What’s the story with Morning Glory?

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/commentaryanalysis/539696-whats-the-story-with-morning-glory

The seizure of a rogue oil tanker by American forces is only the latest indication of Libyan state fragmentation

A Libyan oil tanker was seized in the Mediterranean.

 

Over the weekend, Libyans awoke to discover that American Navy SEAL special forces had seized control of a ship in the Mediterranean, the Morning Glory, which was laden with contraband Libyan oil and sailing under no flag whatsoever. It had been a North Korean tanker, but was apparently purchased by renegade Libyan factions attempting to begin privately exporting the nation’s oil for their own personal benefit. It was yet another reminder of Libya’s extreme fragility, the impotency of its central government, and, as I have argued recently elsewhere, the fact that almost all of its problems boil down to a quixotic and self-defeating battle over its nascent oil wealth.

The central figure behind the Morning Glory debacle is Ibrahim Jadhran, a militia leader who made his name in the battle to oust former dictator Moammar Qaddafi. In perhaps their single biggest blunder following the overthrow of the dictator, the new Libyan authorities tried to co-opt militias into the new system in various ways. The worst of these was the creation of the so-called “Petroleum Security Guards” (PSG), which aimed to protect the all-important energy sector production facilities in Libya’s oil-rich eastern provinces but only handed these key areas to unreconstructed militias.

After the war, Jadhran graduated from commander of the “Hamza brigade” militia – that had initially been pro-Qaddafi but quickly defected to the rebels – to a key figure in the PSG, which was formed soon after the uprising ended. Operating from this new power base, he moved in the summer of 2013 to unilaterally seize control of the key Es Sider and Ras Lanuf oil ports. He accused the government of being corrupt and neglecting the eastern provinces. Indeed, he set himself up as a key figure in an autonomous, if not secessionist, movement in Cyrenaica, where deep economic and social grievances have persisted into the post-Qaddafi era.

But Jadhran’s demands for a new “federalist” system in Libya in which Cyrenaica would get more of its share of the revenues of its own oil resources proved, of course, to be just a cover for personal and political greed, power, and ambition. By last October, he had already managed to block more than $5 billion in Libyan national oil exports and began threatening to set up his own independent petroleum network.

In November, Jadhran named his close ally, Abd-Rabbo al-Barassi, “Prime Minister” of a new “Cyrenaica Political Bureau,” and announced the formation of an independent oil company and central bank for this de facto authority. But with such high stakes, they quickly found themselves in competition with a rival: the “Cyrenaica Transitional Council.”

However, even this rivalry didn’t stop the two “federalist” groups, along with Jadhran personally, from signing a joint deal in December with the Canadian lobby group Dickens & Madson – which is led by Ari Ben-Menashe, who claims to be an Iranian-born former Israeli intelligence operative, and has also represented such luminaries as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe – to facilitate contraband oil exports and seek recognition from Russia and other potential sources of international diplomatic support.

While there may be genuine sympathy for the vague notion of autonomy, and a greater share of the pie, in much of the east of Libya, these sentiments are clearly being exploited by shady individuals for personal power and enrichment. And in early March, when the Morning Glory turned off its transponders in the Mediterranean so as to disappear from international sight, the full-blown power-play began. The ship re-emerged at Es Sider and began taking on a full load of contraband oil worth over $30 million from the “federalists.” Jadhran personally led the celebrations that accompanied this brazen theft, including slaughtering a camel on the dock side.

What passed for a federal government in Tripoli was meanwhile mired in an endless campaign by Islamists to unseat then-Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. Zeidan ordered the ragtag Libyan Armed Forces to intercept the Morning Glory, but he was totally ignored. He then turned to the “Libya Shield” militia umbrella group, which loosely supports the central government and is led by the Misrata militia. This only underscores the dangerous and lingering power of these armed groups, and the extent of government reliance on these unregulated forces. But while they chased down the ship they were also unable to stop it.

The failure to interdict and stop the Morning Glory and its contraband cargo of stolen oil provided Zeidan’s Islamist enemies with a golden opportunity to oust him, and they ensured that Parliament sacked the prime minister and issued arrest warrants and a travel ban against him. He fled the country, and warned of an Islamist plot to seize power. But Jadhran and the other eastern federalists are also at odds with the Islamist parties.

The central government, again using the Misratan-led Libya Shield militia, attempted to move against the federalist rebels across the coastline, but found itself confronting not only an incongruous set of forces vaguely aligned with Jadhran, but also the constant threat of its long-standing rivals, the Zintan militia. Libya seemed, and may still be, headed for a bruising and nation-wide confrontation between loosely allied forces confronting each other over ideology and money.

It was at that point that American forces, trying to stem the tide of regionally destabilizing civil conflict in Libya, seized the Morning Glory, which was operating without any flag or a national registration.

There may be at least a temporary solution in the offing. The Misratan-led Libya Shield has withdrawn from airbases and oilfields near Sirte as mediation efforts are focused on a deal in which Jadhran would leave the country and the areas under his control would be taken over by the current head of the PSG, Idris Buhamada. Buhamada, though also from the east, is seen as distant from the entire “federalist” movement and much less of a threat to Libyan national unity than Jadhran and the forces he unleashed when he controlled the Guards.

But a similar deal last December fell through. And for now, the standoff on the ground continues, with persistent rumors that more oil tankers may be headed to Libyan ports outside government control. Even if he did end up leaving the country, and further contraband Libyan oil shipments were interdicted by American or other forces, tensions in Libya would undoubtedly persist.

Zeidan’s warnings about the ideological ambitions of the extremely unpopular Islamists are certainly correct, especially given the likely and dire outcome for them in the July parliamentary elections, where they will be lucky to retain any seats whatsoever.

The entire Morning Glory incident only underscores the persistent, if not growing, power of uncontrolled militias which take on ideological affiliations largely to suit their drive for power and money. Libya’s second-largest oilfield has once again been shut down by protesters and sympathetic PSG militia forces. The Sharara facility has been rocked by Tuareg ethnic protests and, now, PSG grievances over unpaid salaries. Its closure costs Libya an estimated $34 million a day.

The tensions that fueled everything that led up to, and is following from, the Morning Glory affair boil down to what is driving almost all of the major fault lines in Libya: everyone wants the largest slice of the petroleum pie they can grab. As militias and politicians scramble for control of it, Libya’s energy sector lies in tatters and is operating at a tiny fraction of its normal, let alone potential, capacity.

