Libyans marked the tenth anniversary of their February 17, 2011 revolution with their eyes on the recently appointed interim political leadership, tasked with leading the divided country through general elections late this year.
For many Libyans, the anniversary served as a time to contemplate what went wrong following the uprisings and NATO intervention that led to the end of over four decades of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship.
“Following the UN-backed, Western-led military intervention in Libya, there was no plan for post- regime change in a country that, under dictatorship, had neither state institutions nor a political system to allow for a reverse course,” Esam Omeish, President of the Libyan American Alliance explained to Inside Arabia. “That vacuum was worsened by the extensive presence of weapons, development of strong militias, [and] then exacerbated by foreign intervention and proxy wars that deepened the Libyan conflict.”
After years of deadlock, the UN-sponsored Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) agreed on an interim authority in early February to rebuild state institutions.
After years of deadlock, the UN-sponsored Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) agreed on an interim authority in early February to rebuild state institutions, leading to national elections on December 24. The Forum – made up of representatives from Libya’s various political and ethnic groups, including the rival governments – elected Mohamed Menfi, a Libyan diplomat with wide support in the east of the country, to lead a presidential council, and businessman Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, backed by Libyans in the west, as interim Prime Minister.
However, Omeish cautioned that there are many challenges that may hinder the prospects of success for the new unity government. “The elected authority does not have the [high] level of credentials needed to address the most critical issues like the strong-armed militias, the division among Libyans that requires a huge effort for reconciliation, and the competing interests of foreign powers in Libya,” he said.
Accordingly, many experts on Libya anticipate numerous difficulties for the newly elected interim authority, which, in their opinion, will find it nearly impossible to introduce a neutral technocratic cabinet.
“The interim Prime Minister Dbeibah promised the Ministry of Defense to ex-general Khalifa Haftar and promised the Ministry of Interior to Fathi Bashagha, so Libya would not have a technocrat government when two major portfolios are promised to corrupt individuals,” William Lawrence, Professor of Political Science at the American University in Washington told Inside Arabia.
According to Lawrence, the dynamics on the ground make it impossible to ignore people who have power: “You cannot get Libya’s civil war to stop and avoid people who have been running the militias in both the east and west, even if they were corrupt, because you cannot get a political deal without them.”
Therefore, in Lawrence’s view, there was no reason to celebrate the anniversary of the Libyan revolution, as countless pressing issues for the country remain unsolved. “It is remarkable that for most Libyans, the tenth anniversary of their revolution was . . . sort of bittersweet. While they are trying to be cautiously optimistic, for some, the glass is not even half full, [and] they wonder if there is even a glass,” Lawrence said.
Libyans have struggled with significant foreign interference following the military campaign to take over Tripoli, led by ex-General Khalifa Haftar in 2014. The move preceded the international intervention, with foreign actors supporting either Haftar in the east or the Government of National Accord in the west. This has resulted in a proxy war to serve foreign political motives.
Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia supported Haftar in the east, based on his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya—a shared objective with the three countries, who have staunch campaigns against versions of the same movement in their homelands.
Russia has utilized the shadowy Wagner Group to proceed with its aims under the cloak of deniability, with an eye on oil and construction contracts in Libya.
Russia found an opening to get involved in the Libyan conflict through Haftar, using its Wagner Group mercenaries to back him in exchange for achieving its strategic objectives in the troubled country. Russia has utilized the shadowy Wagner Group to proceed with its aims under the cloak of deniability, with an eye on oil and construction contracts in Libya.
Turkey, on the other hand, intervened on the side of the western Government of National Accord, which was also supported by Qatar. Now, with the consolidation of the ceasefire and the UN-sponsored political dialogue that produced an interim Libyan authority, foreign intervention is at bay militarily but still sustaining political influence.
Egypt, Russia, and Turkey are in favor of the interim government while the UAE, France, and Italy are not happy with the outcome of the UN-sponsored initiative.
As Egyptian President Abel Fattah al Sisi drew a red line at Sirte and al Jufra provinces—not to be crossed by the western forces backed by Turkey, fearing a collapse of the self-styled Libyan National Army led by Haftar, Russian mercenaries were busy making this line a demarcation for a possible partitioning of Libya.
CNN published satellite images showing the construction of a long trench with more than 30 defensive positions, extending from the city of Sirte to al Jufra, a stronghold of the Russian Wagner Group’s mercenaries.
“Two foreign powers in Libya are not going anywhere: the Russians and the Turks, because they are guaranteeing each side’s security against the other.”
For Lawrence, this indicates foreign fighters are there to stay. “Two foreign powers in Libya are not going anywhere: the Russians and the Turks, because they are guaranteeing each side’s security against the other,” he said.
Lawrence argued that the trench the Wagner Group dug on the line between Sirte and al Jufra could be a demarcation line between Tripolitania in the west and Cyrenaica in the east.
“Such a trench would lead to [a reinforcement of] the separation line, which does not bode well for a completely reunited country, but at best, would mean a federation of separate Libyan provinces.”
While the Biden administration has called for the immediate withdrawal of Russian, Turkish, and other foreign fighters from Libya, it seems unlikely that such a call would be enough to contain the regional and foreign actors, many of whom have divergent interests in Libya. Thus, ten years after Libya’s pivotal revolution, the recent political developments in the country – though favorable – still leave significant issues unresolved.