As Libya slides deeper into political and military chaos, uncertainty reigns and analysts say it’s difficult to anticipate how things will unfold.
Some say Libya needs regional or broader foreign involvement; others say that would only aggravate the situation.
In mid-August, Libya’s ambassador to Egypt, Mohamed Jibril, called for international intervention, saying “Libya is unable to protect its institutions, its airports and oil fields.”
Last week, the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Dabbashi, asked the U.N. Security Council to disarm the warring factions. But the council decided against sending a U.N. peacekeeping force to Libya.
Two military coalitions are competing for governmental control. Their power struggles have almost paralyzed the country, leaving it with two de facto parliaments and two prime ministers.
One coalition, Libya Dawn, represents Islamist groups including the hardline Ansar al-Shariah and militias from the coastal city of Misurata. The other coalition includes supporters of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi, ousted in 2011. It’s led by retired General Khalifa Haftar, an anti-Islamist.
Retired General Sameh Seif Alyazal, director of Cairo’s Algomhuria Center for Strategic Studies, said it’s “very difficult, if not impossible now, to disarm more than 1,600 militias and armed groups in Libya with millions of pieces of weapon and a variety of heavy weapons and missiles.”
Seif Alyazal welcomed the Security Council’s resolution to impose sanctions on militias and their political supporters who are fueling Libya’s escalating war.
Egypt’s former ambassador to Libya, Hany Khallaf, said stabilizing Libya will demand more international cooperation.
“Political and security arrangements are urgently required in Libya and it would take serious efforts from neighboring Arab countries, European and international efforts to be achieved,” Khallaf said.
Egypt is committed to helping “the legitimate Libyan government in Tobruk” restore stability and extend its authority, according to Seif Alyazal. He said the two countries’ chiefs of staff met to discuss military cooperation, and Egypt offered to train Libyan police and army units, while monitoring the borders to prevent insurgents or weapons from crossing.
But Khallaf downplayed any significant role in Libyan politics for Egypt and its Gulf allies.
“Libyan Islamists reject any role by Egypt, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates for a settlement in Libya, due to their anti-Islamist positions,” he said.
A recent report in the military journal Jane’s Intelligence Review said the escalated fighting could yield one of several different scenarios. They include Islamist forces that “gradually expand their control over the country, leading to a high probability of Algerian or Egyptian intervention.” Another possibility, Jane’s said is that the government could consolidate its control of oil revenues and contain the Islamists in the east.
But if Islamists “succeed in isolating the Tobruk government and secure control of energy revenues,” Jane’s said, it could divide the more hardline factions and the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to “greater direct foreign military intervention from Algeria and Egypt to secure their respective borders.”
Michael O’ Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brooking Institution, a Washington think tank, predicted Libya eventually might be divided.
“Realistically,” he said, “it is possible that Libya would be partitioned in the future, or at least would be a confederation of some kind where you do have two ongoing parliaments.”
The most likely outcome is a stalemate – at least until the Tobruk government can “secure enough support and maybe direct Egyptian help to extend its authority across the country,” said Claudia Gazzini, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, an organization committed to resolving deadly conflict.
The head of the United Nations’ support mission, Spanish diplomat Bernardino Leon, agrees foreign intervention isn’t the answer to Libya’s turmoil.
“More conflict, more use of force will not help Libya get out of the current chaos, which would also impact countries in the region, in Europe and beyond,” he said.
Besides, Gazzini said, few countries have shown interest in forming an international coalition to restore stability.
And she warned against such national or regional intervention. “Any viable solution must come from within Libya,” she said. “Intervention by outsiders picking sides may just make things worse.”