Imagine if you will, a country whose government based in its capital city has formally disbanded although its followers still hold pieces of territory in regions it formerly tried to rule. Imagine another government based in an eastern city, far from the traditional power-seat, struggling to claim legitimacy both domestically and abroad.
Imagine that this same country has much of its territory practically and in some cases officially outside of the jurisdiction of either ‘governing’ party, leaving ISIS, other similar terrorist groups and tribal militias in full control of many regions.
The situation I’ve mentioned exists in Libya, a totally failed state, a strategically and geographically more relevant version of Somalia in more ways than one, and now a hub for international Islamic terrorists, especially since the Syrian Arab Army is chasing many of these fiends out of Syrian territory.
The miscreants will need a place to go. Some may make the comparatively easier journey to Iraq where many will have to engage with the Iraqi Army, Kurdish forces and others fighting Islamic terrorists. Those who are willing to make the longer journey, will doubtless go to Libya where they will not have to live in the kind of fear or with the kind of preparedness they would have to do in parts of Iraq.
The situation in Libya is dire and whilst the world’s eyes are on Syria, where government forces and their allies, especially Russia, are making profound gains against terrorism, Libya continues to fester.
Whilst the technically disbanded National Salvation Government in Tripoli and the active but greatly ineffective Tobruk based Council of Deputies struggle for influence over the country, many foreign powers have recognised the Tobruk government, not because it resembles a legitimate government, but rather so they can wash their hands of the situation and pretend that Libya has a stable government, when it manifestly does not.
The once unified, prosperous and strong state has become a kind of wild, wild west of the region and indeed of the wider Arab world.
Solutions to the Libyan problem will be difficult. Syria has found success against its terrorist foes because of its strong and historically stable government and has done so with the crucial aid of powerful and committed allies. Iraq’s government, whilst not the most stable in the region, still broadly acts like a government.
Having the same western coalition forces that toppled Gaddafi’s stable government, coming in to fix the mess they created, seems to be the least favourable option, especially given their dubious track record of funding ISIS one day and attempting to fight them (half-heartedly) the next.
Without a sound legal basis – like the one they have in Syria – major players like Russia, Iran and China would likely not enter into the conflict as anything other than international mediators. The question would therefore become, who is there even to mediate with?
A more realistic approach would be for regional North Africa powers to attempt to gather moderate forces in Libya’s only legitimate capital, Tripoli, and establish some sort of provisional government. Much of this burden would likely fall on Egypt and it would be a big task that may have some repercussions for Egypt itself. However, recent statements from President Sisi, declaring his support for President Assad’s fight against terrorism, indicate that Cairo may be willing to take a more active role in the wider fight against Islamic terrorism.
Egypt’s assistance would on the whole, be far more valuable in neighbouring Libya than in Syria. This option whilst still not ideal, would be far more realistic than bringing in an overly-large coalition of countries located far away from Libya. If Egypt led the way, other willing and able partners could then join in.
The situation in Libya remains difficult but all options must be considered so that it doesn’t degenerate into something entirely hopeless.