By Abdallah Schleifer
18 November 2014
How many more beheadings have to take place in Benghazi and Derna before U.N. representatives or Western statesmen stop talking about the need for all parties in the Libyan civil war to sit down and negotiate away their differences? Those same statesmen and representatives should instead put their own heads together to work out a plan to rescue the Libyans from a terrorist take-over.
The beheadings began last June in Benghazi, when the headless bodies of several members of the Libyan Army Special Forces who had been kidnapped were discovered. In July, a Filipino construction worker was beheaded, reportedly because he was not a Muslim.
Then in August there were two more beheadings in Derna and a single beheading in Benghazi in October.
But last Monday, the pace picked up. A Libyan soldier was beheaded in Benghazi and three social media activists were beheaded in Derna.
The jihadist militias fighting the Libyan Army in Benghazi, which are in complete control of Derna, are in an alliance known as the Libyan Dawn which is dominated by the Ansar al-Sharia militia which has now formally announced its affiliation to the so-called Islamic State of ISIS, where they started flying the ISIS flag even before the formal announcement of affiliation.
This past week, car bombs exploded outside the UAE and Egyptian embassies in Tripoli - both embassies had been evacuated when Muslim Brotherhood led militias seized the Libyan capital last summer after the Brotherhood and allied Islamists’ poor showing in the elections of a new parliament back in June. So, the bombings were basically symbolic gestures to protest Egypt and the UAE’s strong support for the government formed by the recently elected parliament after it fled to Tobruk.
It is assumed that the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated alliance of militias in control of Tripoli known as Libyan Shield were responsible for the symbolic attacks against the two embassies.
There was nothing symbolic in the case of a suicide bombing and a series of car bombs this past week in Tobruk and neighbouring towns which resulted in a number of dead and wounded. Since the Libyan Shield militias are still fighting the Libyan Army which is loyal to the legitimate government in Tobruk in towns located close to Tripoli, it is assumed that Libyan Shield is also responsible for the attacks in Tobruk.
But the suicide bomber and those who set off the car bombs in Tobruk could have also been sent to Tobruk by the Libyan Dawn. Both alliances are fighting against the Libyan Army supporting the legitimate government in Tobruk.
Condemning the Attacks
The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the attacks against the embassies in Tripoli as did the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) which declared, according to a U.N. press release, that it was “greatly concerned” about the beheadings, but it continues to talk about the need for political dialogue between all parties.
This curious sort of moral equivalence has been encouraged by a ruling of the Libyan Supreme Court two weeks ago that the legitimate parliament in Tobruk was unconstitutional. The Court had remained in Tripoli and when it announced it would hear a case challenging the elected parliament the legitimate government made the mistake of participating in the proceedings. This was naïve on the part of the government for the Court was now meeting in an environment in which any ruling against Libyan Shield could result in arrest or even assassination.
When the Supreme Court failed to follow the parliament and government to Tobruk the court should have been declared illegitimate. Two members of the Court opposed to the ruling have reportedly now fled to Tobruk.
These chaotic conditions, in which a significant segment of the forces fighting the government are now openly affiliated with ISIS (as are the Sinai jihadists), would have justified open military intervention by Egypt by now. Particularly after an Egyptian Army border post was overrun by Libyan based jihadist fighters .
The Libyan government has formally requested the Egyptian armed forces to train the Libyan Army, but it has not requested that Egypt openly intervene. It would appear that the government is concerned that there is a traditional concern among the Libyan population about the possibility of Egyptian domination. So the government, although in close coordination with Egypt’s government and Egyptian Army intelligence, would nevertheless prefer a broad coalition of forces – and not necessarily exclusively Arab – to come to its rescue. Even to the extent of a U.N. force, it seems, although one would imagine a certain lack of realism to that preference, given the ambivalence on the part of the U.N. Mission to take sides. But there are unconfirmed reports that Italy has expressed a willingness to participate in just such an international intervention, so there may be a greater possibility of such an intervention than meets the eye.
Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.