Happy 65th Birthday to Libya. If We Don’t Fight to Defend You, Who Will?
Merry Christmas, All. We hope you are already relaxing with your families and can find a dull moment in between cooking or cleaning to peruse this rather lengthy missive.
It has become something of a Libya-Analysis tradition for me to send out a detailed and rambling missive on Christmas Eve, surveying the year which has past, announcing new ventures, circulating a recent article or two, and trying to draw a shred of hope from the political constellation in Libya, while also recycling as much as possible the same Libyan Santa image that I love so much.
Libya and Christmas may seem strange bedfellows, but the country has a way of always being in the news this time of year. This year, it is yesterday’s bizarre hijacking cum-publicity stunt for Qadhafian remnants from Sebha. Two years ago, it was an attack by Operation Shuruq on Libya’s most critical pieces of infrastructure, the Oil Crescent ports at Ras Lanuf and Sidra.
As 2016 has been such a tumultuous year in so many ways and many people are grasping at straws to find points of hope (although my colleague from Oxford Mishana has tried admirably here even if i may disagree with many points), I wanted to end the year on an up note by giving you all a brief update of the exciting developments that have taken place within Libya-Analysis and my non-profit Eye On ISIS in Libya this year.
The thing I have been most thankful for is the addition of talented and eager deputy. In September, Rhiannon Smith began working full time for Libya-Analysis and Eye on ISIS which turned out to be fortuitous timing as since then we have engaged in several new projects, and having another person fulltime has greatly expanded our capacity to fulfill these projects and expand the scope of our activities. Eye on ISIS may not have military defeated ISIS in Sirte (the Misratans with the help of US airstrikes did that just a few weeks ago) but we recently received our 501c3 status which means we can accept charitable donations. The hits on our website are in the order of 10,000 per month, and the number of people reading our weekly newsletter is increasing all the time. Eye on ISIS is now about more than just ISIS as we are refocusing on the new alphabet soup of jihadi threats emanating from places like Derna, Benghazi, Tripoli…. We also have a series of new maps on the EOIL website we created ourselves due to the lack of up to date, accurate maps available. If you would like to subscribe to get our weekly updates about jihadi activity in Libya and the Western and anti-jihadi Libyan militia response, you can do so here. I feel we are really achieving the aim of providing comprehensive, unbiased, publically accessible information on the activities of Islamic State and other jihadi groups in Libya, which is more important than ever as the country undergoes significant political and military realignments.
This was confirmed in November when we were approached by the German risk management company CRCM North Africa who wanted to support the work we are doing by funding EOIL and making me their Senior Libya Analyst. We have now officially launched our partnership with CRCM as our main funding sponsor and we are very excited about the opportunities this will provide in 2017. Thank you so much to team in Frankfurt. They have been an absolute joy to work with. If only all business deals were so easy to negotiate and painless to effectuate! If you need top notch Risk analysis of what is shaking on the ground in Libya’s various regions you could do a lot worse than seeking their advice. If how they treat their staff is any indication, I speculate they treat their clients very well indeed.
EOIL has also begun a collaboration with Norwegian thinktank Hate Speech International to produce a series of reports on extremism in North Africa which will be edited by Rhiannon Smith, with the first report being ‘Who Pays for ISIS in Libya?’ which I wrote with James Roslington. Rhi will be becoming the North Africa editor there and getting reports about AQIM, Tunisian Jihadis, Toureg, and many other subjects to publication over the next months. Thanks to Karin and Kjetil for their excellent vision on the need for this fresh approach to extremism.
I am also excited to announce that in the new year, The Brookings Institution will hopefully be publishing the definitive paper on the origins and evolution of ISIS in Libya, authored by myself, Lydia Sizer and Nate Mason. This paper is intended to influence the policy of the new US administration and will constitute the definitive work on ISIS in Libya. We had hoped for a publication date around the time of the inauguration but understand that due to the craziness of this transition that other ‘more pressing topics’ may slightly push that date back.
Next, as many of you know, Christmas eve is also Independent Libya’s 65th birthday. And like most years, it is a rather confusing moment to be celebrating this occasion given that the situation in Libya is even more complicated and unstable as it was in the wake of the Skhirat agreement last year. This has been highlighted by today’s hijacking of a plane flying from Sebha to Tripoli which has been diverted to Malta. It seems the hijack has political motives, with reports saying that the hijackers are part of a pro-Qadhafi group trying to call attention to how bad the situation is in the country. Fortunately it was all a holiday prank and they only used replica guns.
