Current unrest in Libya has regional and global repercussions that warrant a revisiting of its past in order to provide a reliable basis for state-building processes in the present. This article presents a discussion of ongoing research; so instead of providing definitive answers, it seeks to pose questions related to unpacking and challenging the narrative of “statelessness” in the history of Libya within the period between 1911 and 1969. As Libya’s political landscape gets reshaped, it is important to view the current transition as part of a continuum of transitions, and to be cognizant of existing gaps in the literature on Libya which seem to be mirrored in decision-making; those gaps are premised on two assumptions which may be valid in the present but can be challenged historically: The first assumption is that Libya has no institutional history or memory and that Libya post-Qaddafi is a tabula rasa ready to be shaped in whichever form it chooses or is chosen for it. The second assumption is that Libya’s sociocultural identity, firmly embedded within its tribal and religious landscape, belongs to the past, and can only be viewed as an obstacle to its future. This article calls for putting together a local history of Libya during that period and of indigenous contributions to state formation.
Sherine El Taraboulsi, Department of International Development, University of Oxford