By Emadeddin Badi

This paper is a comprehensive research into defining features of Libya’s security landscape & implications for attempts to reform it.


Executive Summary

Libya’s security sector has become virtually unrecognizable from what it was a decade ago owing to the transformations brought about since the 2011 revolution.

This evolution has implications for any attempt to usher in short-term and interim security arrangements – including brokering ceasefires or improving security provision and policing capabilities – as well as longer-term security sector reform (SSR) efforts.

This paper explores the impact of these transformations and their varying dimensions on security provision in the Libyan landscape. It highlights the implications for attempts to reform the country’s hybrid security sector and, more broadly, how its findings could inform SSR.

The paper draws on primary and secondary sources – including interviews conducted with Libyan security actors from 2019 to 2020 – to map and analyse distinctive characteristics of Libya’s security governance from the vantage point of SSR.

The first chapter recounts key historical developments that contributed to the emergence of various hybrid forms of security governance across the country.

The second chapter considers how embedded armed actors are within social structures and analyses their relationships with local communities, factoring in how these correlations affect the political economy of armed actors.

Using case studies mapping a non-exhaustive number of armed actors from a wide variety of locales, the chapter illustrates different patterns of hybridity and social embeddedness.

The third chapter sheds light on how hybridity and social embeddedness have affected the architecture of security governance locally – in turn, influencing the nature and shape of formal and informal oversight of armed actors.

The conclusion outlines the key implications of hybridity, social embeddedness, and the political economy of armed groups for short-term and interim security arrangements and SSR. The paper concludes with a list of recommendations on how to optimize efforts to tackle both areas.

Patterns of hybridity and armed group structure and cohesion

In the years following the revolution, social rifts that had come to the fore after 2011 bled into politics, exacerbating the hybridization of Libya’s security sector – a characteristic that persists.

Post-revolutionary elites were either powerless to halt the rise of informal security providers or actively sponsored this hybridization process by way of co-option or sponsorship.

Successive authorities have attempted to bring most of these local armed actors – regardless of the backdrop against which they were formed – under competing iterations of centralized command.

This bottom-up – and often state-funded – approach to hybridization led to the institutionalized fragmentation of armed groups into competing proto-state entities.

Most of the armed actors that emerged after the revolution gained, in one way or another, an affiliation with the state – a process that legitimized them while delegitimizing the higher authorities they were affiliated with.

The quality of security provided in different locales across Libya, however, was not solely dependent upon the competence or internal cohesion of these armed groups and their performance; it was also contingent upon the degree of social homogeneity or heterogeneity between them and others operating in adjacent locales.

Intra- or inter-communal conflicts that erupted against this backdrop served to reinforce armed group cohesion as actors often attempted to justify their engagement in conflict as a decision influenced by their desire to “protect” communities.

The continuous process of diffusion and devolution in the security sector, influenced by social factors, resulted in the hybridization of governance at large. Continuous hybridization is therefore one of the main features of the provision of peace and security.

A key finding from this chapter is that designing centrally orchestrated security apparatuses to reform the security sector will – at least in the short term – not be effective.

Community relations, social embeddedness, and patterns of mobilization

The social embeddedness of armed actors is fluid, evolving primarily based on their relationship with local communities.

The proximity of armed groups to their community, as well as the geographic territory they controlled, influenced various processes: the revenue-generation mechanisms they opted to operationalize; their practices as security providers; their ability to centralize military command; and their patterns of (de)mobilization.

Using theories of social identity and group behaviour, this chapter identifies the different patterns underpinning armed group dynamics.

Indeed, idiosyncratic features account for the diverging trajectories of armed actors following 2011, many of which transcend the dichotomy of revolutionary and anti-revolutionary factions.

While different typologies of hybridity across the country characterized security sector governance, local factors significantly affected how these typologies manifested themselves and subsequently evolved in different locales.

When applied to the Libyan landscape, these theories explain the emergence of “social covenants” in certain locales: instead of forging top-down “social contracts” with local communities in their areas of control, armed groups co-existed with varying degrees of social embeddedness.

Depending on the degree of embeddedness therein, their aspirations, and the broader socio-political and economic context, these armed actors secured either the cooperation or the compliance of local communities.