And yes, much in Libya seems like a farce. Three psuedo governments are united only in their inability to govern. Although the GNA was successfully installed in Tripoli in March, they have failed to extend their control outside of Tripoli or to engage the real powerbrokers in decision making. The economic indicators are in rapid decline, the Dinar is in freefall in the blackmarket, the LPA has expired and the country is undergoing yet another shift in political alliances. However, not all is doom and gloom. Just like with a stock in freefall it is difficult to pick the bottom but very useful if you can pick the bottom buy at that moment and help the stock surge. I genuinely see things looking up for Libya and am keen to help get Western media, businesses and diplomats back into the country. The Libyans are ready to rebuild and are doing impressive things. However, they need our help.
The Misratan Bunyan al-Marsus forces have successfully defeated ISIS in Sirte with support from US airstrikes, and although the threat of a non-territorial ISIS in Libya is far from defeated, its model of territorial control has been delivered a fatal blow. Haftar’s seizure and reopening of the oil crescent ports has boosted Libya’s oil exports, providing much needed revenue which benefits the whole country. Last week’s reopening of the Rayana pipeline should also significantly boost the country’s export levels. With a new world order on the horizon in 2017, it is difficult to know what international policy on Libya is going to look like, however it may provide a chance for the LPA to be reformulated to bring in the militias and other key powerbrokers so that Libya can make concrete steps towards peace, unity and stability.
In an article published today in Middle East Eye, Rhiannon and I argue that Haftar’s growing influence and momentum in Libya mean that deals are increasingly being struck and compromises being made between rival factions in western Libya in order to avoid conflict and ensure a place under any new political agreement. In an article I wrote for Al-Monitor last week, I look in detail at the shifting of political alliances following the defeat of ISIS in Sirte, in particular looking at what Misrata might do next.
And Lastly as we reflect on Libya’s Big Birthday, We Hope that she will have many more.
One wonders who will Fight to Defend Libya?
As we celebrate the 65th Anniversary of Libya’s creation by the UN out of the separate British Military Administrations of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania and the French Administration of Fezzan, I notice a curiosity. As populist nationalism is surging throughout the world (not just the West– consider Russia, the Philippines, Korea, etc.), throughout the post-Colonial Middle East the very concept of the nation is being eroded. This is most true where the nation is at its most artificial — a mere cobbling together of different Ottoman provinces with disparate tribal or sectarian identities and orientations (e.g. Syria, Iraq, Libya). Fascinatingly in these three places the partisans who fight rarely invoke a classical nationalism, even if some status quo actors (Assad, the GNA, the Iraqi central gov) do cite the desire to preserve national integrity in their rhetoric. Consider the battle for Mosul: the Kurdish Peshmerga tee off against ISIS, both sides of the battle would like to break apart Iraq’s territorial integrity. And fascinatingly when it comes to Libya the main political forces in the country — Misrata, Haftar, the Islamists do not fight to preserve Libya even if they occasionally say to the contrary. Each thinks Libya would be better if they dominated, but fundamentally it is particularist interests that motivate them. Libya is on the verge of fracturing into a Russian/Egyptian aligned Cyrenaica and a Western/Tunisia oriented Tripolitanian.
Who then will Fight to Defend Libya? I dare say it falls upon many of the recipients of this email. I unabashedly believe the world is a better place if we have a coherent Libya state than if we have patchwork of feuding city-statelets. It is certainly better for Libyans who are suffering from power outages and the scarcity of necessities. They need a coherent state structure and investment and shared oil infrastructure and to share the advantages of that. My beef with the UN and Western approach to help Libyans fight for their nation has been the heavy handedness of the top-down imposition strategy of Western Leaders. A pan-Libyan order cannot be imposed on an unwilling populace from on high. It needs to be built via local councils and communities from the bottom up.
Bizarrely, despite the fact that so many omens bode ill for great conflict and turmoil internationally in 2017, I can see many positive indicators and winds of change for Libya — from more oil exports, to great international attention bypassing the stalemated UN process, to great power shifts that could bring about a detente between Libya’s main factions. Christmas and New Year’s are about rebirths, however miraculous. Libya as a concept and reality have an opportunity for a new lease on life.
Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, belated Mabruk on the Mawlid an-Nabawi and an early Happy New Year,
Jason and Rhi at Libya-Analysis