By Hassan Isilow
Libya has remained in turmoil since Gaddafi’s ouster and death in 2011. The conflict in war-torn Libya is more about resources and power than religion or ethnicity, a former advisor to two post-revolution Libyan governments has said.
“It’s a conflict that has very little to do with Islam, ethnicity or tribalism,” Ashur Shamis, a London-based opposition activist who served as advisor to Libya’s first and second post-revolution transitional governments, told The Anadolu Agency during a visit to South Africa.
He recalled how strongman Muammar Gaddafi had used to say that “wealth and weapons are in the hands of the people.”
Shamis insisted that, although the refrain had not reflected the reality on the ground when Gaddafi said it, Libyans took the saying literally when the strongman was ousted and killed in 2011.
Libya has remained in a state of turmoil since Gaddafi’s ouster and death in 2011.
Since then, rival militias have frequently clashed in the country’s main cities, including capital Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi.
Libya’s sharp political divisions have yielded two rival seats of government, each of which has its own institutions.
Vying for legislative authority are the newly-elected House of Representatives, which convenes in Tobruk, and the General National Congress (GNC), which – even though its mandate ended last year – continues to convene in Tripoli.
The rival assemblies support two different governments respectively headquartered in the two cities.
While the House has the support of much of the Libyan army and troops loyal to military commander Khalifa Haftar, the Congress is backed by Islamist militias that helped topple Gaddafi in 2011.
“The so-called Islamists have no strategy or political program to support any military action,” Shamis, a longtime anti-Gaddafi campaigner who served as advisor to prime ministers Abdurrahim al-Keib and Ali Zeidan until March of last year, told AA.
“They are still too underdeveloped to take political power in Libya,” he insisted.
Nor did Shamis have any kind words for Haftar, an army commander who had served under Gaddafi and who launched a campaign against Islamist militias in Benghazi in the spring of last year.
“Haftar’s name is synonymous with fighting and killing,” he asserted. “He was the first to introduce aerial attacks on Libyans, which was very dangerous and set a bad precedent.”
“He has not delivered on any of his promises. All the ideas he started with seem to have backfired,” Shamis added.
Last week, Haftar expressed his readiness to sign a “conditional deal” with the Islamist militias on which he unilaterally waged a military campaign several months ago.
He said he was keen to avoid bringing the confrontation from Libya’s eastern region, especially Benghazi, to Tripoli.
This week, the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia militia – which has been fighting against the Tobruk-based parliament for control of Benghazi and other cities – formed an Islamic police force and Islamic courts in areas under its control in Benghazi.
Group members, renouncing democracy and elections, say they want to apply Islamic law in the areas they control.
In 2012, the U.S. included several of the group’s leaders on its international terrorism list.
Last November, the UN Security Council added Ansar al-Sharia to its terrorism list.
Shamis, the former government advisor, said weapons stolen from arms depots in different parts of Libya were now being used to destabilize the country.
“Some of these weapons fell into the hands of irresponsible people; people who aren’t trained and have no knowledge about what to do with weapons,” he told AA.
Some weapons, Shamis said, also fell into the hands of criminals who were using them to serve their own interests.
“This is why we have such a chaotic situation at the moment,” he said.
He insisted that nobody could control the fighting in Libya today except for the fighters themselves.
“There are many groups… but these are loose coalitions. Underneath them there are so many other divisions,” Shamis told AA.
He said a number of different factions were involved in the country’s ongoing conflict.
“Every side has got its own supply of weapons from within and outside the country,” Shamis asserted.
He said all Libyan factions must be invited for talks if negotiations are to yield any meaningful breakthroughs.
The UN’s special envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, has agreed with officials from the GNC to change the venue of planned national dialogue talks from Geneva to Libya.
Mohamed Maazab, the GNC member tasked with leading the talks with Leon, said the assembly would let the UN decide which Libyan city to hold the talks in.
Leon said the Tripoli-based GNC and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives would be the main parties to the dialogue.
He has warned of a worsening crisis if a deal isn’t reached between the country’s political and military rivals.
(*) The article is based on an interview with Anadolu Agency and published in a newspaper in Pretoria South Africa.