As Libya forms unity govt, is ISIS really the country’s biggest threat?

Libyan society is heavily governed by tribalism and regionalism, which have been increasingly reflected in its politics

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Libya’s adjusted ministerial list of the Government of National Accord (GNA) was submitted on Sunday for a new vote.

If approved, the new government could seek international military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who has found a safe haven in Libya’s political vacuum this past year.

But even this newly proposed list doesn’t seem promising, especially after two of the nominated ministers reportedly withdrew their names.

The initial line-up was rejected due to the elaborate number of names it proposed, a total of 32 ministers. But the ministerial list this time includes 18 ministers.

“Still, just as the first one, it is reflective of the divisions in Libyan politics. It is a product of geo-tribal quota allocation,” a member of the former transitional government told Al Arabiya English on condition of anonymity.

“It is obvious that some ministries were made up just to make space to as many factions as possible, like having five ministers without a portfolio for example.”

The United Nations has been pushing for the formation of a unity government in Libya so there is a recognized body and central channel with which to communicate and coordinate against ISIS. But, ISIS may not be Libya’s biggest threat, and actually only a “symptom” of a much bigger problem.

“ISIS took advantage of the chaos [in Libya] created by divisions,” Abid Alkasih, an expert on Libyan geopolitics whose two brothers were assassinated by ISIS, told Al Arabiya English. “We need to first work on diminishing these divisions before addressing the symptom: ISIS.”

Libyan society is heavily governed by tribalism and regionalism, which have been increasingly reflected in its politics. Both, the initial rejected ministerial list and the newly-adjusted one are examples of such divisions.

Forming a united national body that all Libyans can agree on has been challenging, becoming more difficult with ISIS and other extremist groups trying to expand in the country.

Including names from as many cities and affiliations as possible “is the opposite of accord; it shows lack of trust in the ability of the other to lead,” Shibani Abuhamud, Libya’s ambassador to France, told Al Arabiya English.

In addition to tribalism and regionalism, the country has, also, been split into two warring factions, the General National Congress and thr House of Representatives. Each faction, including its respective military arm, has also experienced one more split from within — pro or anti-GNA.

These divisions and competing agendas have helped ISIS expand closer to Europe - Libya’s coast is about 500 kilometers away from Italy.

“It’s only natural for the international community to be only concerned with ISIS because it affects it directly,” Abuhamud said.

“However, getting rid of ISIS won’t end Libya’s problems, and won’t necessarily keep harm away from Europe.”

Officials from 23 nations attended a meeting in Rome on Feb. 2 to discuss the fight against ISIS in Libya, among other concerns.

“The last thing in the world you want is a false caliphate... with access to billions of dollars of oil revenue,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at the meeting.

The former transitional government member said: “We worry the international community is only interested in striking ISIS, leaving the Libyans alone dealing with the aftermath.”

He added: “This happened before when NATO struck [Muammar] Qaddafi’s forces for us without much involvement in whatever came after. We’re not looking for another ‘hit-and-run’.”

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said Washington is “on the verge of taking action” against ISIS in Libya, without elaborating.

He said this shortly after extremist group Ansar al-Sharia claimed to have shot down a jet over the city of Derna, and also after unidentified warplanes struck civilian locations there.

Various militant groups and volunteers recently pushed ISIS out of most of Derna. However, “we still have Ansar al-Sharia and God knows who else literally hovering over our heads,” a political activist living in Derna told Al Arabiya English on condition of anonymity. “ISIS isn’t our only threat; the last two incidents prove this even more.”

Alkasih said the military “is the only entity that’s truly Libyan. Since its formation, it has joined Libyans of all regions and tribes together. It’s the only institution Libyans have been familiar with for the past 65 years.”

He added: “We don’t need the international community to strike ISIS for us. We only need help to strengthen the military to protect the democratic process and shield us from ISIS. It’s our only hope.”

The former transitional government member said the international community “should invest in [the military] instead of imposing on Libya hurried schemes for unity without much understanding of the complexity of Libyan national reconciliation.”

He added: “The real work has to come from within. Libyans have to put their differences aside for a democratic, ISIS-free Libya.”

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