Islamic State Will Flourish if the West Picks Sides in Libya
Here is my February 18, 2015 article in The Spectator advocating for us to keep focused on the mediation effort in Libya.
Here is my February 18, 2015 article in The Spectator advocating for us to keep focused on the mediation effort in Libya.
Here is my first ever one-on-one feature length (i.e. a whole half hour segment) TV interview. It is with the witty and acerbic Slavic beauty, Oksana Boyko – – the anchor for Russia Today’s World’s Apart programme. We discuss the good, bad, and ugly about Nato’s intervention in Libya in 2011, the toppling of Qadhafi, the fallout from that action, Libya’s descent into a multipronged civil war, the position of ISIS in the country at present, and how Western policy can or cannot be changed to deal with the new kinds of threats emanating from the region. To watch click here.
Here is a simple overview from the BBC of the kind of coverage ISIS is getting in Libya. I am quoted saying the rather usual but important stuff like that ISIS ‘problem’ cannot be solved without a political solution in Libya.
Moreover, Libya is rich in oil and, earlier this month, gunmen claiming to represent IS raided a French-run oil facility in al-Mabruk, south of Sirte city, killing at least 11 guards. “They are able to attack oil pipelines, but as of yet lack the capability to sell smuggled oil on the open market. Nonetheless, many IS-aligned fighters collect salaries from the Libyan state,” Jason Pack, a researcher in Libyan history at the UK’s Cambridge University, told the BBC…..
Mr Pack points out that the country has three main power blocks:
- Libya Dawn (a mixture of Islamist and non-Islamist militias allied with the Tripoli-based government),
- Operation Dignity (led by forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar and allied with the internationally recognised government based in the eastern city of Tobruk) and
- Jihadist groups (which include IS, al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia – the most powerful of them).
“There is a civil war between the two main groups [Libya Dawn and Operation Dignity]. The jihadists act as spoilers,” Mr Pack told the BBC.
He is opposed to Egypt’s military intervention, saying it could make the internationally recognised government wrongly conclude that it could defeat its rivals – a perception that has grown following its 23 February decision to withdraw from UN-brokered peace talks.
“You need a national unity government to tackle IS. It is in Libya because the political process has failed,” Mr Pack told the BBC.
To read the whole article click here.
On Monday 23 February, the Tobruk-based HoR voted in favor of suspending its participation in the UN-backed peace negotiations process and re-called its representatives who had already reached Tunisi en route to Morocco, where negotiations are still nominally scheduled to take place this week. The HoR decision came as a response to the attack carried out by Jihadist militants on the town of Qubbah, through a triple car bombing, on Friday 20 February. The attack caused the death of at least 40 people and the wounding of 70 other as explosions struck the city in different moments in what appears to have been a deliberate strategy aimed at maximizing human losses. The town of Qubbah was targeted due to its affiliation with and support for Tobruk-based institutions and the military establishment aligned with it
Since the publication of the video portraying the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Sirte, negotiations between Libyan parties hit a slump and appeared to be hanging by a thread for most of last week. Surprisingly though, it was not Operation Dignity hardliners who pulled the plug of negotiations, as some feared would do by launching indiscriminate airstrikes and attacks on Libya Dawn constituencies, but rather the more ‘moderate’ HoR. Of course, one should not underestimate the considerable pressures HoR members must have been subjected to from local constituencies in eastern Libya in the aftermath of the conquest of Sirte and the attack on Qubbah by Libyan cells of the Islamic State. Nonetheless, even taking local pressures and public reaction into account does not make the decision by the HoR any less shortsighted and detrimental, firstly to Libya as a country and secondly, in the medium term, to the HoR as well. As a matter of fact, by acknowledging that there cannot be any compromise with other groups in Libya and that the only possible solution at this stage is to continue waging war, the HoR and its institutions are placing themselves in the hands of Haftar who, despite his various military shortcomings, seems to be finally attaining a Sisi-like aura across eastern Libya. Furthermore, the other big winners from today’s decision are precisely those Jihadist groups, some of them Islamic State-aligned, that the HoR is trying to eliminate. However, these groups have proved to be thriving and expanding in the current climate of violence and lawlessness marring the country.Furthermore, and even most importantly, derailing the negotiations process was precisely the hope behind the decision taken by these groups to exacerbate tensions through the release of the Sirte’s beheadings’ video and the attack in Qubbah. In short, the HoR appears to have played in the hands of its rivals by abandoning the talks at this stage.
