Another week, another round of fateful news from Libya. On Tuesday, June 12, a vehicle carrying Britain’s ambassador to Libya was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades in Benghazi. The attack came days after a bomb went off just outside the U.S. mission in the eastern city. Earlier this month, an armed militia cut the fence at Tripoli’s international airport, drove onto the tarmac, and briefly occupied the country’s main airport without opposition. As one Libyan activist put it, giving voice to what must be the feeling of many, “Where is the state?”
With the fall of the Qaddafi regime, Libya has sunk into a state of ongoing turmoil. Formally, the country is governed by the National Transitional Council, a body established during the war. As the recognized government of Libya, the NTC controls the country’s bank accounts and can access its US$180 billion in foreign reserves—potentially, a significant political card to play. Still, in practice, much of the country has devolved into the hands of local militia groups. These groups became armed by taking weapons from Libyan military depots during the war. Now, guns in hand, reports consistently say that the militias wield power on the streets in many parts of the country. Alongside the militias is a motley crew of Islamist groups, ostensibly interested in taking power for the sake of Islam and not personal financial gain.
In simple terms, the dominant dynamic in Libya is a de facto negotiation between the National Transitional Council and the militias. One is a centralizing force, the other a force for fragmentation. One controls the money, the other the streets. One is a roster of internationally recognized leaders, the other largely unknown. In these negotiations, it seems the militias, on the whole, have the upper hand. But the current state of these de facto negotiations may be less important than the basic fact that their outcome is unsettled. Libya lacks—at least in the short term—a recognized political leadership that also controls the country’s territory. That, almost literally, is a definition of a failed state.
That instability has led, according to intelligence sources, to weapons smuggling into Sinai and Gaza. But the weapons smuggling is not the only lesson Israel can draw from developments in Libya. Rather, events in Libya may serve as signals of trends we may see in other Arab countries. Other parts of the region, too, are torn by conflict between a central government and local forces seeking to weaken the state. From Libya, then, a few potential lessons:
The Role of Gulf States: Reportedly, some Gulf states have armed and funded militias and moderate Islamist groups in the Libyan periphery. While the West has supported the NTC and the forces of centralization, some Gulf states have taken the opposite tack. In their attempts to project power, these Gulf states seem to have concluded that their fastest route to influence in Libya is through the periphery, not the center. This bodes ill for the NTC’s prospects. More importantly, it may signal these Gulf states’ policies toward other parts of the region—Syria, potentially—where the tussle between centralization and fragmentation may yet play out. For other regional powers (including Israel), the question will be whether to encourage the Gulf states’ moves or to negotiate with Gulf governments in an attempt to neutralize them. These Gulf states could be seen as spoilers—or, if assuming that fragmentation is inevitable, as a preferable patron to Iran.
Is Mali a Precedent? After Qaddafi’s fall, groups of Tuareg militants who fought on the regime’s behalf filtered across the border into Mali. There, the militants reinforced existing Tuareg groups who stepped up separatist violence against the government. That has already led to a military coup and a move to partition the country. Once a fragile African democracy, Mali flipped within months into a basket case. The situation in Mali demonstrates how state failure can become contagious and spread from country to country. The question is whether Mali serves as an example of what might happen elsewhere. Around Libya itself, both Egypt and Tunisia have significantly different political dynamics than Mali. In other parts of the region, though, fragmentation in one state could lead to Mali-like turmoil in a neighbor. In analyzing the Arab world’s tumult, analysts would do well to keep this dynamic in mind.
How Important Is Money? The situation in Libya might look as if headed straight toward state failure but for one crucial number: US$180 billion. The NTC has access to that amount in foreign reserves. If used shrewdly, the funds could do much to corral the militias and centralize the country; even oil-rich Gulf governments would have difficulty competing financially. On the other hand, the money could become a source of inefficiency or corruption. Few Arab governments have at their disposal such commanding sums of money. In many parts of the region, though, money could become a factor in stabilizing regimes. Already, Saudi Arabia has used government spending to quell dissent. The Libyan example might tell us further whether money can play a meaningful political role in deciding the struggle between centralization and fragmentation.
Libya plans to hold elections, now scheduled for July 7. Those polls provide the next best chance to assess the country’s direction. In the months ahead, look to see whether the money and legitimacy of the NTC is pulling the periphery toward the center. On the other hand, keep in mind that the combination of grassroots activism and outside help might tip the balance toward the militias of the periphery. The trends in Libya may tell us much about how political dynamics will affect events elsewhere in the region.
Read the original article here.
MORE on the story . . .
Libya unrest: UK envoy’s convoy attacked in Benghazi
Security personnel stand outside the British consulate in Benghazi after the attack on the convoy, 11 June Security personnel stood outside the British consulate after the attack
Two British bodyguards have been injured in an attack on a convoy carrying the British ambassador to Libya, embassy officials have said.
Ambassador Dominic Asquith and all other staff were unhurt in the attack in Benghazi.
A rocket-propelled grenade hit the car carrying the consular team’s security escort, a Libyan official said.
It is not known who carried out the attack, which comes days after the US mission was targeted.
The Red Cross and UN have also come under attack recently.
The US mission in Benghazi was targeted after Washington’s announcement of the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan who was a top al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan.
An embassy spokeswoman told the BBC: “A convoy carrying the British ambassador to Libya was involved in a serious incident in Benghazi this afternoon.
“Two British ‘close protection officers’ were injured in the attack. They are receiving medical treatment.”
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was “working with the Libyan authorities to work out who was responsible”.
Benghazi served as the headquarters of the Libyan rebels in their battle to depose Muammar Gaddafi last year.
It has seen a number of attacks on international staff this year in which nobody was injured
Last week, a bomb was thrown at the front gate of the US diplomatic mission in the city.
The offices of the Red Cross were hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in May
In April, a bomb targeted a convoy carrying the head of the UN mission to Libya
Read the original article on BBC.co.uk here.
AND MORE FROM LIBYAN PRESS . . . .
Video footage reportedly identifies assailants in attack on British ambassador
Tripoli, 13 June:
The convoy carrying the British ambassador was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade
The authorities in Benghazi are in receipt of video footage identifying the assailants responsible for Monday’s attack in Benghazi on the British ambassador to Libya, it has been reported.
Sir Dominic Asquith, the ambassador, narrowly escaped injury when the convoy he was travelling in was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, although two of his bodyguards were wounded.
The footage allegedly shows two men, believed to be Salafists, belonging to a group calling itself the Jamarat Islamiya Al-Moutashedida. The group claims to have links with Al-Qaeda.
It is understood that investigators in Benghazi know who the men are and are in the process of tracking them down.
The information was published yesterday evening in a local Benghazi newspaper following an interview with one of the investigators on the case, although the existence of the video has yet to be independently verified.
A spokeswoman at the British Embassy in Tripoli said that investigations into the case are ongoing and that they are liaising closely with the Libyan authorities.
It is not known whether the men have links with the so-called Omar Abdul Rahman Brigade, which has claimed responsibility for the recent attacks on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, or even if they are one and the same.
Read the original article from the Libya Herald.