All Governance in Libya Remains Contested
Vijay Prashad discusses the current political crisis in Libya as results from the parliamentary elections are soon to be released
ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore. And welcome to another edition of The Prashad Report.
Now joining us is Vijay Prashad. He’s the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut. His most recent book is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.
Thanks for joining us, Vijay.
VIJAY PRASHAD, EDWARD SAID CHAIR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY BEIRUT: Pleasure. Thank you.
WORONCZUK: So, with parliamentary election results in Libya due to be published on July 20, let’s get an update of what’s going on.
PRASHAD: Well, Libya is in very bad shape right now. There is a political crisis. Yes, it’s true that on June 25 there were parliamentary elections. The result is supposed to be declared by July 20. In this same period, in early June, the highest court in Libya decided that the election of the current prime minister was unconstitutional. So there is no government, as such, in Libya that’s uncontested.
Meanwhile, there are two sets of very dangerous fights or battles going on in Libya that have paralyzed the country. The first set of fights is taking place in eastern Libya in the city of Benghazi, where General Khalifa Hifter, an interesting man who had been a senior Gaddafi-era general, defected from Gaddafi in 1987 in Chad, went to the United States, lived for, you know, I guess almost 20-some years as a neighbor of the Central Intelligence Agency–his house was about ten minutes from the CIA. In 2011, General Hifter returned to Benghazi, tried to take control of the rebellion, was not able to do it at that time, but over the course of the past three years has really built up his own military capability. He’s built a kind of pseudo-militia. It’s in the name of the formal Armed Forces, but it really answers to General Hifter, not to the political or civilian leadership.
So they had been engaging in a very fierce battle against Islamist militias in Benghazi. And the main militia they’re going after is called Ansar al-Sharia, which is the same group that the United States accuses of having attacked a consulate in 2012. There is a vague speculation that General Hifter might be doing the bidding of the Americans. It’s also true that General Hifter is doing something that many Libyans would like to see happen, which is the Islamist militias–or indeed all the militias–get somewhat weakened.
And this brings us to the fight in the other city, which is in Tripoli, the capital, where again the battle is between two militias, you know, in this case, militias rooted in two smaller cities, the cities of Zintan and Misrata. You know, this takes us back again to NATO’s war in Libya. NATO, when it began to pummel the Gaddafi forces from the air, accepted that the rebellion from below need not have a unified military command, which is what General Hifter himself had wanted to produce. But they allowed these urban-based militias, the militia of Zintan, the militia of Misrata, the militias in Benghazi, the militias in /aʒkəˈbiə/, etc. They allowed these urban-based militias to conduct the war in separate command.
So what has happened since the overthrow of Gaddafi is that different parts of Libya have been fragmented under the control of different militias who are being paid by the government as a kind of security force but are not answerable to any civilian democratic authority. The Zintan militia had controlled the area around Tripoli’s main airport and in fact controlled the airport. They have been attacked really ferociously over the last five, six days by a militia–not the militia, because there are a number–a militia from Misrata, which is led by a mercurial man named Mr. Salah Badi.
Salah Badi was an important person in the 2011 uprising, but he’s come under some criticism in the last few years. Last year he led his militia into the parliament and disrupted it and took everybody virtually hostage. Earlier this year, as part of a political deal, he was to become the head of military intelligence in Libya–a very curious arrangement, a curious decision, to make this man, who suffers, I think, quite badly from posttraumatic stress, to make him head of intelligence. At any rate, that went down with a lot of protest, and it couldn’t happen. So Mr. Salah Badi has now taken his militia to take on the Zintan people at Tripoli airport, and has therefore paralyzed Libya, because all airports seem to now be closed down.
Benghazi is in the middle of a terrible firefight. It’s been going on for some months. And Tripoli now is in a catatonic state, transfixed by this fight between the militias of Zintan and Misrata. Whatever the election result on July 20, the political fight may not be about who goes to Parliament. The political fight has been conducted with a lot of guns.
WORONCZUK: So, Vijay, can you talk about the role that the General National Congress, which currently rules the Libyan parliament, has played in generating the current political crisis?
PRASHAD: Well, the GNC, the main, let’s say, parliamentary body, has been unable to create a political hegemony or political legitimacy for itself. You know, it’s not really been able to push through the kind of constitutional process that we saw in Tunisia, where all the different factions were able to come together and to create a political process to create, to write a new Constitution.
In Libya, unfortunately, the groups that thought of themselves as having political power, that is to say, the people who were part of the first political leadership anointed by NATO and then the probe Muslim Brotherhood groups, they felt there was no need to have a general political process, bring in all kinds of people, and try to write a new constitution. They tried to force the politics through what they saw as their power. And that left a lot of people outside the equation and delegitimized the parliament to such an extent that the parliament’s chosen prime minister cannot take his position. The highest judiciary has nullified his election inside Parliament. Parliament itself has overstayed its welcome. And this election that was held on 25 June was held in the context of a terrible amount of violence, both in eastern Libya and in Western Libya. So it’s very unlikely that the new parliament that will come after July 20 will be able to exercise political legitimacy unless it starts the process to bring in people, all kinds of people, including Gaddafi-era people, into a conversation about a future Libya.
WORONCZUK: So, Vijay, why was the current parliament paying salaries to members of the militias from Zintani and Misrata if they effectively have no control over them?
PRASHAD: Well, some of this has to go back to the way in which the war against Gaddafi was prosecuted. I mean, because there was no attempt to create a unified political command over the various fighting forces, these fighting forces created for themselves a kind of legendary stature. So Zintan, Misrata, etc., became the great revolutionaries and were very jealous of the power and prestige that they had right after the collapse of the Gaddafi-era government. And they refused to, in a sense, you know, dissolve themselves into any kind of national military or political process. And because of this immense prestige that they produced for themselves, they insisted that they should remain in the interim period as the security forces, and therefore they were paid.
I mean, this actually speaks directly to the issue of Parliament unable to create a political process and political legitimacy for itself. It itself began to rely on these militias. You know, sections of Parliament, factions of Parliament relied on their own militia to, you know, exercise power. And that’s precisely why Mr. Salah Badi last year brought his gunmen into Parliament to exercise force. It’s also why a previous prime minister had to flee the country in the middle of the night for Germany. He [incompr.] for his life, because the militia that was to protect him was unable to do its job.
It’s a very difficult situation with this kind of disparate or fractured nature of the gun violence in Libya. It’s exacerbated by two new forces. One, the pushing out of al-Qaeda of the Maghreb from Mali has brought a number of al-Qaeda type fighters into southern Libya. And the move out of Syria and Iraq of some Libyan fighters who had gone there, returning back to Libya, this is going to actually put the pot further to boil in a country already at a very high boil.
WORONCZUK: Okay. Vijay Prashad, thank you so much for that update.
PRASHAD: Thank you.
WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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