So the Morning Glory story is that a country that ought to be booming with oil wealth is ripping itself to pieces – and ripping itself off – in a series of conflicts driven largely by an effort to control that potential wealth. And because of that struggle, presently Libya has no oil wealth at all.

Aesop’s classic fable in which a dog loses the bone it has by chasing after its reflection in the water nearby – wanting  to have both and ending with neither – has rarely been better illustrated in national politics. If they continue like this, Libyans may not only lose their potential oil wealth, they may lose their country.

In the 21st century, force still trumps diplomacy

http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/in-the-21st-century-force-still-trumps-diplomacy#full

On March 2, US secretary of state John Kerry admonished Russia’s aggression in Ukraine by saying: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.” It’s a laudable sentiment, and an absolutely appropriate aspiration. But if by “don’t” he meant “can’t”, rather than “shouldn’t”, then Mr Kerry was obviously wrong. Russia, in fact, has behaved in precisely such a manner, because while it realises it has lost Ukraine, it is not willing to lose the strategically crucial region of Crimea.

All that really remains to be seen is whether Russia ends up annexing Crimea outright, or using its force to demand such a thorough form of autonomy in the area that it becomes a de facto part of Russia. So, if you are Vladimir Putin, you do behave in the 21st century in a very 19th century (or 20th century, for that matter) fashion indeed.

The same applies to Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad, and countless other states and actors. Some, under the black banner of Salafist-Jihadism, would even aspire to behave in what they believe is a 7th century manner. So while Mr Kerry was factually wrong – although morally correct – it’s worth unpacking exactly what he meant, and the long development of a strand of American policy thinking that informed his scolding of Mr Putin with an implied allusion to Russia’s supposedly anachronistic attitudes.

Interestingly, Mr Kerry himself has recognised that in many ways the world remains largely unchanged. When asked about his foreign policy “doctrine” by David Rohde last November, he noted: “We don’t live in an easy-doctrine world right now. We live in a world that is more like the 18th and 19th centuries, not a classic Kissinger-ian balance of power.” That being the case, what’s he talking about now?

Mr Kerry’s admonition of Mr Putin reflects a trend in liberal American foreign policy theory that has been developing since Joseph Nye started writing about “soft power” in his 1990 book Bound to Lead. Nye, who elaborated on the idea at length in later publications, suggested that international actors, including but not limited to states, could exercise power, for good or ill, through making their own goals attractive to others, thereby gaining their willing cooperation rather than coercing them.

This insight into a practice that has, after all, been used throughout human history, was then elaborated into a second, more complex, hybrid notion of “smart power”. Particularly following the hubris of the George W Bush foreign policy and the fiasco in Iraq, many American liberals posited “smart power” as a proper correction to what was almost universally recognised as an excessively aggressive “hard power” Bush approach. “Smart power”, at least in theory, would look for every opportunity to use “soft power” and diplomacy, keeping “hard power” force as a last resort.

Barack Obama essentially campaigned for president on a foreign policy platform of “smart power”. And, as meticulously outlined in Kim Ghattas’ invaluable 2013 book, The Secretary, Hillary Clinton pioneered the effort to turn theory into practice.

Ghattas carefully describes how Ms Clinton used a “smart power” approach to successfully defuse a crisis with China, setting a new model for American diplomacy.

Ms Clinton emphasised gender issues, economic development and, above all, information technology. A fascinating State Department document entitled 21st Century Statecraft not only emphasises interdependence, dialogue and cooperation, but also innovation and especially new information technologies and the internet as tools of American power and the future of all statecraft.

Mr Kerry has continued with much of this approach, becoming, among other things, the first secretary of state to join a Google hangout.

So what Mr Obama, Mr Kerry and Ms Clinton have been driving towards is an American foreign policy that seeks to avoid force whenever possible, emphasises interdependence, economic globalisation, soft power and the internet as at least as important as military might. In the abstract, it is intellectually and morally impeccable.

The problem is that both smart and soft power can rarely do much to answer raw hard power. The United States isn’t going to do anything beyond scolding and sanctions now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, because there’s nothing more it really could reasonably do.

A more disturbing example of how hard power can trump, and even upend, soft or smart power was the outcome of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.

The initial threat of a very hard power response, cruise missile strikes, gave way to a “smart power” approach that yielded an agreement for Syria to abandon those weapons. Even American intelligence services have recognised publicly that this was a foreign policy victory for Russia and a considerable restoration of legitimacy for the criminal himself, Mr Assad.

“21st-century statecraft” and “smart power” are certainly preferable as ideals to brute force. But they are very much a work in progress, and many would argue that the Syria chemical weapons agreement shows they can lead to errors of omission that are almost as dangerous as errors of commission. And, let’s face it, there was more truth in Mr Kerry’s recognition that we live in what more often than not resembles an “18th or 19th” century international order than his admonishment of Mr Putin about aspirational 21st century virtues.

The real impact of Israel’s “Jewish state” demand

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/commentaryanalysis/538735-the-real-impact-of-israels-jewish-state-demand

The main impact of Israel’s new “Jewish state” demand is to effectively negate the Palestinian recognition of Israel in 1993

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks into a room with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the 2010 negotiations

 

Many commentators, including this author, have carefully picked apart the myriad problems involved with Israel’s new demand that the Palestinians formally recognize it as a “Jewish state.” But at least one of its most problematic aspects has been significantly under-examined and underappreciated. The new demand negates, both in effect and intention, the greatest of Palestinian concessions, their 1993 recognition of the State of Israel.

There is an international consensus in favor of a two-state solution, and even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman now say they, too, support this goal after long careers opposing it. And in the quarter-century campaign to achieve a conflict-ending two-state agreement through direct talks, there remains a dangerous anomaly. One side, the Palestine Liberation Organization, recognized Israel up front. All other details aside, they have long since performed the sine qua non of a two-state agreement by recognizing Israel. The other side, Israel, has never recognized a Palestinian state or, in any formal, written, or legal sense, even the Palestinian right to a state.

