Tag Archives: Libya

Your Move, Zeidan.

(For background, see my February 3 article for Foreign Policy, “Federalism and Libya’s Oil“.)

The big news out of Libya this morning is that Ibrahim Jadran–the renegade federalist and mastermind behind the country’s 8-month old oil crisis–has found a buyer. A North Korean tanker was reported to have entered the Gulf of Sidra on March 4. Jadran’s men control three terminals in the Gulf: Es-Sider, Ras Lanuf and Zuietina, with a combined export capacity of 600,000 b/d. The tanker approached Es-Sider earlier this week but docked this morning. It is highly unusual for North Korean tankers to enter the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal. The deal certainly proves Jadran is desperate to sell oil; no reputable company will do business with him.

A spokesman for the group told Reuters, “We started exporting oil. This is our first shipment.” Now it’s up to the besieged and broken government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, to act fast and make sure that ship never reaches its destination. Zeidan may be distracted by yet another no-confidence vote scheduled for tomorrow. He’s overcome previous attempts to remove him from office but dissatisfaction with him as at an all-time high. However risky, Jadran has given Zeidan the perfect opportunity to show the kind of leadership Libyans so desperately need right now.

Zeidan should start with the following:

1) Mobilize Libya’s modest navy. By world standards, Libya’s navy is nothing special. But on two previous occasions, forces loyal to the central government have mobilized small fleets carrying men with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Warning shots were good enough to turn away tankers last August and again in January. In those cases, the tankers were driven away while empty. Now, however, with the tanker loaded and presumably trying to exit the Gulf of Sidra soon, it may be wiser to keep the tanker bottled up near the port.

2) Zeidan needs to work the phones starting with Egypt. This is absolutely essential. The North Korean tanker entered through the Suez Canal and it will take the same route back. Zeidan could demand that the ship be denied access because it is carrying a stolen cargo. The Egyptians might even be convinced to let the ship enter and then have it redirected to a port before it can exit the 120-mile waterway.

Libyan-Egyptian relations have seen a rough patch lately due to border insecurity and the targeting of Egyptian citizens within Libya. But, by every indication, Zeidan’s relationship with Egyptian authorities is still in good shape. Egypt saw it’s first post-Morsi government quit early this month. That shouldn’t prevent Zeidan from appealing to decision-makers, like Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, or managers at the Suez Canal Authority who are ready to deny illicit shipments.

One NOC official told Reuters that the 250,000 barrel tanker is owned by a Saudi company, presumably a privately-owned one. If so, Zeidan can call on Riyadh to intervene, withdrawing whatever insurance the ship has or preventing any payment for Suez tolls.

3) Contact European allies and the U.S. to intercept the vessel if all else fails and direct it to a friendly port, perhaps in Europe. Libya’s navy is simply not equipped to pursue this North Korean tanker. If it escapes the Gulf of Sidra, a more sophisticated force will have to intervene. For all of Zeidan’s failures, he is well-respected by his international peers; he just met with foreign ministers from the EU, U.S. and Gulf Arab states in Rome on March 6 for the Friends of Libya conference. All have proclaimed their willingness to help however they can. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, has repeatedly warned separatist groups not to sell oil outside of official channels. She had this to say on Twitter when news of Jadran’s heist broke today:

Safira Deborah Tweet 3-8-2014

safiradeborah tweet 2

The loading of a tanker in Libya’s east is a game-changer. But Jadran hasn’t won yet. In fact, this could backfire badly, hurting his brand even more. No one knows where the ship will go after loading oil. But if it’s destined for North Korea, Jadran will have to face the fact that he’s doing business with a regime that is in many ways reminiscent of Qaddafi’s brutal, arbitrary rule. Jadran’s revolutionary credentials may be compromised as a result.

What’s more, Jadran has not once hinted at what he’ll spend the money on if he’s successful in selling oil for tens of millions of dollars. Roads? Highways? Hospitals? Schools? We just don’t know. What we do know is Jadran’s men haven’t been paid in six months or more. It’s not too cynical to assume that paying his small army with oil revenues is his first priority. How might that shape public opinion going forward? Can you be a man of the people after taking your cut off the top? Countless Arab leaders have done that for decades. But Libyans won’t stand for it–not after forty years under Qaddafi.

