Emad Badi explains why Gaddafi’s Libya hasn’t completely disappeared, and Arturo Vaverlli explains the U.S. & Europe should unify their efforts to address Libya’s challenges.
10 Years Since: Gaddafi’s Libya hasn’t disappeared
The year of 2011 was the day that Colonel Muammar Gadaffi’s Libya came to an end but the institutional contours of his Jamahiriya – “State of the Masses” – were never overhauled by the country’s political elite after his demise.
The wilfully protracted delay of much-needed reforms that could have enabled a new chapter for the country, and that NATO failed to plan for and implmement, left Libya’s nascent democracy vulnerable to foreign interventionism.
Self-serving venal politicians and ideologically motivated armed groups proved to be ideal proxies, while the palpable gradual decay of the rules-based liberal order proved a boon to states that had differing visions of post-revolutionary Libya.
These setbacks allowed the figurehead of the counter-revolutionaries to emerge onto the scene: with the military, economic and political support of the external powers, General Khalifa Hafter has sought to advance his own agenda.
Ironically, Haftar’s ascent is built on bolstering the maladjusted facets of Gaddafi’s totalitarian rule that led to the latter’s downfall – particularly the zero-sum impulse to eradicate political opponents and critics, as well as the blundering approach to hereditary succession.
His gambit to monopolize control over Libya is failing because, much like Gaddafi, he is forcing his opponents – Islamists and non-Islamists alike – into make-shift alliances.
Attempting to graft a democratic system onto the institutions that survived him is the core reason why today’s Libya is the theatre of a battle that pit Haftar’s caricature of Gadaffi’s Jamahiriya against a kleptocracy.
Yet, this domestic paradox has been gradually overshadowed by extraneous dynamics.
The proxy powers that exploited Libyans’ tussle to define the shape of their country’s post-revolutionary landscape have, a decade later, become key actors themselves.
In assuming the role of protagonists in a conflict that was never their own, they are now effectively ensuring the core root of Libya’s strife remains unaddressed.
Emad Badi, Global Initiative
The U.S. & Europe must work together in Libya
Since the beginning of the Libyan crisis external actors have always had a decisive influence: NATO and Arab countries had a paramount role when they started supporting revolutionaries in 2011, and foreign actors continued to be extremely influential, particularly when their preferencs for the groups and actors that should rule the “new Libya” emerged and crystalized.
This resulted in competing agendas on the ground, a framework within which each external power held a divergent vision for Libya’s future.
Polarization between secular forces and the so-called Islamists did not simply originate in Libya, but is also a product of the regional conflict between Turkey and Qatar on the one side, and the UAE and Egypt on the other.
Therefore, external forces certainly have and will continue to have far-reaching influence over the crisis.
The political vacuum created by the retreat of the U.S., the reluctant hegemon in the MENA arena – which was markedly exemplified by former U.S. President Barack Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy – has allowed regional actors, as well as Russia and Europe to have a renewed role.
As a result, Libya has become a theatre for proxy war.
It is unlikely that they will simply withdraw, even in the event of such requests from the UN or if the country establishes a new government of national unity.
Europe also has a responsibility: with too little conviction, the European Union accompanied the initial state building phase in Libya in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising, but it also became divided over the scope, scale and direction of the support that should be provided to Libya’s new leadership and political class.
The product was a zero-sum game in which there were no winners, which has had costs and consequences for Italy and France in particular, the two key and most influential European countries engaged in Libya.
To truly help the Libyans in this difficult and extended transitional phase, and to address the country’s marginalization, Europeans and Americans should develop a coordinated and unified response to the country’s challenges and the faultlines within the political and security landscape.
The emphasis on multilateralism by the new U.S. administration and a “more geopolitical” Europe could take a more hands-on approach to blocking and isolating domestic and international spoilers, refocusing the political track onto common interests and objectives, including support for a genuine security sector reform strategy and effort. It is a painstaking and long-term process, but it is the only viable option.
Arturo Varvelli, European Council on Foreign Relations, ECFR
CRISIS RESPONSE COUNCIL