Libya: Searching for Unity and Stability


July 19, 2023: It’s an ongoing problem keeping Libya’s oil fields producing as well as guarding the oil pipelines that move the oil to ports where tankers are loaded for export. Once the oil is delivered, the customer deposits the money in the Libyan Central Bank. Since there is still no national government, the two main factions often argue over who should get what from the Central Bank.

Another problem with the factionalism in Libya is the growing use of kidnappings, arrests or worse for Libyan and foreign officials in Libya. This is another reason why few companies or countries want to do business with Libya, especially when that requires sending personnel to Libya.

Before the 2011 revolution overthrew the dictatorship, the 6.5 million Libyans had a per capita GDP of about $10,000 (50 percent more if adjusted for purchasing power parity). Many Libyans were content to get by on a low-stress government job and let foreign workers keep the economy going. That hasn’t changed and Libya is seeking economic aid and foreign workers to carry out reconstruction of facilities that have been neglected since 2011. Egypt supplies the manpower while other Arab states, like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are willing to supply some of the money. Until a unified government is operational throughout Libya, reconstruction projects are restricted to eastern Libya where there is enough law and order to permit the work to proceed. There are still plenty of local bandits and outlaw factions that see foreign workers and rebuilding efforts as a source of ransom and extortion income. Nationwide there is potential demand for over two million foreign workers, many of them temporary, to handle reconstruction efforts. With enough cash and foreign workers, the reconstruction can be completed within a few years. So far only eastern Libya has been stable enough to allow reconstruction work to proceed. Russian and Turkish troops in western Libya are not, according to Russia and Turkey, there to cause problems, but to safeguard economic deals those two countries have made with various Libyan factions. This situation will remain uncertain until there is a unified elected government in Libya. Currently this is supposed to happen by early 2024

Disorganized Violence

There is very little fighting going on in Libya and most of the unnatural deaths are the result of people smuggling operations run by criminal gangs. This is big business. In 2022 there were over 600,000 of these refugees from 41 African nations. So far in 2023, the number of refugees is down a bit but not by much. Some of the countries the refugees come from do not cooperate in taking back their citizens stranded in Libya. Some of these refugees flee the detention centers and find a hostile reception for them in Libya. Some are killed and there were reports that others were enslaved by local militias. The EU (European Union) provides money and other assistance to house stranded refugees and get them back to their homes. The EU also supplies cash for the Libyan Coast Guard for training, new equipment and operations to block smuggling efforts from Libya to Europe. Some of this aid is used to improve border security to stop the refugees from getting into Libya. The EU support has also reduced the ability of people smuggling gangs to get illegal migrants into Libya and then into Europe by boat. These gangs were part of a coalition including Italian and African gangsters who took in over a billion dollars from this in 2015 and found that kind of income was worth fighting for when European and Libyan authorities began efforts to shut them down.

Starting in 2017 the eastern faction and some militias in the west worked with Italy to shut down the smugglers. The Libyans have a plan for shutting down all the smuggling gangs and want more support from the EU to do the same with the European gangs which control more of this smuggling than the EU would like to admit. Italy took the lead implementing an EU program to organize (and subsidize) a revived Libyan coast guard and paying southern tribes to go after people smugglers. This effort continues but the smuggling gangs still operate to get migrants into Libya. The smuggling boats are far fewer in Libya and the Libyan Coast Guard regularly intercepts them. Some migrants still get into Europe, usually via Italy, but successful transportation of migrants to Europe has been much reduced because fewer boats are operating and most migrants are detained in Libya and returned to their home countries. Most of the fatalities among the illegal migrants occur at sea when overloaded smuggler boats sink and most of the people on board drown. Since the ultra-extreme ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) factions were destroyed or driven from Libya, there has been very little violence from armed Islamic extremists.

