Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 August 2020

After years of crisis in Libya, what will the West do this time around?

Libya's new Government of National Accords has much work to do to heal the country's open wounds, writes Mustafa Fetouri
A member of forces loyal to Libya's eastern government carries his weapon during clashes with the Shura Council of Libyan Revolutionaries in Benghazi. Reuters
A member of forces loyal to Libya's eastern government carries his weapon during clashes with the Shura Council of Libyan Revolutionaries in Benghazi. Reuters

Western powers are busy drumming up support for Libya’s new Government of National Accord (GNA).

The foreign ministers of Spain, Italy, the UK, France and Germany have already visited Tripoli and have met the new government to discuss the future.

These politicians have promised political support and pledged millions in aid, with the UK specifying its contribution be used for antiterrorism activities and to fight against the illegal migration that is surging from the shores of Libya.

In 2011, these same countries – the UK, France, Italy and the US – led the fight to overthrow the long-standing regime of Muammar Qaddafi, after which Libya plunged into years of chaos.

These western powers had no plan in place for Libya once Qaddafi was gone and the architecture of his regime destroyed.

The absence of such a framework has cost Libyans five years of bloodshed and made their country a haven for terror groups including ISIL.

So what is different this time and did these western powers learn anything from their previous mistakes?

What is clear is that Libyans have accepted the GNA not because they especially believe in this new government, nor because they trust the UN, but because they are fed up with their miserable lives and are desperate for change.

With state control almost non-existent and a multitude of armed militias roaming around the country, the people of Libya have reached the point where they will accept any government if it could give them some hope, however little, that life will become bearable again.

It is obvious that western powers have no realistic plan for Libya. All that unites these powers are two simple goals: fighting ISIL and breaking the vicious circle of migrants from Libya to Europe.

While military and logistical support is also pledged to GNA, it’s unthinkable that any of the western powers will be willing to deploy military forces on the ground to fight ISIL.

Certainly no western country can afford the political cost of having its soldiers killed or captured by ISIL.

In theory, a limited ground force could be deployed, but only to take up positions at the airports and military bases around Tripoli to function as an on-call protection force for the GNA and to train Libyan soldiers to eventually take over these security arrangements.

That means the only way to fight ISIL is through air strikes and that tactic will end up replaying the ongoing scenario elsewhere in the region.

Any military planner will tell you that without boots on the ground you are likely to be sucked into a protracted war without any possibility of eradicating the enemy. This is what has been happening in Syria and Iraq over the last two years.

Unfortunately, neither the war on terror nor illegal migration are top priorities for normal Libyans who cheered GNA on arrival in Tripoli less than a month ago.

Libyans have different expectations, just as they did five years ago. Then they wanted to be a free, democratic country managed with as little corruption as possible.

But at the time the West thought that getting rid of Qaddafi was the most important goal to be achieved and that Libya would become some kind of paradise if the old regime was upended.

In the end, Libya’s story became riddled with blame.

Even Barack Obama who, as he said in 2011, led the campaign against Libya from behind, now blames the British prime minister David Cameron for a lack of focus after the fall of Qaddafi.

A large section of Libyans blame the West for the chaos gripping their country and the lack of governance and security they have to live with day to day.

People in Benghazi – the cradle of the so called uprising – nowadays hardly mention the February 17 revolution, as it has become synonymous with death, destruction and displacement.

Those who still believe in the revolution are in the minority and generally shy away from making public pronouncements, as they might get them into trouble. It’s fair to say the GNA has much work to do to heal Libya’s open wounds.

Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyan academic and an award-winning journalist

Updated: April 23, 2016 04:00 AM

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