This stunt confirms how desperate Jadran has become. It also provides Prime Minister Zeidan a chance to shine.


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One graph says a lot–my article says the rest

The Atlantic Council just published my newest article on the strikes that are crippling Libya’s oil industry, titled “No End in Sight for Libya’s Oil Drama.” How bad is it?


The Atlantic Council has produced some of the best research and analysis on Libya this year–and I’m thrilled to contribute to their MENA Source blog. I highly recommend recent reports on Libya’s General National Congress and economic prospects. Yesterday, the Council hosted an event, Libya’s Transition and the Future of US-Libyan Relations, that is now available on video and worth watching.

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Libyan Oil Held Hostage By Politics

In 2011, when Libya’s rebellion raged and Qaddafi was on the run, the conflict completely shut down the country’s oil production. State oil companies halted work, international oil companies fled, and production of 1.6 million b/d was suspended. While some facilities were damaged, the industry was largely spared. It bounced back with miraculous speed in 2012. By the end of last year production had returned to 1.5 million b/d.

Now, however, Libyan oil—the beating heart of the economy—may be more vulnerable than it was during the civil war. In recent months it has become a hostage to politics and public grievances. Demonstrations and protests have shut down refineries and ports for days; labor strikes have closed some facilities; and militias have threatened other terminals in protest of Tripoli’s hold on power.

The steady rise in the frequency of these incidents forced Prime Minister Ali Zeidan to respond harshly this week. On January 9, he told AFP, “We will be compelled to use force to protect the state… Oil is our only source of revenue.” With urgency he added, “We cannot be patient when violence results in the disruption of oil supplies and the loss of life.” The prime minister’s comments followed the closure of Zueitina in late December. The oil terminal and port exported 60,000-70,000 b/d before being forced offline by protesters two weeks ago. (Over that period, the European benchmark oil price stood at $111, meaning losses at Zueitina have probably eclipsed the $100 million mark.)

Whether or not the central government can act decisively—to address grievances or break up protests—is an open question. Judging by most reports, though, it seems that the scale of demonstrations should be manageable. For the government, the sudden uptick in protests is a major test of both its power and prudence. Can it secure its most vital industry without shedding blood? And can it calm the nerves of foreign investors and oil companies?

Activists have taken to sit-ins on major roads. Some prevent staff from entering facilities. In April, state-run AGOCO (Arabian Gulf Oil Company) closed its offices for two weeks and cut oil production by 100,000 b/d. Each protest is different but certain complaints have become more common. Chief among these are jobs and wages. Many believe it is their right to a higher standard of living and that the state-owned oil companies should be more generous. This demand would have been unthinkable under the old regime. Last year, activists also demanded that the government be more transparent and address youth unemployment.

Another group of protesters has made headlines repeatedly. Composed of hundreds of veterans demanding compensation and medical care abroad, they closed down the Zawiya Refinery at least once in November (capacity: 120,000 b/d). Protests at other facilities that feed Zawiya prompted a group of Libyan oil officials—including the oil minister—to visit the site in mid-December as the situation grew worse. Production was eventually suspended.

Perhaps most worrisome of all was an episode in July that, to my knowledge, we have not seen a repeat of. On July 6, gunmen forced two oil terminals offline ahead of Libya’s first free election. Their complaint: Libya’s eastern province—so long neglected by Qaddafi—was not granted enough seats in the new National Congress, to be elected the next day. The men arrived in pick-up trucks with anti-aircraft cannons and demanded that crews shut down operations. With that, Ras Lanuf was closed for days and exports were temporarily slashed in half (at mid-2012 levels).

Since then, other offices in the east have been targeted by citizens who fear Qaddafi’s favoritism of western Libya will only continue under the new government. The National Oil Company may ultimately split its offices and personnel so that Tripoli (in the west) controls oil exploration and production while Benghazi (in the east) manages the refining and petrochemical industries. There’s no telling if the move could really soak up venom and mistrust, however.

Any discussion of this topic would be incomplete without measuring the impact. If we judge by export volumes, so far, these disruptions haven’t added up to much, probably because they only last a few days each and affect anywhere from tens of thousands to just over a hundred thousand barrels on a given day. In the fourth quarter of 2012, when protests grew more frequent, oil production climbed to 1.5 million b/d and remained steady through December.

