LBY170921MD005BEIDA, Libya – Civil war, the Islamic State and waves of African refugees bound for Europe have made this country one of the most unstable in the world.

But the chaos is not deterring Michael Guidry, a former Texas state trooper who manages the Guidry Group, a Houston-based crisis management company. Guidry is trying to build a new $1 billion port in Susah, a coastal town 20 miles northwest of Beida, the country’s fourth-largest city.

For years, Guidry’s core business has been protecting corporate clients from kidnappings in unstable countries. He’s now turned to infrastructure investment in high risk areas where he sees potential for security stabilization and economic growth. Three years ago, he won a contract to build the deep-water port in Susah. He now hopes to break ground in 2020.

“At the moment we are the only American company working in Libya but I’m hoping we can start to pave the way for other U.S. firms to assist us in rebuilding the country,” Guidry said. “I don’t think it’s good for America if the Russians or Chinese get in before us.”

Guidry’s work is a sign of how Libya is poised to return to economic growth if it can avoid more widespread violence.

Farmers have resumed cultivating grapes, peaches, almonds and pistachios in this region around 120 miles east of Benghazi, for example.

That activity comes as Libyan National Army Commander Khalifa Hafter declared victory over rival militias and Islamist fighters in the eastern harbor city of Derna and handed control of the oil ports under his authority to the country’s national oil corporation this summer.

“Hafter and the Libyan National Army did the impossible when his fighters took on ISIS the so called Islamic State and freed the east,” Abdalla Alhasse, a 40-year-old financial and trade consultant in Beida, referring to Hafter, who brought in enough fighters and heavy weapons to dislodge the Islamic State. “We want help for business and to build our country.”

But Alhasse had little time for the European diplomats who met in Palermo, Italy recently to discuss the future of Libya. The Europeans said they would help the country hold nationwide elections in June 2019. But they couldn’t broker an agreement between Algerians and Egyptians over who should train Libyan security forces, and Italian and French negotiators disagreed over how the elections would be held.

“The Palermo talks were more an event for the Italians to confirm their status as a power broker in Libya,” said “They are basically arguing with French over who gets to profit from our oil resources.”

Other experts felt American involvement could tip the scales towards growth, especially if President Donald Trump wanted to find a replacement for Iranian oil after he reimposed sanctions on Tehran. Washington has agreed to let China, India and six other countries keep buying Iranian oil despite the sanctions, but only temporarily.

“With almost 50 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves – the largest in Africa – and at such high quality that you can actually put it in an engine and it will run straight away – we can help the world escape from the Iranian alligator,” said Ahmed Shebani, a construction engineer from the western city of Misrata and founder of the Democratic Party of Libya.

A secular leader who calls for “separation between mosque and state” and civilian control in a country run for four decades by military dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Shebani said Libyans want American administrative expertise and professional management.

“We Libyans can finance this plan from our sovereign funds,” said Shebani “It is imperative that the American administration manage these funds to prevent theft and embezzlement and we are desperately in need for technical assistance from Washington to disburse this money and provide the technical expertise.”

Security and Policy Analyst Wolfgang Pusztai, chairman of the Advisory Board of the National Council on US-Libya Relations, said American support will be needed for a stabilization period lasting as long as six years before the country would be capable of providing security and achieving economic progress.

“The American main focus with regard to Libya until now has focused on counterterrorism operations,” said Pusztai, who was optimistic about a UN-sponsored summit in January when international negotiators would iron out plans for the June vote. “We hope the convention in January could be a real chance to change the path of the efforts for stabilization and mechanisms to use oil revenues as a glue to keep the country together.”

Meanwhile, the American administration slapped sanctions last week on Misrata militia leader Salah Badi after determining that the warlord was undermining Libya's government and stability.

"In August 2018, Badi ordered action against rival militias aligned with the GNA [the UN-backed Libyan government] exacerbating instability in Tripoli," the State Department said in a statement. "In addition, forces under Badi's command have used Grad rockets in highly populated areas, causing indiscriminate destruction and casualties, including emergency responders and ambulance workers.”

Shabani acknowledged that the security situation was precarious.

“Sometimes we do get in the crossfire between the different warlords,” he said. “These guys have strangulated the capital of Tripoli and we are locked up in our houses while they constantly keep taking new wives and fill their bellies every night with roasted lamb.”

But entrepreneurs like Guidry rather Italian and French officials were most likely to help, he added.

“We need American support to eliminate the threat that the warlords, the counter-revolution and the old Arab order all pose to democracy and the rule of law in Libya,” he said.

Photo: September 21, 2017 - Sirte, Libya - Damaged buildings along a road by the coast. Holes filled with grey cement on the walls are stigmas of the 2011 battle during Libya's revolution.
Credit: Maryline Dumas / ARA Network Inc. (09/21/2017)

Story/photo published: (12/12/2018)

A version of this story was published in the Washington Times.
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