Monday’s development are all the more frustrating if we take into consideration the positive news that had emerged across the weekend. In fact, on Sunday 22 February, in a rather surprising development, the port of Zueitina was suddenly declared to be open and operative by an anonymous Libyan official quoted by Reuters. The port had been closed for almost a year, but, reportedly, has already loaded a Greek tanker, which is now heading towards Italy with 750,000 barrels of crude. It is reasonable to assume that the re-opening of the port has been clouted in secrecy to avoid both a disruption of negotiations between relevant stakeholders and to avoid attracting unwanted attention from armed groups looking to spoil the Tobruk’s establishment capacity to sell crude, be they Jihadists or Operation Shuruq militias. In light of the damage sustained by Sidra terminal and of the persistent insecurity marring the ‘Oil Crescent’ region, the re-opening of Zueitina would have represented a much-needed financial lifeline for Libya. However, now that talks appear to have reached a definitive stop and that the news has been revealed in the public domain, it remains to be seen whether Petroleum Facilities Guards and Operation Dignity troops will have the military capacity to ensure its regular functioning, or if Zueitina will succumb to the same fate of Sidra and Ras Lanuf.
Overall, the ball is now in the court of Libya’s international partners. European countries, the EU, the US and all regional stakeholders, especially those backing Egypt, must adopt all possible measures to pressure the HoR and its affiliated parties to re-join talks. There might not be another chance to save the country from the perilous path that other in the continent have already taken and down which certain groups seem eager to be pushing Libya towards.
Here is the longest most in-depth radio interview I have ever given. With the excellent, sonorous, and highly informed presenter of Voice of the Cape’s Drivetime commuter radio program the acclaimed author, lecturer and academic, Shafiq Morton, we discuss the current political situation in Libya, the place of ISIS in the Libyan civil war, as well as Libyan social problems of racism and Xenophobia. To listen to the 19 minute interview and to hear me cough and struggle with my cold as I try to explain the complex issues Libya faces to a general audience click here.
While in the past twenty-four hours international media is nearly hysterically focusing on the video release published by Islamic State cells in Libya on Sunday, other potential stumbling blocks lie in the way of negotiations towards the establishment of a national unity government and the resolution of outstanding issues and fractures fuelling the current crisis in Libya. Looking at the events occurred in and around Tobruk over the past week can give us a good insight into one of them.
On Wednesday 11 February the strike proclaimed on Sunday 8 February by local security forces that led to the closure of the port of Hariga (Tobruk) was revoked. The port was immediately re-opened and was expecting to receive an oil tanker already during the course of the same day. The strike in Hariga was engineered by local stakeholders and federalist forces as a reaction against some strong statements made by the Tobruk-based Minister of Interior Omar al-Sunki. Al-Sunki, who is a Misrata native, suggested that the Tobruk-based camp stops supporting Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity and embraces political rapprochement with the city of Misrata. This proposal would have gone against some vital interests and goals of federalists and other local eastern Libya forces in that it would have accelerated their marginalisation and enhanced the leading role of the city of Misrata. It does not come as a surprise then, that on the same day that al-Sunki was sacked by his PM, Abdullah al-Thinni, the strike was revoked and the port re-opened.
However, on Saturday 14 February, a bomb exploded on the oil pipeline connecting the al-Sarir oilfield to Tobruk’s Hariga port. The explosion caused a renewed closure of Hariga’s port and started yet another oil-fire, hampering efforts to fix the damage inflicted that are now set to take even up to three days of work before the normal functioning of the pipeline can be restored.
