There is no overarching theme in Libya – that is, unless you count the effect political paralysis in Tripoli has on the country’s numerous security problems. The longer Prime Minister Ali Zeidan remains isolated, and the General National Congress (GNC) can override his wishes, the longer the Libyan Government will remain unable to brave the endless oil blockades in the East, as well as terrorism, assassinations and intertribal clashes. In fact, the continued political stalemate in Tripoli, as well as the tendency of authorities to divert attention toward the supposed threats of Muammar Gaddafi’s ghost, has only exacerbated these problems.
A Welcome Change?
Of all the security concerns of late, the situation around Tripoli’s outskirts and Libya’s southern regions, particularly around Sebha and Kufra, have proven to be the most anxiety-inducing – so much so, that in an extraordinary meeting of the GNC on 18 January 2014, the overwhelming majority of representative declared a “Nationwide High Security Alert”. The announcement, which came following accusations that “Gaddafi loyalists” had become entangled in the security mess, allowed the government in Tripoli to authorise the mobilisation of militias to the restive locations in order to prevent further clashes.
So far, many have welcomed the government’s response to mobilise brigades to security hotspots. Indeed, it demonstrated a significant step forward for the isolated Zeidan, who is rumoured to have endured fierce opposition from militia-favourite, Chief of Staff Major-General Abdussalam Jadallah Al Obeidi. In early January 2014, sources claimed that Chief of Staff Al Obeidi had refused, despite orders from the PM, to send in troops to Sebha. The sudden change of heart came in light of the recent siege of the Tmanhunt Airbase on 18 January 2014, as well as amid reports of continued fighting between members of the Tubu community and the largely ethnic Arab Awlad Suleiman tribe, and that Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saadi, may have been leading a contingent of pro-Gaddafi forces from his current home base in Niger.
A closer look into the situation, however, reveals that the decision to issue the High Security Alert not only further undermines Zeidan’s administration; it also lends credence to accusations that the government is overusing the “Gaddafi card” to justify its ineptitude and to force government-linked militias to actually respond to security threats . To begin with, PM has agreed to, despite GNC Laws No. 27 and 53 – both of which call for the removal of all militias from Libya – use militias for security purposes. For his part, Zeidan argued on 20 January 2014, that the decision to use brigades does not mean his administration has reversed the legislation. Instead, Zeidan claimed, all militias will still be under his control, with orders dictated by either the Minister of the Interior or the Minister of Defence. Despite the PM’s claims, most analysts note that Zeidan’s authorisation of the use of militias illustrates that the National Army, Air Force, and other military branches are not under his dominion, and rather fall under the authority of the GNC and its President, Nouri Abusahmain. Moreover, those that do come under Zeidan’s ultimate command – the country’s 20,000-strong reported national police force – often fail to show up for work. Others that do fulfil their security obligations, meanwhile, are simply “outgunned” by extremists.
In other words, Zeidan’s administration appears to have had no other alternative than to use the very militias he originally wanted to disband. The PM is, in a word, isolated. Sadly, his decision to authorise militia power is not a viable long-term solution. By deploying brigades to restive locations such as Sebha, Kufra, or the Warshafena region, the PM could ultimately see these armed groups engage in clashes with the national government, or witness these militias attempt to solidify their power in the long run. The Misrata-origin militias are considered a particular force to watch, as the government in Tripoli is not assessed to maintain any level of authority over these groups, despite the brigades falling – at least nominally – under the branches of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Ministry of the Interior (MoI). In an attempt to ameliorate the situation, however, the GNC has recently voted to “re-grant” more political powers, such as those pertaining to the role of Commander-in-Chief, to GNC President Nouri Abusahmain. However, Abusahmain’s sudden political resurgence is just another development in the ongoing political stalemate that may anger the Libyan public, who are growing weary of the political pendulum swing.
As shown above, there has been a steady number of criminal activities, clashes, terrorist attacks, targeted killings, abductions, as well as cases of civil unrest between May 2013 – January 2014. Worryingly, the longer government in Tripoli stalls, nefarious elements, including criminal gangs or militant groups, are likely to increase their capitalisation on the country’s political vacuum.
The Gaddafi Catchall
Perhaps aware of the general antipathy toward the national government, officials have been keen on keen on trying to unite Libya by shifting anger toward a common enemy: Gaddafi. However, the use of the phrase appears to be growing tired. The loyalist catchall has become so commonplace, that authorities often describe anyone who has launched attacks against installations in Sebha, or armed groups originating from the Warshafena region who have been accused of carjacking and abductions, as having sympathies to the former regime. Going further, on 22 January 2014, local news outlets even claimed that the Ministry of Information had been trying to “track the source” of some Gaddafi-leaning satellite TV channels, due to claims that they are “spreading rumours that jeopardise the security” of Libya. Whilst a number of those involved in Libya’s recent violence may be supporters of the former regime, the “Gaddafi card” has time and time again been used to simplify the reasoning behind intricate situations or attacks, as well as cover up potentially embarrassing security failures. Indeed, the situation in Sebha is far more complex than simply Gaddafi remnants vs. Revolutionaries. Some of those individuals who raised the green flag of Gaddafi may be more appropriately described as being against the current government, rather than simply being supportive of the former dictator.
By now it is clear Zeidan’s government is facing an uphill battle when it comes to providing security in Libya. However, by diverting attention away from his administration and toward Gaddafi – who, it should be noted, has been dead for more than two years – and by overly relying on militias, Zeidan is only making the situation worse. To be fair to the PM, he has few allies in Tripoli. Whilst he has survived repeated attempts to unseat him through an impending vote of no confidence, his administration is in shambles. Last week, following yet another failure to remove Zeidan, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Justice and Construction Party (JCP) decided it would remove all of its highest members from the government, a move that only added to the country’s political polarisation. Worryingly, the longer government in Tripoli stalls, nefarious elements, including criminal gangs or militant groups, are likely to increase their capitalisation on the country’s political vacuum. In other words, attacks by purported “Gaddafi sympathisers” should increase.