The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Libya
Reading the tea leaves of the Libya congressional hearings

Remarks from witnesses called for the Congressional hearing over the Benghazi attacks last month seem to indicate that there was no mass protest against “Innocence of Muslims” concurrent with the attacks. In the NYT:

[T]he new account provided by the State Department made no mention of a protest. In this account, Mr. Stevens met with a Turkish diplomat during the day of the attack and then escorted him to the main gate of the mission around 8:30 p.m. At that time, there were no demonstrations and the situation appeared calm.

Congressional Republicans quickly seized on the fact that the State Department downgraded security in Benghazi despite the ratcheting up of warnings about the security threat to US nationals in the country ahead of 9/11/12 (Democrats struck back that it was Congressional Republicans who cut funding for such security in the first place).

Beyond these Beltway-minded hearings, though, that will focus on (and politicize) these failures, the Libyan response to the attacks gives me more hope, rather than less, that the country is at the very least capable of confronting the militias in the long run. What is still of great concern is where the country will go next now that tensions over the militias are back to the fore, and the US enters an election year with a bone to pick over the North African nation.

A more detailed (and official) presentation of the events of that day has now emerged from testimony delivered by Charlene Lamb, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs, Bureau of Diplomatic Security:

The attack began at approximately 9:40 pm local time. Diplomatic Security agents inside the compound heard loud voices outside the walls, followed by gunfire and an explosion. Dozens of attackers then launched a full-scale assault that was unprecedented in its size and intensity. They forced their way through the pedestrian gate, and used diesel fuel to set fire to the Libyan 17th February Brigade members’ barracks, and then proceeded towards the main building.

At the same time, attackers swept across the compound …. At 11pm, members of the Libyan 17th February Brigade advised they could no longer hold the area around the main building and insisted on evacuating the site.

…. They took heavy fire as they pulled away from the main building and on the street outside the compound.

…. In the early morning, an additional security team arrived from Tripoli and proceeded to the annex. Shortly after they arrived, the annex started taking mortar fire, with as many as three direct hits on the compound. It was during this mortar attack that Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed and a Diplomatic Security agent and an annex quick reaction security team member were critically wounded.

A large number of Libyan government security officers subsequently arrived in more than 50 vehicles and escorted the remaining Americans to the airport. While still at the airport, we were able to confirm reports that the Ambassador’s body was at the Benghazi General Hospital.

Witnesses also told Congress that they had felt in the months prior to the attack that the new Libyan government did not have the capability to protect the consulate or confront the “al Qaeda” presence in the country.

The biggest headache for the White House has been that contradictory remarks made by Obama Administration officials and the US intelligence community last month about the nature of the attacks have yet to be fully resolved. Arch-neoconservative John Podhoretz implied that the Foreign Service and intelligence community are falling on their swords to protect the White House, which is surely a stretch given the reality of the Administration’s simple unpreparedness in light of a disaster like this goes a long way in explaining the muddled responses. But given the way in which information has been leaked/obtained by other news outlets about intelligence community assessments about the attack, it’s hard to not come to that conclusion Podhoretz does. Former DCIA (and current Romney advisor) Michael Hayden certainly feels this way as well, taking a defensive tone in a CNN editorial criticizing the White House.

I think what we will end up seeing, though, is that Obama Administration just failed to gauge the warnings it was receiving. Libya simply does not seem to have been prioritized despite the warnings; it was the success story, things were under control, the peripheral MENA theater compared to Syria or Egypt, and even Yemen.

Anti-interventionists in Congress reiterated their opposition to the whole Libyan issue by noting that NATO intervention gave Islamists breathing room. One such Islamist is Abd al Hakim Bilhaj, who has an instructive interview on his countrymen’s views of the attacks circulating in the UK Arabic press.

Before his rise to prominence in the Tripolitanian Military Council as a leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was a person of interest to US intelligence because of his anti-Qadhafi AfPak excursions (arrested and extradited to Libya in 2004, he was pardoned by the regime in 2010). Bilhaj, who Al-Watan Party was creamed in the summer elections, recently granted an interview to the UK’s Arabic press in which he condemned the attacks specifically, and al Qaeda in general, though ever politic, he did not blame any particular group.

Bilhaj, whose position has weakened greatly the 2012 elections and probably hopes to regain some influence in the new, “tense” atmosphere, is no fool. His reading of the mood in Libya — simmering anger at the militias, limited confidence in the government, an unwillingness to handover weapons “just in case” — shows that while Libya is not coming apart at the seams, it has weathered some truly trying tests better than others since 2011. Some of them have not gone so well, as we’ve seen with the highly symbolic airport siege, but other tests, such as the summer elections, did not end badly at all (and as Issandr has noted, when we talk about Libyan Islamists were are not generally talking about Salafists, though such men are represented among the militias and new political parties).

