It seems like Libya is in suspension, but with news about Paris and terrorism, it also seems like it has disappeared from the news. What is important about Libya seems to be what is important for the entire region. The Libyan National Army is currently under the leadership of a former general named Khalifa Haftar. He defected to the exiled opposition in the mid-1980s and he returned in 2011 when the rebellion against Muammer Qaddafi was happening. The Libyan National Army is now battling Ansar al-Sharia, a militia that is based in Benghazi which leans towards anti-democratic and authoritarian tendencies. Benghazi is the second largest city in the country, and it is in more chaos than it has been since the 1940s.
The picture in Benghazi is framed by abandoned homes. As a result, prices of everyday goods are a lot higher than they used to be. What is even more complicated is that the huge lines at almost any petrol station or bakery is just a typical inconvenience at this point. The lack of power is creating a pervasive need for charcoal in the eastern region. In fact, from Ajdabiya to Tobruk, power cuts have been so bad that Benghazi is averaging about four hours of electricity a day. Water is also not a guarantee. Think about what that would do to your spirit. Moreover, the uncontrolled violence has ruined any hope of a budding local media which seemed possible after Qaddafi’s death. At one point after the rebellion, there were hundreds of magazines, journals, newspapers and publications which have now completely died off. Human rights activists are also gone.
Journalists in Libya have been picked off like flies. Fourteen have died in the last year and “dozens more kidnapped and remain missing.” Benghazi has become a war zone with over two hundred assassinations within the city alone. Members of the Army, journalists, police officers, rights activists and lawyers have all been the targets. No one is sure who is killing these groups, but there is a common belief that it is Ansar al-Sharia. Libya’s revolution, structurally speaking, resulted in the dismantling of the old system. Almost everything that once was, is no longer. Teachers, for instance, lost the authority they enjoyed which practically means schools have been in disorder for 4 years. As Benghazi falls into chaos, education has ceased. Schools are burned or bombed or destroyed. Parents have taken it upon themselves to teach their children at home. Even online options have sprouted up. The truth is, kids want to leave the city. They also want to leave Libya altogether but are being faced with a question. Do they leave for their future or do they stay for Libya’s?
What is more complicated than what has already been mentioned, is the militia called Misrata Dawn militia. It is currently controlling the capital and it is allied with the self-declared government in Tripoli. This means it does not accept the legitimacy of the parliament’s election which sits in the east of the country in Tobruk. While on the one hand, Qatar is backing the new leadership in Tripoli; Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia seem to be behind Haftar and the Libyan National Army. While Hafter has accepted the democratically elected and internationally recognized parliament and government, the conflict and foreign manipulation is basically creating a civil conflict between the Tripoli and Tobruk governments.
The polls are telling a different story, however. Most people seem to really be pushing for secular democracy with a strong rule of law. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is hosting a round of talks in Geneva this week and the point will be to convene talks with major Libyan stakeholders. However, with a Libyan warplane attacking a trawler carrying gasoline to Benghazi this week, especially when the government is thought to be supplying Islamist militants, things are obviously complicated. So to make it clear, Libya’s internationally recognized government might be supplying Islamists and is in an escalating conflict with another, self-declared government known as Libya Dawn which took Tripoli last summer. No one knows who owned the vessel that was attacked, and now the Tripoli government has postponed its decision to join the UN talks.
The reason this story is relevant is because Libya illustrates an important example to analyze the symptoms of the Middle East. When there was common cause to break and destroy authoritarianism, future rivalries started out together. They did so in the name of freedom. However, once the authoritarian structure fell by the wayside, so too did the unity. Now there is a clear determination for power and control over the country’s material wealth. Fighting over oil assets means two major oil ports have been closed and the output of oil has fallen to only 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 1.6 million bpd produced before 2011. The people of Libya fought together until their goal was reached. Once their short term goal was reached, the complicated work of governance created rifts. Now the teams of rebellion have broken up and are fighting each other. And they are doing so because they are still metaphorically hungry and literally unhappy. The problem, however, is that they are making themselves even hungrier and more unhappy because of it.