By Clotilde Asangna

This essay offers a basic framework for analyzing Libyan democratization by looking at the deficit of a modern (post-modern) political transition élite and the potential of civil society.


3. The Road to Democracy

The end of the Jamahiriya came with the crippling of state institutions, loss of legitimacy and monopoly over the means of violence and deteriorating administrative capacity.

According to Chivvis and Martini (2013), Libyan public administration is weak and capacity building is needed to strengthen the state.

Public certainty in the democratic progression of the state has fallen while frustration has risen. In the absence of permanent legitimate national state actors, regional and tribal sub-state actors have reinforced and will likely seek to hold onto their deep-rooted power.

State weakness enabled society to instigate replacements of the decapitated structures; institutional replacement has been accompanied by the rise of a new type of organized crime–jihadism.

Given the tumultuous atmosphere in Libya, and the absence of Western support, where is Libya to turn for lasting peace?

The Arab uprisings that swept across the Middle East in 2011 caught the world by surprise, and the desire for democratization by Libyans was even more shocking for academic observers.

In the recent past, scholars of Middle Eastern affairs associated the failure of democracy in the region to the Arab culture and exceptionalism.

Consequently, dominating a field where the whole range of models explain Middle Eastern authoritarian politics as the result of low levels of modernization. Although security and economic stability are

fundamental in ensuring the safe passage to democracy, the role of a strong civil society is the ultimate solution to the chaotic Libyan politics.

Granting, civil society is distinct from economic reconstruction, the economy conditions the potential of civil society engagement in important ways.

The success of a strong civil society is determinant on the existence of a modern government, burgeoning economy (large middle class), and a strong judicial system; all of which are presently missing from the Libya.

Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci (1971) classifies civil society as a separate institution from the state and market, but through which the state attains approval. Gramsci‟s definition demonstrates that civil society does not seek power from the state but holds the state accountable.

Thereby rendering civil society, a necessary condition for the birth and survival of democracy.

Notwithstanding the sluggish political climate of Libya, civil society and civil society organizations (CSOs) have slowly been picking up momentum.

Even though a largely tribal society, political changes motivated by the 2011 revolution and subsequent weakness of the transition elite resulted in the birth of civil society.

According to O‟Donnell and Schmitter (2013), “The dynamics of the transition from authoritarian rule are not just a matter of elite dispositions, calculations, and pacts. If we have emphasized these aspects up to now, it is because they largely determine whether or not an opening will occur at all and because they set important perimeters on the extent of possible liberalization and eventual democratization.

Once something has happened…a generalized mobilization is likely to occur, which we choose to describe as the resurrection of civil society.”

This understanding of civil society as being born out of a widespread mobilization or popular upsurge during transitions is true for the Libyan state. Civic engagement is fairly new in Libyan politics but is important for the growth of liberal democracy.

While crucial for democratic transitions, Kamrava (2007) notes that civic engagement and participation is insufficient. He holds that civil society needs to be politicized for a democratic transition to succeed.

The main difference between civil society and political society is that the former term is used to refer to a collection of non-governmental organizations with a presence in society. Politicizing civil society should not be taken to mean complete political transformation, like Kamrava (2007) suggests.

Rather, civil society is now tasked with the burden of leading the Libyan transition by promoting democratic ideals and values.

While civil society requires the space that only a democratic political regime can provide in order to fully develop, the emergence of civil society has historically preceded the advent of stable democratic regimes and is therefore to a certain extent independent of the existence of a democratic political regime” (Oxhorn 1995a and 1995b).

CSOs emerged after the 2011 revolution as volunteer groups focused on providing medical supplies, water and food to those civilians in dire need. By 2014, the number of CSOs had grown to at least 2 thousand (Perroux 2015).

These CSOs consist of labor unions, political forums, and religious, women, recreational, mutual aid and humanitarian groups. Civil society has been fundamental in educating the populace on their civic and political duty, while also bridging the gap between state and society.

For instance, “Eye on the GNC” project was launched by the H2O team and Bokra Youth Organization to publicly provide “unprecedented and systematic information on the discussions and decisions of the legislative body” (Perroux 2015).

Another group called “Bridge Libya” helped foster educational development and voter education campaigns. A number of these CSOs have been instrumental in keeping the transition afloat.

In exploring the role of civil society in the socio-political construction of citizens‟ rights, it becomes evident that the limitation of civil society and CSOs in Libya is both a cause and result of the survival of Libya‟s status as a bunker state.

Citizen participation in the policymaking process is low, even in the GNA era; women, especially, constitute only a small percentage of the workforce, even though the state advocates equal rights between men and women.

