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Libya, ten years after the outbreak of the first Arab Spring war

Libia

The Libyans who took to the streets on February 17, 2011 had been called to a "day of rage." A little later, the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi - who at the time was the longest-lived but also the most eccentric tyrant in the Arab world - would be called the "February 17 Revolution." In retrospect, that is the time when the Arab Spring turned into the great war for the Arab world. Ten years after the February 17 Revolution, that war is still raging, and Libya is still at its center, and its fate has not been decided yet.

The first Arab Spring war

The protests that marked, in Tunisia, the beginning of the Arab world, were observed everywhere in the region; in 2010, when they erupted, it was impossible to isolate a country anymore, to prevent the information from reaching there. Many problems were similar in much of the Arab world - too few opportunities for a better life, too little freedom, dictators who had been in power for too long, too big a gap between their lives and those of their subjects. By early 2011 it was clear not only that uprisings were possible, but also that they could work. The Tunisians had said "no!" to their dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and he had been forced to flee the country in January. The Egyptians had forced Mubarak to relinquish power in February. Why couldn't others do it too? The situation in Libya had been tense since the beginning of the year and some protests had already taken place; in February, they intensified, and Gaddafi's departure started to be demanded. On February 17, a day of rage was called. Security forces fired war ammunition. That was the beginning. A month later, NATO also intervened in the conflict, initially under the pretext of imposing an air ban zone. In the following months, Allied aircraft virtually crushed Gaddafi's forces, thus giving a decisive advantage to the rebels, who in mid-October captured Sirte, the former dictator's hometown and the site of his last battle. . Gaddafi was killed trying to escape from Sirte: his convoy was the target of a NATO air strike, and the Libyan strongman was captured by rebels, brutalized and killed; he was even denied burial the day after his death, as required by Islamic tradition, as was his son, Mutassim, who was also captured and killed in Sirte.

Gaddafi's death did not put an end to the conflict in Libya. The militias formed to fight the forces of the former dictator came into conflict with each other for the country's resources. Sporadic clashes turned into a second civil war, which erupted in force in 2014 and split the country in two, with the west and capital Tripoli dominated by a government recognized by the international community but with ties to Islamists in the Muslim Brotherhood network, and the east controlled by the self-proclaimed Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The Tripoli government was initially supported by Qatar, and now enjoys a more substantial support from Turkey, which has also sent troops to help its ally. Haftar, a former Gaddafi officer who fell into disfavor with him, relies on the support of Egypt and the Gulf states - Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which compete with Qatar - but also of Russia, which is always eager to expand its influence and create problems for the Europeans who are by no means indifferent to what happens in their vicinity.Tripoli has been drawn by Turkey into a much bigger game, which has shaken EU member states such as Greece, Cyprus and France: the race for the hydrocarbon reserves in the Mediterranean. Tripoli has signed an agreement with Ankara to delimit maritime borders and exclusive economic zones, a move by means of which it practically claims the areas of interest of other countries. 

The impact of the Libyan war, from Syria to the Sahel and from Europe to the United States 

