Libya Tribune

By Grzegorz Gil

This paper identifies three possibilities of the future development of this country (gradual stabilisation, Jihadisation and fragmentation) and considers the likelihood of each in characteristics and the international context.

PART ONE

During the Arab Spring some MENA regimes were either forced to reform themselves or ousted and replaced by democratic opposition.

Amidst half a dozen of cases of this revolution Libya is a specific one. Its Qaddafi era idiosyncrasy fuelled by “oil” state-formation ended up with the destruction of state apparatus and reinvigorated tribal affiliations.

The impact of the 2011 events has changed it as a polity but cannot erase the past five decades of neo-patrimonial and repressive rule. Subsequently, the end of the Qaddafi regime does not promise post-conflict stability as a new Libya has yet to validate its move towards stabilisation or work out a national consensus.

This paper identifies three possibilities of the future development of this country (gradual stabilisation, Jihadisation and fragmentation) and considers the likelihood of each in characteristics and the international context.

INTRODUCTION

During the Arab Spring some MENA regimes were either forced to reform themselves or ousted and replaced by democratic opposition.

Amidst half a dozen of cases of this revolution Libya is a specific one. More than three years after the ousting of the Muammar Qaddafi regime, Libya is still a hot topic.

It is not stable enough to be labelled a “success story” but there is some normalcy and a political process is under way. As Tripoli fell in August 2011 a former narrative of Libya has been replaced by the unknown – given the average results of previous foreign interventions of that kind outside the western world.

The impact of the 2011 foreign intervention has changed it as a polity but cannot erase the past five decades of neo-patrimonial and repressive rule. As it is stated, post-intervention Libya differs in a substantial way from post-conflict Libya.

The article aims at presenting the prospects for stabilisation and destabilisation of Libya after Qaddafi as a combination of different local forces and international actors engaged. One of essential characteristics of Libya is that it has rarely had a state in the territorial and communal senses of the term.

Libya has always been a kind of “a patchwork state” consisting of the often fractious territory and divergent loyalties that have only exacerbated after 2011.

QADDAFI’S STATE-BUILDING AND STATE FAILURE

Libya began a second experiment in 1969 following Qaddafi’s coup d’etat that ousted the monarch, arguing that he was too dependent on the West. Qaddafi demanded the withdrawal of all British troops and nationalised foreign assets. Yet, the new order resembled the old.

In contrast to Idris, Qaddafi referred to Bedouin values like self-reliance and equality, but even if the founding myth of its statehood was different, the final outcome was quite similar:

Libya suffered from a lack of effective, modern, centralised state institutions under both the King and the “Brotherly Leader.”

Qaddafi did manage to change Libya as he governed the country with a mixture of Arab nationalism, socialism, eventually embedded in Pan-Africanism.

His political survival depended on tribal loyalties as the insignificant Qaddafi tribe had to make alliances with more potent ones (Warfalla, Maqariha).

Qaddafi’s eccentric “oil state-building” project became possible after Libya joined OPEC. To proceed with this course in the first half of the 1970s Libya nationalised the banking sector and the oil industry and reorganized administrative units to break down tribal affiliations.

To eradicate tribalism and develop Libyan nationalism he also initiated revolutionary modernisation (social welfare programs) and introduced sharia law. However, in The Green Book (1976–79) Qaddafi emphasised the importance of family and tribe.

With sky-rocketing prices for Libyan crude oil, Qaddafi stepped up popular revolutionary narrative. Qaddafi’s Libya international legitimacy derived from his Arab neighbours, i.e. Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Sudan with which he shared anti-imperialist sentiments.

As a result Libya was added to the American list of enemy regimes. In 1977, Qaddafi dissolved the Libyan Arab Republic and introduced the Jamahiriya (“a state of the masses”) and a system of direct democracy. Since then he had virtually dismantled state institutions and any offspring of civil society.

With increased Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) control on the oil sector Qaddafi achieved an economic success and augmented the standard of living; GDP increased from $3,8 billion (1969) to $24,5 billion (1979).

