Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Posts Tagged ‘Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries

LIBYA – IS FIELD MARSHAL KHALIFA HAFTAR STRONG ENOUGH TO RULE ?

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There is an intense diplomatic effort underway to settle Libya’s brutal and persistent civil war. The Egyptian President, who has much to lose if it fails, has led the charge. The Gulf States and Tunisia are playing prominent roles in the negotiations. The Gulf States were deeply involved in the hasty intervention which led to Gaddafi’s downfall but which set off a predictable and bloody civil and religious war. For some time now it has been apparent that Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and his Libyan National Army, has been gaining control over much of Eastern Libya and he can no longer be referred to as a renegade general. He is now a major, but strangely divisive, factor to be accounted for if Libya is to have a future. The opposing parties in Libya’s armed chaos are weary as are the ordinary Libyans. It is time to sort things out. There are several biographies of the Field Marshal online. The BBC caries this one on it’s news site. You may wish to read it before proceeding further.

Most of the commentary about Haftar is written from the Tripolitanian, that is Western Libyan, point of view. Tripoli is, and has long been, the major city and political hub of Libya. The UN has focused its attention there as has the EU amongst others. It seems to me that there are few commentators writing today with experience of living in Eastern Libya. Perhaps you will permit me to write a piece about Haftar from a Cyrenaican perspective.

In January 2012, soon after the fall of Gaddafi, I wrote a piece for my publisher’s blog entitled ‘Is a Strongman Necessary in Libya?’ Since then Field Marshall Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, at the head of his Libyan National Army, has dominated the old province of Cyrenaica, now called Eastern Libya.  He now appears to hold sway over Libya’s Oil Crescent around the southern shore of the Gulf of Sirte. In this regard, he has a strangle hold over Libya’s principle, and almost only, source of revenue.

I argue that Hater’s military campaign to drive out militant Islamists needs the support of tribal leaders and elders. Haftar is a member of the Farjan tribe. His fellow tribesmen can be found from Sirte to Benghazi. Haftar’s brother is the leader of the Benghazi Farjani’s. Why should this matter today? It matters because tribal affiliations are still important in Libya, especially so in Cyrenaica.

There is a tribal hierarchy at the top of which sit the nine Sa’adi tribes, so called after Sa’ada of the Beni Sulaim, their ancestress. (Some sources call her Soada Al Hilaliya). The Beni Sulaim and Beni Hilal tribes migrated into Libya from the Najd in the early part of the 11th Century. The nine Sa’adi tribes hold their territory by right of conquest. Other tribes live amongst the Sa’adi tribes as clients. They are known as Marabtin tribes. The Farjan is a client tribe of a special nature, being classed as one of the Marabtin bil baraka, tribes of the blessing. They, like the Aulad al-Sheik and the Masamir, live amongst the Sa’adi tribes as equals because of their supposed descent from saints. The Sa’adi’s, however, do not regard them as ‘quite like themselves’ as they are not of Bedouin descent, their ancestor having supposedly migrated into Libya from the Maghreb.

In a civil war, and the troubles in Libya are partly that, leaders must watch their backs. In Libya losing the loyalty of leading tribes would be a folly. We may note that Gaddafi tried to maintain some semblance of order by giving senior military posts to leading personages of his favoured tribes. Haftar was recently forced to reinstate Colonel Faraj Al-Barasi after he had sacked him twice from operational posts. He was pressured into doing so by the Colonel’s own tribe, the Bara’asa, and by its allies the Darsa, the Hasa and the Obeidat. To have alienated those tribes would have meant Haftar could suffer a notable loss of support in territory stretching from just north east of his headquarters at al-Marj to the Egyptian border.

It is not without significance that much of Libya’s oil crescent is in the homeland of the al-Magharba tribe, one of the nine Sa’adi tribes. Al-Magharba territory reaches as far eastwards as Ajdabia, Haftar’s place of birth. The support of Magharba tribal elders is crucial factor in Hafter’s all important hold on the oil ports and the strategically important city of Ajdabia. He will make sure, therefore, that he maintains close and cordial relations with the leading families of the Magharba such as the Latiawish.