There are a great many difficulties with the “Jewish state” demand, and Netanyahu’s formulation “the nation-state of the Jewish people” in particular. This phrasing is full of highly problematic definite articles, and suggests a trans-historical claim to this land on behalf of an entire but undefined ethno-religious group the world over, not just the present Jewish Israeli majority. It harkens back to pre-state Zionism, defining Israel as if the state had not actually been created and several generations of Jewish and Arab Israelis had not been born there.

This framing also begs the question about the status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who already face significant discrimination in many sectors because they are not Jewish. This is one of the reasons the PLO finds the demand so problematic: they will not agree to implicitly endorse the restrictions Palestinian citizens of Israel now face, or may face in the future.

Moreover, Israel itself cannot define what a “Jewish state” means, exactly. There were several attempts in the last Knesset to introduce legislation to clarify the term; all of them failed miserably because while there is a consensus among Jewish Israelis that their state is in some sense “Jewish,” there is no consensus whatsoever as to what that entails. So, in effect, Palestinians are being asked to agree to something that even the Israelis cannot define with any degree of specificity.

The “Jewish state” demand was first introduced in 2007 at the Annapolis meeting, never having been mentioned in previous Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians, let alone with Egypt or Jordan. It was dismissed by not just the Palestinian delegation, but also the American one, both recognizing it as an attempted end-run around the final status issue of Palestinian refugees. The matter was accordingly dropped.

However, when Netanyahu was reelected in 2009, he made the “Jewish state” phrase the centerpiece of his relations with the Palestinians. He now not only insists that this is an important issue – sometimes he even says it is the only real issue (although how Israelis missed “the only real issue” with the Palestinians until 2007 is impossible to explain).

Many commentators have long understood that Netanyahu has made this such a focus of his policy for two clear reasons. The first is to put his own stamp on a process that had been defined before he came to power. The second is to continue the attempt to defuse the refugee issue, particularly as a quid pro quo for Israeli compromises on Jerusalem.

A frequently-cited third interpretation is that the single-minded insistence on this demand could reflect a cynical effort to find something most Israelis would find important that Palestinians cannot agree to. If the aim is to sabotage peace talks, such an initiative would be invaluable. It’s possible that this is, or at some stage was, part of the calculation.

Netanyahu has won over many Israelis and their friends to this new de facto final status issue, basically by playing on Israeli anxieties that an agreement might not actually end the conflict. Yet, it has always been agreed that a peace treaty would mean an end of conflict and all claims.

What has yet to be fully recognized is that the single most significant impact of this “Jewish state” demand is that it effectively dismisses and reverses the 1993 Palestinian recognition of Israel. This concession made it ridiculous for anyone to argue that the core of the problem was Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel. But now, hey presto, it is once again possible to present Palestinian recognition of Israel as a major issue, because it wasn’t recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state.”

It doesn’t matter that no one ever asked the Palestinians to do so until 2007, or that there are a great many complications, ambiguities, and grave difficulties associated with it. It has become a mantra of much of the pro-Israel constituency the world over that the 1993 recognition of Israel by the PLO is all but irrelevant, and that until Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” their intention to end the conflict and live in peace remains very much open to question.

So, this new demand solves the problem that one side is lived up to its core commitment under a two-state solution – recognizing the statehood of the other party – while the other side has not. It pushes the diplomatic, psychological, and political clock back before 1993, to an era where Palestinians are once again being asked to demonstrate their willingness to live in peace with Israel by uttering some magic mantra.

It elides the fact that, from a Palestinian and Arab point of view, the 1993 recognition of Israel was the mother of all concessions: a recognition that Palestinians were surrendering their political claim to around 78% of what had very recently been their country, in the sense that they were a large majority there until 1948. So now we are left negotiating over the territories conquered by Israel in 1967, without even touching the areas that became Israel in 1948. The enormity of this vast concession, this overwhelming – almost impossible – agreement by the Palestinians, was never fully recognized by Israel or the international community. And now, with the Jewish state demand, it’s dismissed altogether as almost totally irrelevant.

In fairness, if ordinary Israelis and their supporters were more convinced by Palestinian words and deeds that this is the case, they would be less moved by Netanyahu’s obsessive focus on the new “Jewish state” demand. It speaks, cleverly, to deep-seated Israeli anxieties. However, by effectively negating, at least at the psychological and cultural registers, the 1993 Palestinian recognition of Israel, it magically appears to even the scales once again.

But the truth remains that one party, the Palestinians, has recognized the independent statehood of the other, Israel. And Israel has never recognized an independent Palestine or the Palestinian right to an independent state. There are, apparently, still many things the Palestinians must do to “earn” such a right, if they are ever to have it at all, and that includes some sort of recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state.”

Until they do that, Israel and its hard-core supporters will bat aside the fact that Palestinians have actually recognized Israel, unrequited, since 1993, and speak and act as if that were irrelevant and the Palestinians haven’t recognized Israel at all until they repeat the novel catechism now being placed before them.

As a diplomatic, psychological, and political sleight-of-hand, it’s extraordinarily brilliant and effective. But its impact is to complicate diplomacy on a two-state solution and make peace more difficult to achieve, while obscuring the reality that Palestinians have recognized Israel but Israel has never recognized Palestine.

 

Ghannouchi’s warm welcome in Washington misses realities in Tunisia

http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/ghannouchis-warm-welcome-in-washington-misses-realities-in-tunisia#full

Last month, Washington rolled out the red carpet for Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party. The “hero of Tunisian compromise and moderation” was ludicrously lionised as the living embodiment of the last real hope of the “Arab Spring”. It was unedifying and misguided, to say the least.

Ten years ago, the United States was so hysterical about Islamists, particularly in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, that it inexplicably denied Tariq Ramadan – a Swiss academic with vague Islamist sympathies – a visa to take a position at Notre Dame University. It was argued that since he was the grandson of the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al Banna, and the son of another, Said Ramadan, he was probably a terrorist.

Most Americans now recognise that labelling anyone with Islamist sympathies as a potentially dangerous persona non grata was a phobic and absurd overreaction. But instead of a reasonable re-evaluation, Washington has done a slapstick 180 degree pirouette.

In the past few years, those paranoid attitudes have been replaced by an equally dangerous overcorrection that is, bizarrely, constantly on the lookout for “the right Islamist” to fall in love with.

Washington seems totally unable to understand the Islamists for what they truly are and are not, lurching from an irrational extreme of unwarranted hostility to another of misplaced affection and awe.