During the first twenty five years of independence Libya’s GDP per capita rose two hundred times. This provided the backbone of Qaddafi’s popular legitimacy. In fact, Gaddafi also attempted to preserve the fragile balance of power between the different tribes within his own government and the various state institutions. On the other hand, he created an extensive surveillance system that engaged ten to twenty per cent of Libyans and publicly executed dissidents. This discriminatory policy resulted in tribal tensions as Qaddafi’s quasi-socialist and quirky ideology drove Libyans back to older loyalties – clan, tribe and region.

Although without a formal governmental post, Qaddafi kept firm control over the political process of revolutionary “state-building without the state” as the government was officially detached from the revolution in 1979. In that same year Libya was put on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Without a legal code the administration was abusive and arbitrary and served to consolidate some counter-revolutionary activity, inter alia National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) and Muslim Brotherhood militants.

In the course of the early 1980s Libya’s annual oil revenues dropped from $21 billion to $5,4 billion partly due to US economic sanctions and broader international criticism.

This forced Qaddafi to liberalize the country in economic (infitah) and political terms but in following next years the further militarisation of the state was undertaken.

In 1992 Libya was struck again, this time by UN sanctions imposed for its alleged role in Pan Am Flight 103 tragedy (UN Security Council Resolution 883 of 1993), further expanded in 1994. The early 1990s saw also an abortive coup by army officers (backed by Warfalla tribe) signalling that his rule was starting to falter.

All this shrank Libya’s GDP by an estimated $900 million and paved the way for economic reforms and privatization that were really unleashed after 2000 with UN and the United States sanctions lifted (in 2003 and 2004 respectively).

Subsequently, Qaddafi was forced to approach the U.S. and Great Britain and gradually escaped from international isolation (after the Lockerbie trial opened in 2000 and Libya abandoned its nuclear program in 2003).

In 2009, after many years of plotting with terrorists and separatist movements, he was officially rehabilitated as a part of “war of terror” and was given the floor at the UN General Assembly. However, political liberalization had not gone hand with hand with economic liberalization.

A decade before the Arab Spring, Clement Henry and Robert Springborg distinguished between two forms of Arab states’ political economy and openness to globalization.

Using this reasoning, they identified four Arab regime types, among them a “bunker state” and a “bully state”. While the former is described by a potential state of war with the society it rules, the latter is more reliant on social legitimacy and is partially ready to carry out reforms to satisfy the populace.

Consequently, the leaders of “bunker states” stem from tribal or religious groupings (“bunker”) that enable them to control most aspects of social life and repress any notion of disloyalty.

In contrast, the “bully” is not as directly oppressive as the “bunker state”. In the late-1990s Qaddafi’s Libya could be pigeon-holed as a “bunker” (as Algeria, Yemen, Iraq and Syria), while regimes such as Egypt and Tunisia were “bully” states.

Following the 1969 coup d’état Libyan regime had been forming along clan lines, but the late Qaddafi’s reign also approached a “bully state” as this taxonomy is more a matter of degree. However, sooner or later both regimes turned out to be seen as illegitimate in the eyes of people they ruled.

Qaddafi proved it when he finally let the oil-rich state be derailed and much of eastern Libya (the ‘old hug’ according to him) was neglected in the 2000s due to his economic conceptions.

These years of neglect made many easterners nostalgic for the monarchy. In the broader context the central argument is that local state-building in Libya had been incomplete primarily due to five factors: the colonial legacy, tribalism, Libya’s oil bonanza, the political exclusion of its population, and the ignorance of the rulers in capacity building.

Forty-two years after the military coup and three years after normalisation of relations with the US, Qaddafi’s reign came to the cruel end. It could even be meteorologically compared to a wind of change as Libyan used to name a hot, dry, dust-bearing desert wind that affects their country in spring and early summer (el-ghibli).

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Grzegorz Gil – Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, Faculty of Political Science, Department of International Relations.

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