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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy

Christopher M. Blanchard
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi underscored the serious security challenges facing Libya’s citizens, their newly elected leaders, and U.S. diplomats. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel were killed after armed individuals attacked and burned buildings on the main mission compound and subsequently attacked a second annex site where U.S. personnel had been evacuated. Libyan officials and citizens have condemned the murder of U.S. personnel and investigations have begun. Armed non-state groups continue to operate in many areas of the country. On August 27, the U.S. State Department had warned U.S. citizens against visiting Libya and stated that “intermilitia conflict can erupt at any time or any place in the country.”

Libya’s post-conflict transition is underway, as Libyans work to consolidate change from the 40- year dictatorship of Muammar al Qadhafi to a representative government based on democratic and Islamic principles. Recent flare-ups in violence have coincided with a number of important steps in the country’s political transition. On July 7, 2012, Libyan voters chose 200 members of a General National Congress (GNC) in the country’s first nationwide election in nearly 50 years. The GNC has elected its leadership and is now overseeing national government affairs. The GNC elected a prime minister-designate in September, but later removed him in a no-confidence vote after his proposed cabinet list was rejected. The GNC selected Ali Zeidan as prime minister designate on October 14, and is expected to determine the method for selecting members of a drafting committee to prepare a new constitution. If voters approve a constitution in a referendum, then new elections are to be held by mid-2013, bringing a nearly two-year transition to a close. Security conditions are the immediate concern of Libyans and their leaders.

In the wake of the July election, Libya’s interim leaders remain answerable to a wide range of locally and regionally organized activists, locally elected and appointed committees, prominent personalities, tribes, militias, and civil society groups seeking to shape the transition and safeguard the revolution’s achievements. Many Libyans have hoped that the elected GNC and the yet-to-be-appointed cabinet will enjoy greater legitimacy that will enable them to act decisively on security issues and other key areas, such as fiscal affairs and post-conflict justice and reconciliation. However, the insecurity prevalent in Libya complicates important issues, including debates over the centralization of government authority, the provision of security, the proper role for Islam in political and social life, and related concerns about the potential for Libyan territory to be exploited by terrorists, arms traffickers, and criminal networks.

The proliferation of military weaponry from unsecured stockpiles—including small arms, explosives, and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADs)—remains a serious concern. The Obama Administration has been implementing a program with Libyan authorities to retrieve and disable weapons, including MANPADs. U.S. officials believe that nuclear materials and chemical weapons components are secure (including previously undeclared chemical weapons), and Libyan leaders have recommitted to destroying the remnants of Qadhafi’s chemical arsenal.

As of October 2012, the U.S. government has allocated more than $200 million in assistance for Libya since the start of the uprising in 2011. Attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities have disrupted U.S. aid programs temporarily. However, since the attacks, U.S. officials have proposed expanded security cooperation to Libyan officials and underscored a U.S. commitment to partnership with Libya. As Libyans work to shape their future, Congress and the Obama Administration have the first opportunity since the 1960s to fully redefine U.S.-Libyan relations.

Date of Report: October 18, 2012
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: RL33142
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sudan and South Sudan: Current Issues for Congress and U.S. Policy

Lauren Ploch Blanchard 
Specialist in African Affairs

Congress has played an active role in U.S. policy toward Sudan for more than three decades. Efforts to support an end to the country’s myriad conflicts and human rights abuses have dominated the agenda, as have counterterrorism concerns. When unified (1956-2011), Sudan was Africa’s largest nation, bordering nine countries and stretching from the northern borders of Kenya and Uganda to the southern borders of Egypt and Libya. Strategically located along the Nile River and the Red Sea, Sudan was historically described as a crossroads between the Arab world and Africa. Domestic and international efforts to unite its ethnically, racially, religiously, and culturally diverse population under a common national identity fell short, however. In 2011, after decades of civil war and a 6.5 year transitional period, Sudan split in two. Mistrust between the two Sudans—Sudan and South Sudan—lingers, and unresolved disputes and related security issues still threaten to pull the two countries back to war.

The north-south split did not resolve other simmering conflicts, notably in Darfur, Blue Nile, and Southern Kordofan. Roughly 2.5 million people remain displaced as a result of these conflicts. Like the broader sub-region, the Sudans are susceptible to drought and food insecurity, despite significant agricultural potential in some areas. Civilians in the conflict zones are particularly vulnerable. Instability and Sudanese government restrictions have limited relief agencies’ access to conflict-affected populations. Humanitarian conditions in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile have been at crisis levels for months, but an estimated half a million people remain largely beyond the reach of aid groups. Logistical challenges constrain the delivery of relief for those who have fled, primarily to remote refugee camps across the border in South Sudan. The harassment of aid workers is a problem in both Sudans, further hindering aid responses.

The peaceful separation of Sudan and South Sudan was seen by some players as an opportunity to repair relations between Sudan’s Islamist government and the United States. Those ties have long been strained over Khartoum’s human rights violations and history of support for international terrorist groups. Among the arguments in favor of normalizing relations with Sudan has been the notion that the United States has few additional unilateral “sticks” to apply against Khartoum, given robust sanctions already in place. Applying certain “carrots,” such as easing sanctions, might encourage further political reforms, proponents say. The Obama Administration sought to improve the relationship with Khartoum in 2011, given South Sudan’s successful referendum and separation from Sudan, and Sudan’s cooperation on counterterrorism. The U.S. effort has been impeded by ongoing reports of abuses, including allegations that Khartoum continues to commit war crimes against civilians. Some observers argue that improving the relationship would reward bad behavior. Relations are also complicated by the fact that several government officials, notably President Omar al Bashir, have been accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide at the International Criminal Court in relation to the Darfur conflict.

U.S. relations with South Sudan, which are rooted in years of American activism and disaster relief to the south during the civil war, remain close, though there have been signs of strain in 2012. The United States is the country’s largest bilateral donor, but the Administration has expressed concern over certain actions taken by leaders in Juba that have, in its view, further aggravated the relationship between the Sudans and the economic situation in both countries.

This report examines the shared interests and outstanding disputes between the Sudans after separation, and gives an overview of political, economic, and humanitarian conditions in the two countries, with a focus on possible implications for U.S. policy and congressional engagement.

Date of Report: October 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 43
Order Number: R42774
Price: $29.95

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