GZERO Media logo

What Happens When a Strongman Looks Weak?

What Happens When a Strongman Looks Weak?

It’s the question left hanging over Libya after Khalifa Haftar, the charismatic general-turned-warlord who became a key power broker after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, returned to the country following a health scare. Rumors swirled that the 75-year-old Haftar was dead after he travelled to Paris for medical treatment in mid-April, but now he’s back in his stronghold in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. The question is, for how long?


A quick refresher: Libya has effectively been two countries since 2015, with different factions vying for control after the civil war that followed Gaddafi’s downfall. Haftar’s Libyan National Army gained control and legitimacy in eastern Libya by taking ground ceded to Islamist insurgents and commanding authority over lucrative oil fields. An eastern government backed by Haftar continues to compete with a rival UN-recognized government in Tripoli, 800 miles to the west. It’s an uneasy duel for control of a country that is still riddled with ISIS fighters.

The first rule of being a strong man who rules over a hive of squabbling, heavily-armed antagonists is don’t ever let them think you’re a goner. That’s particularly true for Haftar, a soldier of fortune who helped bring Gaddafi to power in a 1969 coup only to spend years plotting the Libyan dictator’s ouster from exile in suburban Virginia after falling out of his good graces. For such a larger-than-life figure, the mere appearance of weakness can be a cue for potential rivals. (Haftar, who told the crowd gathered to meet him in Benghazi that he “should be addressing you standing up but I am obliged to do so sitting down,” seems keenly aware of this).

Why this matters outside Libya: If the general’s grip slips, the resulting power vacuum could give ISIS room to grow, and refugee flows would become harder to manage. That would be a problem for Italy especially. And if militia groups that have been loyal to Haftar launch a chaotic grab for the region’s crude supply, the price of oil could rise further. That would hit you in your wallet.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

Over the weekend, some 40,000 Russians braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

More Show less

The United States has never been more divided, and it's safe to say that social media's role in our national discourse is a big part of the problem. But renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher doesn't see any easy fix. "I don't know how you fix the architecture of a building that is just purposely dangerous for everybody." Swisher joins Ian Bremmer to talk about how some of the richest companies on Earth, whose business models benefit from discord and division, can be compelled to see their better angels. Their conversation was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take (part 1):

Ian Bremmer here, happy Monday. And have your Quick Take to start off the week.

Maybe start off with Biden because now President Biden has had a week, almost a week, right? How was it? How's he doing? Well, for the first week, I would say pretty good. Not exceptional, but not bad, not bad. Normal. I know everyone's excited that there's normalcy. We will not be excited there's normalcy when crises start hitting and when life gets harder and we are still in the middle of a horrible pandemic and he has to respond to it. But for the first week, it was okay.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Russian opposition leader Navalny in jail. Hundreds of thousands demonstrating across the country in Russia over well over 100 cities, well over 3000 arrested. And Putin responding by saying that this video that was put out that showed what Navalny said was Putin's palace that costs well over a billion dollars to create and Putin, I got to say, usually he doesn't respond to this stuff very quickly. Looked a little defensive, said didn't really watch it, saw some of it, but it definitely wasn't owned by him or owned by his relatives.

More Show less
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal