The 2011 revolution in Libya, a revolution that was part of what is now known as the Arab Spring, succeeded in putting an end to the 42-year rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and brought about the election of a transitional council. The fall of Gaddafi did not, unfortunately, bring an end to Libya’s suffering. The General National Congress that was elected on July 7th, 2012, and assumed power from the National Transitional Council, proved that turning Libya into a democracy was never on its agenda.
But making it an Islamic state was. This became extremely evident after the election of Nouri Abusahmain as president of the GNC in June 2013, and again when, in December of the same year, the GNC voted to establish Sharia law. A committee was formed, given the task of reviewing all existing laws and their compliance with Islamic law.
Another step unmistakably in that direction was the fact that extremist Islamic groups were allowed to operate with impunity, especially in the region of Benghazi. There began a campaign of assassinations targeting police and army officers. The group responsible for most of them was Ansar al Sharia, the same group deemed responsible for the deaths of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods in the 2012 attack in Benghazi. It is also believed that Abusahmain used government money to fund extremist groups, especially the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, a group created to act as a police force in Tripoli, but later involved in the kidnapping of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. Later, when the GNC tried to initiate a vote in order to have their mandate as a police force withdrawn, the LROR surrounded the congressional building in a demonstration of power and an attempt to intimidate the congressional members.
The final straw in the deterioration of the situation in Libya was when, in December 2013, the National Congress decided unilaterally to extend its stay in power for another year. This caused protests from the Libyan people demanding elections. In February 2014, General Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan Army, ordered the National Congress to dissolve and demanded the formation of a temporary government in order to oversee the forthcoming elections. His demands were not taken seriously by the National Congress, and accusations that Haftar was an aspiring dictator soon followed.
Despite this, no moves were made to arrest Haftar, and two months later, he launched Operation Dignity against the Islamist groups in Benghazi. Two days after the commencement of Operation Dignity, Haftar’s forces tried to dissolve the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli. The conflict prevented the GNC from blocking new elections on 25 June, 2014. These elections appointed the Council of Deputies to replace the GNC. In these elections, Islamists suffered an overwhelming electoral defeat. Despite the defeat in the elections, former members of the GNC remained in power in Tripoli with the help of the Islamic militias. The newly elected government fled to Tobruk, and from there, started a campaign against the Islamic forces mainly in Benghazi.
The Situation On The Ground
In Tripoli, a government has been formed by members of the Muslim brotherhood, who have established an armed wing known as “The Dawn of Libya”—a coalition between Misrata’s militia and Tripoli’s revolutionary office. Against them, fighting for control, are the Quaaquah and Souaiq brigades, which are an alliance between western Libyan tribes that support Haftar, and have suffered exile from their homes from the Muslim militias.
The anti-islamist forces in western Libya are collectively known as the Zintani Brigades. The strength of the Tripoli government is estimated at about 50-80,000 soldiers, and they seem to have the support of Qatar. Various reports confirm that Qatari armed shipments have been arriving at the Misrata airport—the country’s only large airport still in operation, as the ones in Tripoli and Benghazi have been destroyed.
In eastern Libya, the army, led by Haftar, is fighting against the February 17th Martyrs Brigade, led by Wisam bin Hameid. Ally of the February 17th Martyrs Brigade is the Ansar al Sharia, which is led by Mohammed el Zahawi. The number of the Islamic forces there is around 10,000.
September was a quiet month for Libya. With the beginning of October, however, the fighting resumed. The most action took place in the town of Kikla, which is where the Zintani Brigades attacked on the 11th of the month, in efforts to control the area of the Nafusa mountains. On October 15th, a major assault was launched in Benghazi by the forces of General Haftar. Haftar attacked the February 17th Martyrs Brigade and the Ansar al Sharia with the objective of eliminating their presence in the area and recapturing the city.
To this day, what the final outcome will be for Libya is unclear. Despite the fact that the government in Tobruk has the recognition of the international community and the support of Egypt and the UAE, it’s pretty far from bringing peace or unity to Libya. The General National Congress in Tripoli, backed by Qatar, remains the primary contestant, and it would appear that a de facto division of the country may not be too distant a possibility.