The Arab Spring is almost two years old, and it is still going on. Most striking is what is happening in Syria. In a situation where the news picture is characterized by ongoing fighting and abuse, it can quickly evoke demands for foreign involvement, but will it always be helpful? There are also news from Libya and other Arab countries that things are taking time. Often the next phases after a takeover can be the most difficult. The case of Libya illustrates this.
- How united is Libya?
- What are the prerequisites for Libya to succeed in the change of power?
- What happened to the UN resolution of 1973?
- What are the most pressing issues facing the new leaders in Libya?
2: The fragmented Libya
Every country has its history. Libya has more. In the Ottoman Empire, the country was administered as three different provinces:
- Tripolitania in the west,
- Kyrenaika (with Benghazi) in the east,
- Fezzan in the southwest.
When the Italians occupied the country in 1911, they retained the same division, but switched to a fifth division before World War II: Tripoli, Misurata, Benghazi, Derna (a coastal strip) and the Libyan Sahara. When the British and French occupied the area in 1943, they returned to the old triad with British rule in Kyrenaica and Tripolitania and French rule over Fezzan. After the country became independent in 1951, the same division was used. Libya then became a constitutional (constitutional) monarchy organized as a federation with three capitals: Tripoli, Benghazi and Sabha.
However, this administrative structure was only a coarse-grained division. Beneath it lay a network of just over 20 major tribes , and still tribal affiliation largely determines people’s identities. The vast majority of the 5.6 million inhabitants are Arabs , while the minority consists of Berbers (the western name of the indigenous people of North Africa) in the west and south and the nomadic Tuareg and Toubou peoples in the south.
Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, where the Arab Spring began, the people of Libya therefore have no common history in their territory, but many different narratives. In Tunisia and Egypt, the Arab Spring meant that people had a chance to “reclaim” their lands after decades of dictatorial rule. In fragmented Libya, this task is different and more difficult, because here the feeling of historical community is much weaker.
3: Rebellion against Gaddafi
In 1969, King Idris was overthrown by a group of non-commissioned officers. Muammar Gaddafi became the country’s new leader at the age of 27. At that time, Libya had started exporting oil, and when the price of oil skyrocketed in the 1970s, the country received large revenues. Libya eventually became the richest country in North Africa , but dissatisfaction was still significant because revenues were unevenly distributed.
Internationally, Gaddafi’s radical ideology and distinctive leadership style created unrest and discontent. He supported international terrorism and imposed sanctions on it. He sought acceptance and “homeland” in the Middle East, Africa and the West, but was rejected – with one important exception: the Western powers showed him respect when in 2003 he pledged to stop all support for international terrorism and all attempts to obtain weapons of mass destruction. But as the war in 2011 showed, there was no deeper understanding or agreement behind this.
Inside, Gaddafi spent a lot of money securing support for the regime. The quality of the health care and education system was higher than in neighboring countries. But at the same time he played on the heterogeneous (disparate) Libya and distributed and disadvantaged according to political will. It created a lot of irritation and anger and became part of the backdrop for the revolt against him.
Gaddafi kept the military on fire while he politicized them. This is how he secured his own position. Extensive use of foreign mercenaries also secured his grip on power. The fighting power was greater among the semi-military, who were closely linked to the intelligence services where the sons held important positions. Gaddafi came to power in a military coup, thus reducing the risk of falling victim to another coup.
When the uprising started in February − March 2011, this made the road to Tripoli easier. But without NATO’s bombing campaign and ground support from several countries, not least Qatar, it would hardly have succeeded.
The Security Council Resolution 1973 of 17 March 2011 was used as a justification for the intervention in Libya. Initially, this states that a ban on all air traffic over Libyan territory is a significant contribution to the protection of the civilian / population , and establishes a no- fly zone over the area. Furthermore, the Security Council demanded a ceasefire immediately . Two days later, a group of NATO countries (among them Norway) started the most intense air traffic that has ever taken place in Libyan airspace.
