Libya’s turmoil could have “negative ramifications on a global scale” if the country continues to spiral out of control, a senior lawmaker told the country’s newly elected parliament.
Abu Bakr Bueira, who chaired the opening session, told lawmakers in Tobruk today that the international community shoulders a “great responsibility” to ensure that the country’s chaos did not lead to weapons proliferation, oil smuggling and illegal immigration. The new legislature would “affirm to the world that Libya is not a failed state,” and can rise again, he said in comments broadcast by the state-run Libya News Agency.
The country has been gripped by the worst violence since the 2011 ouster and killing of Muammar Qaddafi, as militant groups across the country vie for control. The fighting has left hundreds dead, and led to the U.S. and other governments evacuating many of their nationals by sea and land after the closure of the country’s main airport outside the capital Tripoli.
Fighting at the airport and in the eastern city of Benghazi has pitched a renegade anti-Islamist general against militant groups, some of which are loyal to Ansar al-Shariah, which is blamed for killing the U.S. ambassador to Libya last year.
The recent parliamentary election was intended to mark another milestone in Libya’s shift to democracy by replacing an interim legislature with a permanent body. Overcoming Qaddafi’s legacy has proven challenging due to his grip over every state apparatus, according to Jon Marks, chairman of London-based consultancy Cross-Border Information.
In Libya, “you have the nation, but you don’t have the state,” Marks said in an interview. What is emerging is “perpetual conflict all the way around in a state that doesn’t exist,” he said.
Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz appealed to the international community for “more engagement” to resolve Libya’s crisis. While Libyan forces should combat insurgents, they need military equipment and training from countries like the U.S., Abdelaziz said in an interview during the first U.S.- Africa Leaders Summit in Washington today.
“We do realize that we have serious security challenges at the moment,” Abdelaziz said. “What we really need is more effective engagement in terms of supporting Libya bilaterally, regionally and internationaly.”
Lawmakers face challenges, including regional rivalries and bids for autonomy in the east. Even the choice of venue for the legislature’s meeting was disputed. Islamists had favored Tripoli, although the preparations went ahead for Tobruk.
The setbacks mean Libya has seen little stability for more than three years as jostling for power that led to the temporary rise of Islamists in parliament further undermined the central government’s already weak control over the country. The unrest has also impacted oil production, which is running at 450,000 barrels per day, the spokesman for the state-run National Oil Corp. said today. That’s slightly under 30 percent of its pre-2011 levels.
That should more than triple to about 1.5 million barrels per day in a year as the government consolidates control over oilfields and ports, Abdelaziz said.
As Bueira’s comments warned about the wider impact of unrest in Libya, the country’s neighbors are acting to prevent it from spreading. Tunisia has already beefed up security along the border, in part to address concerns about an exodus of foreigners fleeing Tripoli.
In Egypt, Amre Moussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League chief who headed the committee that drafted Egypt’s new constitution, warned that the unrest in Libya was becoming a security issue for his nation. Moussa, in comments reported by the independent Shorouk newspaper, said the government should secure public backing before any possible military intervention. Egyptian officials have repeatedly intercepted weapons shipments, including automatic rifles and rockets, which they say were smuggled into the country from Libya.
Thousands of Egyptian workers from manual laborers to professionals are employed in better-paying jobs in Libya, and many of those fleeing recounted horror stories to local media. One report cited an Egyptian as saying they were forced to eat hashish in the desert to survive; another said they endured abuse at the hands of Libyan authorities at the border as well as militias. Some said they saw corpses rotting in the streets.
Two Egyptians were shot dead during a stampede by hundreds who tried to flee to Tunisia from Libya, Tunisia’s state-run news agency, TAP, reported Aug. 1. Egypt’s foreign minister traveled to Tunisia today to deal with repatriation issues for Egyptian nationals, the ministry said in an e-mailed statement.
The United Nations’ mission in Libya welcomed the meeting of the lawmakers, saying it reflects the peoples’ “genuine will” to see democracy prevail. The UN looks “forward to the elected Council of Representatives playing its rightful role in leading efforts aimed at end the security deterioration, taking the necessary steps to safeguard the security, safety, unity and sovereignty of Libya,” it said in an emailed statement.