The past week saw an armed rebellion against ISIS taking place in Sirte only to be brutally crushed over the course of 48 hours. Widespread fighting suddenly erupted in the costal town on Tuesday when ISIS elements killed the Salafi cleric Khalid bin Rajab Farjani, the Imam of Sirte’s Cordoba Mosque and a member of the powerful Farjani tribe. The Imam was killed after he repeatedly refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS and carried out heated sermons contesting their authority to speak as sole representatives of Islam. The Imam’s murder caused in turn a widespread rebellion in the city’s area known as District No. 3, the only major part of Sirte not fully under IS control, but rather under influence of the local Jaat brigade.
Instability in the city however lasted only for a few hours. In fact, the Jaat Brigade and members of the Farjani tribe could rely only on a limited amount of weaponry for their fight, mostly Kalashnikov from pre-revolutionary times when their affiliation with the Qadhafi regime made them a powerful group within the State.
The potential impact of these events has not yet played out. At the regional level, they could facilitate the military intervention of various stakeholders such as Egypt or the UAE. Already on Sunday 16 August, several airstrikes were conducted over a number of strategic sites in Sirte controlled by ISIS members (the Ougadougou Centre, the Security HQ, etc.). Airstrikes were undertaken by fighter jets employing high-altitude bombing techniques considered outside of the scope of technical abilities of Libyan air forces.
These attacks could signal the re-engagement of regional actors, likely led by the Egypt and the UAE, in the fight inside the country. The Tubruq based establishment quickly took these events as an opportunity to request from Arab League member states an intervention with airstrikes in Libya, along the lines of what is currently occurring in Syria and Iraq against IS positions. However, the risk that certain regional powers could seize this opportunity to pursue their own agenda and undermine the national rapprochement process is quite likely. In this sense, international players and organisations should make sure that the efforts that went into reaching a tentative national agreement are not now squandered by monitoring and putting pressure on Arab states to not heed the Tubruq’s establishment call.