By Nicolas Berrod

Since the fall of the dictator Gaddafi in 2011, the country, devoid of an undisputed ruler, is shaken by political crises, oil, migration, self-fuel on the other side of the Mediterranean.

On the other side of the Mediterranean, Libya is in chaos. The country, without elected leader since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, continues to be shaken by violent clashes between rival groups competing for territory. Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the national unity government (GNA) based in Tripoli, is the only one recognized by the United Nations. In front, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army (ANL), dominates eastern Libya.

An international conference bringing together all the actors of the table was held mid-November in Palermo, Sicily. Elections, scheduled for December, were postponed until the spring (at best), but the meeting mostly revealed the divisions that undermine the country. Marshal Haftar blew hours of hot and cold on his presence, before arriving among the last.

Italy intends to make its voice heard on the diplomatic level. His Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte went there on Sunday to try to advance the political process. The former colonial power of Libya keeps across the throat the military intervention, of which France is responsible, which led to the overthrow and death of Gaddafi, seven years ago. Militias and armed groups, but also al-Qaida or Daesh terrorists, had taken advantage of the collapse of the Libyan state to establish themselves locally, taking some of the stockpiles of abandoned weapons. Franco-Italian antagonism is also reflected in the political field, Italy supporting al-Sarraj while France leans for Haftar, in the forefront in the fight against terrorists.

Even if we are far from the peak of 2016, dozens of refugees continue to arrive every week in Italy, leaving the Libyan coast, located only 300 km from the Italian island of Lampedusa. Moreover, the abundant Libyan oil is the source of many greed, which fuel political conflicts and reinforce the general chaos.

With 48 billion barrels, Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa. Of what to arouse the interest of the foreign countries and the appetites of the local tribes. The National Oil Corporation (NOC), a Libyan state-owned company, shares the cake with other groups, first and foremost the Italian ENI and to a lesser extent French Total.

More than 1.6 million barrels were produced before the 2011 uprising, but this number was halved during the conflict, before rising gradually since then. The production had to be interrupted at certain times because of the strong tensions, like last June. Marshal Haftar, a strongman from the east of the country, had finally taken control of the Petroleum Crescent, a strategic area that includes 80% of Libya’s oil resources. Thus disposing of its prerogatives the NOC, placed under the authority of the rival government based in the west of the country.

Fayez al-Sarraj, appointed in December 2015 as Libya’s national unity government chief, is the only one recognized by the international community. Son of one of the founding fathers of Libya post-colonization in 1951, al-Sarraj, based in Tripoli, only directs the capital and its surrounding areas, with the support of allied militias.

Its arch-nemesis, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, is at the head of the Libyan National Army (NLA), founded at the end of the 2011 civil war, which controls a large part of the country. This former supporter of Gaddafi, he served for many years, a firm battle against jihadist groups who took advantage of the chaos to set up. This earned him the support of some foreign countries, including France.

But Haftar does not recognize the authority of al-Sarraj, supported in particular by Italy and its Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. By organizing an international conference in Palermo on 12 and 13 November, the former colonial country of Libya wanted to reaffirm its diplomatic role, at the expense, in particular, of France.

She was particularly annoyed by the leadership taken on this issue by Emmanuel Macron upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace. France had even twice met the main actors of the conflict.

The UN has appointed a special envoy to help resolve the conflict, political scientist Ghassan Salamé. “We do not organize elections under fire,” he said recently. “It is high time for Libyans to take their destiny in their own hands without our support,” the former Lebanese Minister of Culture continues to hope.


20 October 2011. Seven months after the first French raids, Muammar Gaddafi, who had ruled the country for 42 years, was killed. Libya finds itself without a head of state.

July 7, 2012. First free election of a National Assembly, the National General Congress (CGN). The National Transitional Council (CNT), created during the civil war in February 2011, transmits the power.

17 December 2015. Signing of a UN-brokered agreement providing for a Government of National Unity (GNA). Fayez al-Sarraj is appointed prime minister.

25 January 2016. Parliament rejects the GNA, based in Tobruk, in the west of the country. The government is moving to Tripoli, the capital.

November 13, 2018. Meeting of the main actors of the conflict in Palermo, after two others, in La Celle-Saint-Cloud (July 2017) and Paris (May 2018). The political process continues, but very laboriously.


Related Articles