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'Libya's future cannot be left to one renegade general'

By Sara ElGaddari, Special to CNN
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Libya's instability is indicative of an ineffective government, says Sara ElGaddari
  • General Khalifa Haftar and the Zintan militia are stepping into the power vacuum, she says
  • But ElGaddari says Haftar and rebel militias are directly contributing to Libya's instability
  • She says the international community cannot let Libya fail and must help its government

Editor's note: Sara ElGaddari is a Libyan-British national and doctoral researcher at the University of Hull. Sara has expertise in North African affairs and in particular, on diplomatic relations between Libya and European states. Follow @selgaddari on Twitter. The views expressed in this commentary are solely the author's.

(CNN) -- While the Zintan militia leads the battle for control of Tripoli's airport, another set of militia and radicalized Islamist insurgents in the east are threatening a fragile Libya.

The increasingly unstable political and social climate in the country is indicative of a weak and ineffective government that is failing to answer internal security concerns as well as the basic aspirations of its citizens.

Sara ElGaddari
Sara ElGaddari

For these reasons primarily do the Zintan militia and renegade General Khalifa Haftar feel they have a mark to make in the security and political vacuum left by a corrupt and inept national government.

While politicians in the highest echelons continue to siphon the country's oil wealth, the armed militias in response are taking over oil terminals in the east, including Marsa al Hariga.

Haftar, a Libyan exile since 1987, returned to his home city of Benghazi from the United States, and was frequently seen in the city's old courthouse, the headquarters of the revolution in the east.

Along with the former NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Haftar directed and advised in the crucial months of the revolution. As a retired General, many Libyans are unsure of the longer-term motives and personal ambitions of a man who once attempted to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi.

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It is no small irony that Haftar, like the rebel militias that are still fighting for control of strategic bases in the country, is directly contributing to the instability of the country and undermining what little authority the government possesses.

From Sirte to Tobruk, and down to the border with Chad, there is no effective government influence. While elders in Benghazi want to negotiate with the Islamist fundamentalists, Haftar will not. His imposed policy is for these insurgents to surrender or be killed.

Recently, a car bomb was detonated outside Haftar's house, killing and injuring many. Like the brutal murder of Salwa Bugaighis on June 25, 2014, it is a further sign of the dangerous pitch of instability that the country has reached. Ordinary Libyans are now owning and bringing guns into their homes. Friends in Libya tell me the feeling of insecurity has permeated every household and shows no signs of abating.

Meanwhile, the government is continuing to fail to live up to its promises and has not provided security or jobs to ordinary citizens. At the same time, the quest for a secular society also continues, albeit whilst people purchase guns for their households and politicians steal the country's revenues.

The United States, Britain and Europe cannot afford Libya to become a failed state like Somalia. The division of Libya into east and west is not a viable option and is not in the long-term interests of Libyans or wider regional security. This debate does however highlight the old argument that the majority of the country's oil revenues still continue to go to Tripoli and surrounding areas.

Libya can be pulled back from the brink, but, the West must not leave Libya to its own (current) inept devices.

The government and the military need continued specialist training, advice and resources to fight the Islamist insurgents and the disparate rebel militias across the country, and to face the new security threats coming from the south and the Middle East. This process has already begun, with the United States' capture of the leader of the attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi in September 2012, which killed Ambassador Stevens.

The international community also needs to put pressure on the Libyan government to weed out endemic corruption.

The Libyan leadership need to maintain democratic credibility, unlike the last prime ministerial run that necessitated the intervention of the Supreme Court to rule the appointment of Ahmed Mitig as Prime Minister as illegal, to order that a new election be held, this time with a full Parliament in session.

The struggle to tackle armed groups in Libya continues, and it simply cannot be left to one renegade general to remove Islamic insurgents and keep armed militia groups in check.

Read: It's unclear whether Libya has a new PM

Read: Benghazi suspected ordered held until trial

Read: Libyan government considers requesting international troops

The views expressed in this commentary are soley those of Sara ElGaddart.

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