Analysis: What went wrong in Libya

A squadron of forces from Misrata, which have reinforced Tripoli’s forces in response to Haftar’s “Flood of Dignity” offensive, prepare themselves for battle. Photograph: Hani Amara/Reuters

A squadron of forces from Misrata, which have reinforced Tripoli’s forces in response to Haftar’s “Flood of Dignity” offensive, prepare themselves for battle. Photograph: Hani Amara/Reuters

The recent days have seen a dramatic escalation of violence in Libya. Unfortunately, the majority of risks threatening the Libyan political solution forecasted by Libya Desk in our first Political Risk Dossier have been realised.

Libyan National Army (LNA) has a reinforced military structure and newlygained territory; Khalifa Haftar positions his troops in the country’s centre in preparation for a Sirte offensive, with eyes set on Tripoli. Libya Desk anticipates the take over of Sirte by Haftar before Ramadan this May, [...] entering Tripoli with assistance from two of the four major militias controlling it (pp. 3-4)
— Libya Desk, Political Risk Dossier, Issue #1 (published 23/03/2019)

Understanding how we got here

Libya Desk believes that the Libyan National Army (LNA) “Flood Of Dignity” Operation is the culmination of several factors that have long gone unaddressed.

1. Weak responses from the International Community

International observers, commentators and stakeholders have long since underestimated the capabilities of Khalifa Haftar’s forces, giving little credit to the once unimaginable achievements of controlling the east, and to an extent, the south. The weaponization of media is partially responsible for this given that all media outlets in Libya are privately owned organisations with their own agendas, often focused on discrediting and derailing the political peace process in Libya.

2. A dysfunctional media landscape driven by private agendas

In regards to Haftar, Libyan media misrepresented his popularity among the Libyan people, focusing primarily on his failures, shortcomings and the human rights violations committed by his forces. More importantly, observers have paid little to no tribute to some realities on the ground, ranging from the East being the safest and most secure region in Libya, to the almost overnight transformation of the Libyan south from a state of outright anarchy to now enjoying moderate stability.

3. A growing rift between political rhetoric and social sentiment on the ground

That, coupled with the media’s downplaying of the frustration of people living in the west of Libya led to a significant misrepresentation of important social realities. When covering the west and Haftar, media has overplayed the theme of ‘no to military rule’, and has argued extensively that the Libyan people are overwhelmingly in support of a civilian government. However, although that statement is true, the reality on the ground at the moment is that the choice is not between a civilian or a military government, but between militia and military rule.

Announcing Issue #2 of our Political Risk Dossier

As a result of these underplayed factors, a LNA campaign in the Libyan west was not within anyone’s calculations, as we were led to believe that it was an inconceivable feat.

By contrast to popular opinion, in our first Dossier, Libya Desk stressed the likelihood of a Haftar offensive in the West. This statement has been by far the most commented on by our recipients, as they were hedging their bets on Haftar holding through to the Abu Dhabi agreement.

To understand our analysis, we must first understand what has gone on behind closed doors with each respective camp. This will be the focus of Issue #2 in the Libya Desk Dossier, which will be published the week starting Monday, April 15th 2019.

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