Foreign Troops

Russia and Turkey refuse to withdraw their troops from Libya until they receive guarantees that their interests in Libya are respected. The UN and NATO oppose that because the Libyan Tripoli faction wants to legitimize an illegal treaty signed by them in 2019 granting Turkey some of Greece’s offshore oil and natural gas rights in an area between Libya and Turkey. This treaty ignored existing, and internationally recognized, Greek claims on that area. Turkey and Greece are both NATO members and NATO backs Greece in this matter. Turkey won’t withdraw its forces from Libya until a new national Libyan government assures the Turks that the illegal agreement is confirmed by a national Libyan government. Many people in both factions do not want to be stuck with a treaty that the UN and NATO consider illegal. Russia is no friend of NATO and is currently at war with NATO-backed forces in Ukraine. Turkey is also a NATO member but most other NATO members would like to expel the Turks from NATO but there is no legal mechanism for that. Turks and Russians are troublemakers in Europe and Libya is a foreign branch of that mischief.

Despite all the divisive problems, all the factions agreed earlier in the year to support one prime minister and hold national elections before the end of 2023. Russia has moved its embassy from Benghazi to Tripoli. Delays were caused by security concerns. Tripoli still has problems with local militias. By reopening its embassy in Tripoli and backing the Abdulhamid Dbeibah GNU (Government of National Unity) faction in Tripoli rather than the Fathi Bashagha faction and the LNA (Libyan National Army) in the east, Russia is in effect cooperating with Turkey, whose illegal agreements with the Tripoli government include giving Russia some of Greece’s rights to explore for oil and gas in areas of the Mediterranean. Libya is encouraging the reestablishment of embassies in Tripoli. The American embassy closed in 2014 but so far the Americans have no plans to reopen their embassy. A few dozen nations have, or are planning to reopen their embassies in Tripoli.

The Russian Wagner Group mercenaries in Libya are unaffected by the recent armed dispute between Wagner and Russian armed forces. That dispute was quickly settled and the Russian government told Wagner clients in Africa that Wagner operations would not be disrupted. Wagner forces have been in Libya since 2018, when Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the LNA (Libyan National Army) hired them. Haftar had a military background and was once a senior officer in the pre-2011 Libyan military. Haftar fled Libya in the 1980s after incurring the wrath of dictator Kaddafi. Now an American citizen, he returned to eastern Libya in 2013, revived some of the units of the Kaddafi-era military and began taking control of military bases from militias and Islamic terrorists. Eastern tribes rallied to Haftar, who had organized the most effective counterterrorism effort in the country. Haftar had the support of most Arab states, especially Egypt and the UAE. Egypt has a vulnerable border with Libya that was being used by Islamic terror groups to move people in and out as well as smuggle weapons into Egypt. The LNA continues to be a major military force in Eastern Libya. Khalifa Haftar, now in his 70s and suffering from health problems, turned over his military commands to one of his sons.

Egypt and Turkey have also recently settled their differences and are now seeking to agree on a unified policy towards Libya. Turkey thought getting involved in Libyan politics was an economic opportunity. Instead, the situation in Libya turned out to be more complex than expected and difficult to cope with. National elections and a unified Libyan government will have an unpredictable impact on relations with Turkey. The Turks are seen as unwelcome invaders and are reluctant to just leave.

July 13, 2023: The Sharara oil field and three other smaller ones were shut down by protestors from the southern al-Zawi tribe who were angry that one of their members, former finance minister Faraj Bumatari, was arrested at the Tripoli airport. Bumatari was a leading candidate to lead the Central Bank and was backed by the House of Representatives government in the east. The rival Tripoli government in the west was behind the arrest. Sharara is the largest source of oil and gas in Libya and the frequent target of attacks for no other reason because it has always been a place you could shut down to protest some actions you did not agree with. Sharara is located about 700 kilometers south of Tripoli in the Murzuq Desert. Total Libya oil production is 1.25 million BPD and Sharara accounts for a quarter of that. Another major oilfield in that area, El Feel, produces 90,000 BPD and together with Sharara accounts for a third of national production. The smaller El Feel oil field was also shut down by a similar protest along with the Ibn Tufal and the 108 oilfields. During the first six months of 2023 Libya managed to earn $7 billion from oil sales. That’s 11 percent less than the same period in 2022. The two main factions continue trying to cooperate, spending that income on essentials and not corrupt expenditures. Corrupt businessmen dominate the Libyan economy, which increases the price Libyans must pay for everything. Oil and natural gas exports

July 14, 2023: Protests outside several large oilfields has reduced national daily production by about 30 percent.

