Libya: From King Idris Until Now
After the independence of Libya in 1951, without ineffective institutions left by the Ottmani and Italian colonies, the shaky Sanusi kingdom found itself governing a small poor population. With the discovery of oil, Libyans, out of a sudden, became rich.
In 1969 Qaddafi and his fellow revolutionaries overthrew king Idris Sanusi and seized power (Muammar al-Qaddafi. 2016). At that time, they had little to build on but the wealth of oil was at their disposal. Instead of investing the wherewithal to develop his country, Qaddafi published his Green Book and turned Libya into a Jamahiriya: a failed state with no government where he appointed himself as a leader and claimed people to be free and govern themselves (Bazzi, 2011).
The entire Libyan government was disintegrated and substituted by popular committees and congresses censored by revolutionary committees to remove any ideological deviation; the private sector industry was nationalized and replaced by inefficient state-owned companies and supermarkets; revolutionary courts were set up throughout the country that eviscerated the rule of law. The result was an autocracy that failed at both economic planning and institution building.
At the same time, Qaddafi determined to spread his revolution universally, and Libya ended up in conflicts with its neighbours, the United States and Europe. As a result, Libya became disconnected and the international community punished it with severe sanctions. But in recent years, Libya has seemed to have comprehended the lesson and abandoned its effort to produce weapons of mass destruction, taken responsibility and provided payment for horrific terrorist acts (such as the bombing of Pan Am flight 103), and worked its way out of sanctions and back into the international community (Calhoun, 2012).
After the NATO intervention in 2011 and the death of Qaddafi, Libya became a failed state with unstable economy and corruption everywhere. A year after the so-called liberation of Libya, the National Transitional Council was dissolved, and the first free election in the history of Libya was held. The result was the General National Congress (GNC) which became the first transitional body of legitimate government in the country. But the GNC’s failure to inaugurate a new constitution necessitated the need for a new elections that resulted in the House of representative (HoR) recognized now by the international community as the legal elected legislative body governing Libya. However, the GNC rejected the outcome and remained in power as a rival government controlling parts of western Libya, and as a consequence, political violence continued to destabilize the country.
While the Libyan factions were preoccupied by the conflict of controlling the country, a few were concerned with the growing threat of the infiltration of extremists, and Libya has become a breeding ground for jihadists and a haven for extremists from the whole region and beyond (Chivvis, Christopher S. and Jeffrey Martini, 2014).
The situation worsened as there was no effective national government, and the army was waging their own wars. Oil production, upon which the country’s economy depends heavily, has declined and exported at the lowest price levels. Thousands have fled their homes or tried to leave the country. All this represents a tragedy of terrible human suffering and lost opportunities. But the real danger began to emerge clearly now – and for this reason the West began suddenly, particularly in Europe, paying some attention to Libya again.
State institutions have become nothing more than a ball in the political battle between the rival camps. The central bank, the National Oil Company, the judiciary system, the army and the official religious establishment were all in the center of the existing competition for power between the two dominant currents. They were pulled in both directions and forced to choose between the two, and as a result they failed to accomplish their national functions.
Power became scattered in Libya between the two main camps (GNC & HoR) responsible for the current crisis. Libya is torn now. Various local militias whether tribal, regional, extremist or criminal are divided into two fighting camps. Consequently, Libya now has two rival parliaments (Lacher, Wolfram and Peter Cole, 2014: 11) each with its government: one in the capital Tripoli and the other is in its exile in the eastern city Tobruq.
In fact, those who think that things cannot get worse, Libya now could be the new headquarters of the Islamic state (IS). IS in Libya has invested in the failure of the two competitive governments and in the disappointment from the more moderate Islamic groups in the country(Afrigatenews, 2014), and followed the same formula that led to the success of the extremist organization in Syria and Iraq.
During this turmoil and through the Tunisian border and the eastern provinces came fighters from outside the country, including the old members of the Libyan Islamic Fighters group, Al-Qaida, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Islamic State (IS) and others such as Ansar Alsharea which was accused of killing the American ambassador in Benghazi (Torelli, Stefano and Arturo Varvelli, 2015: 7). Those fighters has entered Libya long before the arrival of IS. They established their existence in the middle of the chaos through recruitment from various countries in the middle east and the rest of the world. They swiftly joined IS as their groups seemed too small for them compared to the design of IS.