Estimates by oil ministry officials suggest losses can be calculated in millions or tens of millions of dollars. As noted above, the real costs are now approaching 9-figures. With its ample funds, however, Libya’s government still has some breathing room. Domestic consumers are feeling the brunt of these losses: refinery shutdowns inspired petrol station rushes and shortages in major cities supplied by those facilities. Real dangers still linger and there remains the threat of escalation, deterioration of public opinion, and the challenge posed to a fragile government.

Regarding escalation, we should keep in mind that militias have not systematically targeted the country’s most vital industry—yet. But it remains vulnerable and the situation could change overnight. Public perception is also essential. Libya’s government is representative but weak. An overly aggressive response to protesters, including veterans, would be counterproductive for leaders seeking a mandate. Right now, Libya plans to expand oil production with the help of international companies. Repeated closures may force these companies to think twice about their commitment.

One hopes force is not the solution, although Prime Minister Zeidan’s frustration it totally understandable. Instead, the state should persuade while projecting force, although it should be careful not to use it. Additional security is clearly needed at these facilities. Authorities announced this week that the army will be deployed to protect critical infrastructure. At the same time, the government has moved to negotiate with protesters. It must do so in a discreet way so that other groups do not rely on the same tactics and target the oil industry anew.

Maintaining a sustained dialogue with the east should be the highest priority because this division defines the country’s post-revolutionary politics. Healing the divide will take a generation or more, but splitting up the National Oil Company may be worthwhile. It will not be sufficient though. Leaders might also want to consider substantive and symbolic moves that elevate the east’s concerns. Calling an emergency committee to address underdevelopment in the east is a start. Perhaps a special budgetary supplement is in order.

Libya’s oil industry will only be secure if authorities tackle today’s complaints and Qaddafi’s legacy.

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Leadership in Cairo, Tripoli and Washington

Two weeks later we’re still experiencing the fallout from attacks on U.S. embassies around the world. In Egypt, hundreds assaulted the embassy in Cairo. No Americans were hurt but the sight alone was enough to shock Americans and harm Egypt’s fragile image as a new and trustworthy democracy. The net effect was worse in Libya, where the U.S. ambassador and three others were killed in a sophisticated attack. Unfortunately, Libya disappeared from the U.S. news cycle following last year’s NATO intervention, and many wrongly concluded that authorities had refused to protect Americans, when they were simply incapable.

At home, President Obama was attacked for not projecting enough strength in the region, which would have supposedly deterred aggression. Outrage inevitably led to calls for the severing of foreign aid. Late yesterday, $450 million in non-military aid to Egypt was indefinitely halted by a House subcommittee.  It may ultimately be disbursed but not until Congress reconvenes in November.

With this post I want to focus on why leaders in Egypt and Libya deserve a second chance and how the U.S. can help both countries address their toughest challenges.

Mohammed Mursi is Egypt’s first democratically elected president. His response to the protests was miserably inadequate. Indeed, he did not respond until more than 24 hours later, and even then his comments were tepid. On September 13, two days after the embassy attack, Obama told the press that Egypt was neither an ally or an enemy, but rather a country finding its way. While some insist Obama’s comments were made in error, since every administration since the 1970s has considered Egypt an “ally,” I think his remarks could have been designed to force a serious response from Egypt’s new president. Mursi condemned the attacks later that day.

Mursi’s delay is inexcusable but there is reason to believe he is a credible partner moving forward. Egypt’s primary concern right now is the economy and recent developments show he and his cabinet are serious about fixing it, even if the hard work hasn’t begun yet. Mursi’s election in June injected some confidence into the country’s stock index (the EGX30). Since he took office, it’s climbed more than 50 percent—from a low of 4,000 points to around 6,000 now. His government is currently working on an economic plan. It should be unveiled in the next few weeks and is expected to include subsidy reforms, which is a good sign. (Today, nearly half of Egypt’s budget is dedicated to servicing debt and covering subsidy costs.)

