hardliners on each side have become increasingly entrenched in a quest for power and control of the country’s key resources, at the expense of security and rule of law. The humanitarian consequences have been dire, with more than 400 killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. Food and medicine are in severely short supply. Egypt, historically Libya’s most influential neighbor, is rightly concerned.
First, some background on the atomization of Libya. Throughout 2013, Islamist factions within Libya’s elected parliament became dominant, damaging the opposing secularist bloc. In the eastern provinces, radical groups and common criminals continued a campaign of aggression, intimidation, and assassination of opponents, former officers, and the security forces. Against the backdrop of deteriorating security, General Khalifa Haftar attempted to unseat then-Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s government, in February 2014. A former officer under Muammar Qaddafi, Haftar had defected in the 1980’s and returned to Libya after the 2011 revolution. Following his failed coup d’état, Haftar appointed himself the leader of the Libyan National Army and attacked Islamist formations in Benghazi. His purpose was to purge the city, without distinguishing between moderates and militants. In response, Islamists, collaborated with Misrata’s forces to stage a counterattack in Tripoli. Islamists occupied the capital and its environs. This forced the elected assembly into exile, to the eastern city of Tobruk, where they are under Haftar’s protection.