This article focuses on the second of the scenarios depicting a total victory for one Libyan faction, where the nationalist coalition – loyal to a non-Islamist and nationalist government – is victorious and guides Libya towards a secular and nationalist state where Sharia is not a source of governance. In our previous scenario we detailed the scenario of an Islamist victory where the new government gradually, with different paths according to speed, implements Sharia law and puts Libya on the path towards an Islamic state.

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-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.

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Sub-scenario 3.2 A Nationalist Libya

In this scenario, a “real victory” refers to the cessation of major hostilities resulting from a belligerents 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.

By achieving a real victory against the Islamist-dominated coalition and government, the nationalist coalition sets up its non-Islamist government and endeavours to organize the new Libyan state. This new government projects a secular-nationalist rule of law, and firmly opposes the use of Sharia law as a basis for legislation.

The nationalist government is determined to first secure the porous southern border. It knows it has two major options. Either it makes a deal with the Tuareg and Toubou to increase their representation in government and promises to address their other grievances if they secure the southern province to prevent jihadists from entering the country and assist in stabilization efforts throughout the Fezzan. Or, it exclusively pre-occupies itself with post-civil war affairs in the north and begins to ignore the Tuareg and Toubou. Both minority tribes in the south thus feel abandoned – the Toubou are angry that their alliance with the nationalist coalition did not result in a seat at the power table, or even a request for meaningful post-war assistance, while the Tuareg are afraid that they especially will be left out, considering their opposition to the nationalists during the war. In this case, the odds to see them deciding to split away from the Libyan state in protest and form their own tribal states, or to hold southern Libyan oil resources as collateral for political concessions – thus forcing the government to address the minority tribes increase. Considering both the value of past war alliances and the risks entailed by not doing so, the nationalist government finally chooses the first option.

The nationalist leaders start implementing a strict anti-Islamist agenda. Not wanting to include former adversaries that promoted a system alien to their beliefs and challenged their legitimacy, the new government takes measures to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party. In an effort to completely dismantle Islamist movements in Libya, the government arrests, charges, and prosecutes prominent Islamist politicians and militia leaders. It then welcomes those affiliated with Qaddafi’s regime to be involved in the new state, partly as a means to increase domestic legitimacy among the Qaddafists, but also as a means to consolidate power. This announcement draws much support from former Qaddafi officials and particularly Qaddafi’s tribe – the Qadhadhfa – who felt marginalized after the revolution and whose men and also some elders became a recruiting pool for the Islamic State in Sirte. Seeing this as an opportunity to restore some of their influence in the government, as well as seeing that the Islamist defeat leaves only the Salafist groups left to be targeted (to which many Qadhadhfa fighters belong), the pro-Qaddafi tribes that didn’t originally ally with the nationalists now shift their support to the new government.

Bolstered by the new government’s actions to ignore Sharia law, the Salafist groups denounce Libya as a kafir state and state their intention to destroy it. However, as far as the Islamic State is concerned, they are weakened by the loss of the pro-Qaddafi tribes, which spurs a renewed propaganda push to attract more foreign jihadists. Salafist groups that experience a surge of foreign jihadist recruits renew their insurgency against the Libyan government. Those which do not succeed in either attracting enough foreign recruits or local ones grow weaker and unable to hold territory as they did during the civil war. Thus, they shift from a more centralized semi-state with territory and governance to a decentralized underground terrorist organization that avoids conventional warfare, causes mass civilian casualties through terrorist attacks, and specifically targets security personnel, secular judges, and political and military leaders under the nationalist government. However, this renewed insurgency and its outcome would require new scenarios to fully understand its depth.

Meanwhile, the nationalist coalition and government struggles at first to gain international legitimacy. The Western powers tread lightly in regard to signaling open support for the new government – mostly to see the initial actions made by the new government that signify its national and international intentions. With the migrant crisis still a serious problem for the EU, it opens diplomatic relations with the nationalist government to work out a solution that would stem the flow of migrants from Libya’s shores. In a unilateral move that is the result of unsatisfactory solutions put forth by the EU, the United Kingdom offers assistance to Libya in an effort to counter the human-trafficking networks that significantly contribute to the migrant routes through Libya. (In an alternative sub-scenario, where the migrant crisis is already abated, the EU stands alongside the U.S. as they wait to see how the government sets the tone for stabilization and rebuilding). Meanwhile, Russia expands its ties with the nationalists and quickly negotiates arms deals with the government – knowing that the new Libyan military will need to be outfitted, while it allows Russia to further gaining influence with a new power in the Middle East/North Africa region.

