The Libyan civil war started in 2011 as an armed conflict between forces that were loyal to the former president, Muammar Gaddafi, and those that wanted a regime change (Joy 1). The war initially started as peaceful protests that demanded the removal of Gaddafi from power. However, after the government started killing innocent civilians, it garnered international attention. The United Nations (UN) approved a no-fly zone resolution over Libya and sanctioned the use of lethal force to protect civilians (Engelbrekt 19).
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Soon after this resolution, the rebels gained control over most parts of the country and, eventually, the capital city, Tripoli. Finally, the rebels removed the head of state, Muammar Gaddafi, from power and killed him. A transitional regime was later established. However, since the ouster of Gaddafi, Libya has not been peaceful. The country has been embroiled in an armed conflict pitting militia groups against one another. Disagreements among tribes and local militia groups that helped to oust the Gaddafi regime spurred the conflict (Al-Monitor 1). Part of the problem stems from groups that have refused to disarm themselves. Armed military groups have had a strained relationship with the country’s National Transition Council (Al-Monitor 1).
Consequently, there have been demonstrations throughout the country to encourage the government to disband these groups and integrate them into a formal military structure. So far, the government has been unable to do so, and Libya is constantly at war with itself. Most of these unresolved issues have created a new civil war in Libya, which has further created a new argument among observers who believe that the ouster of the Gaddafi regime was detrimental to the nation (Engelbrekt 19). This paper explains the conflict with the aim of seeking a permanent solution. However, before doing so, it is pertinent to understand its background.
Background of the Civil Strife
The Libyan crisis did not happen in isolation because the country’s political upheavals were part of a larger Arab spring movement that ousted presidents in Egypt and Tunisia. In fact, Libya borders the two countries where the Arab spring started (Joy 2). Following the ouster of the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents, Libya reported small political revolts in some parts of the country. Specifically, political activities in Benghazi were intense because, daily, protestors took to the streets demanding political reforms and the ouster of the country’s long-serving president, Muammar Gaddafi (Joy 3). From Benghazi, other parts of the country joined the protests. The president ordered his forces to quell the protests by deploying anti-riot police (Bassiouni 76). He portrayed the protesters as terrorists who were part of the Al-Qaeda group and vowed never to let them win (Al-Monitor 3).
Meanwhile, the rebels established a de facto government (National Transitional Council) and recognized it as the legitimate government of Libya (Bassiouni 72). Following this action, the government intensified the crackdown on protestors and, led by his son, Gaddafi, killed several civilians. Independent reports also say that the government used mercenaries to quell the revolt (Bassiouni 56). Some reports also show that the rebels attacked black Africans because they believed they supported Gaddafi and his forces (Bassiouni 56). These actions attracted international attention and forced the UN to formulate resolution 1970 that froze Gaddafi’s assets. It also imposed a travel embargo on government officials and encouraged the international criminal court to investigate Gaddafi and his loyalists for atrocities committed on the Libyan people (Engelbrekt 13).
France and Britain were particularly keen on making sure that the UN implements these resolutions (Engelbrekt 9). However, experts believe that France was at the forefront in demanding a forceful intervention of the UN to protect the citizens of Libya and stop the regime’s actions on its citizens (Engelbrekt 9). Consequently, the UN approved a no-fly zone resolution to prevent the Gaddafi regime from using air power against the rebels (Engelbrekt 19). The Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Conference soon supported these resolutions. However, five states abstained from the vote – India, China, Germany, Russia, and Brazil (Engelbrekt 19). These UN actions played an instrumental role in ending the Gaddafi rule. However, they paved the way for a second conflict.
What is going on in Libya?
The second civil war in Libya is a conflict pitting different political factions. The Tobruk government is the legitimate group, which enjoys international recognition as the official government in Libya (BBC 1). Headed by General Khalifa Haftar, the group receives support from other Arab states, including Egypt and the UAE (BBC 1). The second rival group operates from Tripoli. It is the New General National Congress, and it pledges allegiance to the Muslim brotherhood (Al-Monitor 6).
