Date: Monday, 08 January 2018
The July 2017 peace plan the UN worked out is still limping along. The UN backed GNA (Government of National Accord in Tripoli) has continued to weaken while the HoR (House of Representatives government in Tobruk) now controls or contests most of the country. The July 2017 agreement provided six months to achieve a nationwide ceasefire, a date for national elections and UN recognition of the LNA (Libyan National Army). That was later extended to a year and now there is general agreement that elections will be held in 2018. In early December the HNEC (High National Elections Commission in Libya) began registering voters and by early 2018 had determined that there were about 1.8 million potential voters and had already registered 400,000 and was registering more at the rate of about 30,000 a day. Currently the only two people likely to win a fair national election for president is Seif al-Islam Kaddafi (a son of the former dictator) and Khalifa Hiftar. The first post Kaddafi elections in 2012 had nearly three million people voting. But since then many Libyans have fled the country or have given up on elections and just want peace. They might even elected Seif Kaddafi, who never held a government job and was considered the “good son.” Nevertheless he is still wanted by the ICC for war crimes (during 2011) and was convicted by a GNA court but later freed and granted full amnesty by HoR (at the behest of Hiftar).
The UN is still working on how to get the GNA and HoR to agree on key issues. The next effort will be a conference in February that will try and determine how to run national elections and obtain agreement on a new constitution.
The UN admits that they ignored the complexity of local politics in Libya and the ability of many local groups to block a nation-wide deal. It turned out that the HoR and their military leader Khalifa Hiftar had a lot more nationwide support than the UN or GNA realized or wanted to admit. HoR also had the LNA which has been demonized by many Europeans for a number of reasons most Libyans and Arab nations disagree with. The LNA was created by Hiftar and is the only organized and disciplined military force in the country. The LNA was initially founded to shut down Islamic terrorist groups and Libyan militias that supported them in eastern Libya. In contrast the GNA tried to build a national government with the support of militias, many of them supporting a new government using Islamic (Sharia) law and most Libyans had had enough of that because it was a tactic the former dictator Kaddafi has used to rule the country for decades until the 2011 revolution killed him and destroyed his hated government.
The UN and EU (European Union) were also appalled by Hiftar’s harsh tactics against the people smuggling gangs that were responsible for most illegal of the illegal migrants arriving in Europe. Some EU countries (like Italy and France) backed Hiftar early on but more importantly so did most Libyans. Hiftar has said that because of national support the LNA could easily take Tripoli, the traditional capital if the UN negotiations failed. But Hiftar also pointed out that Tripoli was not a priority, dealing with smuggling gangs, Islamic terrorists and corruption in general was.
The ISIL Issue
ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has been nearly wiped out in Syria and Iraq, never really got started in Israeli controlled areas (including the West Bank) but there are still several hundred active ISIL members in Egypt and even more in Libya. Israel and Egypt, plus a few other Arab states (like the UAE) are quietly cooperating to shut down ISIL in Libya.
The basic situation is that ISIL needs a base are and at the moment Libya is one of the most likely areas to operate in. This is essential for ISIL because a Libya base provides access to the rest of Africa as well as the Middle East via Egypt. There are still obstacles and restrictions. Getting across the Egyptian border is difficult as long as Libyan general Hiftar and his LNA operate throughout eastern Libya. The LNA has more problems with the Egyptian border since the collapse of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Many of the surviving ISIL men are seeking to reach Libya via Egypt. Some of these ISIL personnel decide to join ISIL factions already established in Sinai (near the Israeli border) or western Egypt (near the Libyan border). This is the main reason why Hiftar still has a lot of support from Egypt and other Arab nations. Hiftar is genuinely hostile to Islamic terrorism but to the West he is seen as a potential new Libyan dictator. That is also an issue with many to Libyans, but not as important as personal safety and enough national unity to get the economy going again.
