In recent weeks, with the Libyan civil war as a backdrop, we have witnessed the Caliphate of Bayda’s overpowering entrance into the scene, a jihadist organisation based in Derna and officially affiliated to the Islamic State of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Indeed, taking advantage of the serious instability that has characterised Libya since 2011 and in the context of the confrontation between the Operation Dignity secular militia and the Operation Dawn Islamist militia, the jihadist forces launched an unexpected attack aiming to conquer the country, starting from the city of Sirte and with the objective of reaching Tripoli.
The recent advance of the Caliphate of Bayda’s militia on Sirte and the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coopti Christians, who had been abducted last January 1, have undeniably brought out the true extent of the jihadist threat in Libya. As much as the events that took place in Cyrenaica have shaken the attention of the world’s media, the spread and growth of Libyan Islamic radicalism represents a historic phenomenon, from before the fall of Gadhafi in 2011, as well as being original and distinct from al-Qaida’s network and agenda. Nevertheless, the events following the Revolution of February 17, the outbreak of the civil war between the secular population and the Islamists, the extreme political, tribal and social fragmentation of the country and its economic plight helped create the ideal conditions for the spread of the jihadist agenda. In fact, apart from military skills, substantially identical to that of the other Libyan militias, the Caliphate of Bayda has demonstrated that they possess remarkable political and strategic skills, managing to win over tribal networks and to unify the local militias, both the extremist and non-extremist ones, under the umbrella of the Sharia and jihad. Furthermore, compared to other militias, the Caliphate has placed the emphasis on the administration of the territory and on the social dimension of aiding the population, attempting to set up a para-state reality that can assert itself as the real power in the area and thus compensate for the shortcomings of the legitimate central institutions.
For Libya, 2014 was the year of the segmentation of the civil war into two fronts: the secular Nasserite front of General Haftar and the Tobruk Government; and the Islamist one of the Tripoli government, flanked by a collection of local militias, some dangerously close to the jihadist movement. However, this division appears to be a political ploy to differentiate between the warring parties and does not reflect the political and military realities of the battlefield, with variable alliances and a web of magmatic and flexible agreements. One of the more troubling statistics is that neither side seems to have the strength required to prevail over the other and, above all, the Tobruk and Tripoli governments are still far from any form of dialogue or confrontation. It appears unlikely that, in the future, this situation will improve without incisive intervention from the international community.