Libya’s recovery short-lived as country risks falling apart

libya-free_1835951cA comeback by Libya’s oil industry may be short-lived as a confrontation between armed groups risks splitting the country three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Reuters reports:

Oil production has risen to 650,000 barrels per day (bpd), five times the level two months ago, in a rare success for the economy at a time when armed groups and two parliaments fight for control of the North African country. ….The recent increase comes after a group of federalist rebels campaigning for regional autonomy implemented a deal to reopen major eastern ports such as Es Sider.

But Libya expert Dirk Vandewalle said federalist rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran might close these ports again, after a rival armed faction from the western city of Misrata took control of the capital Tripoli.

This group has pushed to reinstate Libya’s old General National Congress (GNC), refusing to recognize the new House of Representatives. Part of the Misrata forces are backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. In response, the federalists might opt to exert their power over oil exports and the economy as a whole.

“There is always the possibility that the federalists may take this opportunity to reassert themselves,” said Vandewalle, author of the book “History of Modern Libya”.

Secret air strikes are “an astounding and unusual action,” said William Lawrence of the Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, adding that the US would not have approved of the move.

Libya expert Lawrence agrees that Security Council talks need to take place, saying, “Libya needs to be stabilized and hasn’t been able to do so on its own.” Instead, Lawrence tells DW, a UN mission is needed to help the country establish reliable political institutions and an inclusive government: “We need a political dialogue that includes the Islamists but doesn’t let them take the lead.”

In the campaign to overthrow Qaddafi, many militias currently fighting each other were comrades-in-arms. But many have since become enemies on the battlefield, RFE/RL reports.

“Over time, the different groups have associated themselves with different political currents, primarily nationalists and Islamists, and that automatically pits one against the other,” says George Joffe, a Libya expert and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, who estimates that around 350 different militias are currently operating in Libya.

“Each of them has represented an autonomous power center and has been very unwilling to share power with other groups. On top of all that, there is the question of the regional and tribal identities of the groups involved.”

Three important themes that have surfaced in the most recent episode of Islamist/Non-Islamist conflict concern the bifurcation of Libya, foreign intervention and the proxy war that Libya has become, Jason Pack of Libya-analysis.com told Aljazeera’s Inside Story.

While much of the world’s attention has been focused on crises further east, the situation in Libya in the past few weeks has dissolved into the worst chaos since the 2011 war that ousted Moammar Gaddafi, the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor and Adam Taylor observe.

With reports that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are now getting involved, the conflict has turned into something of a proxy war for the Middle East’s big powers…..Put simply, the crisis could be framed as a contest between Islamist and Arab nationalists — a familiar trope throughout the Arab world.

But there are other factors at play, including regional rivalries, rump parliaments and outside agendas that don’t always align neatly, they add, providing a helpful guide to the key actors in the Libyan maelstrom….RTWT

As Islamists split with jihadists, Libya’s transition can be saved

libya-free_1835951cSplits between jihadists and less extreme Islamists are appearing in Benghazi, cradle of the Libyan uprising, as jihadists achieve success on the ground and the Islamists try to organise, AFP reports:

Islamists of good standing, seen as close to the Muslim Brotherhood, set the ball rolling on Saturday by announcing the formation of a shura or consultative council to “find solutions to the problems of the city” of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

“It is the start of a dispute between advocates of political Islam and jihadists,” said political analyst Saad Najm, who believes the key rift line concerns the principle of democracy.

“It is the end of the honeymoon between Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood tendency and the jihadists, who are against democracy and the civil state,” said political analyst Ezzedine al-Borussi.

“The Islamists who failed to win the parliamentary elections on June 25 will pay the price for their previous support of the jihadists who do not believe in democracy,” said another analyst, Nasser Assamin.

Libya’s situation is dire, but there still are steps that Obama and the international community should take, say two prominent analysts.

Currently, Libya’s political transition is proceeding along four disjointed tracks: the workings of a new parliament, efforts to select a new government, a constitution-making process and a U.N.-backed national dialogue that is intended to broker broad agreement on the founding principles of the Libyan state. These tracks are poorly coordinated and all, except for the national dialogue, have been the target of violence.

A new assistance program in Libya would require the active build-up of the military, with NATO supervision, Chibli Mallat and Duncan Pickard write for the Washington Post:

Libya must also reactivate its stalled processes of institution-building, working toward an inclusive constitution and a government that can persuade militia leaders to lay down their arms — or else pay a financial, political and military price. As in the other Middle Eastern countries free of dictators, Libyans seek a government that delivers security and holds a monopoly on violence. If he moves now to get them the support they need, perhaps Obama won’t be doomed to live with his regrets.

