The year ahead in 2016: Libya and regional security

‘It will be naive to expect a Libyan solution any time soon’ - Arsalan Alshinawi, senior lecturer in international relations, University of Malta

Expect the renegade General  Khalifa  Haftar to play a key role too; he is supported by Egypt, who wants Libya to be a military-run state
Expect the renegade General Khalifa Haftar to play a key role too; he is supported by Egypt, who wants Libya to be a military-run state

Libya has become an ever-shifting quagmire of power politics, and it is incredibly difficult to predict how the civil war will develop in 2016. I do expect to see more welcome gestures of peace – more agreements, treaties, handshakes and ceremonies – and perhaps Malta will once again be used as the base for these events. 

However, it will be incredibly naïve to hope for any real solution to the civil war to be found next year, or the year after, or perhaps even in the next generation.

Yes, the UN has now proposed a new unity government but any solution proposed by the international community for peace in Libya will always frustrate some factions as much as it pleases others. Do not expect any miracles to take place in Libya next year. 

The crux of the Libyan problem is that it was never truly a nation state. Muammar Gaddafi ran the country as a one-man show and didn’t develop any democratic institutions.  

It will take time and require trial and error for the Libyans to develop institutions that the people can trust. Trying to enforce a quick-fix solution from outside will only push current factions underground. 

The presence of ISIS in Libya has added a dose of urgency for a solution to be found, but even there we must reframe our understanding of the group’s presence in the country. 

What we know of ISIS is actually a continuation of Gaddafi; ISIS militants based in Sirte are actually his former soldiers and police force. 

Sirte was Gaddafi’s stronghold, but it was razed to the ground during the Arab Spring, and the leader’s once-powerful supporters became zeros overnight.

Of course they are now filled with hatred and a desire to regain their lost power, and the consequence has been the rise of ISIS. It’s a similar situation in Iraq really, which was always Sunni-controlled until a Shia government came to power following the fall of Saddam Hussein. Saddam’s former army and supporters now want their power back, and have flocked under ISIS’ flag to regain it; indeed ISIS’s Iraq base is in Anbar – a former Saddam stronghold. 

Of course, the Libyan civil war is not simply an internal war, and global powers and weapons dealers all have their own interests in the country.    

Governments have become weaker in a globalised world, and arms dealers now form part of a fully-fledged transnational industry. 

International powers – Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, USA, UAE – will continue to play their parts, financing and arming the Tripoli and Tobruk factions to create a delicate and constantly oscillating balance. Russia will probably develop more of a presence in the region, as usual acting as a thorn in the United States’ sides in foreign countries of US interest. 

Expect the renegade General Khalifa Haftar to play a key role too; he is supported by Egypt, who wants Libya to be a military-run state. Libya has become an international battleground, and the level of analysis is now very blurry. 

 

As told to Tim Diacono

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