And in the months that followed, the Western powers opposed any ceasefire. The aim was clearly a change of regime – Sarkozy (France) and Cameron (Britain) had made that clear in advance. But had the resolution said that the intention was a change of regime with military power, it would never have been adopted.
The way in which the resolution was used, however, had an aftermath in the case of Syria. With the Western twist of the Libyan mandate fresh in mind, Russia and China sharpened their opposition to interfering in the conflict. Wise of the damage, they said a definite no to any thought of getting the Security Council to legitimize foreign interference in it.
In Libya, the new leaders are naturally in a certain debt of gratitude to the countries that helped them remove Gaddafi. And not just the leaders: The assassination of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens – killed in Benghazi by a radical militia – led to a strong popular reaction. People demanded that the militias be brought under control – in practice a cry for law and order.
4: Libya in a comparative perspective
In Libya, as in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq and Kosovo, the Western powers won militarily in the sense that the existing regimes were removed. But the subsequent phase – stabilization and democratization – proved to be much more difficult. What are the prospects for stabilization and democratization in Libya? What can we read from the experiences gained in the other countries?
Nation building is expensive. The size of the countries says something about the price tag. The population of Libya is two to three times as large as in Kosovo and Bosnia, but barely a third of Iraq and Afghanistan. Libya is also richer than the other countries, with an annual income per capita of over $ 14,000 before the war began. The war and the sanctions before it were also less devastating. The economic foundation for nation building is therefore relatively good.
The geography is also favorable. Libya has a long coast that allows for exports and imports, while the other countries barely have a coastline (Iraq has access to the Persian Gulf, but is trapped and dependent on the goodwill of others). Libya’s neighbors lack both the motive and the strength to prevent the rebuilding of the country; the other countries have demanding neighborhoods . The strategic importance is small and does not call for competition between the great powers for influence in the country. All this counts in favor of Libya.
However, the country is politically immature. Only Afghanistan can be compared to Libya in that way. Gaddafi’s legacy was heavy. His recipe was divided and prevalent: in addition to the historical, regional and ethnic differences, he pitted the tribes against each other. The National Transitional Council inherited a country with long traditions of local self-government and weak ministries that lacked the trust and legitimacy of the population. The state institutions were poorly developed or simply absent.
The legacy of the Civil War was also heavy. The rebel leadership in Benghazi called for support from armed groups in the west of the country – not only to crack down on Gaddafi, but also to prevent the war from taking the form of fighting between East and West. Many armed groups gained a share in the victory, and when the war ended, it overflowed with weapons. More than 125,000 Libyans carried weapons and were members of well over 100 militia groups. However, many weapons and mercenaries disappeared south where they destabilized Mali . Libya suffered from a lack of nationwide police, and the judiciary was poorly developed and congested.
5: Libya one year after the war
In July 2012, parliamentary elections were held – for the second time in Libya’s history. The first time was in 1952, shortly after independence (an election was held in 1965 as well, but then no political parties were allowed). According to EU observers, the election went smoothly and smoothly, although technical problems and violent unrest disrupted voting at some of the polling stations.
To a parliament with 200 seats became
- 80 elected on party lists
- 120 as independent
The parliament, which will sit for one year, has legislative authority and will decide how the work on the new constitution will take place.
An alliance of parties led by former (interim) Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril won 39 of the 80 party seats, while the Brotherhood’s party won 17. This was interpreted as a victory for liberal forces in the country and as progress for women’s participation in politics. Jibril’s campaign constantly encouraged this. Among the independent candidates, many had a vague position in the political landscape, but the Brotherhood expected to find much support there. All in all, the election was a major step forward for Libya.
According to SECURITYPOLOGY, Muhamed Magariaf was elected president of the National Assembly and is the country’s de facto head of state. He was early on demanding democratic reforms, and in 1984 he tried to kill Gaddafi. He then spent most of his time in the United States before returning to Libya in 2011. The new prime minister was Mustafa Abu Shagour , who narrowly won over Mahmoud Jibril. Shagour is an engineer and has an academic career behind him, also with a long stay in the United States . But when he presented his list of governments in October, he was ousted by the National Assembly. That the country is unstable in this phase should not surprise anyone.
