By Wolfram Lacher

The 17th February Revolution has fundamentally reshaped Libya’s political landscape.



The Revolutionary Camp and Its Opponents

The revolutionary camp is a conglomeration of disparate actors as yet representing no national political force. Few of the leaders and members of brigades claiming the label thuwar (revolutionaries) have thus far switched to civilian politics, and their representation in the GNC is weak.

Many are remaining in the new military and security institutions, seeking future influence in the security sector, or waiting to draw advantage from future demobilisation or integration in civilian posts. But it is conceivable that these actors will increasingly percolate into politics, causing further changes in the political landscape.

What the revolutionaries agree on is that supposed Gaddafi loyalists (azlam al-nidham, supporters of the regime) should be excluded from public office and the uprising’s protagonists play a major role in the new state. Thus their demands for positions in government and the security services, or for financial and material benefits. But as soon as the distribution of posts or benefits becomes an issue, each revolutionary faction pursues its own interests. One example were the violent attacks on government officials by revolutionaries demanding salaries or medical treatment abroad. 71

The general reputation of the revolutionaries has plummeted because of such actions, and there has been discussion of “pseudorevolutionaries” and even comparisons with Gaddafi’s revolutionary committees. So far all attempts to create a joint representation of revolutionary interests have failed. 72

Numerous organisations claiming to represent Libya’s revolutionaries have been founded, but these are mostly composed of brigades from particular cities or districts. 73 While the cabinet was being formed, various revolutionary groups stormed the GNC three times to protest for different reasons against its composition.

Zeidan concluded that it was almost impossible to take account of the revolutionaries’ demands as long as they had no unified representation, saying that he had met with thirty-two groups each claiming to represent the revolutionaries of all Libya. 74

Since April 2012 certain leaders have worked tenaciously to form a Supreme Council of Libyan Revolutionaries as a national platform, but its activities have not moved beyond a series of conferences with different participants, at which the council has been repeatedly founded anew without agreement on its actual composition. 75

Such disagreements, however, have not prevented revolutionary leaders from demanding Zeidan’s dismissal in the name of the Supreme Council – in words that reflected growing antagonism between the government and those considering themselves as the ‘real revolutionaries’. 76

Despite the fact that the government includes a number of former revolutionary leaders, many thuwar view the government as a whole

as hostile towards their interests. This is largely due to the strong commitment voiced by Zeidan and the defence, interior and justice ministers to dismantle armed groups, integrate parallel forces into a new security sector, and bring prisons under state control.

In the first half of 2013, growing tensions between revolutionary forces and the government surfaced in incidents such as the abduction of an adviser to Zeidan and repeated sieges on ministries by armed groups. 77

But the revolutionary camp comprises a much broader group of actors than just the revolutionary brigades. A large part of the Islamist currents can be attributed to it, along with the representatives of revolutionary strongholds. They all use the language of the revolution to legitimise demands for influence, and to score points against political adversaries.

Even if many politicians in the revolutionary camp condemn the tactics used by armed thuwar to exert influence, some exploit – or even encourage – their moves against government institutions to their political advantage. Their combined pressure forced many of Gaddafi-era officials and diplomats who had played an important role in the early days of the revolution out of the political arena.

Opposing the revolutionary camp is an even more heterogeneous collection of moderate, conservative and counter-revolutionary forces. They include those parts of the elites that had come to terms with the regime, or failed to invest heavily in the revolution.

Many deputies of the National Forces Alliance fall into this category, along with numerous independents in the GNC. So do tribal leaders working for local and national reconciliation, including both figures who served under Gaddafi and others who are untainted in this respect. Large parts of the officer class within the police and military fear being driven out by the revolutionaries. Many members of tribes regarded as supporters of the former regime also feel threatened or vanquished by the revolutionary camp.

Finally, a large group that is virtually excluded from politics in the new Libya is that part of the population – composed primarily of members of these same tribes – that fled to neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt during or after the regime’s demise to escape detention or vengeance. There are no reliable figures for this group, though estimates in mid-2012 put their number at 1 to 1.2 million Libyans, or about one sixth of the population. Even if the real number may be only half that figure, it would still be a significant constituency. 78

The NTC deliberately excluded them from the elections to the National Congress. 79

An attempt by the Islamic scholar Ali Sallabi to mediate with their representatives was broken off amidst angry protests from the revolutionary camp. 80

The rifts between the opposing camps have deepened since the end of the civil war. Individual initiatives by prominent actors like GNC president Mohamed Magariaf to extend a hand to the losers provoked a storm of protest from the revolutionaries, making such moves politically risky. 81

The tensions and dynamics between the two camps are not alone responsible for the present conflicts, but they are central to the success of the transitional process and the country’s medium-term stability.

