Libya seems to be heading towards a major civil war, waiting for its next strong man to put a lid on the chaos and control the various parties.
The Libyan government is unable to control its territory.
The situation in the country has deteriorated so much that the US suspended training by US special forces after a local militia stole a cache of American-provided weapons.
According to a report published in the British newspaper, The Times, on Friday, quoting Olivier Guitta, the director of the London-based Henry Jackson Society think-tank, French, American and Algerian special forces are on their way to southern Libya to attack al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
After a contested vote in parliament three weeks ago, businessman Ahmed Maiteeq was appointed as Libya’s third prime minister in two months – with backing from Islamists and independents in the splintered General National Congress (GNC).
On Wednesday, his predecessor, acting prime minister Abdullah al-Thinni, refused to hand over power after questioning the legality of Maiteeq’s appointment by parliament.
Meanwhile, a former Libyan army officer, Khalifa Haftar, began a self-declared campaign against extremists he accuses Islamist parties in the GNC of allowing to flourish.
The West helped create a vacuum in Libya where various tribes, militias and Islamist groups roam, where each group seeks to aggrandize and/or protect its own power and territory.
Like in other Arab countries, local identity, or that of the family or ethnic group, override an overarching, modern national one.
Philip S. Koury and Joseph Kostiner wrote in the introduction to their book Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East: “States that contain or coexist with tribal societies have encountered difficulty developing efficient administrative machineries and compelling ideologies necessary to achieve legitimacy.”
“Instead, they have depended heavily on physical and psychological coercion to expand their control,” they said.
The continuing chaos that broke out upon the uprising and the subsequent Western military intervention in 2011 is because no one party has been able to monopolize power within Libyan territory, and hence, put a stop to inter-group warfare.
And like in other Arab countries, to maintain order, it seems necessary for an unforgiving strongman to hold the disparate factions together. Former Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi was able to do it, though brutally.
In Syria, the country is suffering from similar chaos due to ethnic and religious divisions and President Bashar Assad has lost control of much of the country’s territory.
And in Sudan, which borders Libya to the southeast, it broke up into two states, and the strife there is still far from over.
Some analysts have opined that breaking up the Arab states and drawing new borders that better reflect ethnic and tribal divisions would provide for more stability.
But drawing such borders would be difficult to carry out and moreover, would not perfectly align with ethnic divisions on the ground, with disputes lingering as to their location.
Libya, which lies on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is bordered by Algeria on the West, Niger, Chad and Sudan to the south, and Egypt to the East.
These countries are very concerned about the instability in Libya and are no doubt interfering to support groups in the country that support their interests.
Egypt’s newly elected president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is likely to continue the all-out battle against the Islamist insurgency at home and work to prevent Libya from becoming an Islamist bastion – along with its Gulf allies, led by Saudi Arabia.
For this reason, they are likely to support the upstart Haftar and his forces that struggle against the Islamist- backed Maiteeq.
Weapons are already flowing from Libya to Islamists in Sinai and even into Gaza. If Haftar’s forces can help control the border-area and reduce the Islamist threat to Sisi’s government, cooperation could be carried out.
On the other hand, Qatar and Turkey, which have a history of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, could throw their support behind Maiteeq.
Reuters contributed to this report.