Also on track is a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which will be finalized before the end of 2012. Even Egypt’s Salafi party, which rejects interest as un-Islamic and could derail a deal if it reaches parliament, is now on record saying they will accept the IMF loan out of desperation. According to Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, the terms are quite good. At the same time, Mursi has methodically reached out to Gulf Arab nations like Saudi Arabia for aid, in spite of Riyadh’s long-held suspicions about Mursi’s affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. Along with Qatar, the Saudis have deposited hundreds of millions of dollars into Egyptian banks; billion-dollar aid projects are now underway.

Mursi’s seriousness on economic matters is encouraging. And as IMF chief Christine Lagarde said last month in Cairo, “We have perfectly competent authorities to negotiate with.” The Obama administration is inclined to agree. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed that aid would be forthcoming, although it was held up on Friday. Going forward, the White House will have to work closer with Congress in order to ensure the smooth transfer of aid. And instead of expanding bilateral aid, the U.S. can forgive debt, encourage foreign investment, and back IMF and World Bank initiatives. It could also re-prioritize its annual $1.5 billion aid package in a way that benefits the people more than the military. Mursi’s silence is not part of a trend yet and so it seems premature to cut assistance to a government that might eventually set the agenda for the Arab world.

Libya is different. Although the economy is stunted, Tripoli doesn’t need aid: it needs more hands-on assistance instead. The government already has access to over $100 billion in frozen Qaddafi-era assets and a nationalized oil industry that is pumping at pre-war levels of 1.5 million b/d. In today’s prices, that’s more than $5 billion in revenues every month. This explain why the U.S. has given Libya only about $200 million since the revolution started and why in fiscal year 2013 Libya will receive a tiny sum of $1.5 million–with an M, not a B. (Aid in 2011-2012 was mostly spent on urgent humanitarian relief and safeguarding WMD materials.)

Security is Libya’s number one priority; the oil industry can power Libya’s economic recovery in the meantime and frozen assets can be spent on ambitious recovery projects. After the civil war, many of Libya’s powerful militias dug in rather than dissolved. This was only natural since the country’s new order was completely up for grabs following Qaddafi’s demise. Cities have developed violent rivalries, extremists remain active, and militias refuse to disarm. Libya’s new government recognizes the danger but remains handicapped by the problem’s immense scope. “Security is a top priority for the next three to six months and 70 percent of our efforts are dedicated to stabilizing Libya,” Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur said on September 20.

Unlike Egyptian officials, Libya’s leadership responded quickly to the attacks. Their statements echoed widespread pro-American sentiment in the country. On social media, average Libyans called the ambassador a “martyr,” and in the streets, others carried signs that read, “We demand justice for Stevens,” and “Thugs and killers don’t represent Benghazi or Islam.” One week after the consulate attack, thousands of pro-government demonstrators marched on militia strongholds in the country’s east, forcing out some factions. The government is trying to capitalize on public outrage, demanding that militias disband or submit to Tripoli’s authority. This won’t be easy but Tripoli has the funds and public support to start the process. The U.S. can accelerate these efforts with training programs and military exchanges that aim to professionalize the Libyan army and instill a sense of national purpose.

Credible partners should not be cast aside so quickly, when one spoke up too late, and another is a victim of its own chronic instability. The best way forward, in my opinion, is to prioritize programs that improve the lives of average citizens. In Egypt, this means creating new business opportunities, approving loans, and forgiving debt; in Libya, security is paramount, and the U.S. should lead an effort to train Libya’s security forces in coordination with other NATO partners. In doing so, Washington can establish more durable bonds that cannot be held hostage by extremists in the future.

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“A New Beginning” Under Siege

The destructive potential of this week’s unrest in the Middle East is hard to overstate. The U.S. has already lost a star diplomat and three other Americans, while protests in Cairo continue boiling after four days, and more than a dozen other embassies face demonstrations that could turn violent. The immediate safety of American diplomats and staffers is paramount. But the long-term effects could harm U.S. relations with this part of the world for a generation.

If the situation deteriorates further, and more Americans are killed, it will be increasingly difficult for Washington to support democracy where extremists are empowered and unchecked.  Obama’s 2009 promise of “A New Beginning” with the Muslim world, which he delivered in Cairo, is now under siege–a hostage to extremists attacking embassies and American public opinion.