From the beginning of the Arab Spring until now, much of Washington has assumed that Islamists are the real and “authentic” representatives of Muslim Arab political sentiments. This error has led to a fascination as ridiculous as the preceding catchall repulsion, with visiting Islamists gawked at in these public spectacles as if they were fabulous exotica, like some kind of rare Amazonian tree sloth.

Although many have been auditioned and dutifully read from the script, no one has fit the role better than Mr Ghannouchi. In his recent trip to Washington, Mr Ghannouchi got the part. He was, for no justifiable reason whatsoever, given not just the lion’s share of credit for Tunisia’s relative stability, but virtually all credit.

Mr Ghannouchi met senior administration officials William J Burns and Ben Rhodes, and several members of Congress and the Senate. He spoke at no less than 12 major institutions including the US Institute of Peace, the Wilson Center, the Carnegie Endowment, Georgetown University, the Center for the Study of Islam, Democracy and the National Council on US-Arab Relations and on the Charlie Rose television programme.

The whole time Mr Ghannouchi was either completely protected from any of the really difficult questions – such as, does the “freedom of conscience” clause in the new Tunisian constitution allow someone to be an atheist and publicly promote that perspective in his understanding of the new “democratic” Tunisia – or allowed to give impenetrably convoluted answers to simple yes or no questions about basic civil liberties.

Mr Ghannouchi naturally had an entourage of followers in tow, including Amel Azzouz, head of his party’s “Women’s Office”, to whom he typically deferred on gender issues. It’s a barometer of how reactionary he is that he seems to think it’s a non-sexist gesture to “defer” to his women followers to push his line on gender “complementarity” (never “equality”). It was grotesque and extremely crude tokenism, and sexist to the core, but it seemed to impress a lot of credulous Washingtonians that he would let a woman speak at all.

Ennahda did compromise in Tunisia, because it knew it had no choice. It was never the majority. It’s never going to be the majority. It knows this, it saw what happened to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and it was intelligent enough to realise that the better part of valour was living to fight another day. There is nothing heroic or remarkable about this, except that other Islamists tend to be more extreme.

Two years ago Mr Ghannouchi was filmed begging Salafist leaders to stop their campaign of violence because it was undermining Ennahda’s efforts to take over the army and the police, without which “the secularists could come back”. That video tells you everything you need to know about the man and his ambitions.

The Salafists ignored him and intensified their campaign. This, combined with Ennahda’s own mismanagement of the economy and other failures, forced them to resign in favour of a technocratic government.

But before they went, they took care to stack key governorates and crucial administrative positions with their own supporters. While Mr Ghannouchi was being celebrated in Washington, new Tunisian interim prime minister Mehdi Jomaa has been busy cleaning up his mess by sacking his cronies and replacing them with genuinely independent governors and administrators.

Mr Ghannouchi got his unwarranted and ill-informed accolades in Washington for three things, none of which are actually creditable if properly understood.

First is the Tunisian people’s wisdom in not giving him the power he craves, and continues to seek. Second, he was crafty enough to understand that compromise was his only real option for future viability. Third, he is not a terrorist or thug, and prefers to fight it out within the emerging Tunisian system, rather than face his only real alternative: political oblivion.

This is the “hope of the Arab Spring”? The “Muslim Mandela”? Rarely has the bigotry of low expectations been quite so soft.

Stateless and Starving

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141009/hussein-ibish/stateless-and-starving

Yarmouk and the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Negotiations
MARCH 7, 2014

There is little by way of human cruelty that has not been visited on the people of the Levant over the past century. Iraqis, Israelis, Lebanese, Palestinians, and Syrians have all faced massacres, terrorism, bombings, and any number of other atrocities, including what are probably the only two uses of chemical weapons since World War II. But calculated starvation — the deliberate policy of withholding food from suffering, ordinary people on a mass scale — has very little history in the region. And that makes the situation in the Yarmouk camp just outside Damascus, where 18,000 Palestinian refugees are slowly and deliberately being starved by the Syrian dictatorship, all the more horrifying.

The Palestinians trapped there can do little to alleviate their plight. And humanitarian efforts by the United Nations and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have so far been thwarted by pro-regime forces. But the Palestinian leadership and people should recognize that Yarmouk has urgent, if indirect, implications for the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.

Every Arab state has tried, at one time or another, to manipulate the Palestinian issue for its own purposes. But the Assad family’s Baathist regime in Syria has been uniquely hostile to the mainstream Palestinian national movement. It has shown time and again that its official commitment to the Palestinian cause is a smokescreen for its own interests. It has never really accepted the idea that Palestine, or Lebanon for that matter, is a separate entity from a greater Syria, which it still aspires to create. And its primary concern has been to ensure as much Palestinian subservience as possible to the Damascus dictatorship’s ideology and interests.

Syria has always been ready to use force to keep Palestinians in check. It made war against the Palestinians in Lebanon during the 1970s and 1980s, most notably in the siege of Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp, which is the closest analogy to today’s crisis in Yarmouk. And although it poses as a bastion of “resistance,” Syria has consistently avoided confronting Israel directly, even when provoked. Syria has repeatedly endured attacks from Israel without direct response and sometimes without complaint. If it stands up to Israel at all, it does so through proxies and almost always at the expense of others. Its support for Hezbollah has come at a great cost to Lebanon; its support for Palestinian proxy splinter groups as well as Hamas has come at a great cost to Palestine. The Palestinian residents of Gaza suffered heavily from the catastrophic Syrian-backed war between Hamas and Israel in 2008 and 2009.

The ongoing atrocities in Yarmouk are only the latest example of the Syrian regime’s manipulations. In the early stages of Syria’s uprising, one of the regime’s opening gambits was to distract the public’s attention by cynically twisting the Palestinian cause. On June 6, 2011 — the anniversary of the 1967 war between Arab states and Israel, referred to by Arabs as Naksa Day — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had hundreds of Palestinians, many of them from Yarmouk, bussed to the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights region that borders Israel. They were encouraged, unarmed, to confront Israeli occupation forces, which predictably opened fire on protesters, killing 23 of them. It was a cold-blooded instance of political theater and a cynical exercise in human sacrifice.