Qatar, Sudan, and Turkey are Arab countries that support the movement. The Islamist Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries is the third coalition group in Libya. Led by Ansar al-Sharia, the group also controls some parts of Libya and fails to recognize the Tobruk government as the legitimate government of Libya (Al-Monitor 6). Albeit a small group, the Islamic State of Iraq is another organization that seeks legitimacy in the North-African state (Wehrey 8). Armed, these groups thrive under political instability in the country.
The political instability was a result of poor governance among the people mandated to oversee Libya’s transition into a democratic state. In line with the quest to become a democratic state, Libya held a national election in 2012 (BBC 3). However, before the elections, Islamic parties wielded most political power in the country (BBC 3). After many outmaneuvering centrists, the parties elected Nouri Abusahmain as the leader of the General National Congress. However, according to some people, he abused most of his powers by curtailing some of the democratic freedoms enjoyed by the Libyan people (Wehrey 8).
The General National Council adopted different “shades” of Islamic law as the supreme laws in Libya and chose to extend its leadership mandate by one year (Wehrey 8). Following this action, there was a coup attempt led by a former Gaddafi military commander, General Khalifa Haftar. He led to air and ground offensives in Libya, further causing political and economic instability in the once peaceful state (Engelbrekt 28). His objective was to force the General National Council to accept the formation of a “caretaker” government to oversee most political activities in the country, including the impending national elections (Engelbrekt 28). Following these demands, the General National council called for new elections in the country. They were defeated but failed to accept the results (BBC 3).
In July 2014, Islamic-based militias in Tripoli and Misrata started another military offensive to take control of the Tripoli International Airport (Wehrey 8). Following this action, old members of the General National Council voted themselves into power and reconvened the group as the New General National Council. This political reorganization did not augur well with some members of the old General National Council. Instead, they relocated to Tobruk and pledged their allegiance to the military commander, Haftar (BBC 1). Currently, Libya has multiple governments. Tripoli and Misrata-based militias lead one faction, while the Abdulla al-Thani government controls the second faction. The international community recognizes the latter group as the official government of Libya.
Why Peace is Elusive
Since the ouster of Gaddafi, civil war and political disagreements among competing factions have torn Libya apart. Many political, social, and economic issues have thwarted efforts to find peace (Al-Monitor 1). For example, the dissolution of the security organs into a hybrid system that includes the interests of different regional groups that are unable to merge has undermined the country’s security. Here, there is imbalanced cooperation between locally organized groups, state-sponsored groups, and local militias. The varying interests of the country’s military and police also complicate the country’s security structure, thereby making it difficult for all concerned parties to come up with a consensus about the future security structure of the country (Al-Monitor 11). This disagreement has further created political instability in the country.
The political and security structure of Libya largely contributed to the country’s stability. However, this all changed after national institutions (that should protect the country’s security and political structures) failed to function effectively and started to show tribal and political fragmentation (Wehrey 15). Ideological differences also undermined the efficiency of these institutions, further causing political instability in the country.
Regional fragmentation has also undermined efforts to find lasting peace in Libya (Wehrey 13). Moreover, different Arab countries support different political and armed groups in the country, further causing political upheavals in the country. For example, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates support one warring faction, while Sudan, Turkey, and Qatar support another faction. These divisions have further undermined efforts by international community players to train and equip existing security personnel to manage the country’s security issues (Wehrey 15). Based on these challenges, Libyan security organs do not have a defined command structure. Furthermore, many of them pledge their allegiance to regional or tribal groups.
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Lastly, armed groups in Libya enjoy political connections with the government. Comparatively, media reports have often portrayed them as independent entities of the Libyan society (Wehrey 15). While some of these representations may be true, it is a fallacy to believe that these armed groups are not part of the social fabric of Libya. The claim to legitimacy by all parties involved in the conflict is one conundrum of the conflict pitting different armed groups against one another (Wehrey 15).
This ideology stems from the association of these groups to specific tenets of the Libyan government. For example, some National Transition Council members were leaders of these armed groups. Those that did not take part in physical combats participated as commanders (Wehrey 19). By being in government, they cannot completely renounce the groups that they helped to form or lead. This issue has further complicated efforts to find lasting peace in the country.
What is the Solution?