Chibli Mallat is chair of the group Right to Nonviolence. Duncan Pickard is a nonresident fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and was Libya country director for Democracy Reporting International.

Libya poll to proceed despite political chaos

LIBYAFLAGLibya’s second national election since the 2011 ouster of strongman Muammar Gaddafi will go ahead next week despite growing political chaos, organizational troubles and the prospect of a low turnout, Reuters reports (HT: FPI):

Dismissing doubts among foreign diplomats that Tripoli could arrange the vote in only a month, election commission head Emad Al-Sayeh told Reuters that preparations for polling on June 25 were coming along well and staff were being trained. ….He said there were “positive indications” that the vote would go ahead even in Benghazi, the eastern city where fighting takes place almost daily between forces of renegade Geenral Khalifa Haftar and Islamist militants.

A Western diplomat said the government was adamant the vote should go ahead and noted that voting for a constitutional committee in February went ahead in most areas.

“There will be challenges to open polling stations in some places in the east and south,” he said. “The bigger question would be what will happen after the election, whether tensions will ease.”

The General National Congress (GNC) assembly decided in February to step down after its initial mandate had ended, bowing to pressure from voters who blame political infighting for Libya’s bumpy transition to democracy.

RTWT

U.S. ‘mixed success’ in assistance to Arab Spring transitions

POMEDREPORTThe United States “has largely failed to adapt U.S. assistance or policy toward the Middle East and North Africa in response to the dramatic political changes in the region over the past few years,” a new analysis suggests.  

“In general, it is remarkable how little the structure and objectives of U.S. assistance to the region have changed since before the 2011 uprisings,” according to The Federal Budget and Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2015: Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, a joint publication of the Project on Middle East Democracy and the Heinrich Böll Foundation of North America.

“The percentage of U.S.  assistance devoted to supporting military and security forces has actually increased since 2010 while the percentage devoted to programming dedicated to democracy and governance has decreased, despite frequent rhetoric from the administration and Congress in 2011 suggesting that the opposite would take place,’ the reports notes:  

Three years after the uprisings of 2011, the administration has had only mixed success in regularizing its assistance to countries in transition. In 2012 and into 2013, the administration mobilized large amounts of aid to respond to the democratic upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria through significant reprogramming and reallocation from multi-country accounts. Such a response was necessary at that time, when funds had not been budgeted ahead of time.  

By now, the administration should be working to move a greater percentage of assistance to those countries into bilateral accounts to establish a more permanent aid relationship. The administration has just this year made moves in that direction in both Yemen and Syria, but has failed to do so in Tunisia and especially in Libya. 

Support for democracy and governance programming in Syria in this year’s request is dramatically increased to $80 million; if granted, democracy assistance to Syria will be the highest bilateral level in the region. Democracy practitioners have complained for some time that the administration does not have a clear strategy for supporting democracy and governance activities in liberated areas of the country. The administration moved a substantial amount of Syria assistance into a bilateral account this year, including a large request for democracy assistance, which may signal a step in that direction. This new request, coupled with increasing coordination of Syria assistance by Mark Ward, could bring increased clarity to U.S. democracy programming strategy in the country.

RTWT

 

Is kneejerk opposition to coups misplaced?

egypt sisiIs kneejerk opposition to military coups misplaced?  We can all agree that coups overthrowing democratic governments are never good, but what about authoritarian ones? asks Slate analyst Joshua Keating:

The economist Paul Collier has made that argument, suggesting that “the very forces that sanctimony comfortably condemns can sometimes be the most effective ally of democracy.” After all, whether or not a dictator survives often depends more on the support of those around him than the support of citizens. 2014 also marks the 40th anniversary of Portugal’s “Carnation Revolution” – probably history’s most famous “good coup” ….

A recent paper by political scientists Clayton L. Thyne and Jonathan M. Powell in the journal Foreign Policy Analysis examines the relationship between coups and democracy in the context of the Arab Spring., where the behavior of the military was often the deciding factor. As they note, “loyal militaries have allowed the governments in Bahrain and Syria remain intact, regimes in Tunisia and Egypt fell after military defections, and military splits led to prolonged fighting in Libya and Yemen.” In general, coups have been much more likely to lead to a return to elected government since the Cold War. Thyne and Powell argue this is in line with the incentives juntas face after taking power. …

The authors don’t go as far as to suggest supporting coups against authoritarian governments, but they say the U.S. and other foreign powers should focus more on “precoup levels of democracy when deciding how to respond to coup attempts.”

In general though, it would probably be wise for the U.S. to maintain a general bias against supporting coups,” Keating suggests. “And even when coups lead back to democracy, countries tend not to have just one. As we saw in Turkey and Thailand throughout the 20th century and Egypt more recently, countries can become trapped in coup cycles.”

RTWT