INTERVIEW – Interviewed by the African Daily Voice (ADV) press agency, Tunisian political scientist Riadh Sidaoui, director of the Arab Center for Political and Social Research and Analysis (CARAPS), based in Geneva (Switzerland), deciphers the issues of the last battle of Tripoli and the security situation in Libya.
ADV: During the great battles of Tripoli of 2011 and 2014, the fighting was between militias of Fadjer Libya, Daree Libya, Essawaik, etc. This time in 2018, other militias clash in and around the capital. What happens to the premieres and who are the news? What are their financial and logistical supports?
In Libya, the militias are like American companies, they merge and dissolve according to interests, and above all because there is what is called the phenomenon of “Warlords”. For example, Abdelhakim Belhadj, an Al Qaeda terrorist turned billionaire. He was the head of Fadjer Libya, the largest militia in Tripoli. During the war he was able to acquire planes, international companies, etc. He currently lives in Istanbul, Turkey. There are many other armed militia leaders in Libya who have taken advantage of the chaotic situation in the country. War always brings new fortunes. These militias are mainly interested in collecting booty and establishing local power, on a tribal or regional basis. In general, they make no claim to domination at the national level.
What these Libyan militias have in common is their Islamist obedience, as they all wave Islamist flags. These small groups are mainly characterized by local factors such as brigandage, regionalism and tribalism, and sometimes even by belonging to a neighborhood, as is the case in Tripoli, and before in Benghazi. These Islamist militias are mostly funded by Qatar and Turkey. Qatar which also supports Al Qaida in Libya.
ADV: A fragile truce has been observed since the ratification of the ceasefire agreement on September 4, 2018, under the auspices of the UN. Despite numerous violations, this agreement was still approved by all the warring parties in Tripoli. Is this a real step towards appeasement?
Despite the efforts of the Lebanese intellectual Ghassan Salamé, the complication of the Libyan situation seems to exceed all the efforts made. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that these agreements will be respected. The failure of all previous agreements confirmed the inability of politicians to control militia forces on one side, and tribes on the other. With the exception of the period of governance of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tripoli. It was the only time that politicians were able to influence the streets.
ADV: What about the situation in the rest of Libya?
During a conference organized at the time of the outbreak of events in Libya in 2011, the French journalist Jean Daniel, said that Libya was made up of three states: Cyrenaica to the east, Fezzan to the south and Tripolitania to the Where is. But today there are more than just these three states. We have the capital Tripoli, itself made up of several micro-states. Each neighborhood is dominated by a militia. Then, Misrata which is a city state, Zenten a tribe-state, the Tebous in the south have their tribe-state, etc. Only the east of the country escapes this pattern, with a more organized structure, ensured by the presence of Khalifa Haftar’s army and the Tobruk Parliament.
In all of the above-mentioned regions, as everywhere else in the country, the nationalist factor has become very weak. Clearly, militias or armed forces are linked abroad or, at least, remain under foreign influence. For example, Italy’s allies on Libyan ground are Misrata. The Tripoli militias are funded by Qatar and Turkey, Haftar enjoys support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russia. Benghazi, taken over by Haftar, is supported by France. Great Britain supports some formations of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tripoli. Another fact: the United States does not seem to have had a clear vision on the situation in the country for some time. In this regard, Barack Obama’s statements to FOX News in April 2016 are edifying. The former US president admits making his “worst mistake” by failing to put in place a NATO “post-attack plan” in 2011 and relying on France and England.
It should be pointed out here that the tribes in Libya, although marginalized by armed militias in certain places, remain fairly strong social components.
ADV: Marshal Khalifa Haftar announced on Friday, September 7, 2018, his intention to march on Tripoli. Will he succeed in ending the domination of the militias in Tripoli, as he did it in Benghazi?
Haftar manages a professional army. He is, therefore, the only one able to secure the country. It also enjoys the support of certain countries such as France, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, as well as its Egyptian neighbor. The latter even serves as a mediator in the transactions of arms purchases by the Libyan National Army, given that the country has been hit by an arms embargo since February 2011, with Haftar’s army established in the east. Libyan, securing this area would de facto ensure that of the western borders of Egypt.
ADV: Absent from the Battle of Tripoli, Daesh in Libya and Ansar Echaria have not been talked about in recent months. What do these two organizations currently weigh on Libyan ground?
Daesh has its home in Derna and Al Qaida in Sirte. They are very active terrorist organizations. They take advantage of the chaos and the free flow of arms on Libyan territory to strengthen their ranks. I recall that the battle for Idlib in Syria is drawing to a close. Expect thousands of terrorists to flee Syria and settle in Libya because there is no other country to welcome them. At that time, the danger will multiply for Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, which are now seriously threatened by the new situation in Libya. The attack on the Bardo Museum on March 18, 2015 and the Islamist terrorist attack on June 26, 2015 in the seaside resort of Port El-Kantaoui near Sousse, Tunisia, were carried out with weapons from Libya. Daesh in Egypt used Libyan weapons in its attacks, and the attack on the Algerian gas site of Tiguen Tourine from January 16, 2013 to January 19, 2013, was carried out by terrorists from Libya.
ADV: Would the risk not be doubled by the possibility of terrorists passing through the Sahel countries, given the extent of the southern Libyan borders with the Sahel countries, the porosity of these borders and the existence of already other terrorist groups in the region, arms trafficking and other trafficking of all kinds?
Indeed, the risk is multiplied all the more by the current inability of the Sahel states to secure their borders. If the Egyptian and Algerian armies are more powerful in the eastern and western borders of Libya, the weakness of the Sahel armies accentuates the vulnerability of security in the southern Libyan borders.
ADV: Italy is at loggerheads with France on the Libyan issue. She announced the organization of an international peace conference in Libya next November, while Paris has kept pushing for new elections in Libya. Rome, enjoying the support of Washington since last July, will this time be a real actor of consensus in Libya?
We have here on one side, France who thinks that an election would be the magic solution for the country; and on the other, Italy, which is counting on the organization of yet another international conference to resolve the Libyan crisis. However, we cannot speak of elections or democracy when militias are reigning terror on the ground, just as we cannot claim to resolve this war by a conference.
Remember that not all the conferences organized in Geneva, Algiers, Tunis, Paris, Skhirates and elsewhere have had any impact on the reality on the ground. The politicians who sign the agreements have no control over the military situation in the country.
The problem in Libya is primarily a structural problem, not a cyclical one.
That is, the NATO intervention in 2011 eliminated both the government, the regime and the state. These air forces of the Western powers which suppressed the Libyan state did not continue their task of securing the country, leaving room for the proliferation of militias armed to the teeth, in both heavy and light weapons.
The misfortune of the Libyans – abandoned to their fate – like that of the Iraqis elsewhere, stems from the destruction of their state and its backbones, namely the army, the national police and the intelligence services.
We have observed in recent years that these Western powers show no real and structural will to restore security in Libya. Today, no political solution will be possible until the militias are disarmed by force and the country is secured by a strong national army and a national police force. According to Max Weber’s theory, only the state should have a monopoly on legitimate violence.
© Bur-csa – DP-RC / Interview conducted by our regional correspondent in Algiers (Algeria), Selma Kasmi – African Daily Voice (ADV)