I hope that this fever breaks and I wished it had broken sooner. It’s too simple to suggest that what we’re seeing is a natural reaction to an inflammatory film, however, the production value of which is being called “sub-pornographic.” These demonstrations are also a product of domestic politics in these countries and a consequence of weak states that remain unable to satisfy even their most basic international obligations (like protecting embassies). As I write this, wire services report that more embassies are being attacked and the American flag is being replaced with the black banner of the prophet. See Foreign Policy‘s liveblog also.

Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies neatly summed up this week’s mess on Twitter earlier today: “Convergence of values btw West and Arab world over democracy/governance is turning into divergence of values over blasphemy/freedom of exp[ression],” he said. I’d like to start by illustrating the scope and severity of these protests with a stunning map provided by the Atlantic (zoom out to get the full effect). What follows is my required reading list.

The U.S.-Egypt Relationship Needs Therapy, Not a Divorce,” Nathan J. Brown (The New Republic). This article is particularly useful because it focuses on the domestic angle in Egypt and how the new government responded to the challenge at home but failed to address Washington’s anxiety:

Egypt’s leader (and the Brotherhood movement that nurtured him) reacted in a very shrewd and agile manner to events—as if all that mattered was Egyptian public opinion. President Muhammad Morsi himself held his tongue for over a day. The only visible action he took was to direct the Egyptian embassy in Washington to take legal action against those who made the film that sparked the protests. He spoke out against the attack only when his silence had deafened many overseas, and still coupled that statement with an insistence that insulting the prophet of Islam was a red line.

“‘Our Condolences,’ the Muslim Brotherhood Says,” Khairat el-Shater, Deputy President of the Muslim Brotherhood (Letter to the Editor in the New York Times). The Brotherhood’s double-speak and President Muhammad Mursi’s silence betray a stunning lack of empathy or even intuition when it comes to foreign relations. I for one am stunned that Mursi’s response took so long, since he’s been touring the world this month and last, trying to affirm his status as a statesman. I understand his high-wire act: as a conservative politician belonging to a religious party, he must defend his constituents and their Muslim sensibilities—but a simple expression of regret and a stern promise to protect the embassy should have come much, much sooner. That much is common sense.

Desperate Salafi attack in a weak Libya,” Fred Wehrey (Financial Times). I disagree with Wehrey, who suggests that Salafi attacks a sign of weakness. But his reading of the situation is very helpful. Wehrey might be right—Salafis might feel desperate—but given the violent proclivities of such groups, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Salafi militants attack U.S. interests even if they were successful at the polls back in July (they got trounced by moderates, technocrats, and local personalities). Violence is an essential component of their program; I doubt it would be shelved if Libyans gave them a popular mandate.

The Wrath of Libya’s Salafis,” also by Fred Wehrey (Sada). Wehrey is especially good at getting down into the nuts and bolts of Libya’s domestic politics and competing factions—both violent and peaceful. This is a much more involved analysis but absolutely essential for understanding Libya’s problems and it’s trajectory as a state recovering from civil war. I can’t recommend it enough.

The proper U.S. response to Cairo attack,” Robert Kagan (Washington Post). Kagan believes the U.S. has a lot more to lose if it simply abandons emerging democracies in the Middle East. He writes:

Some conservatives are starting to make a glib comparison between the evolution of Egypt today and the Iranian revolution of 1979. This is a faulty analysis. Egypt is not declaring jihad on the West, and Morsi is not Ayatollah Khomeini. We need to avoid an undiscriminating Islamophobia and distinguish between those who want to kill Americans and those who may dislike the West but are primarily interested in rebuilding their societies after decades of dictatorship.

The Muslim Protests: Two Myths Down, Three to Go,” Robert Wright (The Atlantic). Wright offers a short but sweet reality check, which corrects the early narrative surrounding both the controversial film’s history and the inspiration for protests. Wright also points out that the film serves as a pretext for protests but is not the sole trigger for unrest.