Areas and Dynamics of Conflict

There is a direct connection between the emergence of new political forces since the beginning of the revolution and the conflicts that have developed in numerous regions and policy areas. Sometimes these are armed confrontations, sometimes latent tensions whose future trajectory is unclear. Many of these conflicts are rooted in the fault lines of the revolution between individual tribes and cities, or are connected in other ways with the Gaddafi era. Questions of justice for crimes committed before, during and after the civil war are particularly important.

The army and security forces, which are indispensable to contain such conflicts, are themselves the object of sometimes violent power struggles. The economy is becoming another important field of conflict.

The Balance of Power between Local and Regional Actors

The interest groups that have formed at the local and tribal level inevitably find themselves in competition with one another. Many protagonists see the civil war and the negotiation of the post-war order as a zero sum game between individual cities and tribes.

According to Mahmoud Shammam, a long-serving member of the exiled opposition who became Mahmoud Jibril’s information minister, the victorious cities will write the constitution and the defeated will have to accept the new order. 82

The fall of the regime destroyed networks in government, business and the military that were based largely on particular cities and tribes. New locally rooted networks now seek to take over. Much of the tension over appointments to positions in government and the public sector should be understood in this context.

Many armed conflicts reflect struggles between local power centres: the capture of Bani Walid under the leadership of brigades from Misrata, or attacks by brigades from Zintan, Zawiya or Zuwara on cities regarded as loyal to Gaddafi. In all these cases the conflicts are tied up with questions of justice, especially the surrender of prisoners and suspects. But the ensuing military operations were always also a demonstration of power by revolutionary strongholds. 83

Rivalries between local actors have not only developed along the fault lines of the civil war. The conflicts between armed groups of the Toubou ethnic group and Arab tribes in Sabha and Kufra stem mainly from competition over the redistribution of resources, above all profits from the thriving smuggling business. Given widespread and persistent conflict, there is little willingness among local groups to surrender their arms. Behind the façade of official units under the authority of the defence and interior ministries, local structures – and therefore the potential for violent confrontation – persist. At the same time, the strongly local dimension of these conflicts has tended to thwart any broader escalation.

State-building and the constitutional process will also create areas of conflict between local actors. In the constitutional process, local power centres share an interest in maximising the competencies of local administration. Much greater potential for conflict emanates from the distribution of power between cities and regions. By late 2012 certain local councils had already begun working to redraw administrative boundaries in their own specific interests. 84

Smaller towns fear coming under the dominance of larger neighbours with which they are often in conflict, as is the case with Riqdalein and Zuwara, al-Ajeilat and Sabratha, or Mizda and Zintan. For Toubou, Tuareg and Berber, the way new boundaries are drawn will decide whether they dominate the new administrative units in their regions or remain a minority.

Federalists seek to create regional units. In all these cases, much is at stake because the decentralisation would devolve some control over state spending to the sub-national level. The implementation of a decentralised administrative system, as proposed in the NTC’s 2012 local administration law, has been blocked by disputes over whether the local executive should be accountable to the central government for its spending, or to municipal councils.

Moreover, because of the sensitivities involved in drawing provincial boundaries, the government and GNC have decided to defer the introduction of governorates. Even so, defining and delineating municipalities will be a protracted process. Beyond the tug-of-war over the local administration law, these issues are also likely to be among the most important bones of contention in the constitutional process.

To be continued


Wolfram Lacher is an Associate in SWP’s Middle East and Africa Division



71- Or the demand raised by the Union of Revolutionary Brigades in the run-up to the elections, that revolutionaries should be guaranteed a certain number of seats in the National Congress. “Attack on Prime Minister’s Office after Suspension of Payments to Revolutionaries”, al-Watan al-Libiya, 10 April 2012,; “Protest by Union of Revolutionary Brigades at Tran-sitional Council: Council Accepts Most Demands”, al-Watanal-Libiya, 1 May 2012,; “One Dead in Attack on Government Buildings in Tripoli: Supreme Security Committee Condemns Incident”, Quryna, 8 May 2012,

72- The first attempt was the founding of a Libyan Union of Revolutionary Brigades (Ittihad Saraya Thuwar Libya) in Misrata on 22 September 2011, in which Fawzi Bukatef (see page 15), Abdel Hakim Belhadj (page 11) and Salem Jouha (page 19) participated. The initiative came to nothing and the name Ittihad Saraya al-Thuwar has since been used exclusively by Bukatef for his coalition of brigades from Benghazi.