It seems likely that this sabotage was undertaken by one of the radical Islamist Jihadist groups active in eastern Libya who aim to undercut the legitimacy and financial stability of the Tobruk-based establishment whilst avoiding a full-fledged direct military confrontation outside of urban theatres. It should be noted that whilst bombing attacks on pipelines have been frequently employed by Jihadist groups active in the Sinai Peninsula, this is the first such attack undertaken in Libya.
This bombing and the previous week’s assault on the Mabruk oilfield confirm that radical actors active on the Libyan stage increasingly see oil-related infrastructure (e.g. pipelines, port terminals and even the Corinthia Hotel) as a key target for their hit-and-run tactic aiming to bleed out both national political blocks. In this context, even the achievement of an effective peace agreement between the Tripoli and Tobruk blocks could not guarantee enough security and stability to re-vamp the Libyan ports sector in the short to medium term. Lastly, despite the quick resolution of the ‘al-Sunki crisis’, it is safe to assume that functioning ports in eastern Libya (e.g. Marsa Brega, Tubruq Hariga) remain vulnerable to disruptive actions undertaken by local stakeholders and federalist forces, especially as long as UN-backed negotiations and a process of national political rapprochement are ongoing, thus further weakening the financial position of the country.
Overall, and regardless of the controversies raised by al-Sunki and other HoR members over the validity of the dismissal of the Minister by PM Thinni, looking back at last week’s events in Tobruk, it seems fair to say that Federalist actors have now made it fully clear that they will not allow the Tobruk government to give away their unique control over the oil crescent ports in any negotiations process. How will Thinni and negotiators on both sides find an acceptable way around this remains, unfortunately, to be seen.
On the evening of Sunday 15 February, after a few hours of hype and pre-announcements by Islamic State twitterati, a video entitled “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross” was released by the Islamic State affiliated al-Hayat Media Center. In the video, as already rumored in the past few days, the execution by decapitation of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians kidnapped in Sirte in the month of January was shown amid threats to Egypt and its alleged military and economic backers: “western crusaders”. Whilst no sure elements are available as of yet, analysts point to the possibility that the video was shot in the month of January and its release carefully orchestrated and timed to achieve maximum visibility and impact, as normally happens with “Iraqi” and “Syrian” IS media products.
In the aftermath of the video release, Egypt announced its intention to deliver retribution to those responsible for the killing of the 21 Copts. Strikes over Derna were reported already in the early hours of Monday morning, whilst Egyptian state television broadcasted solemn footage of F-16 taking off in the darkness of night to chase Egypt’s foes. It is worth noting that, after several unconfirmed rumors emerged last summer about Egypt’s involvement in Libya, these strikes represent the first official Egyptian military operation abroad since the time of the first Gulf War. Khalifa Haftar and other members of Operation Dignity were quick to express their solidarity to Egypt and to make clear statements in favor of the Egyptian Army’s decision to carry out airstrikes over Libyan territory. As a matter of fact, the Libyan Air Force affiliated with Operation Dignity announced the closure of Libyan airspace in anticipation of several military operations and warned the population living in Ghariyan, Sabratha, Zawia, Zuwara, Ajilat, Al Mshashya, Ajmal and Misrata to expect attacks. Meanwhile, in Tripoli, the rump GNC and its cabinet continue to be in denial and remain adamant that the IS is not present in Libya. Furthermore, although they admitted that non-authorised armed groups took control of a few administrative buildings in Sirte, they also boasted of an imminent military operation to re-take full control of the city.
At the time of writing this post it was still unclear what implications and repercussions the release of the video showing the decapitation of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians could have on Libya and the broader region. Cairo was quick to retaliate over Ansar al-Shari’a, IS and other Jihadists groups’ positions in the country, and looking back at last week’s sale of 24 Rafales fighter jets from France to Egypt, it is easy to imagine that Sisi and his regional backers bankrolling the acquisition had already contemplated a more active military role for Egypt in the region regardless of Sunday’s event. Therefore, although a “boots on the ground” operation remains highly unlikely, it seems that Egypt sees the beheadings merely as an opportunity to pursue its regional policy, targeting existing bulwarks of Islamist and Jihadist groups in North Africa, without running the risk of being subjected to international condemnation.
