By Ahmed Rahim (translated by Sahar Ghoussoub)
Mahmoud Jibril, the former Libyan prime minister and head of the National Forces Alliance, places a great deal of the blame on the international community and the major powers for what is happening currently in Libya.
He believes that Libya is meant to be the courtyard to dump the terrorist members from around the world. Despite the harsh outcome of the Arab Spring, Jibril strongly rejects “the nostalgia for previous regimes” and believes that “had it not been for the performance of the fallen regime, we would not have gotten to this jungle of mass murders.”
The full text of the interview follows:
Al-Hayat: What is the stance of the National Forces Alliance on Fayez al-Sarraj’s government?
Jibril: The current Libyan current has been expected since the fall of the regime in October 2011. I had staunchly warned against this situation in a meeting in Brussels before submitting my resignation. I said that Libya was different than Egypt and Tunisia— in other words, the fall of the Libyan regime back then was the fall of the state as well. Libya had become a society without a state, where arms spread everywhere, as they were either stolen from the army’s warehouses or the caches of [Moammar] Gadhafi’s security brigades, not to mention the weapons that had been imported from many countries during the conflict against Gadhafi. A state with a tribal combination and weapons spread everywhere without any authority or control is the perfect recipe for a civil war and the spread of terrorism, knowing that terrorism is a mercurial phenomenon without any limits.
Al-Hayat: Why did major states, which are now sounding the alarm of terrorism in Libya, allow many of the states to provide terrorist groups with weapons? Planes loaded with terrorists who were fighting the international alliance against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq came to some Libyan airports from the West and from the East before the very eyes of the international community.
Jibril: When we wanted to dismantle the militias after the fall of the regime and a decision was issued by the Executive Office in this respect, why did the international community refuse this? I remember that when I talked about collecting arms and dismantling militias at an international meeting in Paris, an Arab country leader objected to my proposal before the entire world and in front of the presidents of the participating countries. He told me, “Oh brother Mahmoud, the rebels will never let go of their arms.” No one commented and no one denounced his statement. I think that when the international community intervened in Libya, it intended to settle scores with Gadhafi and not to help the Libyans.
Al-Hayat: There is talk that the international community seeks to resolve the crisis in Libya by sponsoring dialogue among the parties. What do you say about that?
Jibril: When the international community interfered in the name of national dialogue, it interfered the wrong way and it applied the power-sharing principle. How can power be shared in a country where there is no power yet? Delusive structures for a nonexistent state started to be created. I repeatedly warned the envoys of the United Nations that such approach will only aggravate the situation and deplete the Libyans’ funds, and probably lead to the country’s partition. This is because the real and active forces outside the dialogue are represented by leaders of militias, tribes’ elders, leaders of political entities and some symbols and followers of the previous regime. These forces are the ones that represent the reality on the ground and were excluded from the dialogue. Thus, creating delusive structures does not solve the problem. This is why the failure and inefficiency of Sarraj’s government were to be expected. He does not have the capability, and was not given money and arms. How can a weak government impose control on Libyan territory?
We support the dialogue, but we are against the current approach. The government is doomed to failure, since it is not an efficient government. It has no army or police and no money. How will it meet citizens’ urgent needs? I advised Sarraj not to enter Tripoli so as not to become a hostage in the hands of the militias. He told me that he was being pressured to enter Tripoli. I said, “If there is pressure, then ask the international community to release the frozen funds to meet Libyans’ needs and to provide arms to the army to ensure security.” But the arms embargo continued and the frozen funds are yet to be released. How will you face the Libyans?” Unfortunately he did not take my advice, and entered Tripoli.
Al-Hayat: Back to the NATO meeting in Brussels in 2011, during which it announced the end of its mission in Libya. What do you still remember in this regard?
Jibril: It was a difficult meeting. I was trying as much as possible to convince the audience that the international community’s task had just started. NATO intervened to settle scores with Gadhafi and when Gadhafi’s regime ended, the international community abandoned the Libyan case. That was a fatal mistake, which puts the international community’s intention toward the Libyans into question. We were left as a society without a state, where arms and militias are widespread. We became a tribal society filled with calls for revenge. It was as if this society was pushed to enter into a civil war.
Al-Hayat: Do you think that the international community wanted to push Libya to this scenario?