Palestinians in Yarmouk were outraged — at least as much at Assad as at Israel. When they protested en masse, pro-Assad thugs affiliated with a group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command shot them, killing 14 and injuring 43. As the Syrian war intensified, so did the plight of Yarmouk. Syrian fighter jets and helicopters have repeatedly attacked Yarmouk, using missiles and notoriously indiscriminate barrel bombs. But in December 2012, when opposition rebels entered the camp, the situation became dramatically worse. Yarmouk became the scene of intense fighting and a prolonged, and ongoing, siege. Efforts to deliver food and other aid have been systematically stymied.

What was once a population of at least 200,000 Palestinian refugees has dwindled to a tenth of its former size. Anyone who could flee has already done so. Those who remain are slowly and cruelly dying. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that at least 100 people in Yarmouk have died from starvation and lack of medical supplies since last October. UN officials have expressed shock at what they have seen in recent visits to the camp. Filippo Grandi, a UN refugee official, said that the people he saw there last week had “the appearance of ghosts.”

The Syrian government is responsible for this situation, and those who try to fudge the issue by blaming rebels are deliberately deceiving the public. The northern entrance to Yarmouk is under the control of pro-Assad forces. But the government has nonetheless insisted that all aid go through the southern entrance, which is very dangerous to access because it is a battle zone between regime and opposition forces. Although senior government figures deny it, military forces on the ground reportedly admit that they are deliberately using starvation as a weapon against their “enemies” in Yarmouk, including both rebels and civilians. This is a man-made disaster, and the responsibility for it lies almost entirely with the leadership in Damascus.

To those familiar with the relationship between Baathist Syria and the Palestinian cause and people, the events at Yarmouk will not come as any surprise. But the Palestinian people as a whole should draw the obvious lesson: As long as they remain stateless, refugees will have no haven and no government to represent them. Atrocities will continue to take place, as they have wherever Palestinians have found themselves in the Middle East since 1948.

Some pro-Palestinian groups object to such a two-state solution, because it will inevitably involve significant compromises on the right of return for refugees to Israel. But Israel is simply not going to agree to accept large numbers of Palestinians returning from across the region, which would compromise the demographic makeup of the Israeli state. A unanimity of the Israeli political spectrum flatly opposes any such notion, and there does not appear to be any form of leverage or quid pro quo that could alter that.

But a Palestinian state has much to offer refugees short of the right of return to Israel. Among other things, an independent Palestine could help protect a long-suffering people against further massacre, siege, or atrocity. Palestinians would finally be citizens in a state of their own and not stranded at the disposal of others who can, and have, turned on them with a vengeance.

This is not to suggest that the Israeli government or the PLO is in any meaningful sense responsible for addressing the tragedy at Yarmouk. Israel is not directly involved, and the PLO lacks the means and leverage to relieve the suffering, as it discovered when pro-Assad forces fired on an unarmed aid convoy it had organized.

But Yarmouk does stand as yet another harsh reminder to the Palestinian people and leadership of the urgent need to achieve independence through peace with Israel, despite the painful compromises that will be required of both sides. Palestinians should see in Syria yet another tragic life and death drama, another sign that they must unite and mobilize to attain an independent state. Until they have it, Palestinians throughout the Middle East will be forever liable to find themselves in the next Yarmouk.

Obama puts Israel on notice

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/commentaryanalysis/537774-obama-puts-israel-on-notice

Israel’s “PR problem” is actually a reaction to its indefensible policies, and the US has just issued a blunt warning

President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu in the oval office.

 

Many Israelis and their friends are well aware they have an “image problem.” But what far too many of them fail to appreciate is that their country’s policies and conduct are primarily responsible for Israel’s worsening reputation. What is perceived to be a PR problem is actually a “reality problem.” And realities have consequences.

Many Israelis feel they are being singled out, particularly in a turbulent and oppressive Middle East, by unfair double standards. After all, they note, 130,000 people have been killed in Syria in the past three years. But this is a bubble of delusion. There’s almost never been a society that wasn’t able to point to another state with worse behavior, or at least as bad, to try to argue there is something unfair about the criticism they face. Apartheid-era South Africa pointed to a plethora of genuinely reprehensible and bloodthirsty African dictators to try to argue they looked mild in comparison. That didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.

Israel and its friends need to wake up. The rising tide of criticism against the country’s policies isn’t being driven by anti-Semitism, which is a fringe factor. And it’s not a campaign of “delegitimization” either, because most of this growing criticism in mainstream Western discourse doesn’t question the fundamental legitimacy of the Israeli state. The occupation that began in 1967 coupled with how Israel is conducting itself today as an occupying power is the reality that Israelis and many of their friends in the West are refusing to face.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has just reported that settlement construction, which is strictly prohibited under international law (most notably the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49, paragraph 6), increased by an astonishing 123% during 2013 as opposed to the previous year. And there’s every indication that settlement expansion is continuing to surge in 2014.

Settlement activity, for many Israelis, simply means building houses for Jews. But the reason it’s banned by the Geneva Convention is that it is a human rights abuse against any civilian population living under foreign military occupation, who have a right not to be colonized.

Israelis seem genuinely surprised that a surge in international criticism, and a growing refusal in Europe to fund or cooperate with any Israeli activity in the occupied territories, should accompany this surge in settlement activity. But it was inevitable.

And it’s not just the taking of land from Palestinians, or the fact that Israel rules over millions of disenfranchised non-citizens with no end in sight, or even the fact that Israelis and Palestinians living in the occupied territories operate under completely separate and extremely unequal systems of law, rights, and responsibilities.

Amnesty International has just issued a new report accusing Israeli occupation forces of “a harrowing pattern of unlawful killings and unwarranted injuries of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in the West Bank.” The report says many of the killings appeared to be willful and unnecessary, and could very well constitute “war crimes.”

Israel, of course, dismisses all this criticism. And many Israelis see it as at least grotesquely unfair if not downright anti-Semitic. But this is delusional. No state behaving like this, particularly one that is deeply intertwined with the West and the global system and marketplace, can or should expect to be immune from criticism and consequences.

And so Israelis and their friends should take careful note of what US President Barack Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview timed perfectly to coincide with this year’s annual AIPAC convention. Obama pledged the United States would staunchly support Israel, but bluntly warned, “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.

Indeed, it’s unlikely that Europeans would be pursuing their de facto settlement boycott campaign if they felt the United States either planned to, or was capable of, restraining them. So it’s not just a question of the American “ability” to protect Israel from the consequences of indefensible policies that are so damaging to the prospects of the two-state solution. There is even a question about the American will to do so.

