How Libya’s Derna is recovering after an ISIS takeover

The question now is, will this new unified government solve Libya’s deteriorating situation?

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Representatives of Libya’s two opposing factions, the House of Representatives (HOR) in the East and the General National Congress (GNC) in the West, have finally agreed on Dec. 17 to form the Government of National Accord (GNA).

The question now is, will this new unified government solve Libya’s deteriorating situation?

One of the most pressing issues is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which dominates to varying degrees in the western city of Sirte, and the eastern cities of Ajdabiya, Benghazi and Derna.

The latter is gradually pushing ISIS out, but the end of Derna’s suffering is not yet in sight.

The city still lives in fear, with many of its residents, and those who have families there, refraining from talking to the media or preferring anonymity during interviews.

“I agreed talking to you only because a close friend vouched for you,” an activist living in Derna told Al Arabiya News.

“I’ve been keeping a low profile for a while now. You never know from which direction a bullet might come.”

Derna is still not completely ISIS-free. “We’re still fighting remaining ISIS groups in two parts of the city, Fatayih and Hay el-Arbaamiyya,” he said. “Civilians have volunteered to fight alongside the army and armed militias.”

The main armed militia in the fight against ISIS is the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, which is known in the city for having Islamist inclinations and alleged ties to Ansar al-Sharia, which many consider an Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Another activist in Derna told Al Arabiya News that the “Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade might be our next enemy. We don’t know what their agenda is exactly.”

He added: “We still don’t feel safe. We no longer know who really controls the city now, who is who, and who is with whom. It’s political chaos.”

Siham Sergiwa, a representative of Benghazi in the HOR, who was born and raised in Derna, told Al Arabiya News: “Derna’s problem might not end with ISIS. There are still armed militias, some who are truly patriotic, but also those who carry different ideologies. This isn’t a problem specific to Derna, but spreads all over Libya.”

The presence of militant Islamists in Derna goes further back than the 2011 uprising. The first sign of an Islamist movement in the city that may have first attracted global attention was when young men started going to Iraq for “jihad” in 2007. This phenomenon was explored in Newsweek in the article “The Jihadist Riddle.

“Oppression, unemployment, lack of education and basic necessities could push any youth to extremism, not only in Derna,” said Sergiwa.

“The new GNA has made Derna one of its priorities. A considerable budget has been set to carry out reforms in the city, as well as a plan to gradually seize arms and control.”

A resident said with ISIS being pushed out, “schools are about to resume after a long pause. Food is back in stock too.

“The police and municipal guards, who were heavily resisted by ISIS... are finally operative.”

Another activist in Derna told Al Arabiya News: “Things aren’t ideal yet. Electricity is still intermittent. Food prices are increasing. The decrease in the value of the Libyan dinar has negatively affected us.

“All of this we can cope with, but we can’t cope with the idea of fighting a new enemy. We’re afraid we might need to go against the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade.”

Sergiwa said the presence and activity of the brigade “will be addressed closely once the GNA starts operating.”

The new government “plans to solve problems through national dialogue, not brute force,” Sergiwa added.

A civilian in Derna said: “We’re very optimistic with the formation of the GNA. We’ve fought our utmost against ISIS as civilians.

“I’m afraid though there’s a limit to how much we can do. We can’t wait to leave the rest to the GNA.”

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