General Haftar represents a strong anti-Islamist ideology in Libya, which appeals to Egypt and the UAE.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates continue to support the nationalist government as it takes action to exclude Islamists from power and crack down on Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated supporters throughout Libya. Libya’s other neighbors also recognize the legitimacy of the new state and begin working with the government to make sure no insecure borders could lead to renewed insurgency. Having backed the Islamist government – whom they considered the legitimate government – and seeing the new government’s efforts to crack down on Islamist groups, Qatar and Turkey denounce the nationalist government.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 3.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The government’s level of priority to include minority tribes in the state. Once it begins functioning as the country’s sole political authority, the new government will take measures to first stabilize war-torn Libya, and then begin the rebuilding process. Depending on a variety of factors and agendas, the government could potentially prioritize other issues over the political inclusion of minority tribes; issues such as eliminating terrorist groups, ramping up oil production and exports, developing a new and united military, finding a solution to the massive migration problem, securing financial assets, and mitigating any existing financial crises.
  2. The tribes’ willingness to break away from the state in a partition. If the new government begins passing important legislation or drafts a new constitution without their full representation and blatantly ignores their political grievances, then the tribes could take action to form their own autonomous tribal states. A past indication occurred when the Amazigh tribe refused to recognize a Libyan constitution drafted by a constitutional assembly that lacked sufficient tribal representation because “we do not recognize those who do not recognize us,” (Nationalia, February 21, 2014). The Amazigh Council then announced its intention to create an Amazigh-only Parliament (Ibid.). A similar indication occurred when Toubou and Tuareg militia leaders “threatened to pursue regional autonomy for Fezzan” when one of the former Libyan transitional governments cancelled “fake” ID cards held by the Tuareg and Toubou (Lacher, Security Assessment in North Africa, February 2014).
  3. The tribes’ willingness to hold oil resources as collateral to gain full representation in the new government. An alternative to tribal partition in response to the lack of political inclusion or civil rights could take place in the form of holding resources as collateral. Considering oil production would be a priority for the new government, the takeover of oilfields, pipelines, or production facilities by tribes would impair the government’s ability to control its own resources needed to rebuild the country. The Libya Herald points out that the Amazigh, Toubou, and Tuareg are all “within striking distance from one sort of oil facility or another” (Zaptia, Libya Herald, July 27, 2016), making this action a real possibility for any of the minority tribes. Past indications occurred in October 2013 when armed Toubou tribesmen blockaded the Sharara oilfield (Lacher, Security Assessment in North Africa, February 2014); in late October 2013 when an Amazigh group occupied the Mellitah terminal and threatened to cut the gas flow to Italy if the Amazigh representation in the constitutional drafting committee was not increased (Pack and Cook, Majalla, December 9, 2013); a day later when a Tuareg group shut down the southern Sharara oilfield demanding “greater access to citizenship registration, development of local areas, and the reinstatement of local council members rejected by the central government,” (Pack and Cook, Majalla, December 9, 2013); and in December 2013 and January 2014 when the Toubou occupied the Sarir power station to “demand greater representation in Kufra’s municipal government,” (McGregor, The Jamestown Foundation, January 23, 2014).
  4. The existence of belief systems on the nationalist side that vary from fiercely nationalist to a milder version of the nationalist ideology, as well as the relative strength of their supporting groups. Once the nationalists achieve a real victory, there may be various levels of beliefs that impact the reach of the government’s anti-Islamist agenda. There are certainly those that are fiercely nationalist, like General Haftar, but there may also be factions of the nationalist coalition that see a risk in completely excluding the Islamists from a post-war Libya or view such actions as indicative of a dictatorship. Haftar’s Libyan National Army and Libya’s actual military forces appear to fall under Haftar’s fiercely nationalist ideology. Armed factions from Zintan are strong opponents of both the General National Congress and Islamists in general (Al Jazeera, June 2, 2014), so they too would probably rank closer to the side that wants to rid Libya of Islamist groups altogether. The other end of the spectrum – which fought in the nationalist coalition during the war but exhibits less willingness to embrace the nationalist ideology – is the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), led by Ibrahim Jadhran. In 2014, the