Part 1 of a 3 part series on the new civil war in Libya.
By Michael Cruickshank
In 2011 Libya was host to the first civil war brought on by the Arab Spring. 6 months and close to 30,000 lives later the former dictator of the country, Muammar Gaddafi was disposed, and then killed in the final days of the war. While the conflict was bloody, it served as a pale shadow of the much larger conflict that began to bloom in Syria following its conclusion.
Now in late 2014, we are faced with a second flare up of violence within the country and many are already beginning to call it a “Second Civil War” for the country. With thousands already dead, and at least 3 major factions at play, there is little change for the situation to improve in the near-term. But what went wrong in the last 3 years that brought about this conflict?
To understand the current conflict within Libya, a wider look needs to be give to the major forces within the region…
In the wake of the the Arab Spring, 3 rough political factions emerged in the Middle East. These were the Statist establishment, moderate Islamists, and extremist Islamists. While this is a broad simplification of the very messy politics going on in the region, it would be fair to say that over the course of 2011 and into 2012 the main winners from the upheavals of the Arab Spring were moderate Islamists. After the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Egypt, and similarly aligned governments took power in Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere, things were looking up for this faction.
However, than the tides began to change. For a number of reasons, not limited to these movements ability to form effective consensus governments, their popularity began to rapidly decline. The old guard military/secular establishment began to fight back politically and militarily, holding a coup in Egypt, and taking the upper hand in the conflict in Syria. This in many cases drove the increasingly marginalized moderate Islamists to join extremist movements like Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Similarly, Libya, site of some of the first armed clashes of the Arab Spring has found itself once again following this tide of history. Over the last year, the same backlash against moderate Islamist government has played out, and has set the scene for massive internal division, and
This internal division in Libya manifested itself in the following way over the course of the last year.
- In January this year, an Islamist government called the General National Congress (GNC) was elected to power in Tripoli.
- Over the course of the next few months, the security situation in Libya dramatically deteriorated, with radical Islamist groups allegedly being funded by the GNC. Several high profile assassinations and kidnappings were blamed on such groups.
- In May Khalifa Haftar, a western-educated general in the Libyan Army declared a new military campaign called “Operation Dignity” against Islamist forces. Many units within the armed forces rallied to his call and began to be engaged in heavy fighting with Islamist groups within the eastern city of Benghazi.
- As part of Operation Dignity, Haftar-aligned forces took control of Tripoli and disbanded the GNC, calling snap elections.
- These elections resulted in a large anti-Islamist groundswell, which caused their numbers to be massively reduced in the new provisional government.
- In response to this electoral defeat, in July armed Islamist militias from Misrata launched “Operation Dawn”, a military campaign which resulted in them retaking the capital Tripoli after more than a month of devastating fighting around Tripoli’s main airport.
- Operation Dawn then reinstated the GNC declaring the previous government void.
- In October Haftar-backed Operation Dignity forces in Benghazi step up their campaign against Islamists in and around Benghazi, and see some success clearing the central portion of the city.
- Around the same time, Islamist groups based in the city of Derna declared their allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), calling themselves Wilayat Libya.
- Finally, in November, Operation Dignity forces conducted air strikes against targets in Tripoli, signalling the start of an all-out war between the GNC and General Haftar’s forces.
Now in December 2014 the country has split into at least 3 warring groups, and neighbouring countries are beginning to be dragged into the fight. With seemingly intractable ideological differences and a country away with weapons, the stage is set for further deterioration into bloodshed and violence.
Stay with Conflict News for the next in this three part on the 2nd Libyan Civil War, where we analyse the various factions involved in the war, and where the battle lines have currently been drawn….