The first part of this article can be accessed as libre open access, the second part is exclusively for members and registered participants to our courses.
The incredible and growing amount of information available nowadays presents us with specific challenges we need to overcome first, if we want to be able to understand, foresee, warn about, and finally adequately answer accumulating dangers, threats, risks or more broadly changes and uncertainties. Our information age is indeed characterised by what Martin Hilbert called the “global information explosion” (“Digital Technology & Social Change” University of California Course, 2015), when we constantly face “information overload” (among many others, Bertram Gross, The Managing of Organizations, 1964; Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, 1970; also Stanley Milgram, “The experience of living in cities“, Science, 167, 1461-1468, 1970).
In our previous article, we detailed a spillover scenario where conflict spills over in all directions, including Europe, Algeria, Niger, and Egypt. This article is focusing on possible scenarios depicting Libya’s partition that could stem from the Libyan war. In the first scenario, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou tribes move from ideas of autonomy to outright declaring independence and breaking away from the Libyan state as a result of marginalization and lack of security. In the second scenario, Libyans begin declaring independence and breaking away from the rest of Libya along provincial lines. In the last scenario, Libya splits apart along a north-south axis located through or close to Sirte – essentially East Libya and West Libya – with the Islamists, Misratans, Amazigh, and Tuareg in the west, and the nationalist forces, federalists, and Toubou in the east.
Provincial: Provincial refers to Libya’s three provinces – Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan
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 2.3 Libya’s Partition
Tribalism, lack of faith in a unity government, the lack of security, economic insecurity, opposition to groups in power, and exclusion from or grievances with the political sphere are the primary factors that contribute to Libya’s partition. It is important to note that tribal independence may also occur after a partition along provincial lines or along a north-south axis located through Sirte.
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
The level of exhaustion from years of conflict. The longer the conflict continues, the more likely the involved actors succumb to exhaustion. Higher levels of exhaustion from conflict increase the likelihood of the competing sides to settle for partition, rather than full victory.
Level of faith in a unity government. If the rival factions distrust or have no faith in a unity government, they will lean towards full victory or outright partition in order to maintain their own type of governance. A past indication occurred when the Council of Representatives passed a vote of no confidence in the UN-backed unity government (“Libyan parliament scuppers UN-backed unity government,” Deutsche Welle, August 22, 2016).
The level of security throughout the country. One of the primary functions of a state is to maintain stability and defend its citizens. With a civil war raging and security forces lacking or non-existent, the rival factions and tribes provide for their own security. The lack of proper security increases the likelihood of the rival groups pushing for independent states. Furthermore, the lack of security heavily contributes to the weakening of the state, which in turn weakens the nation. The more weakened the nation, the higher the likelihood of partition.
Increased influence of tribalism throughout Libya. As civil war drags on and conditions deteriorate, it’s likely that tribalism will increase. Increased tribalism will increase the likelihood of partition, particularly a partition along tribal lines.
Level of political inclusion for minority tribes. If minority tribes continue to be excluded or underrepresented at the state level, they will more likely push for an independent state with a tribal government.
Willingness to partition Libya into independent states, rather than unite as one people. If the rival governments are more willing to partition the country and Libyan people rather than unite for the sake of Libya’s future, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
Sub-scenario 2.3.1 Partition Along Tribal Lines
As the conflict continues, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou tribes increasingly see that their involvement is helping preserve a Libyan state that fails to include them – involvement that is taking a toll on their people. This mentality increases as the war drags on, which soon causes the tribes to think that their people would be better off in an independent state where tribalism is the belief-system behind the state.
With previous rhetoric for autonomy coming to the forefront and progressively escalating, the tribes confer with their tribal leaders and councils to come to an official decision. The lack of security, lack of economic development and inclusion by the state, marginalization and outright aggression by Arab tribes, and opposition to foreign “intervention” (assuming that foreign soldiers and government personnel are operating in tandem with the Libyan government(s)) push these tribes to forego autonomy and outright declare full independence from the Libyan state and establish their own tribal state ruled by tribal councils and courts. As all three minority tribes declare independence – and it is possible that a declaration of full independence by one tribe will influence the others to do the same – much of southern Libya is essentially partitioned from the rest of the country, with a small autonomous Amazigh state in the north. A partition along tribal lines significantly limits the power of the national government in Libya, or the fighting between contending national governments, and threatens to influence additional secessionist movements.
Furthermore, the whole strategic and geopolitical outlook of the region is fundamentally altered. The primary issue stems from international recognition. Some states may support independent Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou states, while others do not – of which these differing positions may cause further political or military conflict.
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.3.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
Level of tribal resentment towards the competing governments. If the minority tribes continue to feel excluded from power – despite allying with the rival governments – they will be more likely to push for independent tribal states.
The level of marginalization and aggression by Arab tribes towards the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou. If Arab tribes continue to fight with the minority tribes for territory and influence, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou may push for independent states in order to legitimize their territorial claims.
Level of opposition to foreign involvement in Libya. Considering foreign intervention’s effect on Libya’s minority tribes throughout history (see Mitchell, Tribal Dynamics and Civil War I, II, and III), the tribes will be more willing to oppose the rival governments and declare independence for themselves if foreign forces are operating alongside the Islamists or nationalists.
The progression of rhetoric from autonomy to full independence. If tribes begin moving from the autonomy rhetoric to independence rhetoric, the likelihood of this scenario significantly increases (see Lavoix, PhD Thesis, 2005, for how this occurred in Cambodia). Furthermore, if one tribe begins a move for independence, it may cause the other two minority tribes to change their rhetoric as well.
