Libya: Civil War

Podcast transcript:

The Arab Spring: In 2011 the Arab spring brought about the overthrow of multiple dictatorial regimes across the Middle East and Africa. Libya was no exception. Libya’s dictator Muammar Gaddafi had gained world fame for his repressive regime and personal eccentricities. In 2011, Libyans all across the country took up arms in civil war, eventually killing Gaddafi and ending his 42-year rule. The main rebel stronghold was in the Northern city of Benghazi where the National Transitional Council (NTC) was subsequently established to take over from Gaddafi. 

Fractured State: Gaddafi’s strongman rule had for a long time unified the state. Whilst a superficial national ideology was often promulgated from his little green book, the state was actually kept intact by force and coercion. When he was killed in 2011 all of the state apparatus that had been built around him collapsed leaving a political and security vacuum in which different groups had to defend themselves. Libya is home to various tribes, ethnic groups and political strands all of which want their share of power and representation. 

After Gaddafi: The civil war led to the proliferation of weapons through the arming of various anti-Gaddafi militias; it also led to sectarian violence and Islamic insurgency which in turn has caused general insecurity across the state. In the absence of an organized army, the armed militias that had fought Gaddafi have kept their weapons and continue acting as local police in the areas they control. 

The 2014 civil war: In 2012, the NTC organized elections that established the General national Congress (GNC). The Islamists got 10% of seats in the GNC, 2nd biggest party after the moderates. The GNC’s mandate was supposed to expire in February 2014 but it extended it for another year; this led to wide-spread public protests. In February 2014 General Khalifa Haftar denounced the GNC’s move as undemocratic, and attacked its supporting stronghold in Benghazi. This sparked a new Civil war that spread across the whole country. In June 2014, elections were held to form a new legistaltive body called the House of Representatives (HoR) to replace the GNC. The Islamists faired badly in those elections so they refused to relinquish power and kept the GNC alive. 

Two governments: Libya now has two governments and two parliaments. One is the elected HoR that convenes in Tobruk and is supported by General Haftar, and the other is the once disbanded GNC revived by Islamists on the 25 Aug and is based in Tripoli.  Libya is thus divided in two with competing governing entities operating out of different cities, further fueling the war between Libya’s militias. 

The situation now : Parallel to the 2 governments multiple disparate forces are currently aligned along two broad coalitions: the Misrata-led coalition, which is Islamist leaning and backs a more religious government; and the Zintan-led coalition, which backs a more secular government. However each alliance is composed of many different groups with many different agendas; the current configuration appears to be a pragmatic approach to the fighting.

Instability and the Region: Without effective government infrastructure, security apparatus, and control over the traffic of weapons, Libya provides the perfect environment for terrorist organizations to grow. 

Conclusion : The UN attempted to broker talks between Libya’s competing Parliaments through September. In order to facilitate a lasting and stable peace, both sides must make concessions and halt armed conflict. However, both sides are fragmented. Both civilian governments are supported by armed groups that do not always answer to them so whilst these civilian entities have agreed to meet, the GNC’s military counterparts in the Misrata-led coalition have rejected the talks, begging the question; where is the common ground?