Moments of Truth in Libya and Egypt,” Marc Lynch (Abu Aardvark). Lynch’s gut reaction to Wednesday’s news still holds. He argued then that the key indicator for countries like Libya and Egypt would be the popular response to protests—not the controversial film that motivated some to attack the U.S. embassy. Lynch writes:

[The] response to the eruption by empowered publics, elected leaders and influential voices across political society — including, especially, Islamists — really does matter. Authoritarian regimes in the past frequently allowed, or even encouraged, such violent eruptions over these issues. Islamist movements in perennial opposition leaped at the chance to score political points while taking no responsibility for what followed. Today will be a pivotal moment in the urgent debates about how such movements will respond to political power and a stake in the political system. Libya’s leaders thus far look to be passing that test. Egypt’s do not… Morsi and the Brotherhood do not seem to understand, or perhaps they simply do not care, how important their public stance is today in defining their image [both at home and abroad].”

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Libyan Election Countdown

Libya’s first elections are set for July 7. The Carnegie Endowment’s Frederic Wehrey posted what I think is the best assessment so far. Normally, I would take more time to frame an article like this–but it’s so good you should just  read it all by clicking HERE. Included is a very useful overview of the major parties now competing to govern a country with great potential and serious problems. Here are some quotes to get you started:

Campaigning is already under way for what is an ambitious foray into the world of nationwide elections. Out of 3,707 vetted candidates, Libyans will elect a 200-member General National Congress (GNC) that will replace the NTC. In its first session, the GNC will elect its president and will have to appoint a prime minister within 30 days. It will then have to form a body to draft a constitution, present the draft in 120 days, and hold a referendum on the constitution.


Much of the concern stems from the strident pronouncements of the Cyrenaica Transitional Council, a Benghazi-based entity that announced its existence on March 6 with calls for eastern autonomy and, later, a general election boycott. Unsurprisingly, the council’s supporters hail from notable families in the east who enjoyed prominence under the Senussi monarchy, before Qaddafi shifted power and resources to the west. Its leader is Ahmed Zubayr Senussi, a member of the NTC and the great nephew of King Idris Senussi, who ruled Libya when it became an independent state.

Yet, these calls for autonomy are by no means mainstream or widespread. In March, when the Cyrenaica council was mounting pro-autonomy demonstrations, there were simultaneous counterdemonstrations in both the east and Tripoli, with placards reading “No to Fitna [Chaos], No to Secession, Yes to National Unity.” The majority of Libyan parties are operating within the framework of a unified, centrally governed state.


The possibility of domestic unrest disrupting elections also looms large for some. In recent weeks, Libya has witnessed tribal confrontations in the west, ethnic clashes on the southern periphery, and Islamist agitation in the east. In many respects, the fighting represents a series of micro-conflicts—the last convulsions of the revolution, a settling of scores, and, in many cases, a purging of the remnants of the ancien régime. Most of the fighting has been between towns, tribes, or prominent personalities who enjoyed favoritism under Qaddafi or defected early in the revolution on the one side and revolutionaries who have few ties to the old order on the other. It has little to do with tensions surrounding the upcoming vote.


Libya’s Islamist parties, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the world, are relatively new to politics and, from their initial campaigning, appear inclined toward pragmatism and consensus building. The country’s tribal, ethnic, and regional divides are not as stark as those in Iraq, Syria, or Yemen. By any measure, then, the election process has been a remarkable achievement in a country devoid of participatory politics for nearly half a century.

PS. I’ll be on vacation next week and off the grid.

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A Balanced View of Libya

I’m optimistic about Libya’s future. But it’s always wise to take a step back and reconsider those factors that hold a country back.

The Washington Post published a glowing editorial yesterday about Libya.  The authors admit the country is “awash in militias and weapons” but emphasize the oil sector’s recovery, local elections in major cities, and preparations for this summer’s elections. Those elections, which were originally scheduled for this month, are now delayed, the Washington Post claims. According to the editorial, the delay is due to technical reasons. It is not a result of increased militia activity or ethnic strife–even though recent headlines have been full of both. (I couldn’t find any official statement on the elections. Can someone help me out?)

“[S]enior officials are now saying they won’t complete the process of vetting candidates and printing ballots by then [i.e. the originally scheduled election day–June 19]. Mustafa Abushagur, a deputy prime minister visiting Washington this week, said the vote would be delayed by at least a few days but added that it would be held before the beginning of the Ramadan holiday in late July.” The Post‘s editors referred to this delay as the “greatest danger” facing Libya, because the country desperately needs a government with a mandate (see again my April post on the NTC’s lack of “political will”).

