Friday, November 14, 2014

Unnoticed, Libya's southwest is teetering on the brink of collapse

The author was in Fezzan last year. He says Tuareg and Tebu leaders in the region, gripped by tribal warfare, were already worried by the spread of radical Islamism. With Derna now a de-facto province of the ISIS caliphate, If Benghazi falls, an Islamist free transit corridor will be stretching from Libya's coast across North Africa..

# Al-Monitor
By Alexander Roeskestad () {

Date = November 13, 2014

The strategic and geopolitical importance of Fezzan, the Roman name given to Libya’s southwest, is seldom highlighted — its importance is directly related to the survival of Libya as a state. As fighting continues on the coast, in Tripoli and Benghazi, the bottom of the Libyan state may fall out, seemingly unnoticed.


Tribal warfare has expanded and become a zero-sum game, where each tribe or coalition fights for its survival. With the fall of Gadhafi and consequently the Gadhatfa tribe in the south, several tribes rushed to the scene to crown themselves rulers of Fezzan in response to the power vacuum. The outcome is still to be determined, but the result has so far been bloody...The deaths are but sad examples of the schism that has opened up in the south between various tribes who now fight for domination of the Fezzan.


In Ubari, a Tuareg-dominated village west of Sabha, radical elements from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have widened their presence and their activities have started to scare the population and tribes who no longer can control the newcomer. One spokesperson for the Tuareg community expressed desperation and the need for help when I visited in December 2013, especially fearing radicalization of the youth who see a better future in these radical group than the one found back home. Members of the Tebu community in the south are also warning about the spread of radical Islamists. Although the Tebu and Tuareg often clash over the right to protect oil fields in the south, they are also united and scared of the growing presence of radical Islamists. The rapidity, effectiveness and fearlessness of political Islamist groups using violence have overwhelmed societies with weak governments, where everyone is fighting everyone.

Although less politically charged for the time being than the situation in Benghazi, radical groups in the south are armed and present. If Benghazi in the east were to fall completely, like the city of Derna, where Ansar al-Sharia rules supreme, a corridor of free passage stretching from Nigeria, through Mali, Algeria, Chad and Niger, passing through southern Libya could open up.

If southwestern Libya falls into complete chaos, either by the hands of tribal warfare or radical Islamism, all of Libya and North Africa will be at risk.

(Alexander Roeskestad is a specialist in Middle East politics, security, and international business development. He recently worked in southern Libya with Chemonics International )

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