The attacks are indeed troubling because they illustrate how organized and professionally competent these Islamist organizations are — and how they have likely infiltrated the government.

But, for starters, the Libyan military did not abandon its posts when asked to defend American lives and property.

And if there were no crowds railing against that stupid Muslim-trolling con-artist film in Benghazi, there certainly were crowds protesting the attacks after the fact. Bear in mind that even in, say, Yemen, where protestors did storm embassy compounds and the US is deeply unpopular for its involvement in the government’s counterinsurgency campaign, the anti-American turnout was at most a few hundred people — perhaps a hundred times that number turned out to protest the attacks in Libya in a “Friday of Outrage”. The attacks were a final straw for many Libyans already tired of the militias’ gunslinging (as was the case in Yemen, and elsewhere).

Perhaps the aftermath of the attacks will serve as a wake-up call for the new Libyan government, which is still reporting clashes in the stronghold of Bani Walid and hasn’t gotten the worst of the militias to cease their “polity within a polity” behavior. Problems with the judiciary and police are not going away anytime soon, either. Obviously, Libyans will have a long road to walk, as Borzou Daragahi notes in his latest dispatch for The Financial Times, with the grim subheading of “[o]ptimism born of the July elections has been replaced by uncertainty and fear.” It’s worth noting that the protests turned violent in some cases and demonstrators clashed with fighters:

The result [of the “Friday of Outrage”] the has been political and economic deadlock in Tripoli as the various political forces battle for control of the direction of the new Libya. No camp wants any other to achieve success. Laws to clarify the role of civil society and private investment have been stuffed into drawers.

…. Islamist militias and their political allies now seethe with anger, feeling betrayed by the nation they defended during the revolution. They are openly mistrustful of the former exiles now dominating the government. They whisper of dark conspiracies by Gaddafi loyalists teaming up with liberal politicians and western powers.

But they are walking it, no one can deny that … except for Fox News, apparently.

While I’ve been critical of the Libyan government’s response to the militias, I’ve also been critical of the US for thinking that intervention could be carried out from 30,000 feet and everyone goes home in time for happy hour (Libyans not included).

They claimed interventionism, now they’d better act the postwar part of helping the government handle such difficult matters as setting up a judiciary, training a police force and securing loose arms, and that doesn’t mean putting dead Navy SEALs in a talking points memo or dispatching a fleet to show that all of a sudden “we mean business.”

Whether a less muscle-bound policy in Libya would have somehow prevented this all is going to be debated for years to come. Our track record in the region suggests, though, that more of such policies now, directed at Libya out of a desire to “avenge” our loss of life and face there, are not going to help anyone — except the armed Islamist spoilers Libyans are demonstrating their disdain for.

Libyan democracy hijacked

 Libyan democracy hijacked - Le Monde diplomatique - English edition:

Patrick Haimzadeh in Monde Diplomatique, on the post-election politics of Libya:

Many commentators pronounced Jibril the man of the moment. Confident of their skill in political science and the analysis of election results, they failed to grasp the complexity and fragmentation of the political landscape. A few weeks later, their predictions were confounded when the new General National Congress appointed as its president Mohammed Magarief, whose National Front party (self-professed moderate Islamist) had only won three seats at the election. On 12 September, the congress chose Mustafa Abu Shagur as prime minister over Jibril, by two votes.

Supported principally by the Islamists, Abu Shagur had been deputy prime minister in the previous ‘transitional’ government. The choice of Shagur demonstrates the difficulty in applying conventional party political models to Libya, where local or even tribal allegiances and rivalries often take precedence over the divide between ‘Islamists’ and ‘liberals’ that is the frame of reference normally used in the West.

Warned about those labels back in July.

✚ Tragedy in Libya

Tragedy in Libya

A good first take by Blake Hounshell of FP:

What makes the deaths all the more tragic is that they will inevitably become politicized. On Tuesday, conservative websites were highly critical of a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that came ahead of a protest where demonstrators breached the embassy's walls in a moment reminiscent of 1979 in Iran. Liz Cheney and the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee joined in, accusing the administration of issuing an "apology" for a bizarre and mysterious film attacking the Prophet Mohammed that served as a pretext for the protests. And the Romney campaign issued its own statement. Wednesday will likely bring more finger-pointing.

For me, the embassy assaults are a sobering reminder not only of the deep anger and dysfunction that plagues the broader Middle East, but of the enormous difficulty the United States has in dealing with this party of the world. The level of distrust and fury toward America is not the sort of thing you heal with a speech or two. And to make matters worse, there will always be groups that exploit things that have no connection whatsoever to U.S. government policy, like this anti-Islamic film.

There will always be such groups, but the dysfunction that these groups rely on is really deeply, deeply, sad and obviously dangerous. Not to mention dangerous. In Libya it was compounded by the fact that these groups have access to all sorts of weapons. Moral of the story: such groups should be very, very closely monitored, and the duty of host countries to provide effective riot control and protection to foreign missions taken very seriously. I understand that Libya is still in a chaotic situation, it is obvious the government there has scant security control. Egypt has a lot fewer excuses — things could have always easily ended up worse.

On terrorism in Libya

The car bombs that hit Tripoli on August 19 and following clashes with those believed responsible for them have highlighted the recurrent nature of such attacks in the new Libya — just yesterday, for instance, the car of an Egyptian diplomat in Benghazi was also bombed (no one was hurt). The government has blamed Qadhafi loyalists but it's unclear whether this is the case; there are other possible culprits. Having not followed this closely, I gained some clarity yesterday by reading an email sent by Geoff Porter, a North Africa specialist who frequently visits Libya, on the issue. He kindly agreed to let me post it here.

The three car bombs in Tripoli on Sunday 19 August merit a quick Libya update.

Although there were three bombs, the attacks in effect represent a single data point, so it is difficult to extrapolate a trend from them or plot a trajectory for security in Tripoli or elsewhere in Libya. However, when placed in the broader context of security risks throughout the country, something in fact can be gleaned from them – namely that security threats in Libya are evolving away from utilitarian violence to terrorism, violence that is ideological and idealistic. This evolution presents new problems for the General National Congress (GNC) in its efforts to get Libya under control.

Libyan officials attributed the attacks to a group of men loyal to ousted leader Muammar Qadhafi. After the attacks, security sources reportedly arrested 32 members of the group, which they said is intent upon sowing discord in the country and is determined to discredit the GNC that was sworn in on 8 August.

The Tripoli bombings were preceded over the last several weeks by a string of assassinations in Benghazi. The assassinations targeted former members of Qadhafi’s intelligence services, all of whom were allegedly on a hit list that includes between 109 and 900 names. It is not known who carried out the attacks. Some speculate that an unspecified Islamist group was responsible. Others think that a local militia with particular grievances against the Qadhafi regime is behind the murders.

Prior to the Benghazi liquidations, there was a series of bombings and attacks on Western targets in Benghazi and Misrata which all violent Islamist linkages. These included an IED attack on the US consulate in Benghazi allegedly in retaliation for the US assassination of Al Qaeda member Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan. Several days later a convoy carrying the UK ambassador to Libya was ambushed. This was followed by an attack on the Tunisian consulate in Benghazi in response to a controversial art exhibit in Tunis. This was then followed by an attack on the International Committee of the Red Cross in Misrata.

There do not appear to be links among the bombings in Tripoli, the assassinations in Benghazi or the attacks on Western targets in Benghazi and Misrata. To say that Libya is plagued by numerous groups operating outside the law – violent Islamists, regime diehards, and vigilantes – with numerous grievances isn’t to say much at all.

But violence in Libya is mutating. In contrast to the violence that Libya underwent during the revolution and immediately afterward with intermittent fighting between militias, what is taking place now is definitively terrorism.

Terrorism presents a different security problem for the GNC. It is motivated by a different calculus from the previous kinds of violence that the NTC was obliged to reckon with. In this case, the demands of the perpetrators of the violence are more holistic, more nihilistic. The intermittent regional violence that occurred in Libya over the last ten months was motivated generally by complaints that could be addressed – territory, the informal economy, release of henchmen from detention. In a certain sense it was utilitarian, with violence for the sake of a tangible and realizable goal. Solutions were negotiated – often within hours, sometimes over the course of days (think: the 4 June Tripoli airport takeover).

The new terrorism that is emerging cannot be negotiated. This isn’t a policy prescription, but simply a reflection that the General National Congress cannot reach a compromise with the perpetrators of the new violence – there is no accommodation with supporters of a rearguard insurgency, with violent Islamists that want to rid Libya of non-Muslim influence, with those who are assassinating former members of the regime. The goal of this kind of violence is not readily achievable. In fact, the violence is both the means and the end. The NTC negotiated with perpetrators of the former kind of violence in part because it did not have a military with which to confront them and in part because it could – solutions could be achieved through dialogue. The GNC is in a difficult position – it still doesn’t have an effective military, but at the same time it can’t sit down with Libya’s new terrorists.

Ashour on why Libya's Islamists lost

Omar Ashour as a new column up at Project Syndicate explaining Libyan Islamists' defeat at the hands of a wide-ranging ranging coalition of liberals, independents, conservatives, and, well, almost everyone who was not a self-described Islamist.

Nevertheless, the question remains: what happened to the Islamists? They spearheaded the opposition to Qaddafi, were advised by their Tunisian and Egyptian brethren, and larded their rhetoric with religious symbolism in a conservative Muslim country. For many, however, this was not enough.

A striking difference between Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia’s Ennahda, on the one hand, and Libya’s Islamists on the other is the level of institutionalization and interaction with the masses. In Qaddafi’s four decades in power, Libya’s Islamists could not build local support networks; develop organizational structures, hierarchies, or institutions; or create a parallel system of clinics and social services, as their counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Jordan were able to do.

As a result, Libya’s Islamists could not unite in a coalition as large as that of Mahmoud Jibril, the former prime minister under the National Transitional Council, who heads the NFC. Instead, their votes were divided between several parties, six of which are significant.

But another reason for the strong “liberal” turnout is the “blood” factor. “I am not giving my family’s votes to the MB. Two of my cousins died because of them,” Mohamed Abdul Hakim, a voter from Benghazi, told me. He agrees that Islam should be the source for legislation, and his wife wears a niqab. Nonetheless, he voted liberal: his cousins were killed in a confrontation in the 1990’s, most likely between the Martyrs Movement (a small jihadist group operating in his neighborhood at the time) and Qaddafi’s forces.

But many average Libyans, including Hakim, do not distinguish between Islamist organizations and their histories. For them, all Islamists are “Ikhwan” (MB). The “stain” of direct involvement in armed action, coupled with fear of Taliban-like laws or a civil war like Algeria’s in the 1990’s harmed Islamists of all brands.

Also see: Analysis: Elections in Libya —the surprises | Libya Herald

Libya: What's happening to Al-Mahmoudi?

From POMED: Ex Libya PM Claims Tunisian Authorities Tortured Him

In a report released by Human Rights Watch on Friday, former Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, recently extradited back to Libya from Tunisia, claimed that he is being treated well in Libya, but that Tunisian authorities regularly tortured him prior to his extradition. Mahmoudi said guards beat him with “sticks, boots, and a plastic whip,” and alleged that he went on a hunger strike when authorities denied him access to his lawyer. Returning to Libya has been a marked improvement, Mahmoudi said, in contrast to statements by his lawyer last week, who alleged his client suffered broken ribs and a perforated lung at the hands of Libyan authorities. Human Rights Watch, however, could not verify that Mahmoudi was able to speak freely.

Should HRW perhaps confirm this before releasing highly inflamatory information? Or at least give an indication of which story it believes is more likely to be true?

The Libyan Rorschach

The Libyan Rorschach - By Sean Kane | The Middle East Channel

From the outside, the picture in Libya looks unremittingly bleak. A near daily chronicle of rampaging militias, conflict and chaos headlines coverage by the wire services. But perhaps a casualty of the closure of foreign bureaus and the lesser interest that exists when no U.S. boots are on the ground, some perspective is lacking from the often barebones news reports.

Eight months after the brutal death of Qaddafi marked the end of the civil conflict that followed Libya's popular uprising, support for the regime change appears to have if anything grown. Even if some of this backing falls into the "everyone loves a winner" category, a full 97 percent of Libyans surveyed by Oxford Research International in January thought the revolution was absolutely or somewhat right.

But is the mere fact of the revolution being broadly popular enough to make it right? Is it a sufficient platform to produce a secure and brighter future for Libya?

Good long piece worth reading. With regards to the lack of a deep sense of state and national identity in the history of Libya, take a look at my Is there a Libya?

Nic Pelham on Libya

I haven't been following very closely lately, but does not look good for the upcoming elections  —Nic Pelham writes Libya's Restive Revolutionaries for MERIP:

The government is clearly alive to the dangers that isolated attacks could mushroom into a broader insurgency, possibly uniting two sets of discontents -- thuwwar and former regime loyalists -- in a marriage of convenience against the new order. Libya’s vacuum provides ample space for fresh alliances. Unable to overcome the thuwwar, the NTC have recently sought to coopt them. Jettisoning such designations as outlaws, NTC chairman Mustafa ‘Abd al-Jalil has reportedly blamed the government for “not absorbing the revolutionaries.” The NTC has offered the thuwwar blanket amnesties for misconduct during the war, restored the handouts, sanctioned the intervention of composite militia forces in such trouble spots as Bani Walid, a former regime garrison town, and backed the creation of a Patriotism and Integrity Commission, Libya’s version of Iraq’s debaathification commission, designed to vet electoral candidates and government officials.

Wooing the thuwwar carries risks. By empowering them, the government may be simply buying time in the short term but stoking more serious problems in the long run. More constructively, it should accelerate plans to stimulate provincial economies, in an effort to integrate the thuwwar not only in the security sector, but also back in the economic sectors from which they say they came. Officials protest that they can hardly solicit investment when the security situation is so unstable, but the government has copious funds of its own to kick-start the economy. The revival of a credible criminal justice system, too, could do much to restore confidence in central authority. With some notable exceptions, Libya has mercifully sidestepped a surfeit of revenge killings, but without some form of truth and reconciliation commission, instances of people taking justice into their hands (given the partial government control, at best) are likely to mount.

As critical to filling the security, economic and judicial vacuum is the realization of the constitutional agenda. If central authority is to take root and Libya transit from revolution to reconstruction, it will need a government with sufficient legitimacy to withstand the centrifugal forces of the militias. An elected government will enjoy a popular mandate to overhaul Qaddafi’s inheritance that the NTC has largely shunned for over a year.

In a country with no history of a secret ballot, skeptics abound. “In Egypt and Tunisia, elections were forged, but at least we knew what they were,” says an Egyptian training enthusiastic election monitors. “Libyans have no idea.” Moreover, as election day approaches, some thuwwar, too, fearing that time is running out for their hope of reclaiming the country’s mantle, might consider a direct bid for power, or at least an outbreak of havoc that temporarily derails the election. Thuwwar spokesmen claim to have mustered support from 50 NTC members to overturn the election law. More locally, some could consider force to prevent a loss of power. An Arab candidate in Murzuq, near Sabha, was shot dead. Heightening communal tensions in Kufra, a Toubou member of the electoral commission resigned, in protest at lack of registration forms for his community. “Who will respect the results, when everyone has a gun?” asks an Amazigh activist from Zuwara.


Libya's militia problem revisited

Militia Checkpoint

IHS’ Richard Cochrane reports that despite some success the interim government has had ahead of the planned June 2012 national elections in bringing militias to heel — 8,000 militiamen are now “pledged” to become border guards — several obstacles remain to the NTC’s efforts to establish a secure state. A plan to distribute payments to militiamen and their families — essentially, a plan to secure legitimacy for the NTC in the fighters’ eyes — has been undermined by the NTC’s reliance on militias to manage the payments. The result of which, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, has been an uneven, unaccountable distribution of the money:

Names have been omitted from payment lists and others erroneously added, sparking angry protests, some of which have descended into violence. Local media has reported several incidences of militia groups plundering payment centres located in rival neighbourhoods, or in areas deemed to be insufficiently loyal to the spirit of the revolution.

This is the least of the government’s militia problems, though. Only in March did militia leaders agree to “turn over to the interim govenrment strategic sites, such as airports and border crossings,” to the NTC (the AFP’s correspondent for Libya, Dominique Soguel, hinted that given Libya’s size and limited infrastructure, official control of airports is a much—needed objective for the NTC to accomplish). While separatist stirrings in eastern Libya received substantial attention from the government — and a relatively swift political response that has somewhat dimmed the prospects of federal autonomy — ongoing fighting in southern Libya has reportedly left dozens dead in the past few months. Although the non-Arab minority population in the region supported the NTC, tribal rivalries — and, in the International Crisis Group’s view, a lack of a functioning judicial system or police force — have flared up. To the north, on Libya’s western coast, Berber and Arab militias continue to clash. In both the south and west, the NTC’s armed forces have had a difficult time imposing cease fires. One reason for this is that “even when government security forces are dispatched to resolve crises, there is no guarantee that they will be the strongest force in the area,” an IHS report noted, though the main hindrance is still the NTC’s difficulties in co—opting the new armed groups and the old state machinery.

Outside support to the NTC remains limited. The outcome of a trans—Saharan conference on border security is presumably up in the air following the coup in Mali. And the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is “not a peacekeeping mission but was there to assist the Libyan authorities to help them create the necessary institutions to govern the country and ensure the respect of fundamental rights for all,” a spokesperson told Xinhua recently, also noting in a press conference that “the main responsibility of disarming and integrating the militias” falls to the NTC.

Of course this is the case: an externally imposed agreement would not be regarded as legitimate. But so far, the NTC has failed to do either on its own, as cannot expect a “third force” in the form of a peacekeeping mission — and it is not clear the NTC even desires such a mission. But it is one thing to subpoena oil majors like Eni SpA and Total SA over their past conduct in Libya, and quite another to do so over all these armed groups, especially those in Misrata who make incursions into refugee camps near Tripoli. Perhaps the trial of of Saif al—Islam Qadhafi, who will probably be tried Libya, instead of going to France or the ICC, will send a message — though the biggest problem now is not holding Qahdafi loyalists accountable, but gaining authority over the NTC’s ostensible followers. That message, though, is not being received well by human rights groups and the UN, which suspect the proceedings may amount to a kangaroo court since, as noted above, the NTC has not yet set up judiciary.

At this point, the NTC has to hope that in keeping its electoral schedule, that the militias do not engage in voter intimidation, though some militias are reportedly already looking to set up political arms to run in the Constituent Assembly elections. “If the leaders of local militias were to decide to intervene to influence the outcome of an election, there is no power or authority that could stop them,” North Africa watcher George Joffe told Agence France Presse. Libya may yet prove to be the exemplar of Obama’s foreign policy, but not in the way that advocates hoped last year when NATO intervened should the ongoing violence affect the electoral process, which is almost certainly going to be happen — the question is not “if?” but “to what extent?”

[Ed. note: an informative addition on what ordinary life is like in Libya these days can be found in this interview with friend of the blog Geoff Porter.]

Sharks weren't the only predators the Qadhafis took a shine to

Bad toys for bad boys

Straight-up Bond villain extravagances via Hannibal Qadhafi, reports the Financial Times. The dictator’s son was building himself a cruise ship with a shark tank:

Replete with marble columns, gold-framed mirrors and huge statues, the Phoenicia was to have included a 120-tonne tank of seawater for two sand tiger sharks, two white sharks and two blacktip reef sharks. Four resident biologists would have tended to the animals. The sharks’ nutritional needs mandated a dedicated food store.

No word on how much the liner cost Libyans – Hannibal skimmed off the top of the country’s port incomes – but the Phoenicia is being refitted by Swiss maritime conglomerate MSC for regular passenger duty at a cost of over US$720 million. Apparently Hannibal had extremely tacky taste and interior renovations have been rather involved. Sadly for passengers and Roger Moore enthusiasts, the shark tank will go – though that’s at least good news for the sharks.

The new Libyan government is having better luck confiscating money and properties from other Qadhafi family members, though: the UAE is freezing the accounts of the late Colonel’s wife, Safia Farkash Al Barassi, and gaining ownership of Saadi Qadhafi’s £10 million London estate that was improperly purchased using Libyan Investment Authority funds. The NTC is also looking to bring Saadi himself, living in exile in Niger, back to Libya to face trial, a proposition that, like most NTC governance efforts, is proving to be an extremely challenging task to enforce.

For their part, some African Union leaders now miss Qadhafi’s largesse in terms of foreign investments as countries are unfreezing and returning Libyan Investment Authority assets to the NTC. They’re in “good” company in the EU and the U.S.

It’s a parable for the Qadhafi era, really, that despite the presence of sharks onboard, there was a willingness to do much business with the sharks’ wealthy owners.

UPDATE: Nicholas Sarkozy, who was perhaps the most gung-ho EU leader on intervening in Libya last year, seems determined not to let reports of his campaign taking US$66 million from Colonel Qadhafi turn into a new “Bokassa’s Diamonds” episode in French politics. First Berlusconi’s Libyan investment gymnastics, and now Sarko’s alleged blood money. At least for Sarko’s peace of mind he hasn’t been accused of corruption and abetting mass killings like Francois Mitterrand was.

Tuaregs, climate and guns in the Sahel

Strife in the Sahel: A perfect desert storm | The Economist:

"Low precipitation may seem normal near the Sahara. In fact, much of the Sahel normally gets enough rain to allow modest farming. But a rise in water temperatures in the nearby Gulf of Guinea has shifted the flow of rain clouds southwards, meteorologists say. Livestock have died in droves. Long-term overgrazing and fast population growth have made the problem worse.

Oxfam, an aid agency, warns of a humanitarian disaster, with more than 1m children facing severe malnutrition. Villagers in Chad already dig up ant hills to gather grain the ants have stored. But the worst-affected place is now Niger, a landlocked country of 15m people which, even in normal times, accounts for a sixth of global child deaths from malnutrition. Save the Children, another aid agency, says that the situation in Niger has worsened since September, when a lack of rain led to crop failures of up to 80%.

Misery has made the Sahel’s thousands of unemployed an easy target for recruiters from extremist groups. Their main base lies across Niger’s badly patrolled border with Algeria, where the Sahel becomes outright desert. A two-decade-old Islamist insurgency there has adopted the mantle of global jihad and renamed itself al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Having failed to dislodge the military regime along Algeria’s densely populated Mediterranean coast, these extremists are increasingly focused on the sandy hinterland.

In January they kidnapped a provincial governor near Niger’s border with Libya. They also hold at least 18 Europeans hostage. Several of these are in the custody of a new splinter group that announced itself in December. The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa is led by black Africans, rather than the Arabs who typically dominate jihadi circles. To set themselves apart they strive to be even more radical. Modern weapons flow to them from Libya. After the collapse of its government last summer, some former rebels have been selling off the contents of looted armouries."

Great rare piece on the complex range of factors that are making the Sahel more explosive than ever. If course the spread of weapons from Libya was something many warned about before the civil war there. But impact of climate change may be more serious in the long run.

Did Qadhafi finance Sarkozy's election campaign?

Bad investment

Back in the early days of Libya war, the reasons for France's rapid intervention were the subject of much discussion. One of the rumors that was floating was that Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, was eager to cover up the Qaddafi regime's close ties with his own party and business networks including the financing of Sarkozy's presidential campaign in 2007.

The rumor has now come back with a vengeance and possibly, proof. The quality (anti-Sarkozy) website has published an incendiary document suggesting that the campaign was financed through Saif Islam al-Qadhafi to the tune of €50 million. The document, which was leaked by government sources and had previously been part of the evidence in a case involving the relationship between Sarkozy's party and the arms dealer Ziad Takieddin, suggests an elaborate setup negotiated between the Qadhafis and Sarkozy's advisors. The money was laundered through a Panama-based shell company and the Swiss bank accounts of the sister of a prominent right-wing politician also close to Sarkozy, according to mediapart. Takieddin was also known to be a troubleshooter and fixer for the French Interior Ministry in seeking contracts for French companies that provide security services, including for Saudi Arabia.

In March 2011, just a few days before French jets struck Libyan army vehicles moving towards Benghazi, Saif al Islam gave an interview in which he demanded that France return the money used in the presidential campaign, threatening that he had details of bank accounts that could incriminate Sarkozy. This was ignored at the time, and dismissed as an attempt to embarrass the French. What is beyond dispute, though, is that the Sarkozy administration had close an fruitful ties with the Qaddafi regime, both formally and through back channels.

Although this remains to be confirmed, it appears consistent with widespread rumors going back to at least the 1970s of illicit financing of right-wing little parties and candidates by Arab and African dictators. Jacques Chirac for instance was commonly said to have received campaign baksheesh from Lebanon's Rafiq Hariri and Morocco's Hassan II. This latest affair is part of a growing scandal dossier involving Sarkozy party and his entourage — one that could become a major reason he loses his reelection bid in May.

A Responsibility to Define “Protect” in Libya

Libya, in the words of the Obama Administration, was “time-limited, scope-limited” engagement enacted under the responsibility to protect doctrine. After decades of dealing with Qadhafi’s nepotism and secret police, I hope that Libyans will be able to move towards a participatory democracy (and, I hope, we will see a continued airing out of all the zenga-zenga-ing the late Colonel engaged in with US lobbyists, oil majors and European defense contractors).

NATO went in hard by air, and then left the NTC in charge to ensure democratization and guarantee semblance of unity in the country. Some felt that the US had proven the efficacy of the “time-limited, scope-limited” interventionist model, even though some earlier incidents in Libya – such as reports of extrajudicial killings and the racially-motivated targeting of migrant workers – did emerge to sour the warm welcome that the NTC was enjoying in Western capitals. Further comments of this nature, Jadaliyya notes, have barely registered in the media, or, it seems, in the capitals of the states who helped put the NTC in power.

The New York Times reports that Libyan militias are defying the government’s calls to lay down their arms. “Much about the scene on Wednesday was lamentable, perhaps because the discord was so commonplace,” the Times intones, but it’s also lamentable because this outcome should have been anticipated by more observers. After Iraq, it should be clear that removing the central authority from a country with extensive weapons stockpiles is a cause for concern over the new regime’s security (and therefore, its legitimacy). Without a military force to guard these depots, anyone and everyone can raid them for profit or to augment their militias. Given the animosities among rival militias – who to trust when everyone’s armed, and why give up the power you’ve gained by arms? – it is no wonder these militias don’t want to turn in their guns to the NTC and rely on the “new” Libyan Army to maintain order: “rival militias, most of them deriving from particular tribes,” Joshua Hammer reported, “withdrew their pledge to disarm [in November 2011], declaring that they would preserve their autonomy and shape political decisions as ‘guardians of the revolution’.”

This mistrust and opportunism, in turn, makes it that much harder for the NTC to guarantee security throughout the country, encouraging militias to continue augmenting their forces. The Arabist’s own Abu Rohan was in Libya this past August, and he hoped then that because of the popularity of NATO intervention, “proposals like bringing in the UN to help with the transitional process, as some Libyan politicians have proposed, [were] probably going to be broadly acceptable.” Political will within Libya – and the international community – has unfortunately not yet manifested towards this end.

Racially motivated violence and extrajudicial political murders remain a serious problem in Libya – largely because of the impunity that tormentors can exercise towards refugees and former members of the Qadhafi regime. The continued detention of some 1,500 people, who had fled reprisals from anti-regime militias, in Tripoli remains a major source of concern because some of these militias continue to try and raid the camp to exact revenge against a community they blame for assisting Qadhafi’s crackdowns. It is left to the goodwill and guns of those militias actually protecting the camp’s inhabitants to keep things from escalating.

In addition to concerns about missing weapons stockpiles, STRATFOR reports on the nagging concern that

thousands of armed Tuareg tribesmen who previously served in Gadhafi’s military have returned home to Mali. The influx of this large number of well-armed and well-trained fighters, led by a former Libyan army colonel, has re-energized the long-simmering Tuareg insurgency against the Malian government.

The analysis of the situation notes that the danger remains that these rebels could “re-establish Libyan lines of supply through a new relationship with the black and gray arms market there,” a market that radiates throughout the Sahel and offers good opportunities for those who possess stocks of Libyan arms (and very few scruples). It is clear that the NTC cannot secure Libya’s borders due to its own incapacitation in Tripoli. So where is the international response to the problem? Where is Doha (training pliant Islamist officers for the Libyan Army? Where are Geneva and Brussels? Where are Paris, London, and Washington?1

It should now be clear the rosy optimism and “fire and forget” mentality the international community displayed over Libya has been gravely misplaced, to the detriment of the country, its neighbors and to the West’s ostensible interests in regional security and stopping human rights abuses. Of course, had Colonel Qadhafi remained in power, these problems would have been present in different ways, particularly in the form of human rights abuses (the NTC’s current difficulties do not posthumously absolve the man of his actions). Yet the way Libya has been handled does not offer a good precedent for those arguing that we can intervene in Syria by arming opposition groups, hitting the regime hard by air, and then hoping that things will work themselves out on the ground in favor of the people we’ve intervened on behalf of.

If Western countries are truly interested in seeing a democratic transition in Libya (or Syria), and not just determined to remove a brutal dictator who has outlived his welcome, then these countries have to accept the fact that their “responsibility to protect” (R2P) cannot end when the last bomber drops its payload and heads for home. This does not necessarily mean putting a foreign army on the ground, or full-scale subsidization of reconstruction efforts. But it does mean more international aid (especially from those who helped Qadhafi dig Libya into a hole despite its oil wealth) and assistance that will focus on getting militias to lay down their arms and commit to a political process, instead of pretending they don’t exist as stumbling blocks to that process, or worse, deciding to resort to drone warfare to “suppress” the “insurgents” on the peripheries.

I don’t think we’ll be flying armed Predators over the Libya-Chad border anytime soon, but I brought in drones for a reason, and that reason is to note that such military responses from other countries become more likely to occur when a government fails to secure the country and be seen as being “responsive” to US interests. When a government is divided and unable to control its own people – whether through explicit violence or by gaining their trust – it enters a danger zone that can ultimately lead to outside military intervention. And then the cycle repeats itself. If “R2P” really does end – not just militarily, but diplomatically – when the last bomber heads for home, then we may be arguing in a few years over whether or not the bombers ought to go back.

  1. Rome, for its part, is back in the game. ↩

Italy is back in business in Libya

The mourning period is over in Italy: Italy to help Libya protect borders, oil: Libya PM | Reuters

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Italy will help Libyan authorities protect the North African country's borders and oil facilities, Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim al-Keib said on Saturday.

"The defence ministers (of Libya and Italy) signed a letter related to creating a system to control borders managed by Libya and provide training, especially for (protecting) oil installations," Keib told a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.

"(The letter is) asserting Libyan sovereignty and that no Italian troops will be present," he said.

Monti is in Libya at the head of a diplomatic, economic and military delegation which is hoping to lay the groundwork for contracts for reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars over the next few years.

Projects include building major roads, expanding and rehabilitating airports and seaports and training the armed forces and police, which need new border security and reconnaissance equipment.

As the article notes, in 2008 Silvio Berlusconi agreed with Qadhafi to pay $5bn in compensation over 20 years for crimes committed during Italy's colonization of Libya, when it killed over a quarter of the population. It doesn't look like that payout is going to be honored from this deal, aside from some aid that will be well compensated by oil and infrastructure contracts. Shouldn't Libya expect prompt payment, like the blood money the victims of the Lockerbie bombing took a decade ago? 

[Thanks, PM, who adds: "Given the Italian-made weapons Qadhafi used against his people, I think the NTC should have driven a harder bargain."]

Update: Meanwhile – Protesters storm Libyan government HQ in Benghazi | Reuters