The Practice of Appeasement in Libya


The Practice of Appeasement in Libya

25 Jun 2014

In a time of violence, but with elections attemping to move Libya towards more stable democratic governance, a report, Libya's Faustian Bargains: Breaking the Appeasement Cycle examines the threats to Libya's stability, provides detailed mapping of the militia landscape and looks at the policy options for the Libyan government and its international partners.

The report, published by the Atlantic Council, is authored by Karim Mezran, a Senior Fellow at the Council, Jason Pack, a Cambridge University researcher, and Mohamed Eljarh of Foreign Policy.

In the report the authors identify the strategic weakness of post-Qaddafi governments that have appeased political actors and militias for short-term support and stability. The report also lays blame on post-Gaddafi authorities for failing to tackle urgently the country's economic, political, and security challenges, yet acknowledge the unique tribal and regional structures that complicate such efforts.

Additionally the report outlines policy recommendations for a new Libyan government (once it is installed), transitional bodies, and the country's Western and regional allies.

Key Findings
  • The proximal cause of Libya's current problems in the security sector, the economy, and the transition to constitutional governance is the Libyan authorities' policy of appeasement of their opponents.
  • Some analysts have absolved the post-Gaddafi authorities—the National Transitional Council (NTC), General National Congress (GNC), government, cabinet, and ministries—of both their agency and responsibility for the current problems by blaming Gaddafi-era policies, Libya's primordial social and regional structures, and the absence of institutions (such as a national army or civil society) for most challenges currently facing the country.
  • These factors are, indeed, key components of the troubles and constitute the root causes of the current situation. However, these pre-existing factors have been exacerbated and mutated by the practice of appeasement.
  • There is no doubt that Gaddafi's legacy is largely responsible for the post-Gaddafi authorities lacking the institutional capacity, leadership style, or collective will to face down their opponents.
  • Yet it is possible to disentangle the impact of the Gaddafian legacy from concrete decisions taken by the NTC, GNC, and government officials who postponed tackling difficult problems, preferring to temporise and hoping that intractable problems would simply go away on their own accord. Therefore, both the new Libyan government and its international partners must confront the reality and implications of the practice of temporising/ appeasement head-on.
  • Making progress in addressing the country's dire economic and political challenges requires a clear understanding of the specific drivers that sustain them, while simultaneously working to create an environment that promotes policies and decisions that are not rooted in the practice of temporising/appeasement.
  • Paradoxically, such a conclusion gives reason for cautious optimism, as it is far easier to correct the Libyan government's practice of appeasement rather than attempting to fundamentally change the country's tribal and regional structures, while simultaneously constructing functional institutions out of thin air.
  • The current Libyan government clearly does not have sufficient trained forces to counter the myriad rebellious militias and other armed groups. Moreover, the militias have shown that they are firmly embedded inside the government and can bring down a prime minister with whom they disagree.
  • Although only jihadists have conducted a campaign of assassination of government officials, many actors wish to see the government fail. The current political and security landscape in the country comprises numerous centrifugal forces competing for power and influence.
  • Libya has literally hundreds of different militias comprising roughly 250,000 armed men—a number that has mushroomed from the approximately 30,000 that actually fought against Muammar Gaddafi's forces in 2011.
  • To deal with the proliferation of militias, the post-Gaddafi governments began co-opting and appeasing all but the most disruptive brigades. Different militia groupings that have been brought under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defense include the Libya Shield Force (LSF), the Borderand Vital Installations Guard, and the Petroleum Facilities Guard, while those brought under the aegis of the Ministry of the Interior are known as the Supreme Security Committees (SSC). 
  • The Interior Ministry and certain sub-branches of the Defense Ministry have become dominated by extreme Islamists with an antigovernment agenda.
  • Eastern militias largely have an Islamist bent, divided between moderates, who want the political process to succeed, and extremists, who actively seek to derail the political process by using violence and killing civilians.
  • In the West, militias from Misrata and Zintan are dominant. Zintan's militias tend to be more sympathetic to the government—especially when it was controlled by Ali Zeidan—but oppose the GNC.
  • The increased tensions between Islamist and non-Islamist forces have sparked popular demonstrations and attempted coups, as well as intensified struggles within the GNC or among groups trying to influence the GNC.
  • Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Forces Alliance, along with other mainstream currents in the GNC, have announced their support for fresh elections.
  • Federalists in the East and minority groups in the South and West that aspire to greater autonomy have posed repeated challenges to creating political stability or embarking on national political or infrastructure project.
  • Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups are actively trying to sabotage Libya's democratic transition in order to establish an Islamic emirate, which could then be used to forcefully export their agendas to surrounding countries or simply provide a comfortable safe haven from the tougher locales of the global jihad.
  • Libya's armed factions have demonstrated willingness to attempt coups d'état to destabilise either the central government or the GNC, depending on their allegiances.
Key Recommendations

The report has key recommendations for the General National Congress, and for Libya's Western and Regional Allies. It also has recommendations for the new Libyan government. A selection of these are set out below.

For the New Libyan Government (selected recommendations)

  • This report maintains that the Libyan government's appeasement of its many adversaries is the root cause of most of Libya's security, economic, and political problems. To rectify the situation, the post-GNC government has no choice but to perform a dramatic volte-face, fighting all of the institutional momentum built up over two years of incremental appeasement.
  • The priorities of the Libyan government must be phased: First, establish central government authority and security throughout the country. Second, restore oil and gas production (and revenues) to pre-war levels. Third, provide the Libyan people with basic services, like education, electricity, healthcare, housing, water, and vocational training.

To achieve this the government must:

  • Incentivise demobilisation by incorporating militias into meaningful public sector employment.
  • Fully demobilise militias that have been "temporarily" incorporated into the military and security forces.
  • Create a task force specifically to cooperate with foreign partners that have pledged to train Libyan forces for the new national army.
  • As appeasement is rooted in the authorities' inability to protect their offices, homes, and meetings places, the government must make bold efforts to protect its premises and that of the country's parliament.
  • Restore basic services to the Libyan people through combining national reconciliation, capacity-building, and reconstruction projects to unite the populace behind the government's programs.

The report concludes that nothing is inevitable in Libya. The Libyan people still believe in freedom, economic growth and personal security and wish to participate in an orderly transition to constitutional government guided by an evolving contract between the populace and the authorities.

You can read the full Atlantic Council report here.

This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. 

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