May 20 4:33 PM

Libya’s ‘Game of Thrones’ turns nasty in Season 4

Libyan Gen. Khalifa Haftar.
Mohammed Elshaiky / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Those looking at the world from the point of view of “Game of Thrones” character Daenerys Stormborn might see something depressingly familiar in the news out of Libya.

Having liberated the city of Yunkai from slave owners and then moved on, she’s lately been getting reports that bloody chaos and mayhem reign on its streets.

Libya, too, was liberated from the yoke of the regime of Col. Muammar Gaddafi almost three years ago, in a similar hit-and-run intervention by Western powers: NATO forces provided the air cover essential the ability of a collection of ragtag local militias to combine and deliver a knockout blow that scattered the regime’s forces. Now, many of those same militias are at one another’s throats as former exile and military commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar leads an armed rebellion against forces loyal to an elected but increasingly unpopular government led by an Islamist party.

The problem in Yunkai? A powerful central authority was toppled with outside intervention by Danerys’s army, but it wasn't replaced by an authority capable of reestablishing order. So, too, Libya, which has lived ever since under the shadow of rival militias coexisting in an uneasy truce. With parliament paralyzed and the government unable to deliver on the expectations of a long-suffering population, Gen. Haftar has made his move, declaring his objective as ending the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya. (The ruling party is a Brotherhood ally.) Haftar’s rhetoric — “there is only one enemy and that is the Muslim Brotherhood,” he has been quoted as saying — and regional developments have prompted some regional analysts to speculate that his rebellion may be an attempt to reprise last summer’s coup by the Egyptian military to oust the elected Muslim Brotherhood–led government.

But even if that were the intention of Haftar and his backers, Libya is not Egypt. As the International Crisis Group analyst Claudia Gazzini told Al Jazeera, there’s no force in Libya with the equivalent power of the Egyptian military.

“The problem is that in Libya you don’t have an Egyptian military,” she said. “You have a very fragmented political and security scene, which is a recipe for continued fighting without conclusive results.”

Indeed, as Daenerys found in Yunkai, the very definition of state power is an effective monopoly on coercive force within a defined territory. Absent the existence of a single, dominant security authority, all bets are off. That was true in Libya after Gaddafi’s ouster, and even more so now. Even if Haftar managers to muster sufficient firepower to drive pro-government militias from their positions, the fact remains that rival authorities continue to field their own armies to cement their claims on the throne. More like Westeros than Yunkai, you might say.


Egypt, Libya

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