General lawlessness has granted the extremists in Libya freedom of movement and soon they seized Darna, Nofilia and finally Sirte. These three cities in Libya are, at least now, under the control of the IS and Al-Qaida jihadist groups and neither of the Libyan governments dare claim their reign over them. The GNC and HoR are both equally powerless, and equally illegitimate. They have sat at either end of Libya, watching helplessly as the illegal militias and forces loyal to Al Qaeda and IS waged war all over the state.
The disintegration of the Libyan state and the absence of a functioning national government have, indeed. created buckets for IS on the Mediterranean Sea. Oil Smuggling, human trafficking, heavy arms hideouts, and stolen bank accounts gave IS a new chance for life after it had lost territory in Iraq. IS “badly needs Libya for its operations in North Africa: to spread its paramilitary brigades, to organize its terrorist networks and, most importantly, to prepare its political pawns, after the chaos, to take over power” (Chtatou, Mohamed, 2016). This will result in control of North African coast opposite to Europe so as to destabilize it, as it has already done by the Paris terrorist attacks. There are now at least three cities in Libya where the IS jihadist group controls. In addition, IS is exerting a great effort to expand its control by moving its forces in Sirte to the east in order to seize the oil export ports. In fact, there are also some fighting forces of IS in Ajdabiya but they lack supplies and military reinforcements.
Despite the fact that IS is fighting to gain territory and sites in Libya, it continues to attract recruits there. In an interview conducted by Foreign Policy recently with Patrick Skinner, a former US intelligence official, said that the number of IS fighters have increased from 550 fighter in the summer of 2014 to a force ranging in size from 1,000 to 3,000 fighters including those returning from Syria and Iraq.
The lack of foresight and miscalculations of Europe and the United States have turned Libya into a land that cannot be controlled, despite its proximity to Europe’s southern shores. Now, Western powers have understood the problem and they are really concerned about the fragmentation of the North African country and fear that it will become a fertile ground for the extremists of the Islamic state.
As a result, the West and NATO have become increasingly eager to bomb Libya in the hope of destroying IS in Libya, and preventing it from using the North African coast as a base to attack Europe, or anywhere else indeed. To accomplish this, Western countries and the US have pushed for the creation a new government which substitutes both the GNC and HoR, and completely dependent on the international community for its legitimacy and existence. They believe that the proposed government will probably request ‘assistance’ from the international community and thus opening the door for the bombing campaign for which the US, UK, France and Italy are advocating.
So, they (Western states including the US, France, Italy and the UK) pushed for negotiations between the two competing governments in Libya under the umbrella of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). In December 17, 2015, after several months (15 months) of continuous dialogue (in Geneva, Algeria, Ghadamis, and Skhirat) directed towards reaching a deal for a Government of National Accord (GNA), the two rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk finally signed a peace agreement integrating both of them as a single national government.
In principle, the deal is to create an interim government to replace the GNC and HoR and pave the way for full Libyan elections early in 2017. Hope has emerged once again through the United Nations’ attempt to negotiate a national agreement through the United Nations Support Mission in Libya. That does not mean, at the very least, the end of the unrest in Libya because there are several splinter groups which were not part of this agreement, and which have the means and the desire to obstruct the road to peace. Moreover, this deal could collapse at any time because of the opposing Tripoli rival factions or the large-scale resistance by many factions loyal to both governments. Moreover, most of the Islamic terrorist groups in Libya does not accept this peace agreement.
Last week, after missing a scheduled deadline by two days, the GNA’s Prime-Minister-delegate Faiez Serraj –who was appointed by UNSMIL, without consultation with the leaders of either the GNC or HoR – announced the 32 ministers he hopes will form his new government.
Apparently, the United Nations, European Union and other powers have been pushing for the deal to stop Libya’s civil war which has allowed IS extremist group to establish a growing presence in the oil-rich North African state. But,according to local media sources, HoR has, on the 25th of January 2016, the HoR has requested from Prime Minister Al-Sarraj to form a new, smaller government to serve as a crisis government, and to reduce the number of ministers as well as the proposed ministerial portfolios within 10 days.