What Obama, and many other friends of Israel including prominent Jewish Americans, are trying to tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli society is that they don’t have an “image problem.” They have a reality problem. Israel’s occupation, and its policies toward the Palestinians, are realities that cannot be defended internationally.

If Israel wants to continue to entrench the occupation, expand settlements, and oppress the disenfranchised Palestinians while pretending that it really isn’t a big deal or a priority, or that the status quo is sustainable, no one can stop them. But, Obama and others are bluntly saying, no one can save them from the consequences either.

Nationalism is the real reason Islamists are loosing in North Africa and beyond

http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/nationalism-is-a-familiar-force-chasing-islamists-in-the-region#full

When Arab dictatorships fell in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the conventional wisdom – particularly in the West – held that because most Arabs are devout Muslims, once they were given a chance to freely choose their leaders, power would rapidly be gained by Islamist parties. This facile expectation was always built on terribly weak assumptions. And given the current condition of Islamist parties in North Africa, it’s fair to call it thoroughly debunked.

That urgently raises the question of, what, exactly, informs the forces that have rallied to thwart or defeat the Islamists, particularly in North Africa? The answer is simultaneously blindingly obvious and bizarrely mysterious, as so few have been able to identify it: nationalism.

The most solid ground for expecting Islamists to quickly rise to power in post-dictatorship Arab societies was the real competitive advantage they enjoyed over all other groups not associated with the former regimes. They had an established brand and ideology. They had a history, and were not tainted by association with the former regimes. They had social service and political networks, and strong ground-game structures. And they had a regional network.

It was assumed that none of their opponents had any of these advantages and that Islamists would therefore be virtually invincible, at least during the initial phases after the opening of political space. None of these claims were false. Yet they did not add up, as expected, into a wave of solid, popular Islamist governments in the place of former dictatorships. Why not?

First, while it’s true that Islamist parties enjoyed these competitive advantages against most of their potential rivals, they were at their apex on the first day after regime change. Over an astonishingly short period of time, two crucial things changed this. In some places, such as Tunisia, non-Islamist parties have been rapidly gaining ground and consolidating. But more importantly, Islamists were quickly revealed to have no real policies for dealing with the most important concerns of the general public, particularly jobs, economic growth and security.

Second, in some cases the advantage was either greatly exaggerated or extremely fleeting. In Libya, Islamists have, from the outset of the new system, suffered a continuous series of defeats. In Tunisia, Islamists won a plurality that forced them to compromise and form a coalition government. But it has now resigned under massive pressure. In Egypt, Islamists were most successful, but their abusive and arbitrary style of rule and outrageous behaviour in government quickly led to their ouster to great public acclaim.

Even the most diehard supporters of the “Islamic awakening” narrative have finally had to admit that a massive “countertrend” is sweeping the region. But it’s not enough to observe that Islamists have confronted more popular non-Islamist social forces that have defeated them across the board. It is crucial to identify the primary animating and defining sentiment that has led to this defeat, and what unifies and legitimates the “non-Islamist” victorious forces.

What the Islamists have confronted, in fact, is nationalism. In every case in which they have suffered defeat, it is a nationalist discourse that has turned the public against them. From the Libyan parliamentary elections to the ouster of the Brotherhood in Egypt, and, even the resignation of Ennahda in Tunisia, social and political forces that confronted the Islamists by questioning their nationalist sentiments and credentials have prevailed.

What many in the West have, even now, not understood is that nationalism – not the pan-Arab nationalism of the 1950s and 1960s, but state-specific nationalism of North African countries, for example – is still the most potent political sentiment in most of the Arab world. And this is the Achilles heel of Islamists, since the bases for questioning their nationalist sentiments are extensive: they place religion before country, their regional allies before the national interest, and a broader agenda above their own society’s immediate needs. And these are typically not false accusations.

The hyper-nationalism, bordering on chauvinism, that has taken hold in Egypt is a prime example of this phenomenon. And it is a reaction to the real and perceived way in which Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood clearly placed other values ahead of specifically Egyptian national interests. Egypt is now torn between the large majority who still identify the country according to its traditional, national self-image versus those who see it as just another Muslim society in need of greater piety in the public sphere.

In the splintering Arab states of the Levant and Iraq, nationalism clearly never trumped sectarian and ethnic subnational identities. But in many Arab states, including in North Africa, nationalism remains potent enough that it is the positive, dynamic and specific content that actually informs what is frequently referred to in the negative as non- or anti-Islamism.

These popular majorities are not just sceptical about Islamists. Much more to the point, they are deeply patriotic. And, in many cases, they have concluded, with every justification, that Islamists are at least insufficiently loyal to the country, if not downright subversive.

So it’s not the “deep state”, the “old order” or some foreign-driven “counter-revolution” that is keeping or driving the Islamists from power where many assumed they would naturally inherit it. Instead, it’s a very familiar, real and enduring sentiment – good old-fashioned Arab nationalism – which has proven to be the brick wall Islamism has crashed into headlong.

Rusia no es aliado para los árabes

Es crucial que los árabes tomen nota de lo que ha revelado lo acontecido en UcraniaRusia, esa supuesta poderosa superpotencia, no ha podido controlar los acontecimientos políticos en su propia puerta, en un país que en gran medida forma parte de su tradicional esfera de influencia.

En cierta retórica árabe Rusia es mencionada a menudo como alternativa a Estados Unidos como principal aliado, suministrador de armas, garante, fuerza estabilizadora y nueva potencia regional entre quienes, por lo que sea, están hartos de los estadounidenses. Hay quienes hablan mucho de “buscar alternativas”. Si se les insiste, la primera alternativa que suele mencionarse es Rusia.

Pero si Rusia no ha logrado ejercer su voluntad política al otro lado de la frontera, en Ucrania, ¿cómo puede nadie esperar que juegue un papel decisivo en Oriente Medio? ¿Cree alguien, realmente, que Rusia tiene capacidad para ejercer poder, por ejemplo, en la región del Golfo? La antaño poderosa flota soviética ha dado paso a una Marina rusa que cuenta sólo con un único portaaviones, bastante decrépito.