What it comes down to is Egypt officially supports the UN proposal for Libyan unity (which is hostile to Hiftar) while quietly continuing to support Hiftar. Egypt is a silent partner in the Al Khadim airbase the UAE is expanding in eastern Libya. Hiftar has long operated this airbase and now facilities are being added that can accommodate larger warplanes, like the F-16s that the UAE and Egypt both operate. Egypt is openly working with the Libyan National Oil Company to protect Libyan oil facilities and get the oil exported. Technically the UN opposes this but the reality is that Libya needs the money and the help in dealing with the ISIL forces still present. So everyone says one thing and does another as is the custom in this part of the world.
Then there is Libya’s western neighbor Algeria which continues to side with Qatar in its feud with the other Gulf Arab oil states (and their allies, like Egypt and Israel). That means Algeria backs the UN faction in Libya while the UAE and most other Arab states back the HoR/Hiftar group. Actually Algeria was reluctant to back the UN approved government for Libya and that proved to be warranted when the Hiftar group abandoned the UN proposal and demanded that the UN come up with a more practical solution. This is a big deal for Algeria because of the long border they share with Libya. It is also a big deal for the UN, which considers Algeria the most successful North African nation when it comes to dealing with Islamic terrorism. Other nations in the region agree and Algeria regularly trains troops from other nations in counter-terrorism methods that worked in Algeria. Libya is another matter and after Hiftar rejected the UN peace plan Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia responded that they still backed the UN effort. That support is not permanent and Egypt has long supported Hiftar and still does. But the UN support includes the support of many Western donor nations who, for the moment, are not inclined to finance Hiftar (Russia, on the other hand, is). So the situation in Libya remains violent and flexible.
The number of illegal migrants reaching Europe (mainly in Italy, from Libya) dropped a third in 2017, to 119,000 (compared to 181,000 in 2016). The EU (European Union) sponsored illegal migrant repatriation program has moved (usually by air) some 18,000 of these illegals from Libya in 2017 and expects to move even more in 2018 because the UN approved new repatriation rules at the end of 2017.
This program was set up in 2015 and the EU has provided nearly $4 billion to make it work. The main problem is the corruption in the source countries. That corruption is usually what drove many of the locals to leave in the first place and that same corruption cripples the repatriation program mainly because the illegals are enticed to go home by financial inducements (up to $6,000 each for “retraining”) The problem is you cannot give the illegals the cash because many, once they get home, will seek out a people-smuggling gang and try again. Using the repatriation incentive fees to establish training programs in the home country often means most of the money is stolen by local officials. Libya gets around this by arresting illegals and detaining them under unpleasant conditions. This upsets the EU but the Libyans are unwilling to try the EU approach because it doesn’t work in Africa.
Arrangements have to be made for the source country to verify that illegals are from where they claim to be from. Some countries, especially those with an Islamic terrorism problem, will not accept anyone suspected of being an actual or potential Islamic terrorist.
In the first week of 2018 the Nigerian government flew a batch of 481 Nigerian illegal migrants from Libya back to Nigeria. These Nigerians had used people smugglers in a failed effort reach Europe illegally. Another 5,000 are to follow quickly over the next month. The Libyans and the EU (European Union) finally managed to disrupt many of the smuggling operations and persuaded (threatened, bribed, embarrassed and so on) the countries the illegals came from to take them back. This process has intensified during 2017 and has reached the point where so many illegals are being returned that fewer people are willing to risk the cash, and their lives, to make the trip. But the illegals are still coming, even though Libya is even more dangerous for illegal migrants.
Libya tripled its oil income (to $14 billion) in 2017 and progress is being made towards a balanced budget and a higher standard of living for Libyans. Despite the civil war/disunity that has simmered since 2012 the UN and EU managed to get nearly everyone to leave the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and Libyan Central Bank (LCB) alone to deal with essential matters like importing food and other necessities that Libya does not produce itself. The NOC has managed to increase production for 2017 to record (since 2011) levels. Since June 2017 about a million BPD (barrels per day, including natural gas equivalents) are being produced. That was up from 250,000 BPD in mid-2016, 800,000 BPD in April 2017 and 880,000 BPD in May 2017. Now production growth is stalled because of the lack of foreign firms willing to work in Libya to repair and expand Libyan oil facilities. The chaos created by all the militias and lack of a reliable central government means foreign firms rate Libya as one of the least reliable places to operate and opt for working in other areas, even though the profits are lower. Risk is a big deal in the oil industry because huge amounts (often billions of dollars) are often required to get new (or refurbished) oil facilities producing.