Jibril: I don’t know if it was out of desire or ignorance of the Libyan society’s reality. Even after the fall of the regime, the international community said that it did not receive any official request from the Libyan government. The response was that there were no Libyan institutions capable of taking decisions and that it is the international community’s duty to help build organizations first before setting priorities.
States funding terrorism
Al-Hayat: You talked about states funding terrorism in Libya. Can you name them?
Jibril: I don’t want to mention names. But the intelligence of major states and the regional intelligence were watching the planes land at Libyan airports and transport IS terrorists from Syria and Iraq. Libya’s UN envoy to Libya submitted two reports during two of the UN Security Council’s closed sessions that the representatives of all members in 2012 and 2013 attended. He gave statistics, mentioned names, figures and states that violated the arms embargo on Libya and that supplied certain militias with weapons. Not a single state objected or condemned the action of these violating states.
Al-Hayat: You reproach the dialogue for not including influential parties such as leaders of armed militias because they are powerful on the ground. Might there be dialogue with IS?
Jibril: I am not talking about IS but about the militia leaders who carry arms and have no other alternative and those who are armed out of fear of the establishment of a state. Such a prospect is not in their interest as they committed crimes, accumulated wealth and gained social status. They would not want the return of the state because it would take away many of their privileges, and they carry arms out of necessity— not out of choice. But they know they are murderers and can be murdered, too. They want to enjoy the spoils of war and are searching for an escape because they do not want to die. But they were not offered an escape. They weren’t told they would be partners in building the state, and they definitely will not accept to be victims of its establishment. This is the real deal.
Al-Hayat: Do you think that those who committed murders can partake in building the state?
Jibril: Crimes are not subject to a statute of limitations. Once a crime has been committed, its perpetrator must be punished. This is the rule. I think that many members of militias joined these militias due to the bad economic situation. The economy in place is an economy of militias and terrorism. When they see that the government is unable to pay salaries, many young men find themselves forced to join the militias; therefore it seems as if the international community is pushing Libyans to join IS and the armed militias. What will a young man do when [IS and the armed militias] offer him a salary between $2,000 and $3,000, a machine gun and influence among people, while the other alternative [the government] is unable to redress the economy or pay the salaries of government employees?
Al-Hayat: What is the way out of this situation?
Jibril: The only way out is to agree on a project and not on positions. There must be a project to resolve the problems that hinder the establishment of the state, namely the proliferation of militias, and the lack of an army, police force, a judiciary and a [national] economy. Key players on the ground from among the militia leaders, the official military forces, the social leaders from among tribal elders and political leaders must sit at the same table to reach a solution. They shall all sign a charter that will be used as a framework for all parties and that the government shall adopt as its national program. At that moment, there will be no struggle for ministerial positions, as is happening now. When the key players draft this program they will not impede its implementation. No militia commander will kidnap the prime minister as was done with Ali Zeidan, who was kidnapped from his hotel room.
Al-Hayat: But you said that militia leaders have their interests that would be undermined by the return of the state?
Jibril: The majority now are looking for a way out, because everyone is convinced that the use of force is useless, and killing will only lead to more killing. This conviction did not exist two years ago, when many thought that they could impose their will by force of arms. A project must be adopted to reassure militia leaders that they will not be prosecuted, of course reserving the rights of the blood avengers, that they will not be extradited to any other country and that no one will be handed to the International Criminal Court— because more than 480 names have been submitted to the court and these people are threatened with international prosecution. The international community shall observe this project, and the army leaders shall set specifications for the army so as not to interfere in politics.
Al-Hayat: What army are you talking about, while there is a conflict over who represents the state’s army?
Jibril: I wish the war on terrorism had unified the armed forces, whether official or not, because terrorism threatens everyone. I wish the military efforts would be unified to fight terrorism as a preliminary step to build bridges of trust between the parties. But unfortunately there is fragmentation, even when it comes to fighting terrorism. Part of the forces joined the international community camp and the other part joined the other camp, which further entrenched division and disparity. The international community should have exerted pressure for the creation of a unified national army force to fight terrorism.
Al-Hayat: What about IS in Libya?
