GP Insights # 474, 21 February 2021
On 17 February, thousands of Libyans gathered in the capital city of Tripoli to mark the 10th anniversary of the uprising that led to the end of four decades of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s dictatorship. Arab News quoted several of those gathered for the celebrations. One civilian, who took part in the 2011 uprising, acknowledged the conflict that followed. According to him, “It doesn’t mean you have to choose between Qaddafi and chaos. Revolution is a process. We must build a new Libya that we deserve.” Others blame the post-2011 leaders for the current state of affairs in Libya.
On 17 February, Amnesty International said, “A decade after the overthrow of Muammar al-Gaddafi, justice has yet to be delivered to victims of war crimes and serious human rights violations including unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture, forced displacement and abductions committed by militias and armed groups.”
What is the background?
First, a brief recap of the revolution against Gaddafi. On 17 February 2011, protests erupted against Gaddafi. The protests escalated and threatened the interests of external powers in the oil-rich country. Subsequently, Gaddafi was killed in NATO-led intervention in October 2011. Libya descended into chaos resulting from the sudden power vacuum. An election dispute in 2014 led to the formation of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), and a parallel rebel authority, the Libyan National Army (LNA). The GNA was centred in western Libya while LNA controlled the East.
Second, external interventions. After the formation of the two parallel authorities, external powers like Russia, Turkey, France got involved in the conflict, to safeguard their priorities regarding Libya’s oil and gas reserves. The GNA was supported by Turkey, Qatar and Italy. On the other hand, the LNA, led by a former general and aide to Gaddafi, was supported by Egypt, France, Russia and the UAE. The power struggle between the above countries fueled the conflict in Libya.
Third, the newly formed interim government. On 5 February 2021, 75 delegates from Libya agreed on a new united interim government during UN-brokered peace talks; the interim government will ensure parliamentary elections in December 2021. The new president has been chosen from eastern Libya and the prime minister from the west. This was the result of a ceasefire signed in October 2020 and also one of the first positive developments in the country since 2014.
Fourth, the Arab Spring of 2011. The overthrow of Ben Ali’s dictatorial regime in Tunisia inspired the revolution in Libya. Other countries like Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Sudan followed suit with a common demand to overhaul the authoritarian systems.
What does it mean?
First, external interventions without an exit strategy or a plan ahead for the country lead to increased instability. This is evident not just in Libya, but in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and other countries as well. More often than not, external powers let the conflicts continue to serve their self-interests and increase their leverage in big power politics.
Second, though the 2011 revolution did not produce an immediate victory for the protesters, they have now pinned their hopes on the newly formed unity government. How the government charts out its course over the months leading to the December elections will decide the future of Libya.