News / Middle East

Column: Can Anyone Save Libya?

Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter addresses a press conference in Benghazi, Libya, on May 17, 2014.
Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter addresses a press conference in Benghazi, Libya, on May 17, 2014.
— Libya’s future looked promising after its dictator was overthrown nearly three years ago.
 
But its recent history has been chaotic, with a succession of weak prime ministers at the mercy of militias more loyal to regions, ideologies and individuals rather than to a central government in Tripoli.
 
In recent days, however, a new would-be savior, Gen. Khalifa Hifter, has been gathering support from secular forces and, it appears, from the governments of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
 
On Wednesday, the United States ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, appeared to endorse Hifter, a defector from Moammar Gadhafi’s army who spent 20 years in northern Virginia.
 
“I am not going to come out and condemn blanketly what he did,” she told an audience at the Stimson Center in Washington.
 
Hifter’s forces, who have battled militant Islamists in eastern Libya and stormed the parliament in Tripoli last weekend, are “going after very specific groups … on our list of terrorists,” Jones said.
 
Among the targets is Ansar al-Sharia, a group recently put on the U.S. State Department’s terrorist list. It is believed responsible for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012 that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
 
But Hifter is also going after more moderate Islamists who dominate Libya’s weak parliament, the General National Congress.
 
After its building was ransacked on Sunday, the congress -- attacked in another location when it tried to meet Tuesday -- has now agreed to dissolve and allow elections for a new body at the end of next month.
 
Hifter’s anti-Islamic agenda fits with the views of Egypt’s military-run government, which is about to anoint former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sissi as president in barely contested elections next week.
 
The United Arab Emirates has also embraced a harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
Jones, asked if these two countries were behind Hifter, said, “I have nothing for you on that” but added that Libyan exiles in Egypt and the UAE “have expressed support” for Hifter.
 
The general, she added, has “already produced one thing many Libyans wanted” – a definite date for elections for a new parliament.  
 
When the revolution against Gadhafi began in 2011, it put together an impressive group of exiles, the National Transitional Council. The council attracted support from the Arab League, NATO and eventually the U.N. Security Council to establish a no-fly zone protecting Libyans from Gadhafi’s forces.
 
But after Gadhafi was defeated and assassinated by the rebels, the new government in Tripoli embraced what a recent Atlantic Council report calls a policy of “appeasement,” which entailed paying off local militias rather than attempting to knit them together into a coherent national army.
 
The result has been a kaleidoscope of militant groups; some quarter-million armed men are on the government payroll.
 
Libya’s cities and regions, never that well integrated, have gone off on their own tangents, with Islamists dominating in the east and more secular forces in the west. In the middle of the Mediterranean coast, the city of Misrata has its own administration and security forces. It has so far stayed out of Hifter’s offensive, according to Karim Mezran, a North Africa expert at the Atlantic Council.
 
The country has been in such disarray that the head of a force created to provide security for Libya’s oil exports seized oil ports and tried in March to export oil on a North Korean-flagged tanker.
 
U.S. Navy Seals forced the tanker back to Libya and a new UN Security Council resolution gives the U.S. and other naval powers authority to block any further attempts at stealing Libya’s key source of revenue.
 
But oil exports, which had exceeded 1.5 million barrels a day before the revolution, now amount to barely 250,000 barrels a day.
 
Foreign companies that had seen post-Gadhafi Libya as a potential bonanza for investment – given the country’s large hard currency reserves, oil wealth and unspoiled beaches – are steering clear until some semblance of order can be restored.
 
Is Hifter the one to accomplish this?
 
Mezran calls Hifter – who helped Gadhafi seize power in 1969 but then took part in a disastrous war in Chad in the 1980s – “an ambiguous character.”
 
Hifter may have developed ties with the CIA a decade later when he plotted against Gadhafi from a comfortable exile in Virginia.
 
Unlike Algeria, which went through a revolution against France in the 1960s, “there is no Boumediene” in Libya, Mezran said, referring to Houari Boumediene, the leader of the Algerian revolution.
 
Libya’s fragmentation, Mezran said, “has prevented one figure from emerging.”
 
U.S. ambassador Jones said her impression from talking to Libyans since Hifter’s latest offensive began is that many support Hifter’s actions but there is “less [support] for him as an individual.
 
The jury is still out because it’s not clear what the agenda behind this is.”
 
Hifter’s appearance on television on Wednesday in military uniform surrounded by other uniformed men suggested that he has in mind a larger role for himself.
 
He said he had asked Libyan judicial authorities to form a presidential council to rule until parliamentary elections scheduled for June 25. 
 
Although he insisted that the new council would be “civilian” in nature, Libyans – and those outside who care about the fate of the country – have reason to be skeptical.
 
Given recent trends in the region, it is entirely possible that Hifter will try to follow Sissi’s example.
 
However, as Jones pointed out on Wednesday, Sissi has a powerful national army behind him – something Libya is unlikely to acquire for many years to come.

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: wu from: shaaxxi ,China
May 24, 2014 5:19 PM
Thay is american'democracy–that tore Libys, Syria and Iraq into piecses,puck you ,smetican


by: Russell from: florida
May 24, 2014 8:24 AM
NO, no one can save Libya. The U.S. and NATO furnished the entire nation with weapons and created this catastrophe. If Assad doesn't prevail in Syria the same scenario will repeat its self with the rebels there. The U.S. and NATO are destroying world stability, now they've went from the middle east to Europe with the Ukraine scenario


by: ali baba from: new york
May 22, 2014 9:23 PM
too little , to late

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid