Libya: A battle for the future CC: Magharebia - https://www.flickr.com/photos/magharebia/

Libya: A battle for the future

The 2011 NATO-intervention in Libya was heralded by some as a "model intervention". The events of the past year showed that this does not guarantee long term stability. How should we look at the current chaos in Libya?

On March 12, the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) – a partner institute of the CTC - invited Associate Fellow Dr. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross to present his latest publication on Libya. In his paper “Dignity and Dawn: Libya’s Escalating Civil War” Gartenstein-Ross describes how Libya slowly but steadily descended into “armed politics” in the aftermath of the revolution that ended Muammar Qaddafi’s 42-years reign. The 2011 NATO-intervention in Libya with its limited military objectives was heralded by some as a “model intervention”. However, while probably quite successful in attaining these objectives in the short run, the events of the past year showed that such an endeavour does not guarantee long term stability. How should we look at the current chaos that has resulted in the death of more than 3,200 persons since 2014?

Since 2014, the so called “Dignity” and “Dawn” factions have become increasingly embroiled in civil war. These loose factions consist of groups that can be categorised along multiple fault lines according to Gartenstein-Ross. One such categorisation is the “counterrevolutionary” versus “revolutionary” front. In May 2014, former (defected) Qaddafi general Khalifa Hiftar started Operation Dignity after he failed to topple the General National Congress (GNC) a few months earlier. The GNC was very much the product of revolutionary Libya. This split also runs along a geographical dimension: the counterrevolutionary Dignity front finds its main support in the city of Zintan whereas Dawn is supported from Misrata in the east of the country.

In international media, the civil war is often described in terms of a third categorisation: that of an Islamist-backed Dawn front versus an anti-Islamist Dignity front. Last month, this became increasingly salient when reports emerged that Islamic State (IS) had beheaded 21 Coptic Egyptians on the Libyan coast. However, the extent to which IS really is involved in Libya should be seriously questioned. Already in November 2014, many news outlets broadcast grim reports of IS capturing the city of Derna. That turned out to be far from true. The prospect of an IS-supported Dawn front – at least for now – seems to be unrealistic. Last weekend, it was reported that a Misrata allied (Islamist) militia clashed with Islamic State in Sirte.

That shows the complexity of a conflict that started about a year ago but found most of its breeding ground not in a pro-Islamist versus anti-Islamist struggle but in a practical yet very difficult question: what should post-2011 revolutionary Libya look like?

Leiden University/ICCT is conducting research on transitions from military interventions to Long-Term Counter-Terrorism Policy in the context of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme - Emerging Security Challenges Division Programme together with Australian National University