By Emadeddin Badi
In contemporary Libya, a panoply of state and non-state actors forms an unconventional security apparatus.
An Internationally Sustained Fragmentation
The greed of Libya’s political class also exacerbated the rifts within the security sector, as politicians opportunistically diverted state resources to sponsor the factions that would provide them political leverage.
Their use of armed groups for political gain institutionalized violence as a political tool in Libya, in turn underpinning the neo-hybridity that emerged post–2011 through increased localism.
In addition to the regime-era and revolutionary camp divide, other fault lines emerged, themselves along generational, regional, and ideological lines. Yet, as is observed by American scholar Frederic Wehrey, “elements of all these dimensions are at play, but none of them alone has sufficient explanatory power.
At its core, Libya’s violence is an intensely local affair, stemming from deeply entrenched patronage networks battling for economic resources and political power in a state afflicted by a gaping institutional vacuum and the absence of a central arbiter with a preponderance of force.”
The confluence of these factors led to the bifurcation of state institutions in 2014, as Libya was gripped by a civil war that pitted two loose coalitions against each other.
While the neo-hybridity that emerged post–2011 was a local reality, it was one that was instrumentalized since inception by foreign powers and sustained by their continuous interference.
The gradual globalization of Libya’s civil war, as seen today, is anchored in unilateral dynamics of interventionism that the multilateral NATO intervention had obfuscated. These proxy dynamics have, since then, become part and parcel of the new hybridity that emerged post–2011.
Indeed, the NATO intervention provided a distraction from the direct interventionism of several states that saw in the Arab Spring, and the Libyan revolution in particular, an opportunity to shape a new regional order.
This impulse primarily manifested itself in 2011 as rival interventions by Qatar and the U.A.E., which helped establish, arm, and train revolutionary groups through friendly proxies.
Post–revolution, these networks of politicians and armed groups retained a degree of independence from the central government. In fact, while the central government’s policy of deputizing armed groups was a symptom of an inability to enact reform, it was also symptomatic of foreign states’ intentional, yet clumsy jockeying over the fate of Libya’s transition.
The geopolitical rivalry between Qatar and the U.A.E. drove their Libyan allies into a zero-sum pursuit of authority and wealth. This rivalry destroyed the integrity and legitimacy of Libya’s transitional authorities and plunged the country into a civil war that spawned parallel governments and institutions in 2014.
The entrenchment of neo-hybridity in Libya’s security sector became a function of wider geopolitical interference, a trend that gradually encompassed more foreign powers.
Libya, a predominantly Arab Sunni state which straddles the Maghreb, the Middle East, the Sahel, southern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Mediterranean, falls at the intersection of multiple states’ regional policymaking interests.
Its vast territory and militia-centric landscape provided the perfect terrain for interfering directly or via proxy actors, while maintaining risk avoidance, cost efficiency, and deniability.
In that sense, the neo-hybridity characterizing Libya’s post–2011 security sector contributed to the fracturing of the country, a process that was perpetuated by foreign interference. The developments that ensued are a testament to the fact that neo-hybridity is here to stay.
While several global and regional powers, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Italy, initially backed a political dialogue that could bridge divides in Libya, the ripple effects from the so-called “migration crisis” and the need to address the Islamic State’s 2015 establishment of a Caliphate in Libya effectively reversed this commitment.
Most of these states adopted more expedient policies, centered around direct and short-term cooperation with local armed groups, empowering them into semi-formality while turning a blind eye to their criminal tendencies.
These policies undermined the Government of National Accord (GNA), the consensus authority that the states backed in December 2015.
If the previous transitional authorities had deputized security provision to armed actors, then the GNA completely relinquished this function to sub-state armed actors that were willing to align under its authority.
The Libyan state’s centralized economy abandoned its modest attempts to assert control over territory beyond Tripoli, Libya’s capital, and allied with a cartel of criminal militias—militias that leveraged their affiliation with the GNA to infiltrate the state.
One of the more acute manifestations of foreign interventionism in Libya, and a more advanced form of neo-hybridity, is the development of the coalition known as the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), led by General Khalifa Haftar.
Haftar was a defecting Gaddafi-era military figure that attempted, but failed, to stage a coup against the Libyan parliament in February 2014. Shortly after this failed power grab, Haftar found another raison d’être in the form of a purported counterterrorism operation he launched in May 2014 in Eastern Libya.
The two events, which preceded parliamentary elections staged later that same year, triggered a ripple effect that eventually sparked Libya’s second bout of internationalized civil war.
While Haftar leveraged local Libyan grievances that stemmed from the rise of jihadism in Eastern Libya, his ability to galvanize multiple factions under his banner was primarily due to the extensive foreign support he received.
Indeed, his authoritarian project found resonance—albeit for different geostrategic reasons—within Egypt, the U.A.E., France, and Russia, all of which provided him with the technology, finances, airpower, manpower, and political sponsorship to gradually consolidate control over Libya’s East and, later, its South.
