Libya: Freedom And Starvation

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September 18, 2013: In the southwest a week of fighting between Zintan and Garamna tribal militias have left at least a dozen dead and over twenty wounded. There are similar tensions all over the country, but they usually don’t get past shouting, threats, and weapons fired into the air. Many parts of the country depend on local militias for law and order. These militias often cooperate with local governments or tribal leaders and have some legitimacy. Militias are less likely to cooperate with each other.

Although there is a national government, that government is not united or coordinated. For example, the Defense Ministry has its own program to disband militias which is separate from a similar effort run by the Interior Ministry (which controls the national police). There is a plan for the two ministries to coordinate their efforts but it has not been implemented yet. There are many other examples of government organizations operating independently, which is why the many weapons stockpiled by the Kaddafi government are still being flown to Syria to supply rebel groups. These weapons are apparently being paid for (by pro-rebel Arab governments) but it is unclear who is getting the money. Technically, such exports are illegal by Libyan and international law but they continue. Meanwhile, the effort to destroy Libya’s chemical weapons stockpiles, begun in 2003 by Kaddafi, is stalled. That destruction was originally planned to take until 2016.

Various tribes and militias are still blocking the eastern oil terminals, halting over 60 percent of oil exports. Normally Libya sells about 1.5 million barrels a day. But most oil export terminals have been occupied since July 25th and that has reduced shipments to about 200,000 barrels a day. With the western oil terminals now open again that should rise to about 500,000 barrels a day by the end of the month. But all this is costing the government nearly a billion dollars a week in lost revenue. Eventually the government will not be able to pay security personnel and the oil supported government welfare system will collapse. This will cause chaos and the government resists calls for the use of force because that could result in major damage to oil facilities that could take months, or longer, to repair. All this was largely unexpected because at the start of the year oil production was at 1.4 million barrels a day and nearly back to normal. Then some of the militias the government had hired to provide security at oil facilities decided their loyalties were more to themselves than the national government. Oil production accounts for over 70 percent of GDP and the government is running out of credit and will soon have no way to pay for essential imports, like food. Because the refineries that provide fuel for Libyans are also shut down, the government has to spend scarce cash to import fuel. That won’t last long because the government will have run out of cash and credit by the end of the year. After that the economy will collapse and with that food and other essentials will not be available for most Libyans. Before that happens, force will be the only option, as starvation is the last thing anyone wants.

The government has issued a warning to all oil tanker companies that if any unauthorized (by the Libyan government) tankers tried to enter any of the terminals held by the strikers they will be fired on. This is to prevent strikers from selling oil stored at the terminals to replace lost wages. Even the strikers realize you can’t eat oil. The strikers have numerous demands, including higher pay, more control over the oil industry for local tribes  and investigations into corruption (particularly how oil sales are being handled) as well as autonomy for some parts of the country (especially the east, centered on Benghazi). In the meantime there is less money for government benefits nearly all Libyans depend on. Those strikers don’t seem to care that they are hurting all Libyans by interfering with the oil sales and that eventually creates a powerful public outcry demanding that the strikers be punished. The strikers get some sympathy for their anti-corruption demands. Libya is one of the most corrupt nations in the world. International corruption surveys put Libya among the twenty most corrupt countries (out of 176 surveyed). Most Libyans agree with this, but the corruption has been around for centuries and even Kaddafi had to live with it. So far, there have not been enough Libyans willing to step up and halt the practices.

Next door Tunisia is suffering a popular backlash by the moderate majority against a government controlled by Islamic parties (who were better organized for the post revolutions than their more numerous secular opponents). Unlike Egypt, where the Islamic parties tried to rule alone (and created fear that religious was going to be imposed), the Tunisian religious parties created a coalition with secular parties, shared power, and did not threaten to impose religious rule. But there have still been lots of anti-government demonstrations, triggered by the assassination of several popular secular politicians this year and the sense that the Islamic government was not as enthusiastic as it should be in going after the few hundred Islamic terrorists active in the country. In response, the government has turned up the heat on Islamic radicals and found that many of them did support Islamic terrorists. Many Islamic conservatives still want a constitution that emphasizes Islamic values and customs. Unlike many other Arab countries, many Tunisian Islamic conservatives have been willing to compromise, which may prevent violent conflict, as in Egypt, between religious and secular groups. Tunisians are not yet convinced that Tunisian religious conservatives will compromise enough, but both sides are still negotiating.

Tunisian forces have been searching for a group of at least 30 Islamic terrorists but have only encountered them a few times since January in the Atlas Mountains near the Algerian border. The terrorists have staged some bombings and ambushes but have apparently devoted most of their efforts to not getting found. Algeria fears that if the Tunisian forces get too close the Islamic terrorists will try to escape via Algeria. Some of the Tunisian terrorists are believed to have been men who were in northern Mali and fled the French-led January offensive. On Tunisia’s Algerian border 12,000 additional Algerian troops have appeared over the last four months. Sixty new outposts and small bases were established on the Algerian side and have apparently succeeded in preventing any of the Islamic terrorists active just across the border from entering Algeria. Libya has no such improved security and there is still a lot of smuggling (especially of weapons and Islamic terrorists) in and out of Tunisia.

September 12, 2013: The government is sending 8,000 soldiers to be trained by the U.S. in a Bulgarian military facility. These will be sent in batches of about 200 troops and the process will take up to 8 years.

September 11, 2013: In Benghazi a bomb exploded outside the abandoned (since an attack last September that killed the U.S. ambassador) American consulate. There were no fatalities from the explosion, which blew a hole in the compound wall.

September 8, 2013: Police have broken up a terrorist organization that was recruiting young men to be Islamic terrorists and smuggling them to training camps in neighboring Tunisia. The police arrested 21 people involved with this effort, all but 1 of them Libyans.

In neighboring Tunisia, police cornered 4 Islamic terrorists in the capital. There was a gun battle that left 2 terrorists dead and 2 arrested. The 4 terrorists were believed involved in recent assassinations of politicians and in touch with a group of Islamic terrorists hiding out in the Atlas Mountains near the Algerian border.

September 5, 2013: The SSC (Supreme Security Committee) admitted that its own police had ambushed a police convoy taking the recently freed Anoud al Senussi (daughter of Kaddafi’s chief of intelligence and currently being prosecuted for war crimes). The 22 year old Anoud al Senussi issued a statement that she was under the protection of the SSC, which was keeping her safe from enemies of her father. Anoud al Senussi had originally been imprisoned nearly a year ago for entering the country illegally (apparently to see her father).

 

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