“The revolutionaries were divided: it was a highly localized insurrection; neighborhoods and towns rose up bereft of unifying leadership or vision. Fault lines: communities enriched by Gaddafi’s rule versus those marginalized by it; Libyans who returned after decades abroad and those who stayed; technocrats who had accommodated the regime and Islamists who languished in its prisons; defected army generals and younger civilian fighters; women who challenged patriarchy and conservatives who sought to enforce it”.
Gaddafi bequeathed Libyans a country without a state. Libyan actors carry responsibility; incompetence, petty vendettas and an unabashed lust for power all played a role. So, too, did ambivalence and meddling by outside powers. The US came to Libya with a narrow mandate. Haunted by Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama wanted to avoid nation-building. Damningly, the absence of early Western assistance on the security front left civil society vulnerable to militias and extremists. Too much was tied to those elections: “We got distracted by the elections as a success marker,. (...) Rushing the elections was a grave mistake”, said a U.N. official in Libya. The hope was that the elected government would have legitimacy to tackle lawlessness. But the General National Congress entrenched factionalism. The contest for security institutions proved Libya’s undoing. The result: a swelling of militias. Another shock: the rise of President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Egypt and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood cast a long shadow over Libya. It sharpened a conspiratorial paranoia. In Benghazi, a wave of assassinations against military officers, police, judges and activists terrorized the populace. So Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a former Gaddafi-era officer, launched Operation Dignity in May 2014, to evict Islamist militias from Benghazi. This spurred a counter-movement: the Dawn movement. The country divided into two rival governments: one in the East, based in Tobruk and allied with Haftar; one in Tripoli, backed by Misuratan, Islamist and Western militias. The United Arab Emirates and Egypt backed Haftar’s forces. Qatar, Turkey and Sudan backed the Dawn coalition. The Islamic State has seized on the vacuum to implant itself in Sirte. The Dignity and Dawn fighting enabled its spread. Under pressure from the West and their regional backers, the two sides signed a U.N.-brokered agreement for a unity Government. A key stumbling block: control over Libya’s military and the role of Haftar. Another is the fragmentation within the Dawn and Dignity camps: they exist in name only. Troubling despair extends not just to democracy, but to politics itself. With the country’s ruptured social fabric, it is difficult to remedy.
Mattia Toaldo (European Council on Foreign Relations): “Russia’s increasing political backing and the anti-Islamist winds blowing in Washington have strengthened Haftar’s belief there is no point negotiating a political solution with the forces in Western Libya.”