Libya: Europe must act

By Philippe BannierMEDEA Institute

In March 2011, the UN-Security Council voted resolution 1973 which calls to « the protection of civilian populations under imminent threat of physical violence and prevent attacks against civilians, within its capability and area sof deployment ». The residents of Benghazi who, during the Arab Spring, revolted have been threatened by the military forces of colonel Kadhafi (whose son, Seïf al-Islam, had promised « rivers of blood). Following the vote, NATO had launched the « Unified Protector » military operation.

vote résolution libye

© Reuters. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 on March 17, 2011 which gave the green light for an intervention in Libya against the regime of Colonel Kadhafi.

The political and security conditions are still dire. Everything must be rebuilt in a country where everything was destroyed by bombing and the proliferation of militias who liberated the country in August 2011. Acting with impunity, they now not only constitute a barrier to the restoration of order and security but also to the establishment of a rule of law. After Kadhafi, Libya keeps on changing Prime Ministers- such as Ali Zeidan, fired by the General National Congress (the parliament)-and still has to cope with armed conflicts throughout its territories.

Recent events have put the country back in the spotlight: Khalifa Haftar, a retired rebellious general, who served under Kadhafi before working for the United States and returned to Libya in 2011 in favor of the revolution[1], attacked on May 16th, with its self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, Islamic militias in Benghazi before launching the assault on the General National Congress.

However, these hostilities have nothing to do with religious matters. The former French diplomat in Tripoli, Patrick Haim Zadeh wrote that « the predominance of local on regional and regional on national levels, the heritage on Libyan history(…) which have baffled the NATO’s strategies during the war of 2011, are the key to national reconstruction »[2]. The proof is the self-proclaimed independence of Cyrenaica, the region east of Libya whose capital is Benghazi, in November 2013 which has exacerbated the tensions. 

carte libye

© Wikipedia Commons. In November 2013 Cyrenaica has declared itself independence from the central power in Tripoli.

How can Europe help one of its neighbouring countries?  In a report published by the European Council on Foreign Relations earlier this week, the analyst Mattia Toaldo emphasizes the possible areas of intervention for the EU in Libya: « The lack of legitimacy of political institutions and actors; reconciliation of veterans and the absence of national dialogue on the future of Libya; and the worsening of its economy due to the blocking of the oil ports « [1]

The EU should support the political and military elites, engaged in a national reconciliation policy, on the first hand between the revolutionaries and members of the old regime, and on the second hand between the revolutionaries scattered in rival militias.  This requires the development of an independent judicial system which can provide compensation and guarantees to individuals and groups who supported Kadhafi. Some of them are refugees in neighbouring countries such as Tunisia , others have suffered racist acts, especially the inhabitants of the village Tawergha, inhabited by descendants of black slaves, who have been accused of fighting alongside the loyalist forces of Kadhafi.[3].

The report recommends five key steps for the process of rebuilding Libya: establishing agreements between influential players in order to stop local conflicts under the supervision of a politically neutral police; provide material and political support for a National Dialogue Commission, following the example of Yemen[4], and for transitional justice; support local governments to provide urban services to the population; promote transparency in the management of oil resources and prepare for the post-oil era [5]; improve international cooperation and coordination to help Libya. The drafting of a constitution approved by referendum is also a major issue.

Europe wants to avoid one thing: new Somalia 350 km south of Malta and Lampedusa[6]. Not only migration but also the spill-overs and regional security, are key issues to get a deeper insight into EU politics. Smuggling, in particular the arm trafficking to Mali and Syria (for 6 Million inhabitants, 20 Million weapons are circulating) , is a source of conflicts and instability.

An unstable country with no short-term prospects of improvements could relapse into religious or military authoritarianism. The declaration of war the General Khalifa Haftar, wanting to « eradicate terrorism » and « purge Benghazi terrorists (of the jihadist Ansar al-Shariah group », recalls the methods used in by the Egyptian General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to seize power.


[1] http://www.lepoint.fr/monde/khalifa-haftar-un-general-made-in-usa-a-l-assaut-de-la-libye-19-05-2014-1825281_24.php

[2] http://orientxxi.info/magazine/petites-guerres-locales-en-libye,0550

[3] http://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/a_european_agenda_to_support_libyas_transition308

[4] http://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2014/05/13/kadhafi-est-toujours-la-pour-les-libyens-de-tunis_4415916_3210.html

[5] http://www.jeuneafrique.com/Article/JA2768p048.xml0/

[6] http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/what-libya-can-learn-from-yemen

[7] In Libië is de opbrengst van olie goed voor 65% van het BBP, 96% van de export en 98% van de inkomsten van de regering.

[8] http://www.yourmiddleeast.com/opinion/is-libya-on-the-verge-of-becoming-another-somalia_23724

[9] De groep was betrokken bij de aanslag op het Amerikaanse consulaat in Benghazi op 11 september 2012, waarbij de ambassadeur en drie medewerkers omkwamen.