In our previous article we detailed three sub-scenarios of combined partition and spill over where Libya disappears as such through the creation of three new states, while consequent weaknesses is the cause of spill over to neighboring nations. We thus concluded the series of scenarios 2, which depicted a continuing civil war but with different terms, i.e. change of terrain or actors (see Mitchell, “Scenarios for the Future of Libya Within the Next Three to Five Years,” June 1, 2015; and Lavoix, “How to Analyze Future Security Threats (4): Scenarios and War,” December 30, 2013). This article focuses on the first of the two possible scenarios detailing a total victory in Libya, either by the Islamists or the nationalists. Scenario 3.1 and its sub-scenarios will discuss a total victory by the Islamist government and armed factions, where Libya becomes an Islamist state ruled by Sharia law. In scenario 3.2 and its sub-scenarios, we shall discuss a victory by the nationalist government and its coalition.

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Note: Considering the future names of potential factions that would result from a new split between the unity government, we shall use the label nationalist for those that supported the nationalist/liberal-dominated Council of Representatives (COR) and any future anti-Islamist factions; Islamist to note those that supported the General National Congress (GNC) and any future pro-political Islamic movements; and Salafist will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.

Sub-scenario 3 – A Real Victory in Libya

In this scenario, a “real victory” refers to the cessation of major hostilities resulting from a belligerent’s military domination of the other. Once a belligerent militarily defeats the other, it will be in a position to rebuild Libya as either an Islamist or secular state.

After achieving military victory, the triumphant government begins the stabilization and peacebuilding processes necessary to rebuild the Libyan state. The victorious government faces the arduous tasks of uniting the country, finding a solution to control the various militias, preventing a renewed insurgency by the vanquished, and achieving both domestic and international legitimacy.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of exhaustion suffered by each side. Heightened levels of exhaustion will decrease the likelihood of a real military victory and increase the likelihood of a peace settlement or uniting under a unity government.
  2. The level of resolve by each side to achieve a military victory instead of submitting to a peace agreement. Considering the Islamists’ level of hatred for General Haftar, and Haftar’s hatred for Islamist groups, both sides have a high level of resolve to achieve military victory. The higher the level of resolve, the more likely this scenario is to occur.
  3. The level of each side’s military strength. If one side is able to continue recruiting fighters, increase its troop strength levels, and gain advantages with air and ground power while the other side progressively loses military strength, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  4. The ability of one side to make territorial gains. A real military victory depends on the conqueror’s ability to take and hold territory. Territorial gains by one side and consequential territory loss by the other increase the likelihood of scenario 3 occurring.
  5. The level of military assistance provided by external actors. External military assistance has a large impact on the battlefield. Depending on the level of support, the likelihood of this scenario increases. Past indications occurred when Turkey and Qatar allegedly provided arms and political support to the Islamists (Kirkpatrick and Schmitt, The New York Times, August 25, 2014; Tastekin, Al-Monitor, December 4, 2014), while Egypt and the United Arab Emirates provided military assistance to the nationalists (McGregor, Terrorism Monitor, September 5, 2014; Wenig, The Washington Institute).
  6. The presence of extremist groups that are opposed to both sides. If extremist groups fighting both coalitions have a strong presence in Libya, both the Islamists and nationalists will have added complications to achieving a military victory. Groups like the Islamic State force both sides to divert military forces and other assets – thus decreasing the likelihood of this scenario. A past indication occurred when the Islamic State stronghold in Sirte forced both the Islamist and nationalist coalitions to divert forces to prevent the Islamic State from gaining additional territory and launching attacks on their populations (Kadlec, War on the Rocks, June 23, 2016).

Sub-scenario 3.1 An Islamist Libya

Mohamed Hassan Swaan. President of Libya’s Justice and Construction Party

The Islamist government – dominated by the Justice and Construction Party (considered an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood) – gradually begins directing Libya towards an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law. If the government decides to increase its domestic legitimacy with Libya’s mixed population of secularists, Islamists, Arabs, Tuareg, Amazigh, and Toubou, it allows secular liberal freedoms to exist, and allows the tribes to maintain their tribal courts and councils. Despite being allowed to maintain their tribal governance, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou tribes continue to be marginalized in the Islamist government. Libya’s new government works to keep the peace between the tribes in the south, but does not make an effort to fully include the minority tribes. However, if the Islamist government is pressured enough to immediately make Libya a strict Islamic state, it removes secular liberal freedoms and attempts to impose Sharia on tribal courts and councils. Considering the tribal beliefs and organization of the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou (see Mitchell, Tribal Dynamics and Civil War I, II, and III), as well as their inability to match the military strength of the government, the tribes feel forced to submit to a Libyan Sharia state – and thus progressively turn again, with time, towards insurgency.

