The Libyan capital’s déjà vu


In the summer of 2014, Tripoli International Airport was deliberately destroyed. It had been seized by a Misratan militia acting on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood Libya Dawn forces which were at that time in the process of taking over the Libyan capital and much of the west of the country.

The airport had been held since the 2011 revolution by a militia from Zintan, a town in the Western Mountains. In the fighting, aircraft worth many millions of dollars belonging to Libyan airlines were completely destroyed. Once the Zintanis had been driven out, the terminal building was deliberately torched. The only part of the international airport to survive was the VIP building. With the destruction of the capital’s main air link, which was around a half hour drive from the city center, flights were diverted to Mitiga in the western part of Tripoli, which was at that time firmly under the control of Libya Dawn forces.

Now Mitiga, the former US Air Force Wheelus airbase, is itself closed following fighting for its control. With the Spring 2016 arrival of the UN-backed and internationally-recognized Presidency Council (PC) government of Faiez Serraj, the remnants of the Libya Dawn regime of Khalifa Ghwell and its supporting Muslim Brotherhood militias began to loose their grip on the capital. This was because some militias changed sides and backed Serraj.

One of these, the Rada forces of Abdul Rauf Kara, last year finally took complete control of Mitiga, ousting the last of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood militias. Last week saw a concerted counterattack by several of these gangs, which after actually fighting their way into the airport and causing widespread damage to aircraft on the apron, was nevertheless pushed back and defeated, with one of their leaders killed.

Mitiga has not been wrecked in the same way as Tripoli International Airport, but flights have been suspended. Of the three Libyan carriers, Buraq, one of whose two aircraft were damaged in the fighting, may not be able to afford to have it repaired. More importantly, it now seems that the other two local operators, Afriqiyah and Libyan Airlines, may now be unable to obtain insurance. Already banned from Europe for regulatory failures, without insurance cover they will not be permitted to fly to their key remaining destinations in Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey. No international carriers now use Mitiga.

Once again, armed Libyan factions have demonstrated their insane capacity to destroy the very sources of wealth, power and influence they covet. Libya is a mess. Its electricity grid is collapsing. Water supplies have been cut off for days at a time. Food prices are soaring. The currency has been in free fall. Militias, nearly all of whom are ludicrously still on the Presidency Council (PC) payroll, smuggle subsidized fuel and foodstuffs as well as migrants. They extort, rob and kidnap and make normal life, especially in the capital, virtually impossible. In this law and order vacuum, the terrorists of Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) have prospered, often with the covert support of Muslim Brotherhood gangs.

Libyans deserve better of the brutal militias that dominate their country, each and every one of which claims it is acting for the sake of the country’s future. In fact like a rapidly metastasizing cancer, they are simply pursuing their own greedy and purblind interests in the course of destroying Libya itself.