Libya has drawn international attention in the recent months. Attention that has grown in the wake of a terrorist attack perpetrated in Benghazi in September 2012 that claimed the life of the U.S. Ambassador. Hearing titled “The terrorist Threat in North Africa: Before and After Benghazi” was held in the U.S. Congress on 10 July 2013, with the testimonies by the experts from the “Washington Institute for the Near East Policy” and the “Foundation for Defense of Democracies”. “Benghazi: Where is the State Department’s Accountability?” was the title of yet another hearing held in the U.S. Congress on 18 September 2013 that heard testimony by Patrick F. Kennedy, the Undersecretary for Management of the U.S. State Department, who highlighted both concerns and efforts with respect to providing security for the U.S. missions. UN Security Council also held a meeting dedicated to the analysis of military and political processes in Libya.
Along with the focus of the international community, notable political discussions are conducted in Libya itself, around such subjects as the adoption of the political exclusion law, the federal system and the constitution. Nevertheless, local and regional challenges associated with the security crisis persist, provoking such questions as to what lies in the core of domestic interdependent influences in Libya and the negative impacts of such a situation upon the future of Libya and the region as a whole.
Growing political polarization
Bone of contention for the political parties is the “political and administrative exclusion legislature” that aims to preclude the representation of ex-Gaddafi loyalists from the leadership positions in the country. Prior to the adoption of the exclusion law, the chairman of the General National Congress and some ministers resigned from their positions while most members of the Congress had lost their mandate. Islamists and their associates filled in the chairs in the new government, as a result. Increasing political polarization was also related with the efforts of central and executive ministries to thwart the deliberations on this piece of legislature in the Congress by breaking the militia blockade. Eventually, militia ceased the blockade only upon the adoption of the law.
Opponents of the exclusion law insist that “transitional period justice” is of great importance. Even a liberal-minded Mahmud Jibril, the head of the National Forces Alliance in his interview with the Al-Arabiya television channel on 6 May 2013 said that the law isolated not the regime but the state. In reality, Jibril opposed not the legislature itself but the timing of its adoption, because the void to emerge in the event of dismissing of some 500-600 thousand people from public positions would lead to polarization within the state leadership. Interestingly, Jibril accused foreign powers of direct interference aimed at endorsement of the very legislature, as he believes those to be excluded are being punished for preventing foreign troops to be stationed in Libya.
Would the security problem be detrimental to the state structure?
After the revolution, Libya’s security landscape is still fluid. Authorities failed both to disarm the people that became heavily armed during the process of Gaddafi’s ousting and to establish control over armed militia. In addition, these groups were tasked with some objectives that the military was unable to accomplish. Rise and politicization of such groups in a society with a tribal structure impair establishment of legitimate security bodies because the public oversight standards applied to both the military and the police differ.
More skilled after the war against Gaddafi’s forces, Supreme Security Committee that merged with the Ministry of Interior poses a serious administrative problem for the state. This Committee is oftentimes accused of corruption, kidnapping and torture, thus evoking fear in the eyes of the public. Moreover, another body – Coalition for Defense of Libya, affiliated with the military’s General Command, acts as a parallel army and unifies a number of armed groups under its umbrella. Sometimes Committee and Coalition troops confront one another. According to UN’s 5 September 2013 report, such altercations occurred in capital Tripoli in June. Considering that duty of military and the police is to uphold security in the country, Libya now has four separate bodies in the security area: military, police, Committee and Coalition.
Along with security apparatus failure, there is an issue of radical Salafism. Although Libya generally is known as mysteriously religious country, the radicals, regarded as opponents of democratization, cause concern. Concerns are also fueled by the turmoil in neighboring countries. Other than that, some reports indicate that illicit arms trafficking, along with narcotics trade in Syria and the Horn of Africa had reached an alarming scale. In this respect, UN Support Mission in Libya has advised the authorities on border security and endorsed the “Warriors Affairs Commission”.
Unification or dissolution dilemma for Libya
60 members of the Constitutional Drafting Committee were elected in February 2013, to represent their respective regions and draft a constitution to address, among others, the issues of federal and local self-governance. International community is likely to set the guidelines on constitutional issues, similar to Iraq, Somali and Afghanistan. As one may recall, UN had set up a special working group to coordinate the efforts of the international partners and attempted the constitutional issues to be inclusive of the general public.
As the new constitution came to the agenda, Cyrenaica’s Transitional Council had declared oil-rich Eastern Libya an autonomous federal region, citing central government’s inability to meet the needs of the people. In addition, some tribes of the Southern Libya declared autonomy in Southern Fezzan region, evoking memories of Bevin-Sforza Plan, agreed upon between Britain and France in May 1949 that envisaged granting trusteeships to Britain in Cyrenaica, Italy in Tripolitania and France in Fezzan. Administration adopted after Libya gained its independence was abolished in the 1955-57, pressured by the American oil companies that struggled to negotiate simultaneously with three separate governments.
Although the public is yet to embrace the idea of federalism, security concerns and political crisis may provoke the people’s acceptance. The greatest danger for Libya is launching of discussions on the constitution whilst being deprived of common and rigid security institutions. Moreover, in light of the political and administrative exclusion legislature and imminent void in the bureaucratic apparatus, authorities would be compelled to negotiate key matters with international institutions and parties concerned. Logic of the state institutions may change, impacted by the international treaties and organizations. Political confrontation accompanied by the lack of border sovereignty in the Southern Libya and impotency of official security bodies may provoke an utterly undesirable process in Libya, for democracy-seekers and citizens alike. Iraqi experience demonstrates that, albeit unofficial, de facto, a possibility of dissolution is viable. In that event, Islamism-secularism standoff in Libya will become pronounced.
Expert with the International Strategic Research Organization