From the perspective of Libya, the biggest risk the country is running right now is that of Operation Dignity commanders, and other hardliners within the Tobruk camp, using these events to re-vamp all-out hostilities with rival Libya Dawn forces. Lumping together all groups with a religious undertone and generically labeling them as “terrorists” has proved to be a tragically detrimental strategy in the past months, achieving only an escalation of violence and ideological polarization within the country. Should Haftar and his allies decide to go down this path again, there is a concrete risk that all progresses made in the past few weeks of UN-backed negotiations will be squandered and the situation inside the country brought back to stage one. The warning sent out by Operation Dignity Air Force to Zuwara, Misrata, and other key Libya Dawn constituencies does not come as an encouraging sign.
At the international level pressure is now on also for Italy, France and all other western stakeholders who hinted in the past few weeks at the possibility of a military intervention under a UN mandate. Whilst this was clearly a rhetorical tactic employed to put pressure on both negotiating sides, international stakeholders must now make sure that negotiations continue as before, or possibly with an even heightened sense of urgency. Matteo Renzi’s declaration that “this is no time for military intervention” is an encouraging confirmation that western stakeholders are moving in the right direction. In the end, the establishment of a national unity government, the undertaking of a process of national pacification inclusive of all moderate sides and the pursuit of a Libyan and rule-of-law based solution continue to constitute the only viable strategy to defeat in the long term extremism and other radicalization phenomena. Policies aiming to foster a new Libyan state whilst stopping the advance of the IS in Libya and in the broader southern Mediterranean shore must not be influenced by instinctive reactions to the brutalities displayed yesterday.
A video emerged Sunday evening (15 February) showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who had been kidnapped from Sirte and the surrounding area in recent weeks. The video was released by a Libyan group aligned to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). This barbaric event followed reports on Friday that ISIS fighters had taken control of the state-run radio in Sirte along with large swathes of the city. This Middle East Eye article details the strengthening presence of ISIS-aligned groups around Sirte:
The takeover of two radio stations and a semi-functioning TV station in Sirte is the latest move by the Islamic State in Libya to strengthen its presence on the coastal highway that runs between Tripoli and key oil facilities.
“After Friday prayers, they started preaching on the radio about Islam, saying that Muslims had a duty to go abroad and fight jihad,” Ahmed, a local resident, told Middle East Eye. Statements from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi were also reportedly broadcast over the airwaves. IS members who made sporadic appearances in the town were easily recognised by their long beards and Afghani-style clothing, Ahmed said.
Local authorities had previously denied any IS presence. This week, a spokesperson for Sirte Local Council said he knew nothing about it. When pressed, he said: “No comment.” The IS already controls the eastern town of Derna, and the takeover of media outlets in Sirte is IS’s second major move in the past week. Five days earlier, a convoy of armed vehicles entered the small desert town of Nufaliya, 130 kilometres east of Sirte, and declared it part of the Islamic State.
In response, the Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi announced that “Egypt reserves the right to respond in a suitable way and time to punish these murderers,” and early on Monday 16 February launched airstrikes against ISIS positions in the eastern jihadist stronghold of Derna, supported by Libyan jets aligned with the Tobruk government. This Al-Jazeera English article gives an overview of the events:
In a statement aired on state television, the military said the attacks were carried out at dawn on Monday. The attacks focused on ISIL camps, training sites and weapons storage areas across Egypt’s border in Libya, where armed groups have thrived amid chaos, the statement said.
“The air strikes hit their targets precisely, and the falcons of our air forces returned safely to their bases,” the military’s statement said. “We affirm that avenging Egyptian blood and retaliating against criminals and killers is a duty we must carry out.”
