ATbar ISIS in Libya - Exploitation and Governance of Areas of Limited Statehood

ISIS in Libya - Exploitation and Governance of Areas of Limited Statehood

30/09/2015 | by Schnitt, Jonathan  

After initially positive developments following the popular revolution against Colonel Muammar Qaddafi in the spring of 2011, Libya is a country on the brink of collapse. Prolonged fighting between the two parliaments, their respective governments and allied militias have led to the brink of all-out war (International Crisis Group, 2015). The country’s ongoing violent internal conflict has been referred to as “the Middle East’s second war zone”(Washington Post, 2015) and “a war to watch in 2015” (Guehenno, 2015). Bernardino León, the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), has warned that Libya is “very close to total chaos” (New York Times, 2015) and that the country is increasingly being compared to a “Somalia” or “Mosul” (Wehrey, 2014) on the Mediterranean. This vacuum created by the deepening political crisis and collapse of state institutions has lead to Libya becoming a “honey pot” for radical Islamic groups (BBC News, 2015). Libya has become an arena where multiple actors, both civil and uncivil, co-exist and compete. Thus, governance in Libya has come to be shaped by local and international interests, as well as by civil and military actors (Masi, 2014). One of the groups that exploits the inability of Libya’s central authorities to fulfill the basic requirements of “normal” statehood is ISIS, the Salafi-jihadi organization which renamed itself the Islamic State when it declared an Islamic caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq in 2013 (Engel, 2014). ISIS members disdain the common Arabic acronym of the group’s name, Da’esh, and call their group al Dawlah, simply “the state” - an indication they see themselves as functionaries of a real government. To truly be one, the group aims at moving beyond bloodshed and providing services throughout the territory it controls, exploiting the governments’ inability to do so (Masi, 2014). The current environment in Libya provides ISIS and its affiliated groups with space to operate, filling the vacuum left by defunct institutions and a fragmented society (Howard, 2015). Although many armed and militant groups are active in the Libyan arena, this paper will focus on ISIS as one of the players that, if successful in taking root, not only constitutes a security risk to the concept of the Libyan national state but also to the neighboring countries and the region – including southern Europe. 

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