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As long as instability continues in Libya, the “Islamic State” will continue its advance, the German Middle East expert Michael Lüders predicts. Libya, he warns, is becoming a stronghold for extremist groups like IS.
When the Arab League gets together for a crisis meeting on Tuesday in Cairo, calls by the internationally recognized Libyan government for airstrikes against the “Islamic State” (IS) in the coastal city of Sirte are sure to be on the agenda. Are the Arab allies likely to comply?
It is not clear whether the Arab League will actually take military action in Libya; what is clear is that they won’t succeed in untangling the chaos.
Libya has two governments: an internationally recognized one in the east, in Tobruk, and the other, which is close to the Islamists, in the capital Tripoli. Ever since Gadhafi’s overthrow, Libya has been prey to rival militia, tribes and Islamist groups who are all trying to secure a big piece of the cake for themselves. This in turn has led to self-destruction.
Despite repeated attempts by, for instance, the UN to get a dialogue going among the adversaries, there are no functioning diplomatic or political mechanisms in place that could defuse the crisis.
Are you saying there is nothing the Arab allies can do?
Military intervention is difficult in a state that – like Libya, Iraq and Syria – presents itself as failed, a state with various political and military parties and alliances that, to a certain extent, are forged anew from one day to the next. The Egyptian government planned to bring eastern Libya under its control – ostensibly to fight terrorism, but in all truth with the aim of becoming a power factor in oil-rich Libya. So far, however, Egypt has refrained from taking action.
If there is no military solution, what about a political solution?
That’s difficult. When a centralized state ceases to exist and the various players in the country aren’t willing to strike compromises but rather believe they can impose their own wishes on its opponents, it becomes very difficult indeed to intervene in such an unstable country. Whose side are you on? Who are the good guys and who the bad? Who would issue an international mandate?
No one has a cure-all. Libya is increasingly becoming a black hole in Northern Africa, a stronghold for the Islamic State and other radical Islamists – and, of course, a stepping stone for very many refugees on their way to Europe.
Is Libya already a “failed state” in your opinion?
Everything points in that direction. There are no functioning state institutions; there is no central power that is in a position to enforce the people’s democratic will, or even its own claim to power across the country. There are too many shady players with very flexible alliances. In Libya, everyone is doing his own thing; among the foreign powers, Egypt and Algeria are at the fore in that respect.
The notion that there is a military solution to the problems in Libya is most likely an illusion. When a state has crumbled, it takes a long time to rebuild new structures. Presumably, that can only succeed when the warmongers have more or less disappeared. The war in Libya will continue for quite some time.
Meanwhile, IS is increasing its foothold in the country, executing and maiming people on the way. The group was driven from Derna in the east, but now there have been new rocket attacks on the city. Is there no stopping the IS?
As long as the structures in Libya remain – destroyed and with no hope of a strong central government that could take on responsibility in the near future – the Islamic State will continue its advance.
The Islamic State in Libya isn’t identical to the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The former is more or less a group of people who are using the name because it has become a trademark of sorts in the jihadist scene. Extremists who use the name expect a competitive edge vis-a-vis other militia. The Islamic State in Libya is just as violent as in the Middle East, which includes brutal executions and ostentatious displays like in Sirte.
They’re intent on a strategy of total annihilation of the respective opponent. That’s why it is so difficult to visualize compromise and sound judgment as political solutions.
Michael Lüders is a journalist, political and business consultant and author of both fiction and nonfiction books. A political scientist and scholar of Islamic studies, Lüders is also deputy chairman at the German Orient Foundation.