Haftar’s avowed aim is to rid Libya of militant Islamists. Ranged against him is Dar Al-Ifta head Sheikh Sadiq al-Ghariani, Libya’s hard-line Grand Mufti. Sheik Ghariani is based in Tripoli and has his own TV station from whence he preaches recklessly throughout Libya.  He appears to be unassailable and is strongly suspected of supporting Salafist-Jihadist organisation in Eastern Libya. Whilst they vary in influence I find these to be the most interesting at the time of writing.

Derna, the small city and port on the north coast of East Libya, has long been a haven for Salafist-Jihadists. Some three years ago I wrote this in a blog piece about Derna.  ‘Today, barring an unforeseen accident, Derna is the lair an Islamist warlord called Sufian Ben Qumu. Ben Qumu’s ‘private’ militia amalgamated with two other radical Islamist armed groups, the Army of the Islamic State of Libya and the Derna branch of Ansar Sharia, to form the Shura Council of Islamic Youth. There are strong elements within this amalgamated group which have ties to Al Qaida. The Shura Council of Islamic Youth has gained a reputation for violence and militancy. It has carried out at least two public executions in Derna which have been condemned by Amnesty International’

Since I wrote the above Derna has had the doubtful pleasure of a period of Islamic State rule. The IS folk were evicted and the city is now ruled by the Shura Council of Muhajideen in Derna. I suggest it is likely that this organisation has evolved from the Shura Council of Islamic Youth and has strong connections with Ansar Sharia and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Derna is geographically isolated and I suspect the Haftar has it well contained and will try to deal with it later, avoiding collateral damage as far as possible. He cannot leave the problem unresolved much longer.

Haftar’s three year long campaign to remove Islamist-Jihadist forces from Benghazi has been successful. It has been protracted because of the nature of guerrilla warfare in cities.Those interested in what is a relatively modern military problem will find this paper worth reading. It has also been hampered by Haftar’s lack of a navy thus allowing reinforcements and supplies to reach the militants from Misrata, across the Gulf of Sirte. Benghazi now has a relatively stable municipal government led by its mayor, Abdelrahmen el-Abbar. The Abbar family is prominent in the Awaquir tribe. The Awaquir is one of the nine  Sa’adi tribes and its homeland surrounds Benghazi. Hafter must be concerned that pockets of militants remain in Benghazi’s Sabri and Suq al-Hout districts.  His Libyan National Army spearheaded by experienced special force launched an attack on militants in these two districts on 8th May 2017.

Particularly interesting now is the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries. In my view this body has Ansar Sharia as its mainstay and is likely to be allied to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. It is its connection with the Benghazi Defence Brigades which must trouble Haftar. They were formed under the banner of Sheik Sadiq Ghariani and appear to be based in or near Misrata. This unit was strong enough to take Haftar’s forces unawares and evict them briefly from the important Oil Crescent facilities of Ben Jawad and Nuflia. It is also supported by the Muslim Brotherhood and thus by ‘political Islam’.

Is Khalifa Haftar strong enough to rule Libya? He has repeatedly stated that he does not wish to do so. Should he attempt to do so he may not receive sufficient international support. I have drawn attention to only some of those who pose a danger to him in his own back yard.  There are many more obstacles in the way of a settlement in Libya. However, Haftar must be counted amongst those who may achieve a solution. Of note is the spate of ambassadors who have visited him in recent weeks.  They are Ambassadors Peter Millet of the UK, Brigitte Curmi of France, Guiseppe Perrone of Italy and Eric Strating of Holland. The UN Special Envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, also visited recently. It is my view that Haftar will not have compromised on  his clear and determined claim to the command of all Libya’s armed forces. We will see how all this works out soon.

John Oakes

15th May 2017