Khalifa Haftar can credibly claim to be a uniquely unifying figure in a deeply fractured country
In the chaos of Libya, there is a cause for renewed hope
The Middle East is yet to recover from the political convulsions inaugurated by the wave of uprisings sparked seven years ago by a Tunisian fruit seller’s lone protest. Mohamed Bouazizi’s death by self-immolation altered forever the political landscape of this region. Tunisia, after a challenging transition, has emerged comparatively more stable. Syria, on the other hand, continues to be a theatre of conflict. In Libya, even the death of the nation’s dictatorial ruler, Muammar Qaddafi, has not been enough to liberate it from his grim legacy. The hollowing out of institutions by Qaddafi and his family during their decades of misrule plunged Libya into chaos when they were removed from the scene.
Despite the efforts of the international community, the Government of National Accord established through a UN-brokered agreement in 2015 has not succeeded in uniting Libya, or in diminishing the power of the armed factions who operate in various parts of the country. Against this backdrop, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s declaration on Sunday that he and his forces will submit themselves only to the will of the Libyan people is an important development as it strongly indicates that he’s preparing to contest in the presidential elections scheduled to take place next year. There is a growing sense among many Libyans that decelerating their nation’s seeming disintegration will require a strong leader capable of leading and shaping public opinion while respecting democratic restraints on power. Certainly, given Libya’s vast reserves of oil, prosperity and superior standards of living are realistic aspirations, within the country’s reach.
Political divisions and violence are the primary obstacles to realising the country’s full potential. But not only is Libya not inching towards stability; recent events suggest that violence is now spreading to regions that were once relatively peaceful. On the same day that Field Marshal Haftar made his announcement, the mayor of Misrata was assassinated. This means that the violence that has scarred the rest of the country is now creeping into its third largest city, which is home to the nation’s largest port and, thanks to its reputation for relative peace, still hosts foreign businesses. The rest of Libya should be striving to emulate Misrata; but, if things continue as they are, Misrata may come to resemble other parts of Libya. Despite its best intentions, the GNA, led by Fayez Al Sarraj, has not been able to arrest Libya’s slide into ever deeper chaos. Field Marshal Haftar’s successes with Operation Dignity, which routed terrorists from Benghazi, has elevated him to an authoritative position in Libya. No Libyan leader can be said to command the overwhelming affection of all its people, but Field Marshal Haftar can credibly claim to be a well-placed figure in that deeply fractured country. His announcement on Sunday is a reason for renewed hope.
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