Small Wars Journal

Libya’s Rivalries, Risks & COVID-19 - Part One

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 12:45am

Libya’s Rivalries, Risks & COVID-19 - Part One

Allyson Christy


Division has long been assigned to unrest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)—repeatedly analyzed by officials, academics, and journalists—many who reside beyond its national boundaries. Highlighting Islamic divergences and sectarian identities is unarguably linked to regional strife, and yet nearly two decades after the 9/11 Attacks, analysts are still trying to make sense of tensions that have led to insurgencies, promises of spring, civil collapse, and the rise of non-state and proxy actors. And in the wider scope of anti-Western sentiment, attempts at rationalizing these factors have often led to politicizing geo-political and economic implications for the audiences back home, with variations of could, would, and should-be analyses. Libya is no different—largely Sunni, ethnic and religious minorities were marginalized within a dominant Arab- Muslim-nation-state identity during the Gadaffi years. Sunni and Shia rivalry is but one regional-wide consideration despite Iranian encroachment and its use of proxies, but how much attention is given to internal imbalances eroding the possibilities for state-building?

The MENA region is consistent with decades of cause and effect discord long before 9/11 and the War on Terror. Libya’s problems are not unfamiliar. Conflicts are culturally rooted to local and tribal allegiances, and likewise they are accompanied with corruption, nepotism, and even greater opportunity for predation. However, demographics include marginalized ethnic groups as well as Arabs. Provincial inequities are not only linked to social, political, and economic impairments, but state infrastructures are hampered by what is in reality, normalcy of institutional dysfunction affected by fraud, militias, and increasing war economy—all nearly contingent on violence. 

Libya’s neglected minorities have also demanded state-building participation within a society deeply-grounded in tribal loyalties and traditions and rivalrous contentions. Therein, loose systems of disproportionate and competitive authorities are all too common—serving openings to criminal and hostile forces and foreign interference. And in the midst of the current COVID19 pandemic, which may exacerbate fractured systems including human services, conditions will likely become more precarious. A global contagion and economic fallout will further intensify Libya’s unstable civic and economic backdrop, potentially collapsing financial, employment, housing, and already shattered public health sectors with rippling effects.

The immigration crisis spanning the Mediterranean in recent years indubitably has connected smuggling and humanitarian troubles to the north African coasts. Although 2016 estimates placed Libya as a main launching point to Europe, migration is commonly mixed due to multifarious factors. Clusters of foreign nationals, refugees and asylum seekers, and transients or economic immigrants regularly travel together. Recent tracking studies have approximated the country’s migration numbers at closer to one million. Monitoring and survey sampling similarly disclosed that just over half view Libya as an intended destination, if at least as a time juncture. Altogether, these estimates are increasingly relevant to vulnerable health and humanitarian services.

Coinciding illicit data with historic trade routes keeps pace with several issues, including migration. Exploitation of these routes has served as conduits for terrorist infiltration, the drug trade, arms and human trafficking, enabling abuses that include detention, abduction and forced labour. However, these challenges have long linked to cross-border uncertainties spanning the Maghreb and Sahel regions—a common rendition of the region at-large. Libya’s problems are not unlike power struggles and comparable security vacuums plaguing Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan.

Lacking prospects for order and national unity only exemplifies the gamut of failed statehood, diminishing hope and confidence. Nearly 10 years beyond what many saw as promises of a regional spring, a domino-like effect of failings has instead widened liabilities with exploitable gaps, escalating disorder and violence, and affecting grave humanitarian consequence. The upsurge of Political Islam when mixed with extremist elements and biases against other groups of Muslims, further complicates the potential at achieving a measure of balance. Destabilizing factors are varied and include autonomous militias, some supporting pro-democracy, and others allied with politicians or parties and Islamist affiliations, and several which have formed coalitions.

Rationalizing the 2011 uprising and elimination of the Gaddafi regime was unlikely linked to foreseeable gaps that could quickly fill with anything other than resolution, calm, or peace. Corruption has not only hindered political and economic stability, but has augmented lawlessness, insecurity, and a non-nation status that is rife for increasing humanitarian disaster. Weak governments lacking operational infrastructures undermine social services, creating enormous voids that can be exploited by hybrid subversive groups and non-state actors—the nexus between a hollow government disenfranchising its populace. A disturbing UN report from October 2015 indicated Libya’s population base was at 6.3 million with 2.44 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Complications to upheaval are largely unchanged, leaving Libya perilously exposed to the current COVID19 pandemic and wide-open to ruthless redeemers.


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Categories: Libya - North Africa

About the Author(s)

Allyson Christy holds an MA in Intelligence and Terrorism Studies from American Military University, in addition to an Executive Certificate in Counter-Terrorism from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, Israel. Follow @allysonchristy



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