The nation holding the world’s 9th largest oil reserves has been sliced open by rival factions seeking political control and export revenue.
By Ola Wam.
Mired in divisive conflict, Libya is on the verge of utter implosion. British diplomat Jonathan Powell has expressed his concern that the country could be “turning into a Somalia by the Mediterranean”. With a series of U.N.-sponsored talks failing throughout the first months of 2015, this scenario, with all the risks it implies for Europe and North Africa, is coming closer to reality.
The toppling of authoritarian leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 left Libya in pieces. In the fallout, myriad tribes, ethnic groups, urban centers, and Islamists emerged as heirs to the world’s ninth largest oil reserves. Their bitter competition for power and survival has become increasingly violent as militias keep mushrooming on the back of government benefits.
After failed parliamentary elections, Libya’s fragile democracy has been split between two governments, resulting in a tug-of-war over political legitimacy carried out by armed militia coalitions. With Libya’s status as a major oil exporter to the E.U., oil cash is both the conflict’s ammunition and aim. Both sides are funded by oil revenue filtered through the National Transitional Council, yet the ultimate prize of the conflict is unilateral control over the country’s vast petroleum resources.
Disrupted levels of output combined with low oil prices are likely to intensify the conflict this spring. The two sides have already escalated the stakes with military strikes at rival production facilities, and efforts at negotiating peace are being frustrated by ambitious militias. If the conflict isn’t halted soon, it is …
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