Por no mencionar que la mayoría de los principales aliados árabes de Estados Unidos tienensistemas de armamento y estructuras militares constituidos, en buena medida, por productos, servicios y tecnología norteamericanos. No es sólo que, en general, sean superiores; cambiar de proveedor llevaría años y costaría muchísimo dinero.

Eso no quiere decir que Rusia sea completamente ineficaz en Oriente Medio, por supuesto. Al contrario, ha elegido cuidadosamente qué batalla librar, y ha sido terriblemente eficaz en un meticuloso proyecto: su decidida campaña para mantener y proteger a toda costa la brutaldictadura de Bashar al Asad en Siria.

Mientras sus clientes caían en Kiev, los diplomáticos del Kremlin hacían horas extra en el Consejo de Seguridad de Naciones Unidas para diluir la resolución sobre “ayuda humanitaria”aprobada el pasado fin de semana. Tras haberse opuesto durante mucho tiempo a numerosos borradores de dicha resolución, los rusos afirmaron estar encantados de votar por la versión que, finalmente, fue aprobada. Claro que lo estaban. Pone al mismo nivel, en lo moral y en la práctica, al régimen y a la oposición en lo relativo a los obstáculos para distribuir ayuda humanitaria, lo que se aleja por completo de la realidad: el Gobierno sirio es mucho más culpable que los grupos de la oposición. Y, de forma crucial, elude cualquier mención a repercusiones si una o varias de las partes en conflicto siguen obstaculizando la ayuda humanitaria, la evacuación de civiles y otros imperativos éticos fundamentales semejantes.

Así pues, es una resolución de buena voluntad generalizada, ineficaz y en buena medida carente de sentido, que no tendrá impacto alguno porque todo el que está violando los derechos de la gente corriente de Siria y atacando a los civiles al negarles alimentos, medicinas y ayuda humanitaria, y no permitiéndoles abandonar las zonas de combate seguirá haciéndolo sin miedo a ser interrumpido o a consecuencia alguna. Y la principal fuerza que está haciéndolo (y que, por tanto, seguirá con esas prácticas bárbaras, que, de ser necesario, incrementará) es el régimen de Damasco.

Asad no tiene motivos para temer a semejante palabrería hueca, porque sus aliados de Hezbolá, de Irán y, sobre todo, de Moscú, están comprometidos con la defensa de su régimen. No cabe en la cabeza que cualquier árabe que afirme sentirse moralmente indignado ante lo brutal de la dictadura de Damasco pueda considerar a Rusia, su principal valedor, un potencial aliado.

Por tanto, la idea de una nueva entente ruso-árabe tiene deficiencias prácticas y resulta moralmente indefendible. Rusia no puede suministrar a los árabes las armas que necesitan, salvo en el limitado caso de Asad, precisamente. Y el papel que está desempeñando en Siria debería hacer que los rusos fueran inaceptables como posibles aliados de los árabes, incluso aunque pudieran serlo.

Todo lo que se dice de que la vieja alianza entre Estados Unidos y sus principales aliados árabes está agonizando o a las puertas de la muerte no sólo resulta exagerado: es insensato e irresponsable. Los norteamericanos y los países árabes aún se necesitan mutuamente tanto como antes, si no más.

Del mismo modo que Rusia no puede suministrar a los árabes lo que éstos necesitan, pese a las esperanzas de algunos, Irán no puede ofrecer a los norteamericanos, ni al resto del mundo, las bases para un acuerdo que asegure la seguridad del Golfo (por mencionar sólo el aspecto más importante).

Los estados árabes podrán seguir flirteando con Rusia, y los norteamericanos con Irán. Pero el gran divorcio entre los árabes y Estados Unidos es, simplemente, imposible para ambas partes. Ambos pueden creer que el otro “les ha engañado”, pero sigue habiendo, metafóricamente hablando, una casa, hijos y mascotas de los que cuidar. Las alternativas para ambos no pueden satisfacer sus respectivas necesidades básicas.

El matrimonio que es la alianza estratégica entre Estados Unidos y los árabes seguirá adelante porque, más bien antes que después, ambos llegarán a la conclusión de que cualquier alternativa es menos atractiva y satisfactoria que lo que ambos han construido juntos durante décadas.

Russia is no ally for the Arabs

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/commentaryanalysis/536821-russia-is-no-ally-for-the-arabs

Although some Arabs are fantasizing about it, a major alliance with Russia is unwise both morally and practically

Russia is no partner.

 

It’s crucial that the Arabs take note of what has just transpired in Ukraine. Russia, that supposedly mighty power, could not control political events on its own doorstep, and in a country that is very much part of its traditional sphere of influence.

Russia is frequently cited in some Arab discourse as an alternative to the United States as a chief ally, arms supplier, guarantor, stabilizing force, and new regional power among those who are, for whatever reason, fed up with the United States. There is much talk by some about “seeking alternatives.” When pressed, the first thing that tends to come up as such an alternative is Russia.

But if Russia cannot successfully project its political will across its border into Ukraine, how could anyone expect it to play a decisive role in the Middle East? Does anyone really imagine that Russia has the capability to project its power into, for example, the Gulf region? The once-mighty Soviet naval fleet has given way to a Russian “Admiralty” featuring one lone and rather decrepit aircraft carrier.

This is not to mention that most key Arab allies of the United States have weapons systems and military structures that are deeply invested in American products, services, and technology. Not only are these generally superior: switching to another main supplier would take years and cost a huge amount of money.

This isn’t to say that Russia is entirely ineffective in the Middle East, of course. On the contrary, it has picked its battle, and it has been horrifyingly effective in one narrow project: its committed campaign to maintain and protect, at all costs, the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

As their clients were collapsing in Kiev, the Kremlin’s diplomats were working overtime at the United Nations Security Council to water down the “humanitarian aid” resolution that passed over the weekend. After having long opposed many drafts of it, the Russians said they were happy to vote for the version that was actually adopted. Of course they were. It creates a moral and practical equivalency between the regime and the opposition with regard to impediments to the delivery of humanitarian aid, which completely elides the reality that the Syrian government is far more culpable than opposition groups. And, crucially, it omitted any language about repercussions if one or more sides in the conflict continue to obstruct humanitarian aid, the evacuation of civilians, and other such fundamental moral imperatives.

