Will Libya follow in Somalia's footsteps?
The flag of the self-declared autonomous region of Cyrenaica flutters in the wind as heavily armed vehicles belonging to the military council of the region are deployed to protect oil ports near Sirte, March 14, 2014. Former Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has fled to Europe after parliament voted him out of office on March 11. (photo by REUTERS/Stringer)Libya apparently qualifies, more than any other country, for this catastrophic scenario. Paradoxically, its revolution started with high hopes. When the Libyan Spring began, the country had over $100 billion of treasury surplus, which former President Moammar Gadhafi left behind, knowing that Libya’s population does not exceed 5 million people. Moreover, the results of the elections surprised everyone, as the democratic candidates beat the Islamists, even if by a slight difference. At the time, this seemed like deterrence for the Islamic expansion that had accompanied the elections in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco.
Amid the world’s preoccupation with the Crimean crisis and the confrontation between a powerful Russia and a weak Ukraine, the recent escape of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan [to Europe] almost went unnoticed, as though it were a simple and transient incident. This is a dangerous indication that the international community’s attention has completely shifted from the previously so-called Arab Spring regions to the Ukrainian Spring, which might itself turn into a tidal wave that directly targets the West. According to a European official, this shift in international attention or the loss of interest of the West in the countries of the Arab revolutions entails more risks of Somalization for Libya specifically, and perhaps for other Arab countries. In other words, these countries will be left to face their fate — a gloomy one at that — alone.
Meanwhile, the Islamists who lost the elections did not stop trying to take over power and dominate the state’s ministries. They succeeded in passing a law of political isolation that deprived Libya — a country already lacking competent figures and cadres — of its competent national figures who were at the forefront of the revolution. Moreover, this law weakened the democratic front, as it was applied on its leader Mahmoud Jibril. On the other hand, Zeidan was not affected by this law since he had not occupied governmental positions during the past rule. Nonetheless, he was subject to other forms of isolation that began with abducting and insulting him and ended with isolating him under vague and legally dubious circumstances.
Paradoxically also, Libya is always going in the opposite direction of the other revolutions. The two successive post-revolution governments were a complete failure and hit the wall in solving any of the country’s problems. They could not even take one single step to build a new Libya, thus leaving the door wide open for Islamists to take over the main decision axes. The situation in Tunisia and Egypt took an opposite turn since the failure of Islamists caused their power to dwindle and their opponents to strongly return to the scene of political action. This simply indicates that all the countries of the Arab uprisings are drowning in conflicts that will not achieve any of the initial promised goals, which mainly include restoring the state’s institutions, strengthening democracy and reviving the economy.
However, Libya is surrounded by far bigger dangers compared to its two neighbors. Gadhafi’s regime destroyed the state, thus making way for Somalization. Nobody can dream up an effective way to collect the millions of arms, including heavy weapons, that are scattered all over the country. It is only normal for Libyans to organize themselves in militias and tribal groups to protect themselves, given the state is not strong enough to do so.
The Libyan economy is restricted to oil revenues, which have been facing major risks because dissidents have tightened their grip on oil wells and ports. The incident of smuggling a Libyan oil shipment in a naval tanker revealed the breadth of the breaches and the danger of the situation. It also showed how far the violations in Libya have gone. While this case closed when the US Navy intervened to return the stolen oil to Libya, the source of the problem remains. In the footsteps of its precedent, it is unlikely that the next Libyan government will find ways to manage the oil resources in the country. The people calling for an autonomous rule are still in a position of power for reasons related to population distribution, social structure and covert foreign interventions stirred by Libyan oil’s appeal.
On the one hand, internal conflicts are on the rise, and piracy is surfacing on the other. These two factors will weaken the stance of Libyan authorities before the huge oil companies, which had negotiated on a significant share of oil in return for the intervention of Western countries in the revolution. These companies will increase their demands and will grow greedier to exploit the status quo.
As a result, Libya, which lost the large financial savings it had inherited from the previous era, is losing its sovereignty over its oil wealth. It is noteworthy that the whole Libyan economy is based on oil revenues and on distributing part of them directly to citizens. This primitive rentier mechanism, which prevailed before and after the revolution, has not changed. If the authorities lose their ability to buy what can be bought from social security, they would be losing their last standing mechanisms to control the fate of the country.
Needless to say, the Somalization of Libya threatens the entire surrounding region. It affects Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria on the one hand, and the African Sahara on the other, while it can also reach Europe due to the geographic proximity. Even though helping Libya to rise above the current situation is an urgent necessity, it is realistically hard to determine a party capable of extending its hand to the country. Western forces, which dealt with Libya as a huge petroleum field, will wash their hands clean of the country’s internal affairs, except for the issues related to oil and gas flow. The crisis with Russia will only deepen this inclination. The Crimean crisis was not only bad news for the Ukrainians, but for the countries of the Arab revolutions as well — mainly Libya — and for the fate of democratic transition in these countries.