The Libyan Lesson and Jihad in the Middle East

In 2011, under the auspices of NATO, the West committed aggression against Libya, which led to the removal of Muammar Gadhafi, the abolishment of statehood as such, and the spread of jihad in Northern Africa. Despite the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi, a number of politicians in the EU and the U.S. continue to insist on helping the Syrian rebels, which could lead to the creation of a broader jihad zone and boomerang back against the interests of the West itself.

Only the most insightful Western analytical centers have noted the risk for the EU and the U.S. when studying the consequences of the war in Libya. We will name two of them. The first is Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), a German institute on international issues and security, which develops the agenda for the Chancellor of the FRG with regard to foreign policy. The second is Stratfor intelligence center in the U.S.

About a month ago SWP published a report named Fault Lines of the Revolution. Political Actors, Camps and Conflicts in the New Libya, which analyzed a wide variety of issues, from the role of muftis to radical jihadists and ethnic minorities. The general opinion expressed in the document is that in Libya one can see a return to a system which emphasizes local identity and politics over centralized rule by the legitimate government in Tripoli. While the influence of radical Muslims in the National Congress is noticeable, besides the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis there are no other ideological groups there, so the rest of the spectrum is represented by clan and family interests. The most influential figure in the Islamic political spectrum is Mufti Sadiq al-Garyani, who in 2012 was appointed director of the new agency Dar al-Ifta, which is responsible for interpreting Islamic law. In the first months he issued fatwas forbidding the demolition of Sufi mosques and the killing of former employees of Gadhafi’s defense and law enforcement agencies. However, later he abruptly started playing up to the Islamists; a day before the elections he announced that Muslims should not vote for parties which limit the sphere of sharia law, justified the massacre in Bani Walid in October 2012 and supported the ban on former officials engaging in politics. Al-Garyani has also been linked with sheikhs from Qatar, which is indicative of the establishment of control over Libya through religious identity.

Libya Tribal Map

However, the situation remains out of control even by the Islamic sector. The report notes that as large areas in the center of the country are currently not controlled by Tripoli or Benghazi, various armed groups will try to profit from the situation. Furthermore, even around large cities, including Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi, the regional centers of authority are unable to establish and maintain effective security and cooperate with the capital in patrolling the borders. As a result, various groups of local military councils are establishing their own rule in the provinces. The hierarchy of these councils often coincides with the complex tribal and ethnosocial structures of Libya, which exacerbates the problem of geographical control for the central government. And each of these military councils considers itself the defender of the revolution, which means Tripoli is at a loss as to how to collaborate with them and establish a dialog. Rivalry between local subjects does not only take place along the fault line of the civil war. Armed groups from the Tubu ethnic tribes and Arab tribes in Sabha and Kufra are linked with competition for the distribution of resources, first of all the profit from the smuggling business in border territories. It has been noted many times that the flow of contraband weapons and drugs has abruptly increased, and attempts by the authorities to stop it has met with armed resistance from the smugglers (1).

Furthermore, the consequences of the collapse of the legal system are making themselves felt, and to this is added the problem of prosecuting the representatives of Gadhafi’s government. According to data from the International Crisis Group, seven thousand former employees of Gadhafi’s defense and law enforcement agencies are in prison, and less than half of them are in places which are under nominal state control. Citizens of other countries who have been accused without actual evidence of colluding with Gadhafi as mercenaries have been imprisoned along with former Libyan citizens.

The case of the murder of General Abdel Fattah Younes, the subsequent investigation and the Younes clan’s attempts to kill the suspects (one of whom was killed) (2) demonstrated the problem of blood vengeance, which is the only remaining instrument of justice in Libya.

The abolishment of Libyan statehood is not limited to the territory and problems of Libya itself.

Robert Kaplan of Stratfor justly noted that the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime has led to «second-order effects»: war and anarchy in neighboring Mali. «Ethnic Malian Tuaregs who had backed Gadhafi fled Libya en masse, taking with them large-scale caches of weapons upon the Libyan leader’s demise. The Tuaregs headed back to Mali, where they wrested control of the desert north of that country from a government located far to the south in the capital of Bamako. After the Tuareg rebellion was co-opted by jihadists…the French government subsequently intervened with troops… Libya, for that matter, is now an ungovernable space in significant parts of the country where al Qaeda can very possibly find refuge». Kaplan further notes that even the presence of 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq did not help establish a democracy in that country, so one should not expect anything of that sort in Libya, where a civil society simply never existed. The leading American geopolitical expert suggests that this analysis be taken as a warning against calls to intervene in Syria, pointing out that in Libya, outward military expansion was fairly moderate, which can’t be expected in the case of Syria.

The case of Mali, connected to the spread of jihad, can also be applied to the Syrian conflict. In this regard Stratfor noted that al-Qaeda in Iraq is attempting to use the Syrian conflict in order to start a religious war in Iraq and thus create a continuous war zone stretching from Iraq to Lebanon. The hundreds of people who have been killed in Iraq by suicide bombers are a testimony to the jihadists’ attempts to deepen religious animosities between Sunnites and Shiites.  It has also been observed that both Riyadh and al-Qaeda in Iraq are trying to profit from the growing anti-Shiite and anti-Iranian sentiments in the region caused by the deaths of Sunnites in Syria. Although the Saudis are using the jihadists in order to weaken Iran, the jihadists are hoping to become a big political power in Syria and Iraq as a result of the conflict. However, there are a number of obstacles to making these plans a reality. These include the limited possibilities of the Wahhabis, the victories of government forces in Syria and the political profile of Iraq, where there is a sharp division between the Kurds, the Sunnites and the Shiites which prevents the jihadists from encompassing the country’s entire population.

Despite the fact that there is an obvious connection between the matrix of the fight for power in Libya and the situation surrounding the Syrian opposition, neither Brussels nor Washington nor even the liberals among the Syrian opposition wants to understand what further attempts to overthrow al-Asad’s government in Syria will lead to. And if no model for regulating the current large-scale (from the social, economic, political, geographical and ethnic perspectives) conflict in Libya has yet been worked out through the mediation of the EU or the UN, what sense is there in continuing to shake up the situation in Syria? It seems that European and American leaders’ decisions on Syria are beyond the bounds of political expediency.

(1) “Commander of Border Guard Visits Those Injured in Attack on Tamanhant Base”, Quryna, 2 April 2013, (link in Arabic).

(2) “Abdel Fattah Younes’ Family: Criminal Prosecution – or Revenge”, Quryna, 5 December 2012

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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