Libyan jets loyal to the official government also took part in the air strikes, an official said on Monday. “More air strikes will be carried out today and tomorrow in coordination with Egypt,” commander Saqer al-Joroushi told al-Arabiya television.
My latest on AJE giving a brief overview of the way that negotiations in Geneva and Ghadames appear to be affecting the situation on the ground in Libya.
For peace negotiations to successfully halt a conflict, three conditions are usually required: the existence of discrete warring parties, represented at the talks by acknowledged leaders, each of whom possess sufficient clout to enforce any agreed upon peace terms on their supporters. Despite the heroic efforts of international mediators and the courageous confidence building measures embraced by the negotiations’ participants, Libya’s current civil war lacks all three prerequisites for a mediated solution to hold….
A bloc of moderates has actually been formed and more actors are willing to join the talks each week. And yet, it is this momentum for rapprochement which has put significant strain on the fundamental alliances which had previously held together the political and military wings of Dawn and Dignity….Over the next weeks, centrifugal forces within each block are likely to gain in strength, reducing the potential effectiveness of any negotiated bargain. Meanwhile, new tribal, regional, local, and militia stakeholders are likely to emerge demanding to be accommodated or to cause havoc.
To read the whole article click here.
On February 15th, a NY Times Editorial correctly Pointed out the urgent need for increased international attention to the situation in Libya. It wisely noted that if the correct talks fail to produce something meaningful Libya is on the verge of completely fracturing and becoming a suitable home for Islamic State and other non-state jihadi actors.
If the diplomatic effort that is underway doesn’t get traction within weeks, Mr. León said, it might be too late for the international community to make a difference. Libyans who have been fighting since the end of the 2011 civil war must take steps to reconcile and start the arduous process of building a functioning state. Western and regional leaders have limited time to put pressure on them by offering incentives and support for those willing to chart a new course. “Libya is falling apart. Politically, financially, the economic situation is disastrous,” Mr. León said. “I don’t think the country can bear a process of months.” To Read the whole article click here.
This article in the November/December edition of Prime Time Backgammon completes my treatment of exploration of the cube strategies of Lars Trabolt and Slava Pryadkin in their 2013 World Championship finals match. It covers in detail the closing fireworks of that most exciting match while exploring the psychological dimensions of backgammon match play. Read in tandem with the earlier articles, it presents something of a manual for a bold, but weaker player to tackle some of the game’s greatest performers in a high pressure, high stakes long match. You can read the full article by clicking here.
Trailing by a significant margin, Lars had difficulty deviating from his predetermined match strategy of grinding it out (i.e., conservatively doubling and redoubling, while eschewing gammonish volatility). His checker play continued to be better
than Slava’s, but he was not able to really use the cube to his advantage. This was partly the fault of the dice and partly the result of Slava’s counter strategy of seeking to increase volatility…..
For all of you readers who aspire to win the World Championship, Slava gave us a perfect example of how to do so in style: by throwing double fives, scoring 12 points by backgammoning one of the world’s best players. This is certainly a glorious way to win…. Lars, of course, was a perfect gentleman, and within a few minutes was looking over rollouts and discussing with spectators like me if he should have recubed to eight earlier in the game. That is the greatest lesson we can learn from this match: how to handle victory and defeat with equanimity. To read the full article click here.
On Monday 9 February, news broke that Libyan stakeholders and negotiators would be gathering once again in Ghadames for yet another session of UN-backed talks. However, the fact that negotiators will be gathering there for one day only, flying into town in the morning and leaving in the evening, runs the risk of making this whole decision a purely symbolic one, aimed at getting GNC representatives back around the table before ‘real’ talks resume in Geneva over the course of the next few days.