73- Such as the Alliance of Libyan Revolutionaries (Tajammu’ Thuwar Libya) founded by Abdel Majid Mlegta (see page 10) in October 2011, which was dominated by Zintanis.

74- Zeidan says he consulted the leaders of various mostly Islamist-leaning brigades. According to Mohammed al-Gharabi of the Rafallah Sahati Brigade, revolutionaries from various cities agreed on a candidate for the post of defence minister, but Zeidan ignored this. Press conference of Ali Zeidan, Tripoli, 1 November 2012; discussion with Mohammed al-Gharabi, Tripoli, November 2012.

75- “Eleven Recommendations in the Announcement of the Formation of the Supreme Council of Libyan Revolutionaries”, al-Manara, 5 April 2012,; “Official Announcement of Supreme Council of Revolutionaries”, Quryna, 29 July 2012,; “Announcement of Founding of Supreme Council of Revolutionaries in Tripoli”, al-Manara, 12 August 2012,; “Libyan Parliament Stormed: Rift in Revolutionary Ranks over Zeidan Cabinet”, al-Hayat, 2 November 2012,; “Revolutionaries Hold Sixth Conference in Misrata to Discuss Organisational Structure of Supreme Council of Revolutionaries”, al-Watan al-Libiya, 10 December 2012,

76- “Declaration of the Supreme Council of Libyan Revolutionaries”, 19 March 2013,

77- “Justice Ministry Seized by SSC; Minister and Staff Ejected”, Libya Herald, 31 March 2013; “Libya PM’s Aide Mohamed al-Ghattous Freed by Kidnappers”, BBC News, 9 April 2013; “Gunmen Surround Libyan Foreign Ministry to Push Demands”, Reuters, 28 April 2013.

78- Libyan officials and Egyptian diplomats estimated in mid2012 that there were 400,000 to 500,000 Libyans in Tunisia and 500,000 to 700,000 in Egypt. There are no official figures from the Egyptian or Tunisian side. Discussion with Ali Sallabi, Tripoli, June 2012; discussion with Egyptian diplomats, Cairo, October 2012; “Libyan Ambassador in Tunis: Majority of more than 500,000 Libyans in Tunisia Are Fugitives from Libyan Justice”, al-Manara, 8 June 2012, tinyurl. com/bf55xuh.

79- While Libyans in Washington, Ottawa, London, Berlin, Abu Dhabi and Amman were able to vote, this option was not available to the much larger numbers of Libyan citizens in Egypt and Tunisia. Members of the electoral commission argued unconvincingly that it was easy for Libyans in neighbouring countries to come home to vote.

80- “Sallabi: Meeting with Members of Former Regime Occurred at Request of Abdeljalil in Framework of National Reconciliation”, al-Tadhamon, 1 June 2012,

81- Magariaf travelled to Bani Walid to mediate in September 2012, and obtained the release of three hostages held there. In November 2012 he visited Shgeiga to attend the integration of a local Mashashiya unit into the Der’ Libya. The visit led to protests by Zintanis, who said that the unit contained former members of Gaddafi’s brigades. “Magariaf Meets Delegation from Zintan Protesting Visit to Shgeiga”, Quryna, 11 November 2012,

82- “To Mr Mahmoud Shammam: Why Are You Dividing the People into Victors and Vanquished?”, al-Watan al-Libiya, 27 May 2012,

83- On Zintan see note 55; on Zawiya and Zuwara: “Efforts for Reconciliation Between Fighters from Zawiya and Warshafana”, Quryna, 14 November 2011,; “Crisis Meeting on Zuwara’s Conflicts with Riqdalein and al-Jumail”, Quryna, 4 April 2012,

84- “Sabratha Proposes Creation of Own Province Including Neighbouring Regions”, al-Tadhamon, 29 November 2012,


Related Articles