Turbulent events in Syria, the international community is closely watching, deflect attention from the situation in Libya. In this circumstances, the fourth anniversary of the murder of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (October 20, 2011) went by virtually unnoticed. It dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ’t’s in the internal Libyan conflict that commenced in February 2011.
Had it not been for the powerful NATO airstrikes sweeping through Libya destroying its military facilities and killing personnel, the situation could have been quite different. Back then, they were harping that Gaddafi was allegedly the main obstacle in the way of the “nation rebelling against oppression” and that once he was ousted, the blood shedding would stop, and peace, prosperity and democracy would blossom.
But life proved these statements wrong. After Gaddafi’s death, colonel’s weak opposition fell apart and former military elite jumped to each other’s throats in a fight for a “piece” of the “authority pie.”
In the summer of 2014, Libya was plunged into a diarchy with two centers of power: one — in Tripoli, the other — in Tobruk (in the eastern part of Libya), each one with its parliament, government and armed forces.
Since that time, combat operations between the two factions continue in some regions in the east, west and south of the country. And these exchanges of fire have transformed into a trench war over time. About 3.5 thousand Libyan military personnel and civilians were killed in the combat operations in the period from January 2014 to the end of April this year.
The country is experiencing economic stagnation. Production of oil — the main natural assets of the country — has dropped almost fourfold in comparison with the times of Gaddafi’s rule, from 1.6 ml down to 440 thousand barrels per day.
UN’s mediation to bring the two conflicting Libyan blocs to a dialogue and peace talks have proven to be ineffective. For over a year there have been numerous attempts to reconcile the parties. There have been different venues used for reconciliatory meetings held under the auspices of a special envoy of UN, Bernardino Leon, ranging from Europe to Morocco, Egypt and Algeria. During the meeting of representatives of the conflicting parties held on October 9, 2015 in Morocco, Mr. Bernardino announced the names of the government of the Libyan national unity, which the parties had allegedly coordinated. But proposals of the UN mediator were rejected by both the internationally recognized parliament of Tobruk and the government in Tripoli.
All those who tried to help Libya to untie this knot had to face its harsh reality — an overwhelming power crisis. It expectedly broke out after the former system of government and the balance of powers, which had existed in Libya for the last 40 years, collapsed after the massive external intervention.
Disagreements (earlier contained by the regime) between tribes and regions incited by ambitions of politicians, between the center and socially disadvantaged rural areas, etc., instigated a wave of violence.
Groups of mujahedeen have also been engaged in the turmoil in Derna and Sert, the towns, which took an oath of allegiance to ISIS. From time to time, they show on TV footages depicting how Islamists behead Christians and other “heretics” in these towns.
At the end of 2011, hundreds of insurgents from Libya went to Syria to help Assad’s foes. Later, some of them joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq. In 2014, some of them returned home.
More than ever before, Libya is being perceived as a magnet attracting all sorts of destructive regional Islamist elements and as a source of threat for the neighboring countries of North Africa and the Middle East.
A grim lesson we can learn from the Libyan phenomenon (which resulted from the scenario devised and implemented according to the western instructions) is how an internal strife can devastate a rich country and challenge its territorial integrity and unity.
Libyan people suffered hefty losses twice. After Gaddafi’s overthrow, when the society divided into the “winners and losers,” and the second time, when the winners divided into two feuding groups and started fighting against each other.
This lesson is a warning for other countries, including Syria. In this context, Russia’s efforts to counter expansion of ISIS and its support of Damascus are dictated by common interests of the two countries and peoples in their struggle against this world’s evil. That inspires hopes that situation in the Syrian Arab Republic will advance along a different developmental trajectory than it did in Libya.
Yuri Zinin, Senior Research Fellow at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), exclusively for online magazine “New East Outlook.”