Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 7, 2016

How Can the World Help Libya?

Syria and Iraq have spiraled out of control, and Libya feels like it could be next on the list, now that the United States and other countries have evacuated many of their diplomats and officials amid fighting between Islamists and those opposed to them. But the rest of the world doesn’t appear eager to intervene militarily in either Syria or Iraq, and any financial aid so far has been limited. So what could be done to help Libya, then?

A Libyan presidential hopeful, Bashir Musa — he was one of seven interim prime minister candidates in the spring in a chaotic election — said in an interview with CQ Roll Call that the best way for the international community to help, barring direct military or financial aid, would be to provide  intelligence support, sanctions and international declarations of red lines.

On sanctions: “The major problem in Libya is the guerrillas. They are controlling everything,” Musa said during an interview  while in Washington, D.C. this week. “Freezing the financial sources — the leaders of the guerrillas are well known nationally and internationally.”

On international red lines: “If we have a statement from the United States, NATO, the United Nations — a statement saying that if you move weapons we will interfere — that would be making pressure,” he said, particularly if the declaration is backed by the threat of a “surgical operation” against anyone who moves weapons. “I’m quite confident that psychologically, if you address that, it will affect it more than 60 percent” of the arms transfers.

The intelligence support, he said, would involve sharing satellite data on the movement of those weapons. And if the militias are weakened, he said, it would improve the fragile government’s negotiating position with them.

“To bring people to the table, to bring them to table while they are strong, it’s not in our favor,” he said. “We have to make them weak day by day, then bring them to the table.”

It’s unclear when Musa, a businessman who is running as an independent and drew little support for interim prime minister, will get his chance to seek election for president, or how he might fare. The election date won’t be set until after a new constitution is finalized, and he is one of many seeking the job.

“There are about six million candidates,” said Karim Mezran, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, who added that he knew little of Musa. “Every Libyan is going around now trying to run for president.”

Other actors have ideas about what other countries can do in Libya, too. Neighboring Egypt is hinting at military intervention, for instance. Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdulaziz has requested training for Libyan security forces.

Mezran has proposed international threats in combination with deployment of an international peacekeeping force, followed by U.N.-mediated negotiations.

He recently wrote:

Despite the gravity of the situation, there is not much appetite in Western capitals for a military response to the current crisis in Libya. This reluctance is largely based on fears of anti-Western sentiments among Libyans, particularly heightened in light of the September 2012 attack on the United States mission in Benghazi. That perception is misguided. On the contrary, the Libyan people respect the United States for playing a major role in supporting Libyan independence in the 1940s, opposing Colonel Qaddafi’s dictatorship for most of his reign, and assisting rebels during the 2011 revolution.

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