x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Libya requires a fresh start free from the militias

A united government and army are the only hope for restoring any sense of normality in Libya.

Smoke billows from buildings during clashes between Libyan security forces and armed Islamist groups in the eastern coastal city of Benghazi.  Abdullah Doma / AFP
Smoke billows from buildings during clashes between Libyan security forces and armed Islamist groups in the eastern coastal city of Benghazi. Abdullah Doma / AFP

Reports yesterday that the Islamist militia Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) had taken control of Tripoli airport make very little difference to the lives of the embattled Libyan people. The airport, which has been effectively closed for six weeks, is of some strategic importance, but the significance of its capture is largely symbolic. Much of it is now a smouldering ruin – a phrase that could be used to describe the country itself.

Almost three years after the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Libya remains a shell, with various militias picking over the spoils. Amid the fiercest fighting the country has seen since the Nato-backed campaign against Qaddafi, militias with shifting allegiances are fighting for control of key assets, especially Libya’s extensive oil resources and its related infrastructure.

The taking of the airport by the Libyan Dawn group is seen as a blow to the nationalist militia from Zintan, who are in a loose alliance with Benghazi-based former national army general Khalifa Haftar, and have controlled the airport since 2011. For his part, Gen Haftar, who claimed responsibility for retaliatory air attacks on the airport over the weekend, may be key to any military resolution.

Certainly, the political situation is a mess. The General National Congress (GNC), a transitional body set up after Qaddafi’s demise and dominated by Islamists, has signalled its intention to convene again “to save the country’s sovereignty”. This is despite the GNC being superseded by an elected parliament that was sworn in earlier this month. Neither body has any effective control over the country, with the parliament, known as the House of Representatives, situated in ­Tobruk, 1,600 kilometres east of the war-torn capital.

For whoever eventually takes control of Libya, the challenges are immense. What institutions existed under Qaddafi’s self-serving regime are in tatters, and the increasingly intense fighting is preventing any sense of normality. Any solution lies in a united army and a government committed to the rebuilding of the nation and its infrastructure. Only then will the Libyan people be able to go about their lives with any sense of certainty and security. But with fierce fighting in the capital, and revenue-generating oil terminals and ports in the hands of the militias, there is little hope of this happening any time soon.