Indicators 1-6 of sub-scenario 2.3 also act here in a similar way.
Sub-scenario 2.3.2 Partition Along Provincial Lines
After a long period of conflict, the Islamists, Misratans, nationalists, and tribes reach a military stalemate. Exhausted by continuous fighting, but not wanting to submit to a government dominated by the enemy, the Islamists, nationalists, and even the tribes, look for an alternative. Fuelled by their own abilities to provide security, governance, and social services in their own territory, as well as by enmity against the enemy, the competing sides push for independence and acceptance of partition. The Toubou and Tuareg tribes in the southern province of Fezzan are already on the verge of independence, and the primary coalitions in northern Libya are essentially divided on provincial lines. Having abandoned the hope that a unity government representing them is possible, the opposing coalitions partition Libya along the country’s historical provincial lines and declare self-governing entities. In this way, each new government can perform the functions needed for each new country (printing money, overseeing oil exports, foreign relations, etc.). In each ex-province now a state, Libyans can elect strong leadership and accomplish state functions on that level.
The Islamists and Misrata primarily become the leading force for the new Tripolitania, the nationalists for the new Cyrenaica – which is also the heart of Libya’s federalist movement, and the Tuareg and Toubou tribes share the power in the southern province of Fezzan.
Similar to sub-scenario 2.3.1, the whole strategic and geopolitical outlook of the region is fundamentally altered. The primary issue stems from international recognition. We could imagine that countries like Turkey and Qatar immediately recognize the Islamist-dominated Tripolitania, while countries like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates immediately grant recognition to Cyrenaica, which is dominated by the nationalists – led by people like General Haftar. Recognition for the Tuareg and Toubou state of Fezzan may also be mixed. The international community’s differing positions on legitimacy and recognition have the serious potential to cause further political or military conflict in Libya, and the whole region.
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.3.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
Willingness to partition the country along provincial lines. If all the powerful factions agree to split the country along provincial lines, the likelihood significantly increases. The trouble lies in the rival governments conceding to partition along these provincial borders despite territorial gains made during the war. Furthermore, the Toubou and Tuareg would have to agree to share power in the province of Fezzan (see indicator below).
Toubou and Tuareg’s willingness to share power in the southern province. In order for Libya to partition along tribal lines, the Toubou and Tuareg tribes in Fezzan province have to agree to share power. They will have to come to a lasting agreement on territorial control – particularly over vital trade routes (see Mitchell, Tribal Dynamics and Civil War II and III). If the two tribes come to a territorial agreement and are willing to share power in Fezzan, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
Indicators 1-6 of sub-scenario 2.3 also act here in a similar way.
Sub-scenario 2.3.3 Partition Along North-South Axis (Islamists vs. Nationalists)
Similar to sub-scenario 2.3.2, the various sides are exhausted by civil war, but are unwilling to unite under one government. Driven by exhaustion from conflict, ego, and belief in their abilities to fulfill state functions better than their opponents, the opposing sides split Libya along a north-south axis with the Islamists, Misratans, Amazigh, and Tuareg in the west, and the nationalists and Toubou in the East. Considering Sirte’s strategic location between east and west Libya (Fasanotti, The Atlantic, August 27, 2016), the axis begins there – or very close to the city – and goes south. With territorial control more or less established, the rival governments declare independence for their respective portion of the Libyan state. As a result, both governments compete for international legitimacy, and begin structuring their own political system, military and police forces, social services, currency, and oil ministries. Given Libya’s geographic climate and location of natural resources, there is naturally some additional conflict over water and oil resources that can determine the survival of these now independent “states”.
The difference between this scenario and scenario 2.3.2 is that the Tuareg, Toubou, and Amazigh tribes are more involved with the competing governments, and go along with an east-west split, rather than forming their own independent tribal states.
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.3.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
The level of tribal inclusion with the Islamist and nationalist governments. In order for Libya to be partitioned along a north-south axis, the Amazigh, Toubou and Tuareg will have to agree to be part of the partition and submit to the rule of their respective governments. If the Islamist and nationalist governments better include these tribes, as well as address their other grievances, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
Willingness of the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou to be included in these two new states, rather than form their own independent tribal states. Building upon the first indicator above, if the minority tribes are better included in government and have their grievances addressed, they will likely be more willing to be included in one of the two new states, rather than form their own independent mini-states – which increases the likelihood of this scenario.
Ability of the competing governments to agree on a dividing border. The competing governments must agree on a fixed border in order for this scenario to occur. If one side holds more territory, they will likely not be as willing to scale back their territory in order to abide by a border. However, if both governments are able to reach a binding agreement on a fixed border along a north-south axis, the likelihood of this scenario significantly increases.
Indicators 1, 2, 3, and 5 of sub-scenario 2.3 also act here in a similar way.
Federica Saini Fasanotti, “Why Partitioning Libya Might Be the Only Way to Save It,” The Atlantic, August 27, 2016
Helene Lavoix, “’Nationalism’ and ‘Genocide’: The Construction of Nation-ness, Authority, and Opposition, The Case of Cambodia (1861-1979),” PhD Thesis, University of London – School of Oriental and African Studies, 2005
Jon Mitchell, “The Libyan War Spills Over to Egypt, Algeria, Niger and Europe – Scenarios for the Future of Libya,” The Red Team Analysis Society, July 11, 2016
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
“Libyan parliament scuppers UN-backed unity government,” Deutsche Welle, August 22, 2016