Country FilesNorthLibya Country Profile 2015: No end in sight to the fighting


Libya Country Profile 2015: No end in sight to the fighting

By The Africa Report

altIn 2015, Libya is unlikely to exit the violent political limbo into which it has fallen.

Pragmatic and often corrupt considerations should, nonetheless, prevent the country from collapsing. These include the huge profits being made from leaching the state budget by some of the most disruptive elements to have emerged in the post-Muammar Gaddafi landscape.

By early 2015, a framework of constitutional democracy should have been established, but the rule of law will still be lacking and the new national institutions' ability to implant a cohesive national idea over local and tribal loyalties will be tested.

Despite the intense level of fighting and talk of foreign involvement, the country should avoid an all-out civil war. Neither the government, backed by the House of Representatives in the Cyrenaicantown of Tobruk, nor its rival, the cabinet appointed by the rump of the old General NationalCongress (GNC) in Tripoli, has the strength or the will to launch an attack across thousands of miles of desert. They are too busy struggling for control of their own provinces.

As The Africa Report went to press, the situation grew more complex still after the Supreme Court invalidated the House in November.

Violence unabated

It is at the provincial level that conflict is set to continue, as many things suggest. They include the failure of Khalifa Haftar's Operation Dignity to regain control of Benghazi from radical Islamists, the renewed wave of assassinations that terrorised the city and the fact that an Islamist group in the city of Derna has aligned itself with Islamic State.

In Tripolitania, the GNC-affiliated Fajr Libya alliance, which unites the Muslim Brotherhood, other Islamist groups and nationalist and revolutionary fighters from Misrata, has managed to push the Zintan militias out of Tripoli International Airport and has taken control of most government buildings and the city.

With little support for extremism in the capital, Fajr Libya's more violent elements should restrain themselves, making it relatively peaceful.

While a Zintan fight-back is not out of the question, future violence will mostly come from other tribal rivalries such as that between Zawiya and Warshefana west of Tripoli.

altBoth the House of Representatives and the international mediators hope that the threat of an internal and external economic blockade of Misrata port will force the city's business leaders to re-align with the government in Tobruk, breaking the Fajr alliance and restoring national unity.

Against this background, the political transition process launched after the fall of Gaddafi in 2011 will persist and will even pass some substantial milestones in late 2014 and early 2015.

In December, a nationwide referendum is likely to approve a new constitution being finalised by a drafting committee that has been meeting in the eastern town of Al-Bayda since April. Only the Amazigh minority and some radical Islamist groups have boycotted this committee, but it has consulted widely and its proposal will probably be broadly acceptable.

Later in 2015, Libyans plan to vote for the first time for a fully constitutional and democratic government.

Sustaining militias

The new fully mandated government which will follow these changes will continue to tacitly support the armed groups and militias which have dominated the country since the anti-Gaddafi revolution, even if it would prefer to get rid of them. This is because it will continue to pay out two-thirds of its annual budget on wages and subsidies for essential goods in order to maintain social peace.

An important part of this spending is stolen by militia leaders who claim wages for non-existent personnel or who re-export diesel and gasoline imported by the National Oil Corporation (NOC).

Another lucrative business that sustains militia and tribal groups around the country is the massive smuggling of weapons, drugs and people up from the Sahel to the coast. These underlying economic interests are part of why a full-blown civil conflict is unlikely to erupt in the coming year.

The key economic institutions of NOC and the Central Bank of Libya will remain operational. Oil production, while fluctuating strongly thanks to the uncertain political and security environment, may even increase from the surprisingly high level of 900,000 barrels per day reached in September 2014.

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