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Libya still in the mire as another anniversary passes

Tripoli, Libya | AFP |

Libya’s transition has been bogged down by insecurity and chaos, leaving the country looking like a “failed state” six years after the NATO-backed uprising that ended Moamer Kadhafi’s rule.

“We got rid of one dictator only to see 10,000 others take his place,” said Fatma al-Zawi, a Tripoli housewife, bemoaning the multitude of warlords and militias which have run the North African country since the armed revolt which erupted in mid-February 2011.

Ordinary Libyans are showing little enthusiasm for the anniversary, which the authorities plan to mark on Thursday with cultural and sporting events in Martyrs’ Square in the capital.

Living conditions have deteriorated badly through a combination of insecurity, power cuts, water shortages, a cash crunch and the plunging value of the Libyan dinar.

Libya’s executive and legislative branches have been paralysed by fierce rivalries between political movements, ideologies and tribes.

“The protagonists have not understood that no single ideological branch or political or tribal clan can govern the country on its own” in the post-Kadhafi era, said Rachid Khechana, director of the Mediterranean Centre for Libyan Studies in Tunis.

“This is why the country is not ready for ‘classic’ democratic competition” through elections, he said.

In the absence of a strong regular army, the oil-rich country with long, porous borders has turned into rich terrain for smugglers of arms and people from sub-Saharan Africa desperate to reach Europe via perilous Mediterranean crossings.

– Jihadists fill void –

Also stepping into the void have been jihadists, especially the Islamic State group which has seized swathes of Libya, although it was expelled in December from its bastion of Sirte, a city on the Mediterranean.

Hopes for a recovery and return to an era of security raised by a Government of National Accord (GNA), set up under a December 2015 agreement brokered by the United Nations and signed in Morocco, proved short-lived.

It set up shop in Tripoli in March 2016 but has failed to extend its authority, even in the capital which is controlled by dozens of militias of shifting allegiances.

The authority of the GNA headed by Fayez al-Sarraj is challenged by a rival administration in east Libya, much of which is under the control of armed forces commanded by controversial Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

The general in his 70s was overlooked in the Morocco accord but has returned to the forefront with his forces’ capture of four oil terminals in the east from which most of Libya’s lifeline oil is exported.

Haftar, a sworn foe of Islamist militants, is accused by detractors of aiming to establish a new military dictatorship and has so far failed to woo Western support.

But a rapprochement with Russia and the backing he enjoys from regional states such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are prompting the international community to review its position.

The UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, said last week that talks had made progress on “possible amendments” to the December 2015 agreement, and notably on a future role for the military strongman.

– Prospects of ‘failed state’ –

But analysts remain sceptical over the prospects for Libya to avoid becoming a “failed state”.

“It’s now been six years that the international community is trying to impose a democratic, united government when there is nothing on which they can build it,” said Federica Saini Fasanotti, an analyst with the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

“Libyans must decide whether their country will become a new Somalia, or whether they’ll make difficult choices to steer it in a different direction,” she said.

Fasanotti stressed that “not a single remotely unifying political leader has emerged for the country”.

Claudia Gazzini of the International Crisis Group was also downbeat, ruling out any major political or military settlement in 2017.

“Whether or not this state of suspended animation marks the beginning of Libya as a ‘failed state’ depends primarily on its economic standing,” she said.

“The risk of a further deterioration of the country’s economy is real despite the uptick in oil production,” which has climbed to 700,000 barrels per day, was her bleak assessment.


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