Mohamed El-Doufani* writes:
Libyan diplomat and writer Giuma Bukleb looks at how the legacy of chaos and the political vacuum seeded by the regime of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, coupled with Libya’s geostrategic location and its oil wealth, turned the country into “a battleground for competing local and foreign interests” and “led to the emergence of new opportunistic political elites lacking the necessary qualifications and tools, helped by militias”. “The way out,” he argues, “is not impossible if the international community paid Libya the necessary attention and provided the desperately needed help, by forcing the competing foreign interests to withdraw, and by disarming the militias.”
[Introduction by Mohamed El-Doufni, episode host:] Few people expected Libya to transform itself smoothly into a democratic and law-governed state following the NATO-assisted ouster of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
However, 10 years on Libya is in turmoil, once again with two governments: one, led by Abd-al-Hamid al-Dbaybah, based in the capital, Tripoli, corrupt, incompetent, and backed by Turkey, Britain and the United States, while the other, now operating from the central town of Sirt, is led by Fathi Bashagha, a highly controversial figure.
According to Wolfgang Pusztai, a former Austrian diplomat based in Libya, Al-Dbaybah is alleged to be involved in “corruption, money laundering, financing of the Muslim Brotherhood, and vote buying”.
Bashagha, on the other hand, has been described by journalist Fehim Tastekin as “the [Muslim] Brotherhood’s man” in the former Government of National Accord, where he served as interior minister, and as having “strong bonds” with the government of Turkey.
In May this year Bashagha wrote an opinion piece for the London Times in which he called for a strategic partnership between Britain and Libya based on business, security and intelligence, and declaring his aspiration to join the UK in “resisting Russia in Africa”. He is also responsible for at least one mass murder — ordering his militia in November 2013 to open fire on unarmed protesters in Tripoli, killing dozens and wounding at least 450.
Hopes that Libya would at last embark on a path to stability were dashed at the end of 2021 when presidential elections were postponed the day before they were scheduled to be held, reportedly under pressure from the United States and Britain who objected to Gaddafi’s son, Sayf al-Islam, being one of the candidates.
So, where to now for Libya? A return to peace and stability seems somewhat fanciful with militias, Turkish-sponsored mercenaries and crime syndicates blighting the country.
Will Libya remain united? The prospect of division between the East (Barqa, or Cyrenaica) and the West (Tripolitania) haunts many Libyans but is yearned for by others, especially in the East.
With us to offer his insight on Libya’s plight is Libyan diplomat and writer Giuma Bukleb.
[Giuma Bukleb:] To leave a legacy is the dream of all politicians. Chaos is the legacy of Col. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. During 42 years in power, he seeded chaos and we Libyans harvested chaos. The chaos, politically, economically and socially we are living today, after nearly 12 years from his disappearance from the Libyan scene, deprived Libya from achieving the most sought-after stability and prosperity.
During Gaddafi’s era I used to jokingly say to my friends whenever Libya’s name appears in the news, it certainly going to be bad news.
After the fall of Gaddafi’s regime things changed. The good news, for a short period of time, prevailed. But soon things returned to the bad old days. The bad news spreading out from Libya regularly made us believe our country is cursed. Does that make me lack objectivity and more inclined to be pessimistic? Maybe. But definitely I am not alone on that boat. As long as the bad news is still associated with Libya in the international media, Libyans, from different walks of life seem to lose hope in their country and its ability to come out of the current crisis safe and sound.
The future stability of Libya, as a matter of fact, is a constant worry to those who care about the country. Those of you who happen to know Libya will be aware of its geographical importance, being the gateway to two continents: Africa to the south and Europe to the north. It also links the western part of the Arab world with its eastern wing.
You will also be aware that Libya sleeps on huge reservoirs of oil and gas. Its great geographic location plus its natural wealth makes Libya a target for foreign nations.
As a Libyan writer who happened to have lived in the UK for more than three decades, I believe the troubles that Libya witnessed since February 2011 are the result of many unfortunate reasons.
Chief among them is the sudden political change that took everyone by surprise. Although Libyans during Col. Gaddafi’s era prayed for change, when their prayers were answered and change was realized, they panicked and couldn’t do anything to grab the opportunities given to them. Change works only if you are prepared for it and provided all the necessary conditiions that help it to settle down gradually and flourish are available.
When Col. Gaddafi was forced out of the political Libyan scene in October 2011, there were no political parties. No political institutions. No free media. No cultural venues. Political vacuum mixed with chaos and spread to all aspects of life was the dominant factor in the political scene that Libyans inherited. It led to the emergence of new opportunistic political elites lacking the necessary qualifications and tools, helped by militias. The political chaos and conflicts that ensued opened the doors wide to foreign interference by Arab, regional and European states. The Libyan scene turned into a battleground for competing local and foreign interests entwined to inflict painful damage on Libya’s future stability. The political vacuum, plus the armed conflicts, also paved the way for Islamist terrorist groups to curve a shelter in the open vast desert. Their bases in the Libyan desert became the launchpad for attacks on neighboring countries in the Sahel.
The situation is getting darker and more crowded with tribal, regional and personal interests competing for domination and influence. Democracy is out of their equation. Their main target is to control the scene politically and pocketing oil revenues.
The way out of the crisis is also complicated. In my opinion, the main complicators are the foreign powers that refuse to give up what they have already grabbed and achieved politically and economically.
Second, are the leaders of the militias. They are fighting proxy wars. And strongly linked to their foreign masters who provide for them with the necessary political umbrella and supply them with money, weapons and ammunition.
Libya’s march to achieve democracy will be longer and harder than what we expected. Like the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be eliminated only with the cooperation of world states and governments. The same can be said about the Libyan dilemma. The way out is not impossible if the international community paid Libya the necessary attention and provided the desperately needed help, by forcing the competing foreign interests to withdraw, and by disarming the militias.
*Dr Mohamed El-Doufani is an editor, writer, analyst and commentator specialising in the Middle East and North Africa, and Russian and US foreign policies.