After Benghazi: Torn By Rival Factions, Libya Struggles To Function

Barb Wire

Though its government recently attracted headlines for spending a week trying to extinguish an oil tanker fire, Libya continues to struggle through a years-long civil war between rival forces competing for legitimacy.

The country, which was supposed to be a model of Obama-era reconstruction in the wake of the Arab Spring, has instead fallen into civil war since the ousting and death of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, and the ensuing struggle for power. While U.S. attention for Libya has declined in the wake of the 2012 raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the state of affairs has only worsened.

Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the country effectively has “two governments, two capitals and two prime ministers.” On one side is a spectrum of Islamist groups under the label “Libya Dawn,” while on the other is the self-styled Libyan National Army in “Operation Dignity,” under the leadership of the controversial General Khalifa Hifter.

Each faction controls a historically distinct part of the country, with Tripoli, the official capital, in the hands of the Islamists. The Libyan parliament has fled to the city of Tobruk, and multiple court cases and legislative sessions have provided conflicting verdicts on who legitimately controls the country.

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Despite U.N. attempts at peace talks, neither side is willing to approach the negotiating table. Instead, 2014 was marked by a grinding, uneasy balance of territorial power between the two, with neither gaining significantly over the other.

The most recent clashes have erupted around the oil ports in the eastern cities, including Benghazi and Derna. Foreign Policy reported last month that Libya’s central bank, in an attempt to stay neutral, refuses to provide either claimant government with the country’s valuable oil revenues.

In light of the violence, hundreds of thousands of Libyans have been forced to leave their homes, and some fighters have peeled away from the front lines to sow chaos in neighboring Chad and Mali. Major powers in the region have also taken sides: Sarah Feuer, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told TheDCNF that “Egypt and the UAE seem to be backing Operation Dignity while Qatar, Turkey and Sudan have been accused of aiding Libya Dawn’s forces.”

When asked about the endgame of the war, Rubin said, “sometimes the best outcome can be not a political solution but one side winning and the other losing.” With forces near a stalemate, it remains unclear whether Libya can survive 2015 intact.

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