The Rome MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed comments on the MENA region's most significant issues and trends. Today we turn the spotlight on Libya, where the new National Unity Government led by Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah will be sworn in Tobruk and will have the difficult task of healing the country’s multiple wounds and leading it to the crucial elections of December 2021.
The ceasefire agreement signed by Libya’s opposing military factions in October 2020 bolstered UN-backed political talks on the appointment of an interim unity government. This new government is expected to hold national election in late December of this year. The goal, as stated by Stephanie Williams, current UN Secretary-General’s Acting Special Representative, is “to respond to the aspirations and demands of the Libyan people for a sovereign and unified Libya and a true commitment to national reconciliation”.
Since the second civil war began, Libya's national territory has changed hands several times: watch our timeline to see how those changes unfolded
Since 2011, Libya has been increasingly described as politically, militarily and territorially fragmented, lacking a strong central authority and solid national political and military institutions. In particular, the disconnect between political and military actors, that is the inability of representatives of transitional state institutions to exercise their authority on the armed groups on the ground, has proved detrimental to restore state authority.
The transformations witnessed in Libya's security sector over the past decade largely reflect the violence that reshaped the country's social landscape during the 2011 revolution. Gaddafi, formerly the lynchpin to an idiosyncratic distributive state built on coercion and patronage, bequeathed post-revolutionary Libya with hollowed-out institutions, a rentier economic system, and a zero-sum political culture.
In October 2011, the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was murdered near the city of Sirte during the First Libyan civil war, resulting from the hugely consequential popular movement of the Arab Spring which overtook the whole MENA area. The bloody end of the rais, without a regular process, sounded like a dark omen to outside observers.
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.
The relations of the European Union (EU) with Libya over the last 30 years have been comparatively more difficult than any other Northern African country. Following the ousting of Gaddafi, European states were divided on the Libyan issue and have since proceeded with no clear sense of direction. Divisions among member states have resulted in an EU policy which can be characterized as having been both incoherent and often contradictory over the last ten years. However, there were some limited periods in which EU countries reached a common stance on Libya.
Within three years of the popular and internationally supported overthrow of the Qaddafi regime, the initial optimism that Libya would put itself on a path toward stability, democracy, and prosperity gave way to a decade of insecurity and turmoil. Ultimately, in 2019, Libya's situation would devolve into a full-blown violent conflict, fueled by external actors engaged in intense geopolitical competition.
Ten years ago, the Libyan citizens took to the streets to protest the Gaddafi regime. In the following years, the country became the battleground of political competition between regional and international powers that exploited local rivalries to advance their interests. Nowadays, Libya still lacks functioning institutions to provide efficient services and fairly distribute hydrocarbons revenues to citizens. While severe issues remain, other developments give rise to cautious optimism.