Over the past few days, armed gangs have been setting Libya ablaze. The slogans sound familiar: “May the martyr’s blood not be shed in vain!” Nothing could be less certain.
The country is sinking into chaos, and many Libyans say things are worse than the era of Muammar Gaddafi — the dictator who was overthrown in the 2011 revolution with the blood of another wave of would-be martyrs. And so, we are left to ask: What is all this dying for?
Libya is splintering. The scant political-administrative structures set up after 2011 are collapsing. Economic life is at a standstill. One after the other, the big diplomatic missions are leaving, so is the United Nations and many NGOs. Tripoli, the capital, Benghazi and the other big cities — those sheltering half of the country's 7 million inhabitants — are the stages for battles among rival armed groups.
And over the last couple of weeks, the violence has reached a dangerous new level.
Within the cities, forces attack each other with heavy weaponry, while shootings have rendered both major airports, those of Tripoli and Benghazi, unusable. Partially burned down, a huge gas and fuel storage threatens to explode near the capital. Last Tuesday, jihadists seized the main military base of Benghazi and its massive stock of arms and weapons.
Amid micro-confrontations here and there, the main battle seems to oppose hardliner camps. On one side are the forces of retired General Khalifa Haftar, gathered in the “Operation Dignity” movement, supported by elements of the former regime and militias of the Zintan region from western Libya. On the other side, a faction of Muslim brothers, from Islamist and jihadist groups, rallied together with militias from eastern Libya.
Abductions, assassinations, an explosive mix of organized crime and political settling of scores, all of this interspersed with artillery bombardment: Ordinary Libyans are left to live in deepening insecurity.
The dream of a tolerant Libya has vanished. What followed the savage, tribal and predatory dictatorship of Gaddafi is the reign of militias — predatory and tribal just the same, and completely foreign to the basic idea of a state under the rule of law.
The relevance of the intervention led by the U.S., France and Britain has to be questioned — an intervention that, at the time, was fully supported by Le Monde. Were Washington, Paris and London right to launch this air bombing campaign that allowed the rebels to defeat Gaddafi?
In retrospect, these are easy questions to bring to the table: The political decision of an intervention is sometimes taken in emergency, often for humanitarian reasons. But in view of the chaos spreading across Libya, these are questions that must be asked.