July 12, 2023: A meeting between Russian and members of the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council met and agreed that Libya must decide for itself what its future will be. It was also agreed that all foreign troops should leave Libya. Currently this means forces from Turkey and Russia. The Russians are willing to leave if the Turks do so as well. Turkey will not withdraw its forces until agreements it signed with the Tripoli government are acknowledged by all Libyans as legitimate and binding. Russia does agree that a unified Libyan government was needed to settle issues like the Turkish agreements with the Tripoli faction.

July 11, 2023: Libya’s Central Bank cannot ignore an American court ruling that Libya must pay a $20 million judgment to a foreign investor who won an arbitration case. The foreign investor proved Libya was responsible for the fraud and had to compensate the investor. Ignoring the American court ruling would only bring more legal action against foreign banks with Libyan oil income accounts. Corruption has long been a problem in Libya and foreign investors protect themselves by depositing the investment cash with foreign banks where Libya has oil income deposited.

July 10, 2023: Turkey and Egypt have agreed to resume diplomatic relations by exchanging ambassadors and reopening embassies closed for a decade. This makes it possible for Turkey and Egypt to resolve, or attempt to resolve their disputes in Libya.

July 7, 2023: In Tripoli the numerous local militias continue to cause problems for the Tripoli government and Turkish troops. Unruly militias refuse to disband.

July 4, 2023: Khalifa Haftar, the head of the LNA (Libyan National Army) in eastern Libya, threatened military action if a mutually agreeable arrangement to divide oil revenues between eastern and western factions cannot be achieved by the end of August. Such agreements and the difficulty in negotiating and enforcing them has been a perennial problem because there is no unified national government. Discussions on this issue have been underway for over a year and so far Libya has had to get by with a series of temporary agreements. The National Oil Corporation has, over the last two years, restored normal oil production levels of 1.2 million BPD (barrels per day) and is maintaining that level of production and seeking to increase that to two million BPD by 2027. The eastern faction forces guard the oil production and export facilities and concentrates its efforts on that. The Turkish forces stay in Tripoli and a few other coastal areas and leave the oil production and exporting activities alone. The two rival Libyan governments generally cooperate when it comes to oil and split the income from exports. There is a military standoff here because while the Tripoli government can threaten the coastal oil export ports they have not got the ability to advance inland and take the oilfields. These are guarded by eastern faction troops. Haftar has already demonstrated that he can shut down most (all but about 400,000 BDP) oil production if he decides to.

June 29, 2023: An unidentified (but probably Turkish) UAV launched guided missiles at Wagner Group base 150 kilometers south of the eastern city of Benghazi. There were no casualties. There used to be 2,500 Russian mercenaries in Libya, but the war in Ukraine and other problems back in Russia have reduced the Wagner Libyan forces to a few hundred armed men concentrated at the base south of Benghazi. The reduction of the Wagner forces was largely the result of the UAE reducing its financial support for Wagner operations in Libya. The LNA and the eastern Libyan government have had to make up the difference. With less money for the Wagner force, many had to be sent back to Russia.

June 9, 2023: Libya is encouraging the reestablishment of embassies in Tripoli. The American embassy closed in 2014 but so far the Americans have no plans to reopen their embassy. A few dozen nations have, or are planning to reopen their embassies in Tripoli. A few dozen nations have, or are planning to reopen their embassies in Tripoli. China has not waited for its embassy to open and has already negotiated several investment deals, including a $33 billion railroad/bus route transportation project and a license to mine for gold in the south. China is accused of bribing local tribes and others to enable these projects to move forward.




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