By James Hopkinson, Director of Assaye Risk.
Doom and gloom seems to dominate the headlines in relation to Libya and the wider region nearly two years on from the Arab Spring. Egypt has removed its democratically elected President with the Army stepping in as ‘the guardian of the people’; guardianship that ignores the wishes and legitimacy of the sizeable Islamist constituency formed around the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is difficult to see a peaceful transition in the near-term and there appear no winners for the country or the region more widely. The implications for the wider region and Libya specifically will be linked to that of Egypt, particularly given the porous borders and the Islamist influence already in the east of Libya.
This is disturbing for Libya with its own security challenges that now cannot realistically be isolated from that of the wider region. Those challenges have been well reported ranging from sanctioned and unsanctioned militias or groupings of armed men, strong tribal linkages, extreme Islamism, the spectre of returning jihadists from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, federalists, crime and smuggling all overlaid with ready access to weapons and porous borders. So what’s to be done?
Libya’s greatest challenge is to regain control of its sovereign space which means that there should be no room for groups outside the official structure of the properly trained and constituted security forces regardless of their revolutionary pedigree. This is no easy task for Ali Zeidan and his fledgling government to achieve but is one which the international community must encourage, support and assist with.
Upon this rests the future prosperity and security of Libya, whether it be the EU-sponsored support for border security, the security of the critical national infrastructure of the oil and gas sector through the Oil Protection Force or increasing the capacity of the Libyan Police to impose the rule of law as derived from a yet to be formulated new constitution – another key political milestone to be achieved. If Zeidan fails to contain and extinguish this current threat to Libya’s internal security then all bets are off with regards to institution building, prosperity and inward investment.
Libya cannot afford another Libya Shield Brigade or like incident resulting in killing of the civil community without the potential for release of uncontrollable forces, which in the case of Libya cannot be temporarily assuaged by the Army stepping in. For Libya there is no such ‘guardian’ regardless of what the revolutionary militias might say they stand for. The greatest gift they could give Libya and its people is to disarm and focus on rebuilding their civic livelihoods without recourse to weapons and force. Let us hope that reason and dialogue win through.