By Emadeddin Badi
In contemporary Libya, a panoply of state and non-state actors forms an unconventional security apparatus.
The event prompted Gaddafi to marry two complementary strategies: weakening Libya’s institutional apparatus and displacing the monopoly on violence from the formal military apparatus to himself.
To that end, Gaddafi exploited Libya’s rentier economy to establish a clientelist approach, which enabled him to confine real power to a limited number of security apparatuses that were loyal to him.
This unique model of informalization forced key “Weberian” notions of statehood—like the monopoly over the use of force—to manifest themselves not in Libya’s institutions, but in Gaddafi himself.
Gaddafi also sought legitimacy by emphasizing the modest social backgrounds of those who had partaken in his revolution, including other members of the RCC.
This narrative was weaponized to recruit members of “secondary tribes,” including Gaddafi’s own, into the formal and informal security apparatus. Endowing select tribes with preferential treatment to secure legitimacy left security increasingly structured along tribal lines.
When Gaddafi felt dissent spreading after the coup against him in 1975, he purged the Libyan armed forces once again, replacing officers with trusted members of his own tribe and its allies from Sirte—thereby reviving tribalism for his own ends.
In the decades that followed, the Gaddafi regime created multiple parallel security structures such as the Revolutionary Guards, the Security Brigades, and the People’s Militia—all testaments to the personalized hybrid security architecture that Gaddafi had built.
These were staffed to varying degrees with members of Gaddafi’s tribe and its allies, such as the Megerha and the Werfalla. Many of the formal security units also experienced a hybridization as Gaddafi installed his family members to run them.
In turn, under a guise of institutional legitimacy, Gaddafi armed local constituencies whose loyalty he felt he could secure. As Raineri outlines, these security units included “the Intelligence Bureau of the Leader, created with the help of the East German STASI and co-ordinated by the Colonel’s son-in-law; the elite 32nd brigade of the regular army, led by Gaddafi’s son, Khamis,” among other informal apparatuses.
A virtually undocumented phenomenon was the regime’s policy of arming constituencies it deemed loyal to Gaddafi, even without them ever being enrolled in any of the formal or parallel security structures that the regime had established.
The personalized and hybridized security architecture of Gaddafi’s regime is perhaps best illustrated by its justice sector. During the Gaddafi era, the Ministry of Justice—or the Secretariat for Justice and Public Security (SJPS), as it was named in 1977—was one of the primary ministries in the executive branch of government, the General People’s Committee.
The SJPS effectively combined the powers of a Ministry of Interior and a Ministry of Justice into one body. In 1993, a year after the UN sanctioned the Gaddafi regime because of its suspected involvement in the Lockerbie Bombing, the SJPS was granted expanded security oversight and judicial powers.
It effectually became an armed wing of the state that possessed the veil of a judiciary institution, rendering the very notion of justice and accountability meaningless. The SJPS was one of the primary institutions used by the regime to enforce its own version of hybrid security, informally reporting on the activities of those considered opponents of Gaddafi both inside and outside Libya.
Throughout Gaddafi’s rule, it was given carte blanche to take all measures necessary to ensure these threats were neutralized, including regime-orchestrated assassinations overseas.
Another judicial structure whose operations were constantly carried out by Gaddafi’s hybrid securitized apparatus was the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), which was established in 1992 after the regime’s law No. 5 created a People’s Prosecutor with the duties and authorities of an Attorney General.
Five years later, in 1997, decree No. 157 subordinated the judicial authorities, including the AGO, to the General People’s Committee for Justice—a structure loyal to Gaddafi. In theory, the AGO was responsible for domestic public-prosecution activities and the implementation of provisions from the penal code.
In practice, the same law granted the General People’s Committee for Justice the purview of staffing the AGO with some of its members. As such, Gaddafi’s decision to reform the AGO diluted its institutional powers. Despite its nominal autonomy, the AGO could still be functionally controlled from the top down.
The long-term impact of this reform was to weaken the domestic justice sector, as the AGO was de facto prevented from exercising its full legal mandate. The prosecution of security-service personnel was effectively barred, as the Attorney General could never use his authority to cancel immunity and prosecute Gaddafi officials.
As the bulwark of the Gaddafi regime’s security apparatus, his most loyal units were therefore allowed to operate with total impunity. Laws were designed to be overridden to consolidate Gaddafi’s rule and enable his hybridized apparatus.
Come 2011, Gaddafi had already left a long trail of grievances in his wake, both inside and outside of Libya. These sparked the protests that ended in his downfall. Many of his institutions—including the AGO, although structurally intact—were crippled by the decades-long legacy of structural weakening that the regime had orchestrated.
Gaddafi’s consistent re-engineering of the security sector ensured that the legacy of hybridity—informal hierarchies overlapping, contending with, or permeating formal ones—would outlive him.
