Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Libya is ripe for international intervention | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Members of a heavily armed militia group hold their weapons in Freedom Square in Benghazi on February 18, 2014. (Reuters/Esam Omran Al-Fetori)

When crises proliferate and compete in one geographic location, it is only natural that some will gain priority over others. This explains the current puzzling absence of the international and regional powers from the snowballing Libyan crisis, which is deteriorating day by day. Should the current situation persist in Libya, the most plausible scenario would be international intervention.

No one disputes that, to a large extent, the former regime of Muammar Gaddafi is responsible for the situation the country now finds itself in. Gaddafi was not keen on building state institutions capable of maintaining their cohesion during times of crisis. Even the army was built in the form of security battalions or units designed to protect the regime, with the most powerful units led by Gaddafi’s own sons. And we do not yet know where the planes, missiles and tanks—on which tens of millions of dollars were spent over the past decades—have gone.

But this does not absolve the politicians and the rebels—the key players in post-Gaddafi Libya in terms of influence, power and authority—of their own responsibility for the current turbulent situation in the country. The chaos in Libya has led to the disintegration of the state and its power against a backdrop of rising militia influence. Each of these militias acts on its own initiative in its own region, with a number even taking control of some of the country’s main oil ports. At the same time, calls for autonomy are gathering momentum in some regions, particularly in Benghazi and Cyrenaica.

From what we have seen in other countries, radical groups, particularly those subscribing to Al-Qaeda’s ideology, have always been quickest to exploit political and security vacuums. Such groups, it appears, can only sustain themselves on destruction and chaos. Some reports suggest that Libya has become a hub for weapons smuggling, a home to training camps for militants, and a scene of constant inter-militia conflict, while these same militias also never hesitate to use their weapons against the people in order to impose their will on the ground. In other words, Libya has become a security threat, with the effects extending even beyond its borders.

Tripoli has also become a place for diplomats to be kidnapped. The recent kidnapping of Jordanian and Tunisian diplomats by militants demanding the release of terror suspects proves this. This is not to mention drone strikes and commando operations aimed at apprehending militants on terror lists. As a result, many countries have recalled their diplomatic representatives in Libya, fearing they could be subject to murder or abduction.

On the political level, Libya has seen its prime ministers resigning one after another, ministers receiving threats from militants, and its constituent assembly extending its term in office while its legitimacy is being disputed by politicians and the public alike. This is not to mention the growing power of regional forces over the state’s central authority.

Surprisingly enough, neither the discourse being put forward by politicians nor public opinion show any strong support for regional autonomy or vehement disputes over government unity. More importantly, no one wants to see these militias—who seem to have taken center stage almost overnight—assuming control of the country. On the contrary, there is a marked public desire to establish a modern state in Libya.

One might say that those in possession of weapons are the ones who can assume power, and that a large portion of a state’s prestige derives from its being the sole power authorized by society to possess and use weapons to maintain security. On the other hand, if there were a strong public will—alongside politicians who actually enjoyed the trust of the public, and the wisdom to work solely for the national interest—Libya could confront these militias and prevent itself becoming a fulcrum of regional and international conflict. Arab countries keen on seeing security and stability in the region must help Libya achieve this objective by surrounding and besieging known terror hubs. Otherwise, the current situation in Libya is a standing invitation for the intervention of foreign powers.