The success of the Libyan transition partly lies in the relationship between state and society, and failure of civil society and CSOs to influence government, renders social actors inconsequential.

Libya will need a civil society model for a complete transition to democracy.


Identity and civil society are correlated in the democratization discussion because civil society consists of a variety of identities. During democratization, civil society seeks the survival of the state, thus can neither function nor succeed without identifying with robust democratic concepts.

Hogg and Abrams (1988) define identity as “people‟s concepts of who they are, of what sort of people they are, and how they relate to others.”

Per the findings of Perroux (2015), the revolution helped foster national spirit as it brought together scores of people loyal to the government against those who wanted to see it overthrown.

For the first time, Libyans proudly identified with the revolution and as Libyans.

When asked in a 2013 poll about the extent to which they identify with their country, 77.3% Libyans answered, “Strongly Agree.” This percentage was higher than for Tunisia, indicating the success and importance of state identity.

Following the growth of extremism, successive failed transition governments, and a civil war, communal identity grew, and loyalty to the state was replaced with loyalty to tribe, neighborhood and kin.

The security crisis unearthed regional and tribal sentiments across the country. Libyan identity is now defined by ethnicity more so than by nation and communal identity is now marred by confusion.

Nonetheless, CSOs and musicians work hard to find a balance between national, regional and communal identity by undertaking

initiatives like “my city is Libya” and “we are one” campaigns (Perroux 2015). These campaigns aim to promote unity and dialogue at a slow, but certain pace.

IV. Conclusion

This study aimed to analyze the Libyan transition following the end of the Qaddafi era. At the start of this essay is a brief background of post-revolutionary Libya.

The background traces the underlying forces impacting the Libyan transition that portray an apparent political vacuum, yet no visible power struggle.

The old apparatus collapsed during the 2011 political struggle leaving in its place a transitional government which has tried and failed to construct a permanent constitution and democratic elections.

The transitional government has displayed a lack of power, control/legitimacy, and accountability. The purpose of this background is to demonstrate the underlying political problems of the Libyan transition.

This essay also embarked on a comprehensive discussion on democratization, depicting the difficulties that have been faced by the Libyan state in its struggle to transition from autocracy to democracy.

The overall theoretical argument expounded in this project is that, the Libyan society and culture exhibit a strong aversion to the tenets of liberal democracy, irrespective of the problematic transition and the assumption that Libya has collapsed.

Therefore, while the Libyan revolution has failed to meet the transition timeline, the revolution still has potential to succeed due to the prevalent presence of certain modern structures such as civil society and identity formation.

While these arguments are jarringly crucial to the development of this study, of high importance is the question of Libyan security. The fall of the Jamahiriya created an economic, legitimacy and security gap.

The absence of security is the most glaring and pertinent problem in Libya. International observers and Libyan administration rightfully recognize the need to disarm rebel groups but have yet to implement any disarmament strategy.

As such, various rebel militias have grown numerically, and their members control much of the country; while elected government officials administer the state mostly at the mercy of these militias.

For democracy to survive, the security structure needs to undergo a complete reconstruction.

The first step towards democratization lies in uniting the country.

All political, tribal and military units (including the militias fighting extremists in Cyrenaica, the Sanussi family and loyalists, and the GNA government) need to work together to implement security initiatives.

Secondly, tribal political compositions should be abolished, and loyalty should be to nation not tribe. All of Libya should depend on democratic institutions for protection, justice and basic amenities. Only then will the state officially begin the democratization process.

The ultimate importance of a strong political structure (government) has long been identified by philosophers, like Hobbes (1651), who maintain that people form governments to rule them, and submission to the state through a social contract gives the state the opportunity to

foster its abilities and protect her from attacks.

Given that the Libyan road to democracy has been long and chaotic, perhaps the answer for lasting peace in Libya lies in a stable inclusive government only possible through liberal democracy.

The drive towards liberal democracy, as the preferred political system in Libya, was prompted by major social changes. The 2011 revolution was a result of a previously passive society‟s decision to change the course of their political future.

If one is to accept this premise, then it is only justifiable to conclude that, the Libyan society is on the course of socio-political rehabilitation.

Therefore, any intentional deterrence of political and civic discourse amounts to a conscious denial of the status quo to adapt to shifting conditions. Refusal to recognize democratization efforts will eventually demoralize societal efforts.


Clotilde Asangna – A researcher in History of Humanitarianism and Human Rights, History of Philosophy and Quantitative Social Research. Clotilde has published papers and opinion editorials on topics relating to the MENA region, Arab Spring, transatlantic relations, human rights and identity politics in “third” states.


Source: IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) – Volume 24, Issue 6.






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