This brief sets out a new agenda for European support for Libya’s transition, starting with the idea that the current focus on the training of the Libyan armed forces should be broadened.
Excluding loyalists and growing authoritarianism
Libya’s civil war has left scars that few among the victors care to heal. The cities and towns of Libya that supported Gaddafi have been marginalised legally and politically when not violently.
Even more disturbing, this treatment has been applied to any individual or group considered to have been loyal to the old regime, be it because of service in the government or tribal kinship.
Marginalisation of these so-called loyalists has worked in several ways.
First, according to some estimates, almost one million Libyans have fled to neighbouring countries, especially Tunisia and Egypt, for fear of retribution.
Second, individuals who had been sometimes even loosely associated with the Gaddafi regime in the early years have since lost their jobs as government officials or their political positions, previously under the no-longer-functioning Integrity Commission, and now as a result of the commission working under the Political Isolation Law (PIL), which was approved by the GNC under the physical threat of the militias on 5 May 2013.
This law alone caused the resignation of the then Speaker of the GNC (and de-facto head of state) Mohammed Magarief and the political marginalisation of Mahmoud Jibril, the head of Libya’s largest political party, the National Forces Alliance.
According to the Human Rights and Democracy report issued by HM Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “The Political Isolation Law, if implemented to its fullest extent, could effectively lead to 10,000 – 20,000 civil servants, former Ambassadors and members of the judiciary connected to the Gaddafi regime, being prevented from participating fully in political life”.
A verdict from the Libyan Supreme Court on the PIL is pending, although it is not clear whether it will come. Revoking the PIL (or at least referring its implementation to the courts on a case-by-case basis) is a strictly political matter that may be solved either by the new parliament or by the expected new constitution.
Meanwhile, the GNC approved the law on transitional justice on 8 December 2013, which applies to all victims, both the revolutionaries and those who suffered retaliations after the revolution. According to the law, the Truth Finding Commission should ascertain the facts; then the judiciary would proceed with trials; and finally the victims would be compensated.
Ultimately, though, the effectiveness of the transitional justice law relies on the functioning of the judiciary, which is severely jeopardised by the threats to judges and lawyers alike. Some courts have been closed for up to a year for this reason.
It is in this environment of lawlessness that political assassinations can go unpunished. In eastern Libya alone, the murders of 50 security, military, judicial, and civil society leaders were carried out in February 2014 alone.
But violence is not the only component of this rising authoritarianism. Decree 5/2014, issued by the GNC, forbids the activities of any media outlet that is deemed “hostile to the February 17 revolution and whose purpose is the destabilisation of the country or the creation of divisions among Libyans.”
Resolution 13/2014, approved on 24 January, discontinued scholarships for students studying abroad and salaries and bonuses for Libyan employees for “taking part in activities inimical to the February 17 revolution”.
Both definitions leave wide margins of discretion to decision-makers applying the law.
The unsteady rise of local governments
During the revolution and the civil war, local councils (whether civilian or military) played a crucial role in co-ordinating forces at the local level and defending communities.
Many of these councils continue to operate today with a peculiar intertwining of the political and military dimensions. Only some of the over 100 municipal councils are elected: elections were held in 17 of them during the fall of 2013, and a new wave of elections took place between April and May 2014, including in Benghazi and Tripoli.
The remaining councils were either self-appointed by revolutionaries or elected outside of national legislation in 2012. Most of the existing municipalities lack the capacity to handle even basic services, not to mention to carry out urban planning.
Their budget should be assigned by the national government, but this is proceeding very slowly. Despite this confusion, many Libyans see local councils as the only credible and legitimate state institution, and therefore some experts advocate a policy of decentralisation of power.
While decentralisation is particularly important in restarting public services and increasing popular participation in the transition, the existence of a strong central government is still key to guaranteeing the rule of law and equal rights.
The impending economic disaster
Starting from the summer of 2013, a combination of labour strikes and occupations by militias and other armed groups have stopped production at several oil facilities in all corners of Libya.
Production fell from 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) in early 2013 to 150,000 bpd at the time of publication. The blockade of Libya’s oil fields has had disastrous effects on its economy and public finances. Few other economies in the world are so dependent on oil and gas, which, in Libya, amounts to 65 percent of its GDP, 96 percent of the exports, and 98 percent of government revenues.
