By Wolfgang Pusztai

The start of the Battle for Tripoli in April 2019 marked the beginning of a new dramatic phase in Libya’s ongoing civil war.



II-3 Demography

Libya’s population, which is concentrated in the coastal areas, in particular around Tripoli and Benghazi, is very young.

About 42% of its 6.7 million people are younger than 25 years, while only about 10% are older than 55. 5 This demographic pyramid makes a recovery of Libya even more challenging.

More than 100,000 new jobs would be required every year just to keep the current youth unemployment rate 6 of about 42% stable. However, many of the young people are ‘employed’ by militias.

The population is homogenous. 97% are Arabs or of mixed Berber-Arab or Ottoman-Arab descent.

Several hundred thousand Kouloughlis, descendants of Ottoman Turks and local Arab women, live in Misrata, Tripoli and eastern coastal cities.

The rest includes widely disfranchised Berber (Amazigh), Touareg and Toubou minorities. As a consequence of the revolution and its aftermath, more than one million Libyans have left their country and sought refuge mainly in Tunisia and Egypt.

Many of them are still there. Nearly 200,000 were forced to leave their homes because of the current battle for Tripoli. Altogether, up to half a million people live in various parts of Libya as internally displaced persons.

Libya is a Muslim country. Roughly 97% are Sunnis, about 1% Ibadis. In the 19 th century the Senussi, a Sunni Sufi order, rose in importance.

By the end of the century they were a dominant political force in many parts of Libya and became a driving element behind the resistance against the Italian occupation.

Although Idris, the head of the order, became King of Libya after independence in 1951, the order itself vanished during the colonial rule. However, Sufism remains deeply rooted with many Libyans.

Most Libyan Sufis are peaceful and do not adhere to violence.

Salafists, followers of an ultra-conservative movement within Sunni Islam, have grown in importance in Libya since 2011, and they have raided and destroyed many Sufi mosques and tombs along with other radical Islamists.

Their militias apprehend alcohol and drug dealers as well as homosexuals.

The Salafists are far from being a united group. While Madkhalists accept a more secular form of government, Salafi activists like the Grand Mufti seek an Islamist state based solely on the Islamic law, the Sharia, and firmly oppose the GNA.

The means of the Salafi activists include involvement in the political process. Salafi jihadists, like many of the terrorist groups, pursue a similar aim but use all kinds of violence.

Madkhalists are fighting for Marshall Heftar as well as within Tripoli’s Special Deterrent Force, one of the key militias protecting the GNA.

The Muslim Brotherhood was forbidden and forcefully suppressed by Gaddafi. Many of its members were jailed until 2006, when the reconciliation agreement facilitated by Saif al-Gaddafi was signed.

After the revolution the Justice and Construction Party was established as the political wing of the MB.

Today the Brotherhood, which is strongly supported by Turkey and Qatar, has a huge influence on the GNA, in Misrata and within

the economic entities. Unfortunately, it also provides a fertile ground for the recruitment of terrorists.

Libya has been a tribal society over the centuries. Today the influence of the tribes is still very important outside of the main towns, particularly in the east and south.

They provide a framework where the state is non-existent. Although also present, tribes have much less significance in the larger cities in the northwest of the country.

II-4 Economy

Libya’s economy is heavily reliant on the hydrocarbon industry. It is an extreme case of a rentier state economy. The country exports crude oil and natural gas but needs to import almost everything else.

A low payment morale and a lack of legal certainty makes Libya a risky country for foreign investments.

Under Gaddafi, expatriates from Western, Asian, and neighbouring countries were the backbone of many branches of economy.

Black Africans carried out most of the lowerclass jobs. However, unemployment was not a big issue for the Libyan people. Now, most of the Western expatriates and many of the others are gone and the economy is in tatters.

The recovery of the Libyan economy depends primarily on the security situation, on the containment of corruption and on the future performance of the hydrocarbon sector.

Since the occupation of the oil fields and terminals in the Sirte Basin by the LNA in 2016, years-long blockades have ended, and production has increased to about 1.1bn bpd currently – still well below the 1.6bn bpd from before the revolution.

This is unsurprising as the oil and gas infrastructure was damaged by fighting and terrorist attacks in many parts of the country. Furthermore, it has been degraded by disuse and a lack of maintenance due to the absence of foreign specialists.

Occasional blockades of fields and pipelines by workers and militias in western Libya hamper production, too.

Quite uniquely, although there are several ‘governments’, the country’s most important economic institutions – the National Oil Corporation (NOC), the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) and the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) – have managed to remain by and large the sole representations of their country in their respective business areas over the years.

This was made possible by the refusal of the international community to deal with anybody else but the ‘original’ NOC, CBL and LIA. Even though about 80% of the hydrocarbon infrastructure is currently under the physical control of the LNA, all the revenues end up with the GNA through the NOC and CBL.

A large part is used to pay and equip the enemies of the LNA on the battlefield. This excites the anger of many in the east and south.

The black economy, in particular the smuggling of fuel and all kinds of consumer goods, costs the state several billion Libyan dinars every year.

Some militias, including those loyal to the GNA, and tribes are heavily involved in this business and fight ruthlessly for its control. While most of the militias in Tripoli support the GNA, first and foremost they care for their own interests and businesses.

All of them are deeply involved in black market money exchange, protection rackets, large-scale fraud, especially with so-called ‘letters of credit’, and control of access to cash.

II-5 Social factors

Basic foodstuffs and fuel are heavily subsidised by the state in order to keep the prices low for everybody. While this is certainly beneficial for the population, it makes smuggling these goods into neighbouring countries very attractive.

It is doubtful that the current level of subsidies can be maintained for very long if the economy does not recover soon. The living costs of the population have increased significantly as the Libyan dinar has devalued, at least on the black market.

Although most families have as a minimum a basic income from the state, access to cash is very difficult. It is a usual picture in Tripoli and many other cities that people wait in long lines in front of the banks just to be able to withdraw a couple of hundred dinar in cash.

Water supply is guaranteed as long as the Great-Man-Made-River, Gaddafi’s gigantic freshwater system drawing water from aquifers beneath the Sahara and channeling it along a network of pipelines and pumping stations to the coastal areas of Libya, is operational.

But looting, local protests, a lack of maintenance and power cuts have interrupted the flow of water in western Libya more than once. The capital is suffering from this in particular.

Furthermore, IS terrorists have already attacked its facilities in remote areas on occasion, as these are an easy target. Libya’s power grid is in urgent need of maintenance. Supply of gas to the power stations is frequently irregular for various reasons.

Due to outstanding debts, electricity cannot be imported from Tunisia and Egypt as before.

Mobile power plants provided by international companies have been withdrawn because of security concerns and a lack of payments. Frequent power outages and even blackouts are the consequence. Fezzan and northern Tripolitania are the most affected parts of the country.

Healthcare under Gaddafi had relatively high standards for an African country. Nowadays, the situation is terrible and in dire need of urgent and significant improvement.

There is a lack of all kinds of medical supplies, skilled health professionals and maintenance. Whoever can afford it travels abroad for medical care. Many of the war injured are evacuated to Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt or Jordan.


Wolfgang Pusztai is a freelance security & policy analyst with a special focus on the MENA region. He has both a military and an academic background in strategy.




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