By Clara Durovray
Since the 2011 revolution and the overthrow of Gaddhafi, Libya has been engulfed by violence and political instability. Recent clashes that erupted in the capital have once again raised concerns about the future of the country.
Despite the illusion of security that had been consolidated over the past year in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, violent clashes have erupted, killing 26 and demolishing homes, mosques and civilian infrastructure.
The security situation had prior to this evolved positively, as major combat had significantly decreased when some armed factions agreed to cooperate with the internationally backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
Diplomatic and political activities had gradually started to resume in the capital. Yet these recent clashes underline the enduring fragmentation of the armed groups controlling Tripoli and competing for power.
Militias and the endless competition for power
The current battles pit local militias from the capital against the Seventh Brigade from Tarhouna, southeast of Tripoli. The latter reacted to the increasing concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a narrower set of armed groups, generally from Tripoli.
Tripoli’s armed groups have reportedly won control of key infrastructure such as the airport, ministries and banks, and have thus been able to access money at favourable rates and to place their people in strategic positions within the Libyan administration.
Even before the eruption of the recent fightings, militias had already been using violence to attempt to extend their control of key institutions.
Several officials, such as a former prime minister or the mayor of Tripoli, as well as religious authorities, were abducted by armed groups, whereas others resigned in response to threats.
The growing power of militias after the revolution, and the increasing competition among them, have thus emerged as one of the main obstacles to the stabilisation of Libya and the building of new institutions.
Given their centrality in Libya’s military and political situation, stability in the country cannot be reached as long as the issue of security sector reform, and the associated question of militias’ reintegration into society, will not be properly addressed.
So far, none of the plans proposed by the international community has been able to overcome the major fragility of the institutions left behind by Gaddhafi’s regime.
Involvement of the international community
The issue of militias also limits the viability of proposals put forward by the international community.
France is pushing for the holding of elections by December, and has hosted a summit to advance this position. However, given the ongoing competition for power, militias would very likely attempt to interfere in the election process to avoid losing their grip on Libya’s political scene.
Ever since the beginning of the revolution, foreign countries have been heavily involved in Libya. Whereas European countries such as France, the United Kingdom or Italy intervened against Gaddhafi in 2011, they now hold diverging views of what the future of Libya should look like.
Others, most notably Egypt and the UAE, have also intervened in Libya by supplying weapons to Commander Haftar, who controls the eastern parts of the country, while Turkey or Qatar have been accused of supporting Haftar’s opponents.
What is next for Libya?
To the tensions detailed above must be added those already existing between the UN-supported, Tripoli-based government and the Tobruk-based House of representatives.
Libya therefore seems to have turned into a struggle for power, between militias as well as between international and regional actors. The deterioration of the country’s security conditions are a direct reflection of this configuration.
Therefore, peace remains a very elusive prospect in Libya. Despite rivals President Al-Serraj and General Haftar’s agreement on a ceasefire and on future elections, the country remains deeply divided.
A political consensus still needs to be reached before rebuilding the national political system and infrastructure. In addition to the different actors’ diverging interests, Libya has been facing a severe economic crisis, aggravated last summer when fighting moved to the country’s “oil crescent”, thus halving oil exports and dramatically threatening the already fragile economy.
These events underlined the multiple dimensions of the Libyan crisis – political, military and economic. As long as any of these problems remains unresolved, peace will only be temporary in Libya.