Jibril: I am talking about all forms of terrorism. IS is an organization created by the media rather than by its own actions. IS has some foothold in Benghazi and has a presence in Sirte, and I think that there are sleeper cells in Tripoli and other cities such as Misrata. I do not think that IS, terrorism and extremism find a suitable environment in Libya. IS gains its strength by fragmenting the Libyan efforts and through the exaggerated media focus on this disarray.
Al-Hayat: Do you think that there is a plan to turn Libya into a courtyard to dump fighters from Syria and Iraq?
Jibril: Rather a courtyard to dump the terrorist members from around the world. Some may think that my interpretation is unrealistic. This country has become the third-largest country in the Arab world after the partition of Sudan, with a population of 6 million people only. It possesses [great] natural resources but lacks a state. This is a black hole for Europe and for illegal immigration. The United Nations reports indicate imminent danger to Europe as a result of illegal immigration from Africa. In the absence of a state, a limited population and a wide surface area, the international community may think it is better to divide Libya into smaller entities and each entity can control its inhabitants. This may be a solution to the problem of illegal immigration for them, even at the expense of the sovereignty and aspirations of the Libyans. This would make it easier for local authorities to control the presence of extremist members from all corners of the world in their respective areas. Yet the biggest danger is that the lack of a unified military force to confront IS may lead it to ally with other terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabab fighters in Somalia. In this case, the world will not be able to stop terrorism, which would be a threat to the entire world.
The third option
Al-Hayat: Some now are nostalgic for previous regimes after the outcome of the Arab Spring revolutions.
Jibril: Some now believe that the return of previous regimes and dictatorships would be more merciful than the current situation. The previous regimes were unacceptable and what is happening now is unacceptable so a third option must be considered. Had it not been for the performance of the fallen regime, we would not have gotten to this jungle of mass murders; we are facing the outcomes of this crisis. Had these regimes achieved a fraction of a real human development project, the Arab citizens — whether in Libya or Syria — would not be killing each other like monsters. This is the result of the lack of institutions and the lack of human development. We should not compare one injustice to another or one authoritarian regime to another. The world is currently in a transitional phase. Those regimes did not build generations or minds. Nostalgia for [the previous regime] is not the result of longing for past achievements, but only because the present is unjust.
I see many people who believe that the consequences of these uprisings will be a deterrent in the future, but I completely disagree because these uprisings happened as a result of a real developmental failure. What is worse is that we have globalized societies linked to the New World, but the governments continue to adopt ancient tools so the situation imploded, and we still handled it with ancient means. This violence is temporary, but the structural imbalances in the Arab regimes that followed World War II will continue to exist; however, the following reaction would be even more powerful.
Al-Hayat: How do you see the Egyptian position regarding the situation in Libya?
Jibril: Unless the situation stabilizes in Libya, Egypt and North Africa will remain unstable as well. Libya is like a fireball that could roll in any direction. I do not think this large amount of weapons is aimed at being used in Libya alone. The weapons in Libya are enough to arm seven African armies. Can anyone convince me that this pumping of weapons is only intended to contain the [internal] situation? I personally do not think so, and I hope that I am wrong. For Egypt, dealing with the Libyan issue is not a matter of choice, but a necessity. The same goes for Tunisia, Algeria and most of the neighboring countries that may be affected by the repercussions of the Libyan issue. I believe Egypt is showing interest and the Egyptian administration is honest and determined to do something. The approach of the UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement in Skhirat will not lead to a positive result, but rather to further deterioration.
Al-Hayat: Back when you were prime minister in Libya, did you come across precise information on the fate of Imam Musa al-Sadr [an Iranian-Lebanese Shiite cleric who disappeared in Libya in 1978]?
Jibril: I have no information. The executive office deployed efforts to solve this case and we followed up on some of the leads that led us to Abu Salim prison. We found remains we believed were the remains of Imam Musa al-Sadr. We contacted the Lebanese prime minister at the time — Najib Mikati — and asked him to send a Lebanese forensic medical examiner, because many of the bodies that were found in refrigerators dated back to the 1970s and 1980s; and there was one forensic examiner in Tripoli [Libya]. We believed that the remains belonged to Imam Sadr, but the DNA analysis showed that the remains were those of Mr. Mansour al-Kikhia. I do not know what happened after that in the case of Imam Musa al-Sadr.