After various rumors circulated for more than a week that efforts and unofficial ‘under the radar’ negotiations had been going on to bring talks back in Libya to Misrata, the Ghadames decision, which ultimately leaves talks in Geneva, feels like a shortcoming. On the one hand, this speaks volumes about the chronic incapacity of either ‘national government’ to grant sufficient security and stability across its controlled territory to find a suitable ‘neutral’ location that could host multiple days of talks. On the other hand, the decision not to bring talks back to Misrata shows that although progress has been made in the past few weeks, we are still far away from a complete rapprochement, let alone from a grand political bargain that could bring together all moderate forces inside the country.
Furthermore, centrifugal forces within each block are gaining in strength, increasing the size of the sword of Damocles hanging over the meaningfulness of these talks. The port of Hariga (Tobruk) was closed on Sunday 8 February as security forces protecting it started a strike. Local stakeholders and federalist forces, disgruntled by the ongoing negotiations and trying to exert pressure on the Tobruk-based political institutions participating in UN-backed talks, likely engineered this strike. As a consequence of this closure, in the coming days the country’s oil output, currently sitting at approximately 300,000bdp, is poised to decrease by 120,000 bdp. Furthermore, tensions between Operation Dignity higher echelons and members of the Thinni’s cabinet have reached new lows, with the Minister of Interior Omar al-Sinki declaring that Haftar should be isolated before he causes the isolation of the whole Tobruk block, whilst the renegade general looks with increasing interest to Derna as a new arena to use for boosting his military and leadership credentials.
Things seem to be going south for the administration based in western Libya as well. After a video, in which the GNC-appointed PM Omar al-Hassi admitted not having any direct control over militias composing the bedrock of Libya Dawn, made the rounds among Libyan users of social media websites last week, radical Islamist groups active in western Libya in general and Sirte’s countryside in particular appear to have taken an extremely assertive stance: raiding oil fields and running armed parades within villages over which they proclaimed their full control. Looking at these developments, the question that all parties and international stakeholders involved in talks should start to quickly tackle is not anymore just that of ‘who will be willing to take part in a national salvtion government’, but rather that of how this institution will actually assert its authority on the whole of the Libyan territory without being hostage to competing militias or failing under the presurre of radical groups.
Chatham House has published a summary of discussions entitled ‘Libya: Armed Politics and Regional Escalation’ that took place during an invitation-only Libya Working Group meeting hosted by the think tank in December 2014. The discussion emphasised that the Libyan conflict is best considered in terms of ‘armed politics’ rather than civil war and focused on the need for more decisive international support to ensure that dialogue stands a chance of success. The main points were as follows:
1. The civil war is set to continue, with extensive human rights violations. The prospects for a negotiated end to the fighting are currently poor.
2. Libya is too important to be allowed to become a failed state at the centre of the Mediterranean area.
3. International mediation to re-establish peace and set up a transition leading to elections is essential but is currently stalled. Western countries’ lack of focus on Libya at this stage is already having negative consequences for regional and European security.
4. The struggle is for power and wealth, situated within a complex web of social, religious, tribal, regional, and ideological ties and identities. Religion is only one among many drivers.
5. Since neither side can defeat the other, an inclusive political approach is required in which both the governments in Tobruk and Tripoli, and their supporting groups, take part.
6. Invigorating the UN-led mediation will be hard but an approach should be tried that entails convening a conference of the parties and their international backers. Such an approach should also involve greater incentives to persuade the parties to join a ceasefire. Dialogue and negotiation should be attempted on terms generally acceptable to the international community – including the possibility of further sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes.
7. Only a national unity government ought to be accorded full international legitimacy and recognition.
8. Intervention from outside the country is making the conflict worse. The EU, US and UN should do more to dissuade the countries that are intervening in the fighting from doing so.
Many thanks to our friends at Industry Arabic for providing this new translation from the Libyan press. Don’t hesitate to contact them should you have any need for high quality Arabic translation.
Erem News – 26 January 2015
An official spokesman for the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) confirms the Guard has worked with Libyan Air Force aircraft to repel the “Operation Dawn” attacks waged by militias against the Sidra Oil Terminal.
