Libya’s golden geese


The terrorists of Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) have claimed responsibility for this weeks’ attack on the Tripoli headquarters of National Oil Corporation (NOC). There is little reason to doubt them. Daesh with its fanatical blasphemies is all about fear and destruction. It killed two and injured a dozen innocents in the assault on the NOC building but all three gunmen died, two by their own hand when they detonated suicide vests. The consolation for all decent Libyans is that these three deluded bigots are no longer a threat to civilized society.

But then it could be argued that the rule, principally in the capital, of rival militia gangs jockeying for power and money is itself hardly civilized. Libya, once a wealthy and relatively stable country albeit under the capricious and at times brutal dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi, has been reduced to chaos by competing militias. They think nothing of kidnapping and murdering opponents, of firing rockets and shells into crowded urban districts with no thought for the innocent civilians who inevitably will be killed or maimed.

A civilized country has a steady supply of electricity and water. Libya does not. A civilized country has hospitals as havens of care and healing. Libya does not. Gunmen have invaded casualty departments to finish off wounded rivals. Doctors and nurses who seek to intervene are gunned down. A civilized country has a functioning health service. Libya does not.

Its hospitals relied heavily on foreign nurses and doctors, particularly from India and the Philippines. As the country descended into violence after the Muslim Brotherhood coup in the capital, many of these expatriate medical workers fled. And those that bravely chose to stay left in the end anyway for the simple reason that, as the state collapsed, they were no longer paid their salaries regularly. And what money they did occasionally receive became worth less and less since they were paid in Libyan dinars, the value of which has collapsed steadily against the US dollar.

The only people to prosper in this uncivilized mess are the militias and the warlords who lead them. Incredibly, all are paid out of central funds, allegedly for their role in ensuring security in the territory that they control. This arrangement was the greatest folly of the National Transitional Council that governed the country during and immediately after the 2011 revolution.

Rather than oblige the victorious thuwar (revolutionary fighters) to disperse or join a reconstituted army and police force, the NTC agreed to pay them, including MB thugs, to keep order. It was a perfect recipe for the disaster that has overtaken the country. Without any central security forces, the militias have run riot, smuggling sub-Saharan refugees, subsided fuel and arms while running campaigns of extortion and intimidation.

But they have generally protected the two geese that lay the golden eggs for them —the NOC and the Central Bank. Though they have exploited the latter with phony letters of credit and lucrative foreign currency transactions, the NOC has been left alone. This technocratic organization under the dogged leadership of oil professional Mustafa Sanalla has managed, against fearsome odds, to boost production past 1 million bpd. But the irony is that when Daesh killers targeted the NOC, the greedy, gun-toting militias were utterly incapable of stopping them.