These dynamics entrenched Haftar’s LAAF as a parallel armed structure, despite Haftar’s relentless attempts to undermine Libya’s transition. His foreign military support allowed him to develop a disproportionate coercive capacity.
He was aided by tribal alliances and political backing, which allowed him to exploit parliamentarians and divert resources across communities and businesses.
In that sense, the development of the LAAF and its ability to territorially expand toward Eastern and Southern Libya has, by and large, happened at the expense of Libya’s path toward democratic transition.
Still, the LAAF became increasingly dependent on foreign influence to realize Haftar’s goal of consolidating control over the entirety of the Libyan territory.
Paradoxically, foreign dependency became the lynchpin to his coalition’s cohesion and displaced the locus of control over the LAAF from his own hands to those of his foreign backers.
Nowhere was this clearer than in Libya’s third bout of internationalized “civil” war, which erupted as a result of Haftar’s Emirati-backed offensive on the GNA in Tripoli in April 2019.
The conflict led to the mobilization of former thuwaar, demobilized since 2011, alongside more opportunistic and criminal militias, against Haftar’s LAAF and the prospect of Libya’s return to authoritarianism.
The drawbacks of neo-hybridity were on full display as the conflict gradually drew in more and more states that increasingly bypassed their local proxies to intervene directly, ushering in a vicious cycle of brinkmanship and escalation.
Media coverage is rife with parallels between Haftar and Gaddafi, but the hybridity characterizing the coalition of the former makes the two figures incomparable.
Gaddafi’s hybrid security architecture was built around his own persona and sustained through patronage networks, oil revenues, and a process of social engineering.
The neo-hybridity characterizing the LAAF, while possessing some characteristics of the former, places Haftar as a mere conduit for the foreign support sustaining his fragmented coalition’s cohesion.
While Gaddafi created for himself a monopoly over the use of force using a hybrid security apparatus, the neo-hybridity characterizing the security sector of post–2011 has since led to a downwards devolution of power to local actors leading semi-formal brigades.
Over time, this fragmented landscape gave way to external influence—an uncomfortable status quo sustained from outside Libya by states on whom Libyan intermediaries grew more dependent.
Overall, the extent to which Gaddafi-era policies institutionalized hybridity in Libya’s security landscape goes underappreciated, as such policies were foundational in creating today’s hybridized security structure in Libya.
The hybridity that existed during the Gaddafi era shaped the patterns of conflict that emerged in 2011, in turn paving the way for ensuing battles over revolutionary legitimacy. The legacies of the Gaddafi era, both institutional and social, are intimately linked with Libya’s post–2011 security governance ills.
Those legacies influenced local actors’ alignments in 2011, policies adopted by Libya’s transitional authorities post–revolution, and the patterns of conflict seen thereafter.
Yet, while the informalization and hybridization of Libya’s security sector over the course of Gaddafi’s decades-long rule explains some of the structural deficiencies of Libya’s post–2011 security governance, the acute hybridization witnessed post–2011 cannot solely be elucidated on domestic grounds.
Indeed, the half-hearted policy efforts of Libya’s transitional authorities to reform the security sector were, in many ways, symptomatic of proxy dynamics that constrained Libya’s sovereignty.
In practice, this transformed hybridity from an informal to a formal affair. Foreign interventionism not only created layered barriers to institutional reform, it also exacerbated the ideological divides within Libya’s post–revolutionary fragmented landscape.
This catalyzed the country’s relapse into civil war in 2014, a conflict which led to the bifurcation of most of its sovereign institutions. Overall, the state-engineered hybridity that enabled Gaddafi to monopolize violence was irreversibly transformed post–2011.
The neo-hybridity that emerged accommodated and sustained local fragmentation as well as geopolitical rivalries, thus gradually constraining Libyan sovereignty, while local actors grew more and more dependent on foreign patrons.
This lopsided dynamic paved the way for another internationalized war in 2019, one which saw Libya’s sovereignty gradually diluted and its integrity threatened by foreign states that belligerently intervened on its territory. Old and new iterations of hybridized security governance have relevance beyond Libya.
Moreover, understanding linkages between hybridity and neohybridity, as well as their implications, is particularly important within the context of security sector reform (SSR) programming.
While hybridity is often a top-down state-engineered process designed to sustain a personalized monopoly on violence, neo-hybridity is a bottom-up affair, subject to localism and social fragmentation.
Unlike its antecedent, neo-hybridity is also a byproduct of some degree of foreign interventionism, and its manifestations are often exacerbated by geopolitical rivalries. In locales where neo-hybridity is the new norm, SSR is no longer just a domestic political affair—it is also a geopolitical one.
As such, the only way to constructively approach SSR in contexts such as Libya’s is by acknowledging the multipolarity characterizing their neo-hybrid security architecture and the centrality of foreign actors, in addition to local ones, to these endeavors.
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