PARIS: The West spearheaded the campaign to topple Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, but three years later finds itself powerless as deadly clashes between rival militias threaten to tear the country apart, analysts say.
After Gaddafi ‘s death in October 2011 following a war between his loyalists and rebels backed by the Americans, British and French and several Arab countries, the West organized several conferences to rebuild a new Libya and revamp its military.
But Western offers of help fell largely on deaf ears as the Libyans, who won independence from Italian colonial rule in 1951, were determined to preserve their independence and rebuff foreign interference.
And experts say it is the failure to restructure the army and economy in the wake of Gaddafi’s fall that has allowed old conflicts to flare up again.
Fresh fighting between rival militia for control of key installations has claimed scores of lives in the past two weeks, and prompted some Western countries like France to evacuate their citizens from an increasingly lawless Libya.
“I’ve been an advocate of more reconstruction and more engagement since 2011. The West was willing to offer more capacity building and advice, but only if the Libyans asked for it,” said Jason Pack, researcher on Libya at the University of Cambridge and president of libya-analysis.com.
“They didn’t get it, because we didn’t force it on them,” Pack said.
“This [the infighting]is the product of the central government appeasing the militias and caving in to all their demands, such that the militias have all the power and central government is essentially non-existent,” he added.
“The Libyans used to say and still say ‘It’s our country,’ They had this desire to handle it themselves,” said Antoine Vitkine, who has written several books and made documentaries on Libya.
The standard response of post- Gaddafi leaders was: “It’s our business and up to us to sort it out,” added the expert.
Puppet with tribal logic
Deep-rooted cultural and institutional differences also add to the problem, analysts said.
“The notion of statehood has no meaning in Libya,” said Jean-Yves Moisseron from France’s Institute for Research and Development.
He described the present Libya as a “puppet saddled with nascent institutions rooted in tribal logic.”
Tribalism and infighting for the wealth of the country’s vast oil resources—one of the biggest in Africa—has played a large part in the current unrest plaguing Libya.
“The tribal alliances do not accept the resource sharing in its current form,” he said.
“The Libyan crisis has reached a climax, pitting those who control the resources against the Islamists,” Moisseron added.
But he ruled out a Somalia-style scenario with local groups, tribes or militias controlling bits of territory as everyone would have a lot to lose if petrol stopped being drilled.
Former French diplomat Patrick Haimzadeh, who worked in Tripoli, said the country was on the point of disintegrating.
“Nobody knows what will happen in 10 years in Syria, Iraq and Libya, all former colonies which suffered or are suffering authoritarian regimes or whether they will exist,” he added.
Military interventions useless
As conflict and chaos rage in Libya, the question arises as to whether Western military intervention was an error.
“The Americans realized after Afghanistan and Iraq that military interventions resolve nothing,” Haimzadeh said.
But in any case the question was a tough call, say others.
“Should one have let the thousands encircled in Benghazi by Gaddafi’s troops be massacred?” said Vitkine, referring to the situation which triggered the March 2011 intervention.
It was absolutely necessary, said Stefano Silvestri from the Institute of Italian Affairs.
“That should have been done but the lack of follow-up action to stabilize the situation was clearly an error,” he said.