Once the Islamist government takes power, Turkey and Qatar are among the first states to recognize its legitimacy – considering their interest in supporting Sunni Islamist governments. The EU and U.S. also recognize the new government as a way to prevent spill over and act as a bulwark against Libya’s extremist groups. Not wanting a Muslim Brotherhood state as its neighbor, Egypt expresses its opposition to the legitimacy of the new Islamist government.

After initiating steps to implement Sharia law, the Libyan Islamist government immediately passes a binding law that excludes anyone once affiliated with Qaddafi’s regime from obtaining any positions in local or national government as well as the court systems and armed forces. Following the passage of this political exclusion law, the new government takes legal action to exclude military officers and politicians that were steadfastly loyal to General Haftar. To protect the integrity and cohesion of its new political system, the Islamist government fills its various ministries with leaders that were loyal throughout the civil war – notably those from the Islamist and Misrata factions. In response to being excluded from ministerial positions, Haftar loyalists protest the new government, and eventually join small guerilla movements that continued on after military defeat. This leads to scenarios that we shall detail later.

Followers of Ansar al-Sharia (a Salafist group) protest in Benghazi (2012)

Although the Islamists differed from the Salafists during the conflict, they worked together to defeat the nationalist coalition. With the nationalists defeated and the Islamist government in power, the Salafist groups demand the strictest interpretation of Sharia be immediately implemented throughout the country. If the government follows the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy of gradualism (see The Clarion Project’s special report on the Muslim Brotherhood) and has the necessary amount of force to protect itself against a Salafist insurgency, it decides to refrain from immediately implementing strict Sharia law in Libya. However, if it cannot afford to repel a brutal insurgency by a variety of strong Salafist groups, the Islamist government capitulates and decides to make Libya a strict Sharia state.

This scenario can thus evolve in two outcome scenarios. In the first scenario, the government is strong enough to maintain a state that includes liberal freedoms at first, and then gradually transitions to an Islamic state. However, once the state reaches a point where all Libyans must adhere to strict Sharia law, the tribes and secularists begin turning towards insurgency. In the second scenario, the government is forced to immediately implement strict Sharia law by the threat of a deadly Salafist insurgency, which hastens a return to insurgency, however in a weakened, hidden way at first.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 3.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of power that the Justice and Construction Party hold in the government. If the Justice and Construction Party holds the majority of the seats in the new government, the likelihood of an eventual strict Sharia scenario increases, nonetheless following the gradual policy favoured by the Muslim Brotherhood. However, if the National Forces Alliance gains more power than the Justice and Construction Party, the likelihood of this scenario decreases. The National Forces Alliance is the main contender to the Justice and Construction Party in the Islamist government; it “rejects political Islam”; and recognizes Islam as a source of law, but maintains a more liberal stance on the rights of non-Muslims (Thorne, The Christian Science Monitor, July 9, 2012). A past indication occurred when the National Forces Alliance took the majority of seats in the General National Congress during the 2012 election (Karadsheh, CNN, July 18, 2012). However, as the Islamist obtained a military victory, everything will depend upon their willingness to allow for power-sharing, first, and, second, upon the remaining strength and capabilities of the defeated factions to still act as a political force (see indicator 7).
  2. The willingness of the new government to allow secular liberal freedoms to coexist with Sharia law. If the Islamists want to increase domestic legitimacy in a complex population, it makes an attempt to create a flexible Islamist state where secular liberal freedoms and Sharia coexist – although this would be a very complicated endeavor and too complex to detail here. After the Arab Spring, Tunisia successfully created a new constitution that made Islam that official religion of the state and still allowed secular liberal freedoms (Kranz, The Gate, January 20, 2015), but the dynamics of Libya’s post-civil war environment may severely complicate attempts to create a similar mixed system.
  3. The willingness of the government to allow tribes to retain their councils and court systems. If the Islamists want to gain legitimacy among the Amazigh, Tuareg and Toubou tribes, they will not impose Sharia, and instead allow them to maintain their tribal councils and courts as their source of law for personal status issues.
  4. The government’s level of tribal inclusion in the political system. By not giving the tribes full representation in the political system, the Islamist government risks losing any and all legitimacy with the minority tribes. A past indication occurred when these tribes felt underrepresented in the Constitutional Drafting Committee and protested the General National Congress that did not allow them more representation (Minority Rights Group International, State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014 – Libya, July 3, 2014).
  5. Level of pressure on the new government to implement strict Sharia law. Once the Islamist government takes power, the Salafist groups will likely demand an immediate implementation of strict Sharia law across the country. Considering the Islamists’ (i.e. Muslim Brotherhood) long-term strategy of gradually progressing to a strict Sharia state by winning the hearts and minds of the people (see The Clarion Project’s special report on the Muslim Brotherhood; and MEMRI’s Special Dispatch No. 3969 on implementing Sharia in phases), the government is not willing to submit to the Salafists’ demand. The only way the government might be pressured to speed up its implementation process is if it were threatened by a significant Salafist insurgency and could not survive another civil war.
  6. The international community’s willingness to recognize the Islamist government as the legitimate government. If the international community recognizes the legitimacy of the new Islamist government, the stabilization and peacebuilding processes will likely benefit as a result of assistance from other countries. The willingness to recognize the new government depends on the level of democracy incorporated in the new Libyan state, as well as a state’s view on Islamist governments. For example, Egypt’s experience with the Muslim Brotherhood (BBC News, December 25, 2013) will likely cause the Egyptian government to withhold recognition of an Islamist Libyan government. The EU and U.S. will be more willing to recognize its legitimacy if the new government holds democratic elections and appears to oppose Salafist’s calls for strict Sharia law. Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, and Chad would likely recognize this Islamist government – particularly if it took steps to crack down on spill over.
  7. The willingness to exclude former adversaries from government. The Islamists’ level of hatred and opposition to General Haftar may significantly increase their willingness to exclude his loyal supporters from political roles. If the government does not pass legislation on excluding Haftar loyalists, it may simply fill ministerial positions with faithful allies, such as politicians and military leaders from Misrata and Tripoli. The new government may also take steps to exclude former Gaddafi supports from political positions. If it doesn’t actively take steps to exclude Gaddafi officials, its loyal supporters may protest and force the government to do so. A past indication occurred when the General National Congress passed the Political Isolation Law (allegedly under duress) to prevent former Qaddafi supporters from participating in local or state government (Full Text: Libya’s Political Isolation Law, May 16, 2013; Abadeer, Muftah, May 9, 2013).
  8. The level of commitment to a gradualist strategy in spite of Salafists’ demands to immediately implement Sharia law. If the Islamist government is willing to risk a Salafist insurgency to maintain its gradualist strategy of implementing Sharia, the likelihood of this scenario increases. However, this largely depends on its ability to protect the people from a Salafist insurgency (see indicator below), as well as what phase the government is in regarding their gradualist goals of a Libyan Sharia state and the overall Caliphate. The less phases achieved by the government in gradually implementing strict Sharia law will likely keep them committed to a gradualist strategy. If they are in the later stages of gradualism, they may be more likely to rush the last stages in order to avoid tension with the Salafists.
  9. The ability of the government to protect itself against a Salafist insurgency. If the Islamist government does not have a functioning military or enough loyal armed groups at its disposal, it will not be able to sufficiently protect the Libyan people from a Salafist insurgency. If that is the case, and if the government decides it cannot afford another civil war, it may capitulate and turn Libya towards a strict Islamic state.


Featured Photo: Misrata fighters pose outside the Ouagadougou Conference Hall in Sirte after capturing it from Islamic State forces, posted on The Libya Observer Facebook page, 10 August 2016

Amanda Kadlec, “All Eyes on Sirte: Beating the Islamic State, but Losing Libya,” War on the Rocks, June 23, 2016

Andrew McGregor, “Egypt, the UAE and Arab Military Intervention in Libya,” Terrorism Monitor, Volume 12, Issue 17, September 5, 2014

“Article on Muslim Brotherhood Website: Implement Shari’a in Phases,” The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Special Dispatch No. 3969, July 5, 2011

Caroline Abadeer, “Full Text: Libya’s Political Isolation Law,” Muftah, May 16, 2013

Caroline Abadeer, “The Libyan General National Congress Ratifies Political Isolation Law,” Muftah, May 9, 2013

David D. Kirkpatrick and Eric Schmitt, “Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S.,” The New York Times, August 25, 2014

Dr. Helene Lavoix, “How to Analyze Future Security Threats (4): Scenarios and War,” The Red Team Analysis Society, December 30, 2013

Elliot Friedland, “Special Report: The Muslim Brotherhood,” The Clarion Project, June 2015

Erica Wenig, “Egypt’s Security and the Libyan Civil War,” The Washington Institute

Fehim Tastekin, “Turkey’s war in Libya,” Al-Monitor, December 4, 2014

John Thorne, “Neither liberal nor Islamist: Who are Libya’s frontrunners?” The Christian Science Monitor, July 9, 2012

Jomana Karadsheh, “Liberal coalition makes strides in historic Libyan election,” CNN, July 18, 2012

Jon Mitchell and Helene Lavoix, “Scenarios for the Future of Libya within the Next Three to Five Years,” The Red Team Analysis Society, June 1, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (1),” The Red Team Analysis Society, April 13, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (2),” The Red Team Analysis Society, April 20, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (3),” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 11, 2015

Michal Kranz, “The Tunisian Miracle: A Marriage of Moderate Islam and Secular Democracy,” The Gate, January 20, 2015

Minority Rights Group International, “State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014 – Libya,” July 3, 2014

“Profile: Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood,” BBC News, December 25, 2013