It is possible to define the modern political history of Libya as a compromise. A compromise that began during the Idris monarchy which decided to come to terms with Western nations, and that continued between the king and the country's tribal realities. During Gaddafi's devastating 42-year regime, the rais leveraged favoritism, corruption, and atavistic hatreds to keep his citizens together, giving nothing in return if not an artificial, hyper-centralized state body for the benefit of a small elite, and one that obviously could not survive him. Gaddafi has not invested anything in the creation of a modern and democratic ruling class, making his own the Roman motto of divide and impera that Italian generals, in the years of fascist domination, had cynically used to more easily control the colonized populations.
The result that became clear to all observers in 2011, after the overthrow of that nefarious regime, was a divided country, plagued by a corrupt system, deeply immature politically. An immaturity that has been clearly evident in the last decade, in every crucial step that Libya had to face. The electoral experiences of 2012 and, above all, of 2014 represented a clear warning through the failure of establishing a dialogue between the parties involved that still today, after years of suffering caused by chronic political short-sightedness, struggle to find an agreement, showing the most devious part of their nature, driven by purely personal interests that have nothing to do with, a true national interest instead.
Nothing really substantial has been done in these ten years to unify the most important economic institutions of the country, nor has anything been done to implement private initiatives or improve essential infrastructure, first of all those related to the exploitation of water, of which Libya is extraordinarily poor.
On the eve of the elections, wanted and deeply desired by the citizens but very difficult to be held, this reality is even more jarring. The various political leaders have important foreign backers: the Misratan prime minister, Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah is supported, as was his predecessor, substantially by Turkey and indirectly by Qatar; while Aguilah Saleh and Khalifa Haftar - respectively spokesman of the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk and leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA or LAAF) based in Cyrenaica - are supported primarily by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Libya’s decision-making agenda has, therefore, not only a domestic dimension but also and above all an international one, in a context where no one follows the laws (Dbeibah), no one is held responsible for any crimes committed (Haftar or Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the former dictator’s son), and everyone pretends nothing nefarious is happening.
The period of stability of the last few months is nothing more than a facade, held up by transactional, and absolutely personal, agreements woven in by the corrupt Libyan élite. In fact, if elections ever take place, there are many who fear heavy disputes against the winners that would not take long to lead to a real armed conflict between the contenders. In Libya, the issue of disarmament has been put on the back burner for the benefit of political stability. However, there can be no such thing if 6 million citizens — including cradle children — have about 20 million (light and heavy) weapons at their disposal about. The first rule to be followed in any policy of stabilization in such difficult countries is the population’s disarmament that must go hand in hand with economic and political reforms to substantially improve citizens’ lives. As history teaches us, these are long and highly articulated processes that certainly cannot begin with elections.
No wonder then that another UN process aimed at stabilization has frayed day after day, failing to ensure that the elections scheduled by the Berlin Conference for December 24th can be held safely. If the electoral process were to implode, such a failure would have serious and prolonged consequences, throwing Libya into an even more desperate condition which will be extremely hard to recover from.