There are still occasional disruptions because of all the independent minded factions. Despite that the NOC still hopes to reach 1.25-1.5 million BPD by the end of 2018 and 2.1 million BPD by the early 2020s. This is far in excess of pre-2011 levels (1.6 million BPD) but is necessary because of the need to finance reconstruction and adapt to the fact that the world price for oil keeps falling, despite OPEC (the Arab dominated oil cartel) efforts to reduce overall production and drive up the price. The problem is that the United States and Canada are producing a lot more due to new technologies (like fracking) that open up huge new sources that were long known but not reachable.
Since 2011 Libyan oil exports have shrunk and the Libyan Central Bank cash reserves are dangerously low. These reserves stood at $124 billion in 2012 and now only $67 billion remain. If peace and unity are not achieved soon no government would be able to buy and import food and other essentials. Even by Middle Eastern standards Libya was setting new records in self-destructive behavior. By 2017 more Libyans were agreeing that the situation was indeed becoming desperate and a lot more compromise was the only solution. Even with the current national compromise the tribal (Arab, Berber and black African) and religious differences (Islamic radicals versus everyone else) plus epic levels of corruption and entitlement keep peace and prosperity out of reach. At this point most Libyans will settle for survival especially since living standards continue to decline each year.
January 6, 2018: In the east (near the Tunisian border) two pro-GNA militias fought local smuggling gangs although some of the local militias accused the pro-GNA militias of seeking to make some money while engaging in government business. The main border crossing (Ras Ajdir) with Tunisia has long been a source of illegal income and a cause for lots of armed clashes. The Tunisian government has had to close the border crossing at times just to keep the peace. Fighting over the last few days has left over a dozen people dead or wounded.
January 1, 2018: During 2017 the LNA lost 27 soldiers to landmines and other explosive devices left by Islamic terrorists in Benghazi. The soldiers were killed while searching for and removing these devices and 170 civilians died as well, mainly refugees returning to neighborhoods Islamic terrorists had been driven from. The last Islamic terror group left Benghazi (and moved to Derna) in December but Islamic terrorists keep trying to get into the city and make attacks. Various surveys indicate that nationwide fewer than 500 civilians died during 2017 from the fighting between militias, Islamic terror groups, criminal gangs and the LNA. The armed men in these groups suffered higher casualties, most of them among the Islamic terror groups, which were considered legitimate targets by everyone.
December 26, 2017: Someone (ISIL was suspected) bombed an oil pipeline (capable of moving 90,000 barrels a day) south of the oil export port of Es Sider. The damage was repaired in a few days and the pipeline resumed operation. The key oil export ports in this areas are Ras Lanuf (620 kilometers east of Tripoli) and Es Sider/Sidra (20-30 kilometers further east). In normal times Es Sider and Ras Lanuf can ship 600,000 barrels a day.
December 13, 2017: Egypt and a Libyan electricity provider (General Electricity Company of Libya) agreed to build an electricity sharing system between the two nations. At first this will only benefit eastern Libya (controlled by the LNA) but would eventually extend further west.
December 9, 2017: In Egypt officials representing Libyan military leader Khalifa Hiftar met with senior Egyptian officials. It was not a secret meeting but was not heavily publicized. The meeting was one of many recently and was used to work out details of current cooperation between the LNA Hiftar rebuilt and led and Egyptian forces.
November 28, 2017: In Tripoli a Sunni Moslem group set fire to a Sufi mosque. This is the second such fire in the last two months. As long as no one is killed the local government (the GNA) is not willing to risk a gun battle to protect a Sufi mosque. Islamic terrorists tend to regard Sufis as heretics even though they are not. Rather Sufis are more intent on prayer and not radicalism.
November 27, 2017: In the southwest the Algerian government sent another aid convoy to border towns where refugees from into Libya were living. Similar aid was sent to other border towns further north. There is not much government on the Libyan side of the border but Algeria supports Tuareg tribes that have clans on both sides of the border and still allows these Tuareg to freely move back and forth.