Until 2011 one of the most stable countries in the entire Middle East and North African arc, following the revolts triggered against the former regime of Muammar Gaddafi and the external intervention led by NATO in March 2011 (which, in October of that year also led to the death of Gaddafi), Libya today appears to be a real ‘failed state’, characterized by an internal conflict of a political-tribal nature, the absence of strong institutions and the rise of radical forces, linked to the jihadism inspired by the Islamic State (Is). Before the agreement signed at the beginning of 2016, the results of which, at the end of January 2016, are still to be tested, the confrontation involved two governments, and two parliaments, one against the other: the official one, recognized by the international community, fled the capital Tripoli in August 2014, taking refuge in Tobruk, a city in the east of the country, close to the Egyptian border. In Tripoli the old parliament, elected in 2012, has once again taken up office, which in turn has formed a new government. Political polarization has also extended to the security field in the last year. The Tobruk government is controlled by a sort of alliance between the secular forces of Mahmoud Jibril’s party and various autonomist / federalist factions, mainly Cyrenaic. Led by Abdullah al-Thinni, Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, fully reinstated within a constituent, albeit somewhat weak, new Libyan army.
In Tripolitania the government of Tobruk can count on the militias of Zintan, the parliament and the government of Tripoli, led by Omar al-Hassi, are instead under the control of the various Islamist forces with a strong preponderance of the party linked to the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, several militias that are openly ‘Islamist’ have coalesced within the ‘ Operation Alba ‘ mission’, they support the Tripoli government. Among these, the preponderant force is that of the militias of Misrata, the third largest city in the country, certainly open to maritime trade and with little Islamic-radical propensity. Two fronts of open confrontation see these two sides in opposition: in Tripolitania, in Kikla, 82 km from Tripoli, the Zintanian forces face off against those of Misano; in Cyrenaica, in Benghazi, Haftar’s forces continue to wage war against various Islamic militias, including the more radical ones of Ansar al-Sharia. At the same time, large areas of the country, especially in the east and south, have fallen under the control of openly jihadist forces such as Ansar al-Sharia itself or radical groups that declare their membership of IS, as happened in Derna. For Libya political system, please check politicsezine.com.
From a political and geopolitical point of view, therefore, the political fragmentation, the precarious security situation and the permeability of its borders to multiple trafficking make post-Gaddafi Libya a very different country from the one known under the Colonel’s forty-two years of regime.
The causes of this worsening of the situation are various. The peculiarities of the Gaddafi regime, essentially built around its own figure, did not allow the survival of institutions that could contribute to stability in the transition period. Furthermore, the ‘Libyan revolution’ of 2011 was immediately characterized as an armed revolt, fueled in large part by external actors and the clear outlines of civil war.
Finally, the shortcomings of the international community and the interference of external actors in the political field certainly constitute an important contributing cause of the current crisis. It is clear that, for example, a transition process based on elections rather than on an attempt – accompanied by the international community – to build institutions and strengthen the rule of law was activated too early. The three elections (General Congress 2012, Constituent Assembly 2014, House of Representatives 2014), held in a short period of time, contributed to divide the country rather than unite and regenerate it, eliminating a real phase of nation building in which the common ground on which to rebuild the new Libyan nation should have been discussed as openly as possible.
From the point of view of international relations, the official Libyan government stood out in 2014 for requests for help from the international community in the fight against Islamists, gathering the support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which intervened by supplying armaments and through some air raids. On the other hand, the Tripoli government is supported by Turkey and Qatar. This external interference makes it more difficult to initiate a real national reconciliation process.
In October 2015, UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon announced a new agreement to form a government of national unity, but the plan was rejected by both parliaments within weeks. Leon’s credibility was undermined by the revelation that he accepted a job at the diplomatic academy of the United Arab Emirates, a country that openly supports the Tobruk government. Leon left office on 6 November and was replaced by German Martin Kobler, who in January 2016 led to the creation of a new national unity government, which has yet to be recognized by the parties.