An internationally recognised government is under threat from its own people. Close to eight years after the mortal nemesis of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya ~ his blood-splattered body was found in a drain ~ it is testament to the direly fractious polity that a fierce offensive has been launched by the Libyan strongman, Khalifa Haftar, on Tripoli, seat of what they call the “unity government”.

In point of fact, unity has been a scarce commodity in Libya both before and since the Arab Spring, terrorism and tribal factions being the principal contretemps. Small wonder the intervention of the world powers has been as swift as it has been robust; Haftar’s forces have been warned of the consequences of domestic adventurism masquerading as military action against terrorists. The strongman’s stormtroopers have already seized the country’s south and are now targeting the west ostensibly to purge the region of a segment referred to as “terrorists and mercenaries”.

The cauldron of a civil war is bristling with Haftar’s self-proclaimed “Libyan National Army” articulating the threat ~ to which has now been added the caveat, “The time has come”, couched in the assurance that civilians and “state institutions” would be spared. So far, so merciful.

The Arab Spring was contagious. The year 2011 witnessed a gut-churning watershed in the North African country when a NATO-backed uprising had toppled Gaddafi. In 2019, the hideous struggle for the mastery of Libya has been reignited and Western intervention ~ with the improbable backing of the Security Council ~ can only exacerbate the crisis. The role of the UN ~ it had prevaricated in 2011 ~ can be contextualised with the statement of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Gueterres, who visited Tripoli recently ~ “ I am deeply concerned over the military movement taking place and the risk of confrontation.”

That risk is dangerously real. On closer reflection, Libya contends with two governments with Haftar’s forces having emerged as a key player. It is opposed to the central authority in Tripoli, while lending its support to a parallel administration to the east of the country, a volatile swathe of the Afro-Arab region that has been embattled for as long as it has. Libya is plagued by violent ethnicity and fundamentalism, to which has now been added the virtual collapse of the central authority.

On Saturday morning, Haftar’s forces were said to be “at the gates of the capital”. At another remove, the head of the “unity government”, Fayez al-Sarraj, has directed the loyalist forces to gear up and “face all threats”. More accurately, the military is as divided as the country, which at this juncture is plagued by rival fighters. The crisis has escalated owing to the inherent fragility of the government in Tripoli.

As WB Yeats had commented in the aftermath of World War I ~ “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. That succinctly has been the tragedy of Libya from Muammar Gaddafi to the present day.