As in other rentier states, Libyan citizens pay little or no taxes and rely on a vast system of government subsidies on essential goods to make ends meet.
These amounted to 11 percent of GDP in 2013.21 Unsurprisingly, the World Bank estimated a drop in GDP by 9.4 percent in 2013, with a projected drop of 9.7 percent in 2014. Economic scenarios vary enormously, based on whether production restarts or not: GDP could grow by 25 percent if energy output goes back to normal or shrink by as much as 15-20 percent if the blockade continues.
As a result, public finances are being shored up using the reserves of the Central Bank. While large, these are neither all liquid nor infinite: they were estimated at $122 billion in 2013, but they are projected to drop to $100 billion in 2014 and to $82 billion in 2015 if current levels of high expenditure and low revenue continue.
Actors on the ground seem to have a different perception. The head of the reserves at Libya’s Central Bank, Musbah Alkari, recently stated that, at current levels, foreign currency reserves could guarantee the functioning of the Libyan state for another three years.
If one also adds the roughly $50 billion of reserves held by the sovereign fund of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), it seems that policymakers and militia leaders have no incentive whatsoever to get their house in order – any time soon at least.
Reliance on reserves rather than on oil and gas fields could even be seen as an asset for the central government in its fight against local power centres, if the central government was not the by-product of some of these power centres.
This is of course a very short-term perspective. Nevertheless, it must be kept in mind when trying to understand the calculations of Libya’s main actors. In the short term, the economic crisis is both an effect and an accelerator of the security and political crisis: shrinking resources tend to create more demand in which resources are often seized through violent means.
The oil blockade has also increased the sense of insecurity among the population: for many months now, rumours of the imminent end of gasoline supplies have proliferated, causing long queues at gas stations with all the destabilising effects that this yields.
In the long term, therefore, the Libyan economy must diversify to limit the rentier state and put an end to the blackmail of rival groups blocking oil fields.
Can national dialogue be part of the answer?
Over the course of several months, Libya had more than one national dialogue in place at the same time.
With Libyan, UN, and international endorsement of an independent National Dialogue Preparatory Commission headed by Fadel Lamen, however, Libyans now have a single body, which is widely recognised, tasked with activating the longawaited national dialogue process.
This is despite the formal existence of a national dialogue within the GNC and several ad-hoc meetings between power brokers that are labelled as “national dialogue” or “reconciliation”.
Even so, Lamen’s commission is struggling to have its budget approved by the GNC. The role of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in the dialogue could help, both materially and in applying some lessons learned from Yemen’s experience, which was also UN-supported.
In fact, discussion is underway for the creation of an international fund managed by the UN to which donor countries could contribute. After a slow start in January 2014, the preparatory commission is currently engaged in a listening tour in many cities and villages far from Tripoli.
The work of this preparatory commission should lead to the creation by late May 2014 of a 300-member National Dialogue commission, which will be composed of elected individuals, individuals nominated by the organisations they belong to (political parties as well as militias, for instance), and individuals appointed by the preparatory commission itself, particularly with regards to experts and independents.
The National Dialogue commission intends to build consensus around a National Charter, which may play the same role as the preamble of a constitution, setting out the main elements of Libya’s new identity. After this first phase, the National Dialogue commission will deal with specific issues, such as security, justice, reconciliation, and the distribution of wealth.
The process will not entail negotiations or votes but rather approval by consensus. The requisite for joining the consultation led by the preparatory commission is Libyan citizenship. However, this concept is not as universal as it may seem at first glance.
Many members of the Tebu minority had their citizenship withdrawn during the Gaddafi years, and many other Libyans who fled Libya after the revolution and the ensuing civil war, and who cannot return for security reasons, are being disenfranchised.
Militias will be allowed to participate in the dialogue, provided they leave their weapons at the door. How far outside the door they will be left, however, will be a matter of goodwill, given the absence of a depoliticised security force. While the initial goal was to agree on the National Charter by April 2014, it is now evident that the process will take longer.
To be fair, even more than with the constitution, time is not of the essence here. A speedy but non-consensual process would leave all the major problems of Libya where they stand today.
Mattia Toaldo is a Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations where he works on Libya, the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict and on the European policy in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2011-2013 he was a fellow at the Institute for the Americas in London and a postdoctoral fellow at the British School in Rome and for the Society for Libyan studies where his work focused on Western reactions to the Arab uprisings.