The Gaddafi regime’s inability to address the question of judicial, political, and economic reform galvanized Libyans to follow in their Tunisian and Egyptian neighbors’ footsteps and revolt.
Several members of “Gaddafi’s elite” defected, including the Ministers of Justice, Interior, Foreign Affairs, the head of the National Oil Corporation (NOC), the UN ambassador, the Intelligence chief, and several soldiers and army officers.
After witnessing the regime’s brutal reaction to these peaceful protests, they gathered under the Interim National Transitional Council (NTC). Ultimately, it was at the level of the military and within the security sector that Gaddafi’s state-engineered hybridity proved to be his own undoing.
The regime had significantly weakened formal military units as a coup-proofing measure. In 2011, when Gaddafi needed the military most, the regime’s formal security apparatus lacked the ability to function as a cohesive force. Only the parallel and more informalized structures, which were bound by loyalty to Gaddafi, remained cohesive and mobilized on his behalf.
Other soldiers and units either deserted or defected—a process dictated by numerous factors including geography, group leadership, and rationality.
In turn, Gaddafi’s fall paved the way for further fragmentation of the already hybridized security apparatus he had built. What remained of his security sector’s institutional cohesion was lost, as Gaddafi had deliberately hierarchized a system wherein he was the only anchor of stability.
More broadly, the diverging patterns that different regime-associated groups took in the aftermath of the revolution illustrate that there was never truly a single coercive security apparatus. Instead, these groups were the manifestations of fragmented political institutions and social forces.
Concomitant with the fragmentation, defection, desertion, and mobilization of these groups under Gaddafi was the rise of the revolutionaries (or thuwaar).
Revolutionary brigades’ mobilization and subsequent organization was largely local in nature, and their ethos was primarily centred around overthrowing Gaddafi and his regime.
The subsequent fault lines of the revolution were often linked to pre-existing divisions in communities and between different towns and cities. Only the parallel military structures, whose cohesion was contingent upon loyalty to Gaddafi, mobilized on his behalf.
Other actors’ loyalties, including those of the revolutionaries, were influenced by their respective stance and status under Gaddafi and by the positioning of surrounding actors and communities.
The revolution transformed power dynamics at the local level. Post–2011, tribes and social groups associated with the regime were marginalized, and this informal personalized security apparatus was upended.
The formal apparatus— the Libyan army under Gaddafi—ceased to exist, and pre–Gaddafi-era units that had defected were now forced to co-exist with revolutionary brigades that shared an antagonism toward them.
The competition over revolutionary and de facto legitimacy that ensued, both between and within the revolutionaries and the Gaddafi-era structures, toxified Libyan politics and paved the way for the emergence of a new form of security-sector hybridity post–2011.
This neohybridity was no longer a top-down process designed to enforce a personalized monopoly on violence, but rather a bottom-up, organic condition that further entrenched pre-existing forms of hybridity in the aftermath of the revolution.
Against this backdrop, the NTC, which had shunned Western states’ timid proposals for post–intervention support, pursued very basic disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs. It ultimately deputized the armed groups that had emerged from the revolution to provide much needed security.
While some revolutionaries were incorporated into the vestiges of Gaddafi’s security structures, others were either unwilling to join these structures or refused to be commandeered by defecting Gaddafi-era military figures whom they distrusted.
As a stopgap measure, most revolutionary groups formed during the uprising or shortly after it ended were folded into new umbrella security structures. While in theory these structures augmented the army and the police, they actually often contended with them, ironically emulating the role that Gaddafi’s parallel apparatuses played before them.
These new structures comprised, among others, the Supreme Security Committees (SSC) in 2011 and the Libya Shield Force (LSF) in 2012. Far from being cohesive forces, both were rife with division.
In particular, the LSF was only successful in amalgamating forces from several cities due to their ideological alignment against Gaddafi and what they perceived to be the remnants of his regime in the security sector and the political arena.
The impetus to reform the security sector was hindered by the desire of hardline revolutionary currents to purge the new governance and security structures and sideline those they associated with the old regime, including early and late defectors.
Transitional authorities, who had relied on the revolutionaries’ military performance against Gaddafi to garner international legitimacy, sanctioned the silencing of former regime supporters by law, and an “integrity commission” vetted those running for elections in 2012.
In May 2013, the General National Congress (then the Libyan parliament) was also forced to pass the “Political Isolation Law.” This law barred officials who had links with the Gaddafi regime—including many leading technocrats who had tenuous associations with it—from holding public office.
This law was passed at gunpoint, as revolutionaries who had allied with Islamist-leaning politicians within the GNC besieged the ministries of justice and foreign affairs.
Emadeddin Badi is a Libyan independent consultant and scholar who specializes in governance, postconflict stabilization, hybrid security structures and peacebuilding. He is currently a Senior Analyst at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and an Advisor at the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF). He is also a non-resident Senior Fellow with the Middle East Program at the Atlantic Council.
Source: the brown journal of world affairs