North Africa is a geographically strategic region for Italy. Currently, however, the region navigates troubled waters. The Libyan crisis, the rise of the so-called Islamic State (IS), migration flows and economic and energy relations in the Mediterranean basin are key priorities for Italian foreign and security policy. On Libya, the country’s internal chaos has paved the way for the expansion of IS and further increased migration flows from the region. Turning to Egypt, until recently Italy used to be its first European economic partner. However, relations with the al-Sisi regime worsened in the aftermath of the Regeni diplomatic rift. At the same time, Tunisia is facing a difficult transition and the future of the Algerian leadership seems to be still uncertain. How is the Italian government coping with current challenges? The Vienna conference (May 16), co-chaired by Italy and the United States, aimed at finding viable options to the Libyan impasse. Over the last two years, Matteo Renzi’s government tried hard to follow a wider multilateral approach, mainly hinging upon the UN and the EU. In order to foster the Italian role in the wider Mediterranean region, Renzi sponsored Federica Mogherini’s appointment as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR). Despite all these efforts, Italy is still struggling to cope with the many challenges in its southern neighborhood. Although the Italian government is working to escape the fate of a stalemate in the region, a way out from the crisis is still there to be found.
The Islamic State (IS, or ISIS or ISIL) in Libya controls the coastal strip around the central city, Sirte, from Bu’ayrat al Hasun to Bin Jawad and down south to the vicinity of the Jufra oasis. In Benghazi the battle-hardened jihadists are part of the backbone of the resistance against General Heftar’s Operation Dignity. The group is also present in training camps to the south of Sabratha. Several smaller cells exist in Tripoli, Khoms and other coastal cities of Tripolitania.
After the fall of the Gaddafi regime there was - allegedly - a great opportunity to make Libya a role model for other states in the region. For various reasons this opportunity is gone. There are several indications that Libya is on the way to a lengthy civil war. Some kind of Lebanonization could be the destiny of the country.
As probably everybody is aware an unstable Libya could have a significant negative impact to the region and also to our own countries.
Libya, three years after the end of its uprising against the Gaddafi regime, has reached the nadir of its political fortunes. It is both ironic and painful that for the third time since their independence in 1951 Libyans’ attempt to create a modern, centralized state seems to be slipping from their grasp – this time after a promising start in the wake of the 2011 uprising against its former dictator. The first two failed attempts – in 1951 and 1969 – were essentially local affairs with few reverberations beyond the country’s borders.
A Peace Support Operation (PSO) in Libya is a last resort measure. Once decided and after several preconditions are met, the scope of the mission should remain rather limited. Such a PSO deployed to the greater Tripoli area in order to stabilize the situation in and around the capital and to help the new government to get on its feet could make a significant difference anyway and would be a viable option.
Today, Wednesday 25 June, Libyans go to the polls for the second time since Gaddafi’s fall in 2011. The atmosphere surrounding the polls is not one of enthusiasm and participation. Libya is slowly but steadily slipping into a period of protracted violence, if not a full blown civil war. Elections were seen by many as a panacea but they may turn out to be a missed opportunity if no meaningful reconciliation is started and if a low turnout affects legitimacy.
The political developments in Libya are heavily influenced by numerous armed groups. As this will remain unchanged after the upcoming elections it is useful to assess their capabilities, political affiliation, alliances and future intentions.
It's hard to debate what the international community should do in Libya without considering first the real causes of the instability. Three years since the "revolution", the Libyan people are still struggling to rebuild their country, but the current security conditions and the political situation are very fragile. Militias and military councils – not the government – effectively rule the country; towns and tribes have been excluded from the reconciliation process because they are accused of being pro-Qaddafi; the Libyan society is fractured into a multitude of factions.
Three years after the Libyan uprising in 2011, and a few days after the elections for the Constitutional Assembly, the country is preparing for the “Friends of Libya Conference” in Rome on March 6, designed to provide support on security, justice and the rule of law in the country. The conference, a follow-up to one a year ago in Paris, arrives against a background of continuing insecurity. The European Union and its individual members are trying to support Libyan transition, but, till now, they have had little impact on stabilization.