A new political system is thus taking shape, and it is happening faster than expected. The election, the popular reaction to the storming of the US consulate in Benghazi and the government’s subsequent integration of three key Benghazi militias into the Libyan army give cause for optimism. The protesters – an estimated 30,000 – raided several of the bases of Ansar al-Sharia , a militant Islamist group suspected of participating in the attack on the consulate. The United States supports the construction of the army and other parts of the nascent Libyan security apparatus financially and / or through training.
6: The problems
The continuation is still uncertain . When the fighting ceased so quickly, it was largely due to local leaders and civilian and military groups engaging in an end to the devastation. But this patchwork of security actors is fragile. The agreements and arrangements are time and place specific and can break down almost at any time.
The regional contradictions, tribal affiliations, the many different militia groups and the large supply of weapons can in the long run become a recipe for endless tactical maneuvers and persistent conflicts and clashes. In such a landscape, there is little pointing forward.
Much therefore depends on the government in Tripoli managing to establish a reasonably efficient national security sector. For most people, there is nothing more urgent to keep the country together and to bring it on a democratic course. The pattern of local leaders and militias must be broken in favor of state governance and control. The need is urgent, for Gaddafi’s divide-and-rule policy reinforced fragmentation by pitting groups against each other. Some won the regime’s favor, while others suffered. When the dictator fell, militant Islamist groups, especially in the East, launched assassination campaigns against Gaddafi’s supporters. A number of armed groups were then ready to defend their interests or seek a larger portion of the cake.
Initially, much of the conflict dynamics have been kept in check, but a more secure future depends on the dissolution of the militias and the reintegration of its members , either in the army or in civil society, and the collection of weapons . The classic definition of a functioning state is a government apparatus with a monopoly on physical means of power. But the building up of state power must take place gradually and therefore becomes a painstaking task.
Following the unrest in Benghazi and the assassination of Christopher Stevens, the Tripoli government demanded the dissolution of all militias beyond its control. However, such a top-down strategy for disarmament and demobilization has little chance of success and can make matters worse. The government of Tripoli has neither the means nor the legitimacy for such an approach. In anticipation of a nationwide police, judiciary and prison system that can guarantee the safety of citizens, the collection of weapons must be based on consensus with the militias.
At the micro level , it is about power, resources and in many cases revenge. At the macro level as well: the uprising against Gaddafi gave new life to the historical conflict between Kyrenaica and Tripolitania, between Benghazi and Tripoli. These cities are close to 1000 kilometers apart and with the Sidragulf in between, and each have their own identity. The divide is very much alive. The government of Tripoli must find a balance between the development of a fairly unified security sector and a degree of autonomy for Benghazi. The Berbers in the west and south, who played a significant role in the conquest of Tripoli, also demanded autonomy (internal self-government).
Libyans are Sunni Muslims and generally conservative. Therefore, the new leaders early on advocated sharia law, perhaps more out of respect for the dominant religious currents in the country than out of their own convictions. Decades in the United States must have left traces in both al-Magariaf and Abu Shagour. These are leaders who showed courage in the fight against Gaddafi and who are well suited to secure American and other Western support. They can also play on the gratitude of the people for the Western support in the fight against the dictator (although it is far from unison).
Revolutions, however, tend to eat their own. The fraternity can come stronger into the picture over time, as in other countries that have experienced the Arab Spring. The pattern in Egypt and Tunisia was that relatively liberal and secular forces kicked off the revolution, while the Islamic movements led by the Brotherhood gradually came stronger and took control. The same in Iran in 1979: Initially, the revolution was fronted by moderate and secular leaders (Mehdi Bazargan, Abolhassan Bani Sadr), before Khomeini tightened its grip on the 1980s. Something similar could happen in Libya as the settlement with Gaddafi comes to a close.