According to local media sources, the House of Representatives in Tobruk has requested Prime Minister Al-Sarraj form a new, smaller government to serve as a crisis government, and to reduce the number of ministers as well as the proposed ministerial portfolios within 10 days.
The UN-backed peace deal to end the conflict between Libya’s two rival governments has run into trouble with one of the country’s two parliaments blocking a key clause. The internationally recognized parliament (HoR) has voted by an overwhelming majority to accept the peace agreement but without surrendering control of the armed forces to the UN-backed GNA presidential council (Libyan 218 TV Channel, 2016). The objective of this parliament’s decision is to protect the position of hardline Tobruk army chief Khalifa Haftar, who is unacceptable to the rival government which controls the capital, Tripoli.
Analysts say that the vote on the cabinet had short-term implications, and the parliament might approve a revised line-up, but blocking the handover of military powers pointed to a more serious issue. It means that the issue of Haftar is a red line for the house of Representatives. But as Analyst Mattia Toaldo of the European Council on Foreign Relations warned “If you reopen the agreement [as requested by the House of Representatives] … then Tripoli will ask for other changes and you’re back to square one,”.
It is obvious that both the GNC and HoR are expired and entirely illegitimate governments and have little right to claim any particular precedence over any other illegal or illegitimate bodies claiming power in Libya. The political reality in Libya at present is that the new Presidency Council is based in Tunisia, and its own legitimacy came from nothing other than the fact that it is being imposed on Libyans by the international community. In fact, some even say that it may never be able to enter Libya.
In short, the GNA is not the result of any national consensus, but rather, it is a third illegitimate government in a country where peace and good governance are urgently needed. At the moment, many Libyans believe that the international community is actively fostering a continuation of the political and military chaos in which IS thrives.
To sum up, in 1969 Colonel Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest countries in Africa; however, by the time he was killed, Libya has become the richest country in Africa, in which the GDP per capita and life expectancy were the highest in the African continent.
After NATO’s intervention in 2011, Libya has become a failed state and its economy flops in a state of chaos. The successive governments have surrendered control of the country to the hands of militia fighters. Oil production has completely stopped. Since NATO’s intervention, Libya has been plagued by local militias of various types: tribal, regional, Islamic and criminal ones, which recently all divided and lined up in three fronts of warring factions. In fact, Libya now has three non-functioning governments, one of them is struggling in its exile to prove its legitimacy, not to mention the establishment an Islamic state under the rule of Abu Baker Albaghdady.
Nevertheless, if the GNA succeeded in forming the required mini ministerial cabinet in the appointed time and won the approval of the Parliament, Libya, with sincere help from the international community, plus its oil wealth and other natural resources can be a very rich country and a successful story of global collaboration.
Afrigatenews (2014). Colonies of the Caliphate and the gradual expansion of the Islamic state in North Africa. (Written in Arabic) Retrieved 25 , January, 2016 from
Calhoun, Craig. (2012). Libyan Money, Academic Missions, and Public Social Science. Public Culture, Volume 24, Number 1, Issue 66, Winter 2012.
Retrieved 25 , January, 2016 from http://publicculture.org/articles/view/24/1/libyan-money-academic-missions-and-public-social-science#n2
Chivvis, Christopher S. and Jeffrey Martini. (2014). Libya After Qaddafi: Lessons and Implications for the Future. RAND Corporation. Retrieved 25 , January, 2016 from
Chtatou, Mohamed (2016). Libya’s Chaos: Threat to the West. Gatestone Institute. Retrieved 22 , January, 2016 fromhttp://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/7282/libya-chaos
Lacher, Wolfram and Peter Cole (2014). Politics by Other Means: Conflicting Interests in Libya’s Security Sector. Small Arms Survey, Switzerland. Retrieved 25 , January, 2016 from http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/F-Working-papers/SAS-SANA-WP20-Libya-Security-Sector.pdf
Libyan 218 TV Channel, (2016). House of Representatives rejects Sarraj’s Cabinet.
Torelli, Stefano and Arturo Varvelli (2015). Competing Jihadist Organisations and Networks: Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, in Libya’s Fight For Survival : Defeating Jihadist Networks, Counter Extremism Project, European Foundation for Democracy. Retrieved 25 , January, 2016 from http://europeandemocracy.eu/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/2015-09-Libyas-Fight-for-Survival1.pdf