Libya: The Wake Up Call Arrives


February 1, 2014: The tribal rebels still blocking the use of the eastern oil export terminals are under growing pressure from their own tribal leaders to lift the blockade. This is because the government has made it clear that over $10 billion in lost oil revenue has consequences and one of them will be cutting government salaries and benefits and this would make the leaders believed responsible very unpopular, even among their own people. The big problem with these rebels is that they are younger men (generally under 40) who do not pay much attention to tribal leaders. But the tribal elders do still have a lot of influence and prestige. Now that the grand promises of the young leaders have turned out to be unworkable and counterproductive desperate Libyans, including many of the younger ones, are turning to the tribal elders and leaders for help. In turn, the tribal leaders have become more amenable to compromise and cooperation at the national level. Many of the senior government leaders are tribal leaders or from families with influence in tribal affairs. The tribes may turn out to be the solution. Up until now the tribes have been a large part of the problem.

The death toll was up in January, to 154 dead (and 463 wounded). This is largely because the government security forces have grown large (and effective) enough to take on more of the militias that have refused to disarm. Many of these militias still believe they remain strong enough to maintain their independence and are willing to fight. The death toll from this sort of violence for all of 2013 was 643.

In addition to the dead, there are over 5,000 people held captive by over twenty major militias. These groups have captured, or created, jails. The government holds 3,000 prisoners and these are treated much better than many of those held by the militias. Reports of torture, abuse and “arresting” people as a form of kidnapping are common among the militias. Many of the militias, who were seen as freedom fighters in 2011 are now regarded as bandits and government efforts to disband these groups is popular.

Once these militias are disbanded the next security problem is in the largely desert southwest, where several large Islamic terrorist groups have been free to establish bases and go about their business. The best the government can do is block the main roads out of the area and try to collect intelligence on what these groups are up to.

Economists point out that not only is Libya running out of cash and credit (because rebel militias have blocked the export of $10 billion worth of oil in the last six months) but the long-term prospects are even grimmer. Because Kaddafi stifled economic growth during his four decades of rule the country is too dependent on oil income. Half the labor force has government jobs, a lot of them unneeded. Without quick development of non-oil enterprises the country will be unable to pay all the salaries and benefits within four or five years.

January 30, 2014: The interim parliament set February 20th as the date to elect the 60 delegates who would create the new constitution.

In Benghazi the college-age son of the Special Forces commander was kidnapped, apparently by Islamic terrorists from groups under attack by the Special Forces. The Special Forces commander responded by increasing pressure on Islamic terrorist militias, especially those suspected to taking his son. This meant more raids and arrests.

January 29, 2014: In the south (Sabha) troops drove tribal rebels out of an air force base outside the city. The rebels had held the base for about two weeks. Tribal violence down south since January 11th has caused about a 300 casualties (about a third dead). The violence is near the town of Sabha, which is 770 kilometers south of Tripoli and astride the main road going to the Niger border. The fighting is a continuation of ancient animosities between tribes divided by ethnicity as well as loyalty to the former dictator Kaddafi, who used tribal loyalties to maintain power and favored certain tribes. Some of the pro-Kaddafi tribes (in this case Awled Sleiman) kept fighting after Kaddafi died in 2011. The violence is not so much about putting Kaddafi followers back into power, but holding on to Kaddafi era privileges and avoiding punishment for crimes committed to support Kaddafi’s rule. In this case violence continued on the southern border where the pro-rebel Tabu tribesmen were put in charge of border (with Sudan, Chad and Niger) security. There they constantly skirmished with the pro-Kaddafi tribes. Another element of this rivalry was that the Tabu are black African while the pro-Kaddafi tribes are Arab. Kaddafi tended to support Arab domination over black Africans, something many Arabs still support. However, in some cases Kaddafi favored black tribes in the north, and used them to keep the population in line. Driving the pro-Kaddafi tribal rebels out of the air base will probably end the current round of fighting. This ethnic violence is not over, however.

In Tripoli the Interior Minister escaped an assassination attempt as his car was fired on.

January 27, 2014: In the southeast (Kefre) a clash with militiamen who refused to disarm left four soldiers dead and seven wounded. Schools in the area have been closed for a week because of the frequent gunfire between soldiers and militiamen.

January 26, 2014: Egypt warned that recent kidnapping of Egyptian diplomats, in order to get a Libyan militia leader freed from an Egyptian jail, will have unfavorable ramifications for Libya. Five Egyptian embassy personnel were kidnapped on the 24th and 25th causing Egypt to release the militia leader to get their diplomats freed. At the same time Egypt pulled all of its embassy personnel out of Libya. The kidnappings began shortly after the militia leader was arrested in Egypt (apparently for his Moslem Brotherhood connections).

January 23, 2014: In Tripoli a South Korean government trade official was freed by a police raid. The South Korean had been kidnapped three days earlier, apparently just for ransom. Four of his kidnappers were arrested.

January 21, 2014: In Tripoli fighting with pro-Kaddafi groups left five dead and 20 wounded. Elsewhere in the capital five cabinet ministers belonging to the second most powerful political party quit the government. The five former ministers are Islamic conservatives who were frustrated at the governments’ opposition to adopting more Islamic lifestyle rules for the population. Such rules are widely unpopular but the Islamic conservative groups are on a Mission from God and will not negotiate.

January 18, 2014: In the south (Sabha) the government declared a state of emergency to deal with the tribal fighting. The immediate reason for this was the seizure of an air force base outside Sabha by pro-Kaddafi tribal rebels. The government sent more troops to Sabha and the air force has attacked the rebels from the air.

January 17, 2014: In the east (between Derna and Tobruk) two Italian telecommunications engineers were kidnapped, apparently for ransom.





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