Tripoli –Libyan Air Force fighters hit Fajr Libya militia positions in the Bin Jawad region amid clashes at the Sidra Oil Terminal facility between the Oil Facilities Guards and Fajr Libya fighters who were deliberately targeting the port with missiles, several of which fell near oil storage tanks, according to military sources.
The source reported that a warplane struck a convoy of Fajr Libya militias heading towards Sidra, saying that the airstrikes inflicted heavy losses of life and equipment on the militias, as military reinforcements moved into the area.
PFG spokesman Ali Hasi confirmed that the Guard acted in cooperation with the Libyan Air Force to strike the militias whose “Operation Dawn” attacks targeted the Sidra Oil Terminal, and that the operation forced the militias to retreat, with dozens of killed and injured.
The Libyan Army’s Wadi Al-Ahmar operations room announced early this January that the northern Bin Jawad region is a closed military zone and ordered its evacuation “due to the ongoing military operations to uproot armed groups from a region that has become a safe haven for those waging attacks against oil facilities.”
The Bin Jawad region, located between Ras Lanouf on the east and Sirte on the West, has seen mass displacements, with most residents forced from their homes following the arrival of the Fajr Libya militias.
On Monday 2 February, after a few months of relative marginalization, the House of Representatives in Tobruk made the headlines again by ‘shelving’ the lustration law approved by the General National Congress back in May 2013. Conflicting reports have so far emerged as to whether the HoR effectively cancelled the law or merely ‘suspended’ it until a new constitution is approved. To be sure, the HoR fell short of trying to take the more constructive route and amend the text of the law, so as to devise a new balanced version that could be seen as an acceptable compromise by moderates on both sides of the current divide.
As the idea of moving UN-backed talks back to Libya appears to be gaining momentum among stakeholders every passing day, the decision by the HoR to cancel the Political Isolation Law should be seen as a move designed to strengthen the fundamental alliance between the Tobruk-based establishment and federalist forces. In the current climate, speculations as to the stability of this alliance are rampant due to the rapprochement, occurring through the UNSMIL talks, between the Tobruk cabinet and other western Libyan constituencies, some of whom hold agendas which are antithetical to federalist demands. The same unifying goal likely underpinned the decision taken a few days ago by Ali Hibri. The Governor of the Central Bank of Libya aligned with the Tobruk establishment announced in fact the imminent creation of two new main branches in Benghazi and Sebha. This move comes again as an attempt to strengthen the fundamental alliance between Thinni’s cabinet and federalists as well as other local stakeholders active in eastern and southern Libya. This alliance is seen as crucial among politicians in Tobruk, especially at a time when rifts between Thinni’s cabinet and the higher echelons of Operation Dignity are starting to surface more and more clearly.
The Libya Dawn and Misratan-led camp, however, is largely suffering from the same type of internal distress. On Tuesday 3 February, Salah Makhzoum, the deputy president of the rump GNC and one of the four men appointed by the body to attend UN-backed talks resigned from his post, most likely due to pressures received from hardliners among his faction and kin communities in western Libya. Furthermore, Frederic Wehrey writing from Misrata on Foreign Affairs reports largely similar signs of discontent and division within Misratan themselves:
Over the two weeks I spent in Misrata, I witnessed intense debates among local residents, businesspeople, members of the political elites, and militia commanders on whether to participate in the talks. Although some questioned the location, scope, and purpose of the Geneva negotiations—as well as the ability of those attending to make a deal stick—many supported the idea of dialogue in principle.
[…] “Four years of fighting since the fall of Qaddafi; I want to go home,” one young fighter told me. It was a sentiment shared by many Misratans—lawyers, businessmen, and youth activists alike. Misrata’s elected municipal council endorsed a delegation from the city to the UN peace talks, even though the Dawn coalition’s parliament, the General National Congress, had boycotted the first round of negotiations. And Misratan militia commanders told me that the just-ended ceasefire was their unilateral decision, announced in support of the talks. The question now is whether pragmatists will win out over Misrata’s rejectionists and the more radical Islamists within the Dawn government.