The war against Gaddafi was the first in a series of conflicts that have marked and continue to mark the entire East. It was followed by those in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. These wars have attracted Arab states, regional powers like Iran and Turkey, global powers like Russia and the United States, and NATO.Wars are interconnected through more or less visible threads, and therefore could be seen as a great war for the Arab world. There are large opposition forces everywhere, authoritarian regimes and pro-democrats, secular and Islamist, strategic and economic interests. There are decisions or facts that have generated other decisions and facts. NATO has invoked a Security Council mandate to intervene in the Libyan civil war; Russia has used this as a pretext to block any decision by the same Council in the case of Syria, thus giving Bashar al-Assad the freedom to gas his own population without fear of any international community action. Gaddafi's death showed Assad what the risks were if the rebels won, and at least since October 2011 it has been clear that the Syrian dictator would do anything to win. One of his decisions - taken before Gaddafi's killing but after NATO's intervention in Libya - was to release jihadists from prisons, in order to pretend he was fighting terrorists, not revolutionary forces. The outcome? A first wave of recruits for jihadist groups, including the Al-Nusra Front, from which the Islamic State spun off. Assad avoided major confrontations with either group, which allowed the latter to consolidate its positions and attack Iraq as well. More moderate rebel forces, both secular and Islamist, which were supported financially and with weapons by Arab states, Turkey and the West, were defeated by Assad with the help of Iran and Russia, and Tehran's involvement made the Saudis more careful, as they would not tolerate one of its satellites near their southern border, so they intervened in Yemen.Obviously, all of the above does not mean that so many states in the East have collapsed, like dominoes, just because the war in Libya broke out, but it is clear that if this had not happened the situation in the region would have been completely different.The impact of the Libyan war has also been felt outside the Arab world. The chaos into which the country sank has opened the way for migrants from Africa, and the Libyan coast has become a launch pad to Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people have tried to get to Italy from there; thousands have drowned. The waves of immigrants have also had political effects in Italy and, further, in the European Union, even if not as big as those caused by the Syrian refugee crisis. Not only migrants took advantage of the chaos, but also jihadists who gained a greater freedom of movement, and former fighters in the first civil war. They headed to Mali and the Sahel, where a bloody Islamist insurgency has been taking place for years.

Across the ocean, in the United States, the effect of the attack by Muslim extremists on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi was fully felt; the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was insistently blamed for the incident, and it is very likely that she lost points in the confrontation with Donald Trump because of that.  

From regional player to a failed state

 Today, Libya is a chessboard on which powers engaged in a much wider struggle are fighting for influence through local pawns. A failed state. It is a huge change of status from the time of Gaddafi, who dreamt of being the leader of Africa and the non-aligned countries, using oil and the revenues generated by it to secure his influence in Europe. At one point, he even sought to buy a president from the Elysee Palace by funding Nicolas Sarkozy's election campaign. It is true that in the end that policy didn't save Gaddafi: when the decisive moment came, it became obvious that Gaddafi's influence was non-existent. His friend in Paris was the one who advocated the most for intervention in Libya - not coincidentally the French called it "Sarkozy's war" - and there was speculation that he did so in an attempt to get enough votes in the next election, which, however, he lost.There are people who have benefited from the Libyan war/wars. Some got rich. Others gained power over a strip of territory. But in the end, none of this means much in a failed state. Everything can be lost from one day to the next. Ten years since the war broke out, no one can say they’ve really won. Not even those who stole what started as a revolution.

Tags: Russia, war, Saudi Arabia, The Arab Spring, United Arab Emirates, The Islamic State, al-Qaida, NATO
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  • The Libyans who took to the streets on February 17, 2011 had been called to a "day of rage." A little later, the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi - who at the time was the longest-lived but also the most eccentric tyrant in the Arab world - would be called the "February 17 Revolution." In retrospect, that is the time when the Arab Spring turned into the great war for the Arab world.
  • Gaddafi's death did not put an end to the conflict in Libya. The militias formed to fight the forces of the former dictator came into conflict with each other for the country's resources. Sporadic clashes turned into a second civil war, which erupted in force in 2014 and split the country in two, with the west and capital Tripoli dominated by a government recognized by the international community but with ties to Islamists in the Muslim Brotherhood network, and the east controlled by the self-proclaimed Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
  • The war against Gaddafi was the first in a series of conflicts that have marked and continue to mark the entire East. It was followed by those in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. These wars have attracted Arab states, regional powers like Iran and Turkey, global powers like Russia and the United States, and NATO. Wars are interconnected through more or less visible threads, and therefore could be seen as a great war for the Arab world.
  • Today, Libya is a chessboard on which powers engaged in a much wider struggle are fighting for influence through local pawns. A failed state. It is a huge change of status from the time of Gaddafi, who dreamt of being the leader of Africa and the non-aligned countries, using oil and the revenues generated by it to secure his influence in Europe. At one point, he even sought to buy a president from the Elysee Palace by funding Nicolas Sarkozy's election campaign.
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