The echoes of Libya's Independence Day.
This year marks the 64th anniversary of Libya's independence. Of course, in 1951, King Idriss came to power with a UK and US mandate to unite what were three distinct areas, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan after the wreckage of fascism in Europe. A former Italian possession, Libya holds the interesting distinction of being the first country to become independent through the UN, in 1951, after a brief period of UN 'trusteeship'.
Seems history is repeating itself in a modern context. Sixty-four years after King Idriss began his reign, the international community, led by the United Nations, established a National Unity Government (NUG) choosing themselves a Prime Minister Faiez Serraj as the leader of Libya this month.
There's a problem, however. Seems to me that in the 21st Century, by international law, such actions by the UN, are illegal certainly immoral. But maybe that's just me.
UN Special Representative Martin Kobler wants to use this historical link as part of the importance of the NUG and to gain a consensus for it. Kobler stated "Some of the lessons from the birth of Libya can help us today. Like now, Libya was then faced with the task of creating and uniting behind new common institutions."
The day after Kobler's speech, the US President Barack Obama sent a timely and important message to the Libya people on this 64th anniversary of the Libyan State that had been under UN tutelage in the wake of World War II. Obama stated "We have an opportunity for all Libyans to come together to resolve the many challenges you face, including insecurity and economic difficulties. IS' presence in Libya has caused incredible suffering and all Libyans must join together to remove this scourge from your country. The United States is fully committed to working with the new Government of National Accord to address the urgent economic and counterterrorism problems facing Libya today. We stand with the Libyan people and fully support your courageous efforts to build a stable, prosperous, and peaceful Libya."
Sounds like America is ready to back up the NUG at all costs.
Simultaneously, armed force to quell terrorist activity in Libya is still on the table. The New York based Permanent Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Omar Dabbashi, is cleverly saying that Libya will not be inviting anytime soon foreign armed forces to help but now wants General Khalifa Haftar's Libya National Army to receive arms with the immediate lifting of the UN arms embargo on Libya. He argued that although "Italy, France, Britain and the United States are preparing air raids to hit IS bases in Sirte.... I think they will enter into action as soon as political conditions will allow." Those conditions are based on the NUG. Importantly, Dabbashi said, Libyan forces would conduct the ground fight against the IS, Ansar Al Sharia and other extremists, but added that "the government will need air support." Enter Haftar, the head of the Libyan National Army will do the heavy lifting against the violent extremists in Libya's central, coastal terrain. It should be noted that Haftar uses his army base not that far from the Green Mountains to attack Benghazi's militant extremists. It is the same city from which King Idriss broadcasted a radio address in 1951 to proclaim Libya independent.
The issue of arms, instead of an international coalition to bomb the hell out of IS, seems to be the preferred Libyan solution. It is General Khalifa Hafter's very public display of power with Kobler that has mouths wagging ever since their face to face meeting last week. Thus, the mistake that King Idriss made with UK and US military basing rights in Libya is being rejected by the NUG and its minions.
Serraj's Christmas Day speech, delayed by one day to fall on the 64th anniversary, appeared to try to channel King Idriss's spirit. Serraj argued that "We share a common past, in the resistance of our fathers and grandfathers against colonisation and their long battle for independence and the building of their nation." He added that the road ahead will be tough: "This battle (for a unity government) is a responsibility shared between all Libyans without exception. Media, civil society, businessmen, politicians, Intellectuals, tribal chiefs, dignitaries and the youth -- whom we believe are the foundation of our nation-building, and above all this Government." Patriotic and inspiring to include Libyan-wide inclusiveness. Sound realistic?
But Serraj has his priorities in reverse. In his speech he pointed to the requirements as halting the chaos of arms proliferation; developing effective institutions such as the army, police and judiciary; reform of the economic and public services; and third, national reconciliation and working on the country's torn social fabric. It seems the latter should be the Number 1 priority. It is notable that Serraj said zero about the extremist threat.
Unfortunately, Serraj has a month to get his act together. Serraj is no King Idriss to put it mildly. There are a number of real time challenges in the current Libyan milieu. For one, Serraj needs to assemble and gain buy-in from Libyan stakeholders for a Presidency Council, Cabinet, House of Representatives and State Council. But these participants and patrons hold onto their localisms with a firm grip that are political, religious, and financial. It's to use the old adage, herding cats, and his Christmas Day speech did nothing to inspire unity or even a hint of influencing the multitude of Libya's religo-political spectrum.
Now there are key questions facing Libya and Serraj. Which way does Ibrahim Jidran from Ajdabiya jump on the oil question in Libya's East?Support the new NUG? Or does Jidran support Hafter who needs financial aid and military provisions? If the latter, then what does Serraj do? What about Libya Dawn? If Dawn fragments now, what will their many militias do? Tear Tripoli apart into Mediterranean Beirut-type fiefdoms as occurred in the 80s? Will Misrata stay with the Tripoli-based Dawn Coalition politically or be savvy about the new political reality forced from outside and acquiesce to their inner business acumen? What can the Muslim Brotherhood do if their British backers, who just released the partial findings of the Sir Jenkins Muslim Brotherhood report, decline to continue support? Will the Obama's love affair with the Muslim Brotherhood ascend? What do former Al Qaeda affiliate members like Abdelhakim Belhadj, Khalid Sharif, Saleh Badi, (and their ally in Tunis, Tunisia's Ennahda party Rachid Ghannouchi,) do? The above all sounds like there is about to be a reshuffling of the Libyan disorder.
In one year will be Libya's Blue Sapphire Anniversary. Kobler is already setting his sights on the year ahead to the 65th year of Libya's independence. Kobler stated: "In unity there is peace. In peace there is prosperity." It's amusing to note that King Idris said with his famous phrase: "Keeping independence is harder than gaining it." The confluence of historical analogy between 1951 and next year's 65th anniversary is important for all to understand. The NUG, in theory, will be on year old in December 2016. Will the situation involving all belligerents be satisfied by the United Nations, its Security Council members, and other regional allies such as Egypt? It's too early to tell. Geo-political strategists and historians, based on King Idris successes and failures, can help predict whats coming next for Serraj. Doesn't look good.
There remains in effect for the time being three Libyan Governments and in 30 days, the UN say, a fully formed government will be announced.
My question is will it be the fourth government?
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