What’s happening in Libya?

What's happening in Libya

Nearly 2,500 years ago, famed Greek historian Herodotus proclaimed, in a book he wrote during his journey in Africa, “From Libya comes the new!” From that day on, the Libyan people have been using this saying, which became popular among young and old, boastfully. However, most people have used it in a negative context since the start of the era of Muammar Gaddafi and the calamities it brought upon the country.

The fact of the matter was that “independent” MPs were actually supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood from day one.
When the uprising in Libya began in 2011, the main concern for the rebels was to acquire weapons and recruit fighters to battle Gaddafi’s forces. They ultimately found what they wanted in Gaddafi’s dungeons, where they stumbled upon large numbers of battle-ready Islamist fighters.

Today, all sides in that rebellion continue to play a role, whether militarily or politically. Indeed, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), or Ansar al-Sharia in Libya had no intention to lay down their arms after Gaddafi was finished. For one thing, Qatar and its ally Turkey, who have long supplied such groups with weapons and money, realized that the most important part of the uprising was the post-Gaddafi phase, and that the only fruits worth picking are the ones that are ripe.

Qatar and Turkey had their way with the Islamist domination of the General National Congress that was elected in July 2012, after successfully turning their minority into a majority against Mahmoud Jibril’s faction. The fact of the matter was that “independent” MPs were actually supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood from day one.

Hence, the Islamists dominated the country. The militias affiliated to them were given official cover under the command of Abdelhakim Belhadj, who was a former LIFG leader. These militias consisted of jihadis who returned from Afghanistan, and are very close to Qatar and Turkey.

But Saudi Arabia would not tolerate the expansion led by its small neighbor in the Gulf into North Africa. Saudi Arabia could not tolerate for the Muslim Brotherhood, now its archenemy, to control an oil-rich country like Libya, and decided to press “the reset button” in regards to the situation there. Saudi and its ally the UAE thus began supplying the Zintan Brigades, which sporadically controlled Tripoli International Airport, with weapons and money.

Major General Khalifa Haftar was also eager to play a major role in Libya, and was waiting for any opportunity to be rehabilitated after having been forced to retire by the leadership of the new Libyan army. In Tobruk, a city on the border with Egypt, Haftar gathered former officers and soldiers, and proceeded to seize first his hometown, which contains a military airbase complete with old helicopters and fighter jets.

For its part, the Ansar al-Sharia extended its influence in the east of Libya, as Egypt, Saudi’s ally, began to sense the militant threat approaching its western border.

There were mutual grudges on both sides, and there was little need for a pretext to ignite this powder keg. At first, Haftar moved against Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, carrying out strikes against its bases using the military helicopters he had captured. The Libyan public rallied behind him in the east of Libya, and the echoes of the “battle of dignity” he launched reached all the way to the Libya’s west, where this transformed into further unrest. Though Haftar did not have considerable military weight in Tripoli, his allies in the Civil Movement, particularly the Zintan Brigades, already had their fingers on the trigger in anticipation for the battle to come.

The Islamists retreated under pressure from Haftar and the Zintan Brigades, and the momentum of the supporters of the “battle of dignity.” Haftar called for sacking the government and holding legislative elections as soon as possible. Haftar failed in his first bid, but succeeded in the second, and in July, the Civil Movement, which supports Mahmoud Jibril and Haftar, won by a landslide.

Yet all this has proven to be insufficient in defeating the Islamist movements, which do have powerful militias backing them. Thus, Tripoli caught fire, and the battle spread to every street and neighborhood, destroying Tripoli’s airport, which was under the control of the Zintan Brigades. There are rumors that this destruction was preconceived, however, with the contract for the airport’s reconstruction and the restoration of its fleet having been signed in Washington in advance.

The Libyans agree that the so-called February 17 Revolution belongs to the distant past now.
There is no doubt that the Islamists are the most numerous and best organized. The Haftar-Zintan alliance, despite its strength, will not be able to withstand the Islamists for long. Sources say that as the militants of the first side was on the verge of a rout against the fighters of Abdelhakim Belhadj and the commander of the current battle Salah Badi, who hails from Misrata, a certain regional power intervened directly, was involved in the “mysterious” airstrikes reported in Tripoli recently (Editor’s note: A report has come in that Egypt and UAE were suspected to be behind the airstrikes in Libya).

To restore the balance of power on the ground as well, there are contacts underway between the Zintan Brigades and Gaddafi’s supporters in Europe and neighboring countries. The pro-Gaddafi elements want to return and want their prisoners to be released, including Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. The Zintan Brigades accept these conditions, except for releasing Saif al-Islam, as they believe this could turn the Libyan public opinion against them.

Many pro-Gaddafi prisoners have indeed been released, before they joined the Zintan Brigades on the battlefronts. Pro-Gaddafi exiles have also been returning with the consent of the Zintan Brigades. This is no longer seen as a liability for the latter and its allies, because the real “revolution” has now started, and the past is now in the past.

In Libya as well, tribes play a pivotal role on the ground. Both sides know this very well. No side can prevail over the other without first controlling the tribes.

The Islamists have made Misrata the hub of their military, financial, and recruitment activity. Misrata – and the tribes there – has essentially acquired a key role in Libya no matter what happens next, since it is a city that is close to both Benghazi and Tripoli, and also has its own air and sea port. Meanwhile, the notables of Zawiya have found themselves on the same side as the Islamists.

In regards the Zintan Brigades, they rely on their historical alliance with the Warfalla, one of the largest tribes in Libya whose presence extends from east to west. The Warfalla have a grudge against Misrata, which had a huge role in the rebellion against Gaddafi whom they supported and the attack on the Warfalla stronghold of Bani Walid.

The Tarhona, meanwhile, are closer to Zintan than Misrata, and it seems that they have joined the alliance against the Islamists. In addition, the elders of the Warshefana, the largest tribe in Libya, are according to sources, in a secret alliance with Jibril and the Zintan Brigades.

The Libyans agree that the so-called February 17 Revolution belongs to the distant past now. In one speech made by Gaddafi during the rebellion, he said, “I will turn Libya into embers…. into fire,” as though he had known that the country after his departure would descend into the inferno of an intractable civil war.

Until further notice, Libya seems to be in a dark spiral, and, no doubt, “from Libya, will come something new” everyday.

Al Akhbar

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