government announced its agreement with the Council of Representatives “to work together and defeat Islamist terror,” (CIPPE, September 4, 2014). Two years later, Jadhran – who considers himself a moderate Muslim – has taken a middle ground. “We stood by the government, but at the time the National Congress started to lean toward the Islamists and the parliament [Council of Representatives] leaned towards the militarization of the state and the return of a dictatorship. So we saw that we were the only ones standing in the middle,” (Nathan, Politico, August 25, 2016). If the nationalist coalition defeats the Islamists, the Petroleum Facilities Guard would still exist. Since the PFG protects most of the country’s oil industry, it would probably be coerced into supporting the new government – even though the PFG provides little to no support for the strong nationalist ideology. The PFG has over 20,000 men in its ranks, which does not compare to the combined strength of the stronger nationalist factions (see Mitchell, Nationalist Forces I and II), but does have the potential to force a strong nationalist government to consider a less-extreme stance on an Islamist crackdown – especially considering that the PFG protects Libya’s most important source of income.
  5. Willingness of the new government to go beyond dissolving Islamist parties and crack down on prominent Islamist political and militia leaders. If leaders of the nationalist government are driven by a strict anti-Islamist agenda, they will be more willing to crack down on Islamists – in the same way that Egypt cracked down on Egyptian members of the Muslim Brotherhood (Al Jazeera, December 29, 2013). A past indication highlighting a means of justification occurred when the nationalist government labeled Libya Dawn (the Islamist-dominated armed coalition supporting the General National Congress) as a terrorist group on the same level as Ansar al-Sharia (Wehrey and Lacher, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 6, 2014; St. John, Libya: Continuity and Change, May 15, 2015); which is identical to incidents when Egyptian authorities claimed that Islamists were arrested on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization (Al Jazeera, December 29, 2013).
  6. The level of inclusion of former Qaddafi officials. Contrary to an Islamist victory where the government would ban former Qaddafi officials from power, the nationalist government would likely allow Qaddafi officials to participate. During the civil war, the Council of Representatives took legislative action to allow former Qaddafi officials to be involved in politics, and made no effort to purge its military forces of Qaddafi military officers. Past indications occurred when the Council of Representatives revoked the 2013 Political Isolation Law that banned Qaddafi officials from participating in government (BBC News, February 2, 2015); when the nationalist coalition included “elements of the Qaddafi-era armed forces” (Watanabe, Center for Security Studies, June 21, 2016); and when the political advisor of the head of the Council of Representatives, Abdallah Atamna, confirmed that “some officers inside the army led by General Khalifa Haftar are supporters of Qaddafi” and that the Council of Representatives itself included “members and workers who are Qaddafi supporters,” (Libya Prospect, October 26, 2016).
  7. The willingness of pro-Qaddafi tribes to change their allegiance to the nationalist government. If Salafist groups – particularly the Islamic State – are being progressively defeated by the nationalist forces, and if the nationalist government announces its inclusion of former Qaddafi allies, the pro-Qaddafi tribes that had ties to Salafist groups will likely be more willing to shift their allegiance to the government. If the desire to regain political influence in the sole Libyan government (like these tribes had under Qaddafi’s regime) is strong, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  8. The ability of Salafist groups to reinforce their ranks. By denouncing the new nationalist government, the Salafists can launch a new propaganda campaign calling for jihadists to come to Libya and overthrow the kafir government in hopes of establishing a true Islamic state. Especially if the pro-Qaddafi tribes shift their support to the government, Salafist groups will face a shortage in fighters and may be forced to heavily recruit from outside the country. The ability to increase its ranks of fighters will allow Salafist groups to renew the insurgency.
  9. The level of territorial defeat that cause the Salafists to change strategy. Libya’s complex civil war has fostered an environment where Salafist groups can hold territory and govern the inhabitants as Islamic semi-states (notably Derna and Sirte). However, once the nationalist forces defeat the Islamists, the Salafist groups will be the last remaining opponents that hinder the reconstruction of Libya. If nationalist forces – possibly with the military support of external actors – launch military operations to reclaim Salafist-held areas and begin to make significant progress, there is the possibility that these groups could shift to a more decentralized, state-less strategy driven by assassinations and deadly attacks on civilian populations. Ryan and Johnston discuss the Islamic State’s progressive loss of territory and a similar strategic shift beginning to take shape (War on the Rocks, October 18, 2016). In their report on jihadist strategy and centralized vs. decentralized strategies (War on the Rocks, November 10, 2016), Clarke and Gartenstein-Ross discuss the strategy shift faced by ISIS leaders that Libyan Salafist groups would also face in the midst of territorial loss.
