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The Derna tragedy and the current situation in Libya

- By Alessia Melcangi and Karim Mezran

- Research article available here


The author of an excellent article published on September 23, 2023 in the British magazine The Economist, after a concise but correct analysis of the causes of Derna’s tragedy (and other cases as well) concludes with the following words: “Libyans need help from their rulers and their neighbors. What they get instead is repression, condescension, and occasional antisemitic ramblings”. It appears clear that the last sentence refers to a speech pronounced by the Tunisian president Kais Saied, during which he claimed that since the name of the storm that hit Derna is Daniel, a Jewish name, one could easily infer that the Zionists were the reason behind the storm (for more detailed information, read here).

Such conclusion by the Tunisian president is relevant for various reasons, one of these being that it kills the pretense, sustained by some European actors, that their dealings with illegitimate personalities, like Khalifa Haftar, former Gaddafi’s rogue general, well-known to the people of Derna because of his siege of the city and the heavy bombardments he subjected it in recent years, are a show of “pragmatism”. In other words, these international actors are ready to deal with anyone in order to reach their own objectives, independently from the crimes the leader has committed or is committing. This attitude is shown by the recent visits by UN delegates and by European Union countries representatives to the Tunisian president Kais Saied, who is singlehandedly arresting every opponent and canceling every constitutional guarantee introduced during the post-Ben Ali dictatorship period. More evidence is the fact that the same actors pay continuous visits to general Haftar. All these actions are allegedly undertaken under the excuse of a “pragmatism” necessary to reach the “just” results of stopping illegal migration and other related concerns. The interests of external actors, such as Türkiye, Russia, Egypt and UAE, have easily produced and maintained a plethora of Libyan actors ready to guarantee the realization of those goals in exchange for their own empowerment and enrichment at the domestic level (see, for instance, here).

Thus, a vicious circle has been created, and it has been dominating the Libyan political development since 2011. External players, as we have stressed in our article in The International Spectator, reinforce domestic actors that have learned, in the meantime, how to deal with their protectors and how to employ them to their advantage. Such domestic actors do not represent Libyans, nor do they bring any particular benefit to the country. They seek to maintain their hold on power, and, therefore, dealing with them is not pragmatic, it is simply bad. This is so because such relationship provides these malevolent actors with an international recognition that further empowers them and disenfranchises the people of their right to self-governance and freedom. Therefore, if all things remain the same, the only way to actually be “pragmatic” for the Western countries and the European Union would be to acknowledge the current situation and begin to undermine the hold on power of the corrupted and criminal Libyan political class. Such effort should be carried out through exercising pressures on the external protectors to which the Libyan political class look up to, and mostly with an energetic and coordinated diplomatic and economic policy - and eventually also through military measures - directed towards Libyan illegitimate domestic actors (see, for instance, here). This version of “pragmatism” that we suggest is the only one that could effectively produce the results needed to counter the current situation. In effect, keeping endorsing the other idea of “pragmatism” would only mean reiterating the consequences described in the Economist article quoted above.


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