Libya Three Years On

It has been three years since the civil war that engulfed Libya and resulted in the ousting of Colonel Qaddafi. The images of some citizens celebrating the end of a ruler who was in charge for more than 40 years was supposed to be the first of many promising moments in the new Libya.

However far from becoming a new beacon of democracy in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Libya is still mired in violence and instability, with several experts suggesting that the country may devolve into a civil war once more. At the time of writing, the British naval ship HMS Enterprise has been dispatched to evacuate several foreign nationals, most of whom are British, from the capital city Tripoli, after the foreign embassy announced its closure. The violence in the capital city has already taken the lives of hundreds of people, but the unrest is not limited to Tripoli.

Immediately after Qaddafi’s fall and subsequent execution, the National Transitional Council (NTC) announced that they would elect a Prime Minister to aid the transition to democracy. The person chosen was  Abdurrahim El-Keib, who served as interim Prime Minister until late 2012. Libyans voted in their first elections in 2012 in order to replace the NTC with a nominated Prime Minister and a proper government. When the NTC handed power to the General National Congress (GNC), human rights lawyer Ali Zeidan took over, ruling until March 2014. Zeidan was ousted after failing to prevent an oil tanker being stolen by rebels. Though he continues to claim that the ousting was invalid, he fled the country and is apparently residing in Europe.

It is evident that despite several changes of power since Qaddafi was removed, lasting stability has eluded Libya. One of the main problems is the lack of a strong governmental force. Right now, Libya is at the mercy of countless rebel groups all jostling for power, but the government does little to combat them. Civilians are constantly caught in the crossfire of opposing groups who want a more effective government. When Qaddafi fell, there was talk of integrating the rebel groups into a police force and army ranks. Though this never materialised, the government employed militia groups to provide security. But instead, they ended up fighting among themselves. Additionally, citizens are deeply unhappy with the lacklustre way that the government is dealing with the violence. The Libyan government alienated people further for its alleged cooperation with the US, most recently when US commandos arrested al-Qaeda suspect Abu Anas al-Libi in late 2013 for the 1998 United States embassy bombings. The militias saw this as a gateway to more permanent US intervention in Libyan affairs. Ultimately, the Libyan government is failing to create anything resembling stability in the country.

To counter these difficulties is challenging. The biggest problem is the factions themselves. The infighting is causing a myriad of problems within Libya, not limited to the violence recounted above. All of the militias are in possession of  heavy weaponry and are unwilling to relinquish them to the authorities, especially to a government that they consider to be completely ineffective. In addition, the militias report to regional and factional leaders, rather than the government, therefore providing no guarantees that they are working towards the best interests of the Libyan people. Some of these regions have even gone so far as to demand – and in some cases declare – independence from the state, further underscoring feelings of discontent and disunity.The skirmishes by the militia groups on Libya’s borders add to the list of problems, with Mali and Niger being the most affected.

Libya is not only seeing challenges politically. It is also struggling to see any economic growth, as opposing militia groups  captured the oilfields, which has reduced the output drastically. With Libya holding the largest oil reserves in Africa, this is bringing the economy to a standstill. Compared to almost 1 million barrels of oil produced per day under Qaddafi, the average production is now 500,000 per week, and the World Bank has confirmed that the reduced exports have led to a 10% drop in GDP in 2013.

There are several steps that need to be taken to ensure that Libya achieves the stability it craves. The most pressing problem that needs to be addressed is the militias. The government must realise that paying the militias to provide security not only undermines their authority, but puts people at the mercy of these groups. Furthermore, it legitimises their weapons proliferation and makes it harder for the government to relinquish them.   The international community, especially countries in the Arab world and Africa, should also look at how they can facilitate peace. However, it must be noted that in a country with so many conflicting loyalties, poorly-handled international intervention (however trivial) may exacerbate the problem further. Both domestic and international measures must be taken to combat Libya’s problems, otherwise the country may face a civil war that is worse than the one in 2011.

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Categories: Africa, Middle East

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