So it is a toothless, and largely meaningless, resolution of generalized goodwill that will have no impact because everyone who is violating the rights of ordinary Syrian people and targeting civilians by denying them food, medicine, and humanitarian assistance and refusing to allow them to leave battle zones will continue to do so without fear of interruption or consequences. And the primary force doing that – and will therefore continue, and if necessary increase, these barbaric practices – is the regime in Damascus.

Assad has no reason to fear such empty rhetoric, because his allies in Hezbollah, Iran, and, above all, Moscow are committed to protecting his rule. It’s mind-boggling that any Arabs who profess to feel a sense of moral outrage about the viciousness of the Damascus dictatorship could consider Russia, its primary sponsor, a potential ally of their own.

So the whole notion of a new Arab-Russian entente is practically deficient and morally indefensible. Russia cannot supply the Arabs with what they need, except in the limited case of Assad, of all people. And the role it’s playing in Syria ought to make Russia unacceptable as a potential Arab ally, even if it could.

All of the talk about the old alliance between the United States and its major Arab allies being moribund or in its death throes is not only exaggerated, it is reckless and irresponsible. The Americans and the Arab states still need each other as much, if not more, than ever.

Just as Russia cannot supply the Arabs with what they need in spite of some people’s hopes, Iran similarly cannot provide the Americans, and the rest of the world, with the basis for an accommodation that ensures – to list only the single most important of its aspects – Gulf security.

Arab states might continue to flirt with Russia, and the Americans with Iran. But the great US-Arab “divorce” is simply implausible for both sides. Both parties may feel the other has “cheated on them,” but there’s still a metaphorical house, children, and pets that must be looked after. The “alternatives” to both can’t meet either of their basic needs.

The “marriage” of the US-Arab strategic relationship will continue because, sooner rather than later, both will conclude that any alternative is less attractive and satisfactory than what they have built together over the decades.

 

Libya’s biggest asset could also be its greatest liability

http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/libyas-biggest-asset-could-also-be-its-greatest-liability#full

When Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown in 2011, hopes ran high for a bright future in Libya. But the third anniversary on February 17 of the start of the protests that led to his downfall finds the country deeply divided in every possible way, and apparently it is only drifting farther apart. The irony is that what is dividing the country most is what should, in theory, be Libya’s greatest hope: its large oil reserves and their as-yet unrealised potential to generate wealth.

Events that would, in better times, foster greater national unity such as the anniversary of the rebellion, the Libyan football team’s upset victory in the African Nations Championship, and the elections for a constitution-drafting committee – all of which happened in the past few weeks – don’t seem to have made a dent in the country’s seemingly endless woes.

The tensions that are driving Libya towards becoming a virtually failed state are ideological, regional, tribal and clan-orientated. On the surface, the greatest tension is between rival militias who are using the power of the gun to promote their agendas. These interests are sometimes linked to political tensions between Islamists and non-Islamists, but sometimes they operate with a twisted logic of their own.

The General National Congress (GNC) has been gridlocked in recent months over endless efforts by Islamists to unseat the non-Islamist prime minister, Ali Zeidan, who had even been kidnapped briefly. Popular disgust with governmental paralysis and lack of unaccountability erupted last week in the form of large public demonstrations against the GNC – whose mandate had been due to expire earlier this month – after Islamists tried to push through a one-year extension for the parliament.

The Al Qaaqaa and Al Sawaaq militias from Zintan, who are loosely aligned with non-Islamist forces, then made a quasi-coup attempt, demanding the entire GNC resign at once or face “arrest”. The Zintan militias are frequently at loggerheads with those from Misurata, who are associated with Islamist groups. However, their intervention was miscalculated, and was rejected by all political movements, including Mahmoud Jibril, the leader of the non-Islamist National Forces Alliance.

The country appears to have simply moved on from this more serious threat, just as it did from a farcical coup attempt on February 14 by Major Gen Khalifa Haftar.

But it’s difficult to overestimate the despondency that has taken hold. Turnout in the election for the constitution-drafting panel was so low that the victors of at least 13 out of 60 seats couldn’t be determined.

If Libyans are deeply gloomy, they came by it honestly. Government gridlock, bullying by the militias, and the sense of a nation drifting towards oblivion are exacerbated by bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and strong regional, tribal and, increasingly, ethnic tensions.

Beneath the surface, however, the most important latent reason for disunity is a primal struggle over money, specifically the country’s oil revenues. Everything else is secondary to the scramble of “primitive accumulation” in a society that is re-creating itself from scratch.

Much of what appears to be about other matters – political ideology, party rivalries, regional tensions and so forth – is merely a cover for the actual motive, which is positioning to gain power with a specific focus on Libya’s potential oil wealth.

It is precisely this jockeying for influence over oil that has virtually destroyed the very industry that is so coveted. Under Qaddafi, the country’s oil was under-exploited, and its proceeds were used for extremely narrow purposes of the dictatorship and its patronage network.

In the immediate aftermath of his downfall, the oil industry appeared to be making a robust comeback. However, even as petroleum production resumed, long-standing grievances in Libya’s south and east, where much of the oil is located, were exacerbated rather than assuaged.

High unemployment and poverty, compared to western Libya and, especially, Tripoli, were not addressed in a judicious manner. Tensions ran so high that a secessionist movement emerged in the eastern region of Cyrenaica.

The government also blundered by ostensibly trying to use former militia members to “protect” the oil facilities. These quasi-official, but practically unaccountable, groups frequently clashed with other militias or angry protesters who often expressed their grievances by disrupting the crucial industry.

As a result of the chaos, and efforts by many different groups of Libyans to get their way politically by disrupting the energy sector, exports now stand at about one-tenth of the normal capacity. The economy, which should be flourishing, is instead foundering, and the government has been forced to increasingly rely on foreign savings to support a public that has not weaned itself off its dependency on the state.

It’s unlikely that Libya would have been doing splendidly by now even if it didn’t have a vast potential oil wealth. Qaddafi left it with nothing, and the rebuilding task was always going to be enormous.

But, with all parties jockeying for position with an eye on the under-exploited oil jackpot, and with so many Libyans having realised that one of the best ways to bully the state, and everybody else, is to disrupt this industry, there’s no doubt that Libya’s energy resources are counter-intuitively causing more harm than good.

For now, what ought to be Libya’s greatest asset is unfortunately proving to be its worst liability.