Libya's Arab Spring revolution can be viewed as the violent expiration of Gaddafi's 42-year-old social contract. Since 2011 the continuing grievances of Libya's peripheries towards Tripoli, the motley crew assembled by Haftar to usurp the revolutionary state and the swelling payroll of the public sector showcase that something remains gravely wrong. Whilst the old order may have died with Gaddafi, the failure to birth a new one has given Libya socio-political necrosis. If it is to reverse this condition and rebuild its nation and state, then a social contract to define a new Libya, acceptable to most Libyans, will need to be created.
Under Gaddafi Libya was limited yet straightforward, the message was that Libya's oil wealth belonged to its people, and the Libyan people accessed that wealth through government subsidies, government housing and most crucially of all government jobs. Of course, the reality differed to this transactional ideal and was always more competitive than egalitarian while demanding a high cost of basic freedoms. But, as is so often the case, the message remained internalised long after its salesman had grifted and moved on.
This is why the dominant dynamic of the revolution's early and late stages a was a frenzied tussle between Libyan constituencies to seize as much of the state's rent-generating arm, ranging from ministries to state-owned corporations, which they could ringfence and exclusively feed from. Gaddafi was overthrown, but his state and his system remained, growing more grotesquely distorted by the day. This overshadowed another often-overlooked problem of Libya. Gaddafi was simply not a very good administrator. The state Gaddafi had constructed was a lumbering behemoth, its offices were designed to employ not produce, and its resources were for pilfering not policy.
Gaddafi's Libya was a state long teetering on collapse, and the February 17th revolution launched it over the precipice. Politicians and civil servants at all levels who entered office after 2011 would become paralysed upon confronting the sheer scale of the problem before them, the multitude of catastrophes requiring urgent attention, and the paltry toolbox at their disposal. This Medusa moment defeated even the best of intentions, and the end result was for the state to retreat further and further in the face of calamity. Today, Libyans take care of their own basic needs from digging wells to buying generators. The subsidy system has collapsed under the weight of corruption, and even state jobs only pay irregularly. Gaddafi's social contract is irretrievable, the system which once implemented it is in the rubble, and the same predators who destroyed it by taking it to its extreme show no signs of abating. Libya's life support system of government jobs may have to continue to prevent a complete meltdown, but many have yet to realise that any future Libyan state will have to be built from the ground up.
If the failures of Gaddafi's governing framework created the space for a revolution to grow, then injustice was the fuel that drove the revolution to fill it. The early February protests were sparked by the arrest of the lawyer representing the families of the regime's victims and then inflamed with further violence directed at Benghazi, Zawiya, and Misrata as injustice begot outrage. However, much like how the revolution only turbocharged the Libyan state's corruption and dysfunction, so too did it create monsters out of victims. Collective punishment, mass appropriations and dehumanisation were meted out by ever fragmenting groups riven and driven by insecurity, revenge, or just plain greed. The law of the gun became the law of the land, underwriting a legal philosophy of to the victor goes the spoils.
Libya's judicial system was reduced to a mockery of itself by those it once terrorised. Judges were assassinated, or their judgements coerced, courts were routinely attacked, and prisoners were hijacked from state custody. Meanwhile, militias enforced their own rules and maintained their own prisons within their fiefdoms. Just two years after the revolution, Libya's court system had a backlog of tens of thousands of cases. The absence of everyday justice only drove everyday people to vigilantism – further empowering the militias and gangs who depended on the discord to thrive. Ten years after the revolution militia leaders are ranked, their men uniformed, and their victims are languishing. The absurd became routine, as the state was forced to indulge the militias, the international community decided to train and develop them as partners, and gradually they became an indistinguishable part of Libya's new elite. But, as the almost yearly wars in Tripoli and Benghazi's internecine violence showcases, Libya's new legal philosophy is only mutually assured destruction by another name.
Libya's social, administrative and justice deficiencies are rooted in the absence of a new social contract, and an inability to classify the rights, obligations and particularities of being Libyan after Gaddafi. The inadequacy of what was pushed Libyans to embark on a revolution which they were never quite sure where to take. The UN's national conference process waylaid the path to a new social contract through unified institutions, decentralisation, and a new understanding of how Libyans exercise their right to Libya's resource wealth. These are milestones Libya must be coached towards if the interactive conversation over a social contract progresses and becomes capable of continuing organically. While this vision can finally provide Libya's revolution with direction, addressing injustice is the only way to power it. That is why whilst the political, military and economic developments will always garner the headlines, investments in transitional justice and national reconciliation programmes are the keys to flattening Libya's cycle of violence.