  10. Ability of the new government to integrate militias into the new military. If the new government continues to rely on a mix of military units and militias without integrating the latter under the same chain of command (the militias that were loyal to Operation Dignity) to fulfill the role of the military, the government risks losing the cohesion of its coalition, and therefore will not be able to sufficiently address the Salafist insurgency.
  11. Ability of the government to eliminate, or at least contain, the Salafist groups. In order to contain and eliminate this insurgency, the government will need a strong, centralized military and external assistance. A capable fighting force also needs a leader that can successfully destroy Salafist strongholds. A past indication occurred when General Haftar and his coalition successfully defeated and repelled Salafist groups from areas in eastern Libya, although at the alleged expense of excessive collateral damage (Chorin, Forbes, September 16, 2016).
  12. The level of support offered by external actors to help stabilize Libya. The United States and European Union will likely offer various types of support, particularly to address the massive migration problem stemming from Libya’s shores. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates will also likely assist the new nationalist government as part of their regional interest to undermine and ultimately prevent political Islamic movements from coming to power. The likelihood of a successful nationalist Libya increases as the level of support offered to the new government by the international community increases. However, countries like Turkey and Qatar – who are pro-Islamist and backed the Islamist coalition – will likely denounce the new government as illegitimate when it takes action to ban Islamist movements.
  13. The severity of the migration crisis. Europe’s migrant crisis will play a key role in how quickly the European Union recognizes the government’s legitimacy and offers support. If the number of refugees heading towards Europe significantly decreases by the time the nationalist government takes power, the EU may not be as quick to grant recognition without first seeing what type of government lies just across the Mediterranean (especially focused on the incorporation of democratic values). However, if the migrant flow remains steady or increases, Europe may forsake caution in order to gain the nationalist government’s assistance in mitigating the migrant flow from Libya.
  14. The UK’s willingness to act unilaterally to mitigate the migrant crisis. If the European Union is still experiencing a migrant crisis and has no viable solutions, the United Kingdom may act unilaterally to drastically reduce the number of migrants coming from Libya’s shores. A past indication occurred when the UK offered drones and warships to combat the human smuggling networks in Libya that facilitate the migrant flow (RT, May 18, 2015).
  15. The level of Russia’s desire to be involved in a post-war Libya led by a nationalist government. There are several incentives that could convince Moscow to play a large role in Libya after the nationalists achieve military victory. First, the new Libyan military would need to be rebuilt from the ground up, meaning significant arms deals and military training by foreign advisers. Second, Libya will need new technology to boost its oil production. Third, a friendly Libyan government may offer Russia the chance to expand its oil interests in the country. Fourth, Libya will need help rebuilding its entire country, which could offer Russia the chance to gain influence and acquire a key ally in the region. This could also gain Moscow the use of key Libyan ports in the Mediterranean. Past indications that support Russian incentives occurred when Russian companies had significant investments in Libya’s oil and gas sectors just prior to the 2011 revolution (which highlights the fact that Russia indeed has energy interests there) (Deutsche Welle, August 31, 2011); when Libyan oil producers set a meeting in Moscow with Russian companies to discuss Libya’s need for Russian technology in the oil industry (Sputnik, May 19, 2016); when Russia was the only country that was willing to print currency for the central bank branch under the nationalist government – despite the fact that a unity government already existed (Lewis, Reuters, June 3, 2016); when General Haftar made an official request to the Russian government to supply his military forces with weapons and military equipment (which highlights the serious potential for Russia to be the military supplier of a nationalist government) (Libyan Express, September 28, 2016); and when Russian military advisers allegedly arrived in eastern Libya to support Haftar’s nationalist forces – which may indicate Russia’s preference for General Haftar and the nationalist coalition (The Libya Observer, November 8, 2016).


Feature Photo: Posted on the Council of Representatives Facebook page, May 30, 2016

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