Using case studies mapping a non-exhaustive number of armed actors from a wide variety of locales, the chapter highlights disparities in social embeddedness and typologies of community relations across armed groups (despite their nominal alignment under broader recognizable coalitions).

It finds that socially embedded armed actors do not need to derive legitimacy through the provision of services or the sustenance of wartime security order; moreover, conflating social legitimacy with territorial control (through revenue-generating capabilities) can significantly flaw an assessment of an armed group’s interactions and proximity to local communities.

These findings have significant implications for efforts to introduce interim security arrangements in the short term, and to usher in SSR in the long term.

Oversight of informal security providers

Situating armed actors within the broader socio-demographic landscape not only accounts for hybridity in security sector governance and the political economy, but also provides a more holistic understanding of how to engage and oversee them.

Building on findings from previous sections, the chapter argues that the embeddedness of armed groups within their respective covenants can be used as a lever for oversight. Their communities and constituencies can be engaged to rein in armed actors, to constrain their actions, and to exercise oversight.

This approach can prove particularly instrumental within the context of a ceasefire and ensuing interim security arrangements; this period can essentially be regarded as a transitory phase when social wartime orders are converted into systems that can be built upon to usher in a more sustainable peace.

The chapter explores the role that community-level actors could play as part of oversight structures, as stabilizing vectors, as well as SSR enablers.

The hybridity that permeates Libya’s armed sector prevents the establishment of a clear-cut distinction between the local and the institutional; nevertheless, this section sheds light on the different blends of formal and informal patterns of security governance – and oversight – that have developed across the country.

This section also explores state mechanisms for security provision and oversight, and how they are complemented locally by the deployment of hybrid armed actors; social factors influence the probability of these actors committing abuses against the local population.

These findings are extrapolated through an exploration of local security and policing architectures, as well as patterns of oversight in eastern Libya, the Fezzan, Misrata, and Tripoli. A key trend highlighted in this section is the influence of ideology on security provision and oversight.

The case of the Salafi-Madkhali security providers illustrates the challenges of overseeing groups that derive their legitimacy from outside communal lines.

Implications for SSR in Libya and beyond

The hybrid nature of the security sector makes the typical dichotomies of SSR practices – such as state versus non-state and formal versus informal – impractical in reality as the delimitations between these dimensions have collapsed overtime.

As a result, focusing solely on strengthening formal institutional structures and practices of security and justice provision may lead to cosmetic changes in security sector governance as actors selectively adopt measures and narratives that strengthen their legitimacy and disguise this manoeuvre as SSR.

In addition, the overreaching of armed actors into the economic sphere implies that a security-centric or purely institutional conceptualization of SSR processes, which distances the process from wider socio-economic and political factors, will be inadequate by design.

Consequently, a security-centric process of integration that does not factor in armed actors’ alternative revenue-generation mechanisms may result in the further institutionalization of corruption at the state level as armed actors integrate while retaining their revenue streams.

At a more granular level, the functionality of security sector governance, as well as the quality of human security, is largely predicated on the type of relationship that exists between formal forces and institutions (such as security sector directorates) and quasi-official or informal groups (such as local armed actors).

This relationship is not only a key consideration for macro-level SSR programming, but also of paramount importance to interim security arrangements and targeted SSR efforts.

The chapter extrapolates the implications of social embeddedness, the political economy of armed groups, and patterns of local oversight to develop recommendations to support SSR efforts in Libya’s hybrid security sector, while informing SSR doctrine as a whole.

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Emadeddin Badi is an independent researcher that specializes in governance, post-conflict stabilization, security sector governance and peacebuilding. With over 8 years of experience, Emad regularly provides consultancy to international organizations, agencies and civil society organizations on ways to enhance the efficiency of their development programming and activities through capacity building, research and strategic planning. Emad has conducted regular field research in North Africa, primarily on avenues for reform of Libya’s security institutions, armed violence, war economies, hybrid security and cross-border crime. He currently works as an advisor for the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF) for Libya and a Senior Analyst for the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime. He is also a non-resident Senior Fellow with the Middle East Program at the Atlantic Council, where he focuses primarily on the geopolitical dimensions of the Libyan conflict. Previously, he was a nonresident scholar at the Counterterrorism and Extremism Program at the Middle East Institute as well as resident Policy Leader Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.






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