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Libya’s ‘War of Will’ is robust and underway

This “War of Will” is galvanizing the key actors in Libya’s current milieu

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Published: Updated:

The security and political challenges regarding Libya are now obvious. A regional response by Algeria and Egypt is now ongoing. France is positioning itself closer to southern Libya. At the same time, General Haftar’s Operation Dignity is making substantial gains in Benghazi and is setting its sights, along with its allies, to take back Tripoli. This activity raises two key questions: What is next in Libya? How are the internal regional and religious allegiances changing? Overall, what we are witnessing is a taking of sides, a “War of Will.”

This “War of Will” is galvanizing the key actors in Libya’s current milieu. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni is moving forward with his cabinet and the parliament, the House of Representatives (HOR) as the effective government, who control all government assets, and making plans to move to Tripoli. Libya Dawn, the Islamist and the Zintan coalition from Misrata, are moving their forces from the mountains to forward positions for the battle of Tripoli where they have resuscitated part of Libya’s General National Congress (GNC). General Haftar, as mentioned above, is finally making headway in his efforts with Thinni to launch new operations westward. Finally, in Derna, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its motley crew of “jihadist diasporans” from across MENA and beyond are establishing a base in order to open up a new front in the country. Indeed, the “War of Will” is beginning in earnest and the next phase of Libya’s transition is now gaining pace.

Political Islamist influence is waning

However, the recent election victory of Nida Tunis (Tunisia Calls) in Tunisia’s parliamentary elections a few days ago illustrates that political Islam, along with the Sisi government in Egypt, is losing ground. Political Islamist influence is waning. In Libya, this fact is important because across North Africa the idea of Islamist government as a cure to the Sahel’s ills is clearly null and void. The “War of Will” is clearly with secularist forces. Consequently, negotiations are not the path forward with Islamist but instead violence is to be expected to remove those “who only understand violence” according to an Arab official.

This “War of Will” is galvanizing the key actors in Libya’s current milieu

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Surrounding Libya, countries such as Algeria and Egypt, as well as the GCC, are using airpower, command and control assets, and special operations to assist Thinni and Operation Dignity to achieve strategic and tactical goals. France is also jumping into with the establishment of a forward operating base just next to the southern Libyan border. General Haftar needs more help in terms of high tech weaponry. Russia, Italy and China are likely to come on board in the near future to help Operation Dignity because these countries have an interest in seeing Haftar succeed and Thinni and the HOR move to Tripoli. In the near future, there are major oil concessions in Libya that these states will likely want to participate in and can find a partner in the current, democratically government.

The battle for Tripoli

Throughout the first half of 2015, based on the current trajectory, a new government will take shape with Thinni at the helm after the battle for Tripoli. I believe the battle for Tripoli will be the key to the remainder of 2015. Indeed, the “War of Will” has no space for Islamists of any stripe in Libya. In addition, General Haftar will have two options. One will be to become the next prime minister of Libya or he will shed his uniform and become president, similar to President Sisi’s rise in Egypt. For Haftar, now is the defining moment: The leader of Operation Dignity has the advantage as his “War of Will” is robust.

In 2015, if all goes to plan, Libya will be calm after Tripoli is captured. Governmental blocs will be formed and the country’s political landscape may resemble Egypt as opposed to an Iraq. However, there is one important factor that needs to be taken into consideration: the emergence of an amalgam of the new government and the old regime. Ahmed Qadhaf al-Dam, a cousin and former aide of Muammar Qaddafi who says he wants to take part in proposed talks aimed at healing Libya’s divisions. Qadhaf can speak for tribes and officials close to the former regime which could help bring national cohesion and at the same time smite the Islamists. Specifically, his links to tribes in the south could help secure sub-Saharan borders These talks, proposed by Algeria and supported by Egypt and other European and Arab states, may open the door to the notion of linking “the past with the present” according to an Arab official.

Overall, the Libya’s “War of Will” is underway. Sides are becoming clearer to Arab observers. The key question is whether or not outside players are seeing the process underway in Libya through clear lenses. While some policymakers and analysts find it fashionable for international dialogues and negotiation with Islamists, the Libyans themselves, and their immediate neighbors, are more interested in determining Libya’s future on their own accord. With luck, Libya’s “War of Will” will be seen for what it is: the path towards democracy the NATO operations three years ago intended to create in the first place.

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Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Senior Advisor to Risk Insurance Management in Dubai, UAE. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets: @tkarasik

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