OE Watch Commentary: The viability of Libya’s post-Qaddafi arrangement is coming under increasing pressure. The most recent warning began in the oasis town of Sebha (Sabha), when a dispute between the Tibu (an ethno-linguistic group found in the Sahel regions of Libya, Chad and Niger) and the Awlad Suleiman, a local Arab tribe, quickly morphed into broader and heavier clashes. According to media reports, the fighting pitted local Tibu, Chadian mercenaries and Qaddafi loyalists on the one hand against Libyan military forces and allied local tribes on the other. When the rebels briefly occupied the nearby Tamenhant Airbase, Libya’s transition parliament (the General National Congress, the body that is Libya’s closest thing to a central government) sprang into action, declaring a national state of alert to counter what it described as a push by Qaddafi loyalists to undermine the state. The state of alert led to the mobilization of various pro-government “rebel” militias, purportedly under army command. In the case of Sebha, fighters from one of Libya’s most powerful militias (from Misrata) and others deployed south to support the beleaguered Libyan Army’s 6th Brigade and 322nd Border Guard Battalion. Backed by airpower, the government-allied forces forced the rebels to retreat. As the first accompanying article notes, though, instability is likely to remain in the south.
Several other parts of Libya were swept up by the state of alert. Most problematic was the heavy fighting that broke out in areas inhabited by members of the Warshefana tribe (south and west of Tripoli), one of Libya’s largest. The second accompanying article explains how it all started. According to Warshefana leaders, a small public demonstration of sympathy for the Qaddafi regime in their territory was quickly brought under control from within the community. The following day militias from the outskirts of Tripoli (Janzour and Suq al-Jumaa) entered Warshefana territory, guns blazing. They were later joined by other militias, as the third accompanying article notes. Pro-government sources argue that security forces entered Warshefana territory to detain a group of wanted men in the context of the national alert and were greeted with gunfire. Regardless, the clashes raise serious questions about who from the Libyan military, if anyone, was commanding the pro-government rebels.
Events in the second half of January thus exacerbated intercommunal resentments and further eroded popular support for the government. The need to rein in the militias is as pressing as ever, only the government is in disarray and unable to do anything of the sort. The General National Congress recently extended its constitutional mandate until December 2014, after it was set to expire on 7 February. Discontent and uncertainty are such that on 14 February Major General Khalifa al-Haftar, the former chief of staff of the post-Qaddafi Libyan army, attempted to carry out a coup. Appearing in uniform in a video uploaded to YouTube, the retired general vaguely explained that the General National Congress’s work would be suspended, while intimating that the military would take over the affairs of the state. Several of Libya’s ministers quickly dismissed the whole affair as ridiculous, and most analysts wondered what state and what military al-Haftar was referring to, as the fourth accompanying article notes. End OE Watch Commentary (Winter)
Source: “Al-Quds al-Arabi Uncovers the Facts about the Mobilization of Qaddafi Regime Sympathizers in Libya,” 23 January 2014, al-Quds al-Arabi. http://www.alquds.co.uk/?p=126576
[The Tibu] controlled many areas as a result of support from the Libyan state and of being encouraged to defect from Qaddafi in exchange for material benefits, power and positions… the Tibu felt that the state had deceived them and broken its promises, leading them to revolt in several areas and join supporters of the former regime… Many people in the south did not join the banner of the revolution but were forced to accept its reality and live with it.
Source: “Qaddafi’s Supporters Return as Zeidan Mobilizes Misrata’s Rebels,” 18 January 2014, Middle East Online. http://www.middle-east-online.com/?id=169623
Rumors appeared on social media sites about pro-Qaddafi marches occurring in places west of Tripoli, especially Warshefana and al-‘Ajilat. Some pictures emerged on Facebook without having their accuracy confirmed; these rumors were also stoked by pro-Qaddafi channels broadcast from outside of Libya. Ali Zeidan warned against spreading these rumors, which were according to him aimed at creating a crisis in the country.
Source: “Skirmishes with ‘Regime Remnants’ South of Tripoli and Reinforcements from Misrata to Control Sebha,” 21 January 2014, al-Hayat. http://alhayat.com/Details/595045
In the meantime, rebels from parts of Tripoli and its suburbs, as well as from Nalut, Yafran and al-Qalaa (al-Jabal al-Gharbi) joined units from the Libyan Army in a massive operation to clear the area of Warshefana south of the Libyan capital of “gunmen loyal to the former regime who were robbing, setting up checkpoints on the roads and killing and kidnapping”… A group of Warshefana tribes issued a statement condemning the security operation in their areas without consulting local leaders. The statement condemned the reliance on forces from other places, further exacerbating the regional divisions in the country…The statement accuses “the General National Congress of participating in a conspiracy to extend its existence and remain in power” by exacerbating fears of security gaps and linking them to supporters of the former regime…
Source: “Coup in Libya… Against Whom?” 14 February 2014, Rai al-Youm. http://www.raialyoum.com/?p=52821
Several puzzling questions are raised by the two contradictions regarding the announcement of a failed coup attempt by Maj. Gen. Khalifa Haftar, former head of the Libyan ground forces. First: There is no state in Libya to be seized via coup; even if there were such a thing, there is no army in the true sense of the word that might carry out such an endeavor, given that the militias are stronger than the fragile army…