Based on the dynamic nature of Libya’s problems, there should be a multipronged strategy to address the political, economic, and social problems of the country. This strategy should have short-term and long-term objectives. They appear below
Temporarily, there should be a ceasefire agreement to stop all hostilities in Libya. This strategy should make sure that all parties have a chance to discuss their issues and possibly solve them without an armed conflict. In this recommendation, there should be an agreement for all armed groups to leave major cities. Furthermore, all groups that do not respect human rights, or attack civilians, should be disbanded or punitive actions were taken against them.
It would be difficult to have a long-term political solution to the Libyan conflict without including all parties involved. Particularly, there should be active efforts to form a transition government that includes members of all groups. However, the international community should introduce two preconditions for all factions to participate in the new power structure. First, all groups should respect human life and refrain from attacking civilians.
Secondly, they should renounce their support for terrorism. Political reconciliation should also include regional forces because they hold an “unseen” power in the Libyan conflict. By secretly funding armed groups in Libya, these power centers undermine international efforts to reconcile the warring factions. Indeed, by participating in the conflict, armed groups would not only be vouching for their interests in the conflict but also advancing the interests of the regional powers. Therefore, there should be a consensus among all the international groups involved to refrain from interfering with Libya. Particularly, there should be a strong focus to make sure that the main protagonists – the UAE, Sudan, Qatar, and Turkey are part of the agreement.
Lastly, there should be local efforts to create a new security structure for the oil-producing country. Such an agreement should be bottom-up because local initiatives should be predominant when developing such a structure. After creating such a structure, international communities should help to equip local forces to work efficiently. Particularly, the United States should support a civilian-backed security force that is loyal to the wishes of the people and not the wishes of a few military commanders wielding de facto power.
Based on the issues highlighted in this paper, it is easy to simplify the Libyan conflict as an armed struggle that pits two groups against each other – Liberals and Islamists. However, this is untrue because the conflict is deeper than it seems. For example, regional differences between the warring factions show that their differences transcend ideological conflicts. Another dimension of the conflict is the ideological differences that exist between “old guards” and “new guards.”
The “old guard” comprises of people from the former Gaddafi regime, while the “new guard” comprises of young people who have never been in government, but have many fresh ideas about how to rule. Although most of these dynamics are relevant to understanding the Libyan conflict, none of them could uniquely provide enough information to come up with a lasting solution to the conflict. Here, it is pertinent to understand that Libya’s civil war is a local affair that thrives on local patronage networks.
The conflict also thrives on the quest by these local political networks to seek political and economic power through institutional vacuums created by the fall of the Gaddafi regime. The absence of a central arbiter has made things worse. In line with this observation, Wehrey says, “the country suffers from a balance of weakness among its political factions and armed groups: no single entity can compel others to act purely through coercion, but every entity is strong enough to veto the others” (p. 11).
The political divisions, tribal allegiances, and regional alignments have created a dilemma for well-meaning international partners who want Libya to find lasting peace. Initially, the international community preferred to support national institutions and those that controlled them (Wehrey 12). However, it is difficult to continue with this strategy if the same institutions (parliament, army, and government ministries) show tribal, political, and regional divisions. Observers who have proposed that the international community train the army find it difficult to support this proposal if there is no ceasefire to allow such a process to occur. This is why the steps outlined in this report could provide a reliable strategy for solving the conflict.
The events in Libya show how a country could fall into political anarchy if there is no clear leadership plan. Indeed, more than three years after the ouster of the Gaddafi regime, the country is embroiled in a political tussle between armed militia groups and different political factions. The Libyan domestic political landscape has worsened the conflict between these competing groups because they have regional and tribal divisions. Interference from regional powers has also contributed to the political upheavals in the country.
This paper argues that it would be difficult to find a political consensus among the competing groups if there is no broad political consensus among all the groups involved. While most of the resolutions touted in this report demand international support, Libyans should take responsibility for their country. In fact, most of the support accorded by the international community would be auxiliary because it would be difficult to find international solutions to local problems.
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Engelbrekt, Kjell. The NATO Intervention in Libya: Lessons Learned from the Campaign, London, UK: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Joy, Ajish. The Crisis in Libya. 2011. Web.
Wehrey, Frederic. Ending Libya’s Civil War: Reconciling Politics, Rebuilding Security. 2014. Web.