I’ve got two articles on Libya to share. Both are by Nicolas Pelham, who dissects overlapping conflicts in the south that threaten Libya’s integrity, any future government’s authority, and African stability more generally. The first article (see “Is Libya Cracking Up?“) captures just how hard it will be to centralize authority in the coming years. Pelham writes:

While separately none of the communal battles alone poses an immediate threat to Libya’s unity, the border skirmishes risk stirring broader upheavals that could pick apart Libya and its neighbors. Riqdaleen sees itself as a potential bridgehead for tens of thousands of Qaddafi supporters who have sought refuge in Tunisia and may return. Kufra’s feuding parties are attracting supporters from opposite ends of the Sahara, from the Mediterranean to the northern scrub land of Chad. Arab militiamen in Benghazi see a cause and an opportunity to fly the Prophet Muhammad’s black flag of jihad; the Toubou in Chad are anxious to repel an Arab attack on their fellow tribesmen. As the contents of Qaddafi’s armories spread across the region, gun markets are sprouting across middle-class Tunisia and fueling the low-level insurgency that Sinai’s Bedouin are waging against their Egyptian overseers. Equipped with their extensive bullion, Qaddafi’s surviving children—his son Saadi in Niamey, Niger, and daughter Aisha, in Algiers—stir up their old followers. Libya’s turmoil is acquiring continental significance.

On Benghazi’s condition:

Nowhere are the militias stronger than in Benghazi, the eastern city where Libya’s “rebelution” began. After a year of paralysis, the goodwill that still keeps the wheels of central authority turning in Tripoli has evaporated here. The courthouse, beneath which tens of thousands gathered to hail the new rulers in the first days of the uprising, is boarded up. Its leaders have long since left for the plusher world of Tripoli, lured by free accommodation in the marble decadence of the city’s Rixos Hotel. Left behind, Benghazi languishes, as before the revolution, in a perpetual ghayla—the siesta that Libyans take between the midday and late afternoon prayers. The dirt and dust of abandonment coat the city along with smoke from a thousand burning refuse piles. “At least there was a system before,” I was told by a middle-aged soccer fan, whose al-Ahli team shut down after its chairman fled to Egypt with the company’s proceeds. “Now there is nothing.”

And the resentment it breeds:

With the collapse of central authority, militias rule in and around Benghazi. The day I arrived there hundreds of militia members had converged on the city for a congress aimed at unifying their ranks and reclaiming what they see as their rightful inheritance from the NTC and whatever elected authority might follow. “Benghazi paid the price, and Tripoli takes the profits,” declared the organizer, as he spoke from the podium after the militiamen had feasted beneath a golden canopy, regaling each other with past exploits.

The second article, titled “Libya’s Restive Revolutionaries” covers similar territory. In this article, however, Pelham explores the gap between Libya’s politicians and the revolutionaries who made their ascent possible. Pelham, like the Washington Post‘s editors, argues that a new constitution and national elections are essential. “As critical to filling the security, economic and judicial vacuum is the realization of the constitutional agenda,” he writes. “If central authority is to take root and Libya transit from revolution to reconstruction, it will need a government with sufficient legitimacy to withstand the centrifugal forces of the militias. An elected government will enjoy a popular mandate to overhaul Qaddafi’s inheritance that the NTC has largely shunned for over a year.”

Time will tell if the revolutionaries are capable of making the transition from the streets to the halls of power. But they may also be satisfied–or pacified–another way. A constitution is a good start. But we should remember that even a great document cannot change the hearts of men. Libya’s democratic project must be matched with an equally ambitious public spending effort. The goal should be to share Libya’s wealth, improve services everywhere, and incentivize social stability so that no province or group wishes to upset the post-revolutionary order and forfeit its share. Elections are needed just as much as the constitution. I’ve argued that before on this blog. But the speed at which Libya’s new rulers build a welfare state may prove just as important.

Pelham’s articles throw some cold water on Libya’s immediate future. But he ends the second article with a dash of optimism. “For all the hand wringing and post-civil war bloodletting,” he writes, “Libya might just pull through.”

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