Federica Saini Fasanotti
“The history of Libyan politics today is one of a population desperate to rid itself of a parasitic nouveau elite class before they hollow out the country through corruption and reshape Libyan society in their own grotesquely venal image”.
Tarek Megerisi’s words are a stab in the chest for anyone who loves Libya. They are all the more painful because they are true, down to the last word.
When we look at the great North African country, so close to Italy’s shores, we are confronted with an increasingly divided population — albeit united in common despair — counterbalanced by its political class: uniform in its unpreparedness and, at this point, clearly united in holding onto power as long as possible and stripping to the bone a country that is now edging on the brink of collapse.
It doesn’t matter if nearly three million citizens, who registered for last year’s national elections, demonstrated a real wish for reform, just as it doesn’t matter that Libyans struggle to receive wages, electricity, water, and gasoline — basic goods that should be a given in a country ran by a regular political class.
All of this, however, is secondary for the Government of National Unity (GNU) and its Prime Minister, Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibah, for Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aguilah Saleh (representing a parliament that has long expired and decided to self-regenerate to the bitter end), for his field marshal Khalifa Haftar (who is laying the groundwork for his children, following in Gaddafi’s footsteps whilst severely lacking in his charisma and political prowess), and, finally, for the former Government of National Accord (GNA)’s Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, who has spent the last decade creating a credible political depth for himself only to side with Saleh and Haftar, who had been fighting for the siege on the capital since April 2019.
Libyan citizens are faced with a political class that is absolutely not up to the task assigned by the international community, eight years after the last democratic elections. This scenario presents a debacle across the board that screams for revenge.
Local clutches and international gamblers
Two blocs in particular have been taking advantage of this situation: the so-called international actors and local armed militias.
As Emaddedin Badi acutely finds, “The latter’s whims are, now more than ever, the main determinant for the trajectory of the country’s democratic transition. The disproportionate political clout armed group leaders have garnered will have far-reaching effects for Libya, as they are now poised to retain this newfound influence in the long run”.
Militia leaders have indeed adapted extraordinarily well to contingent situations, exploiting them in order to benefit the most.
In fact, they have now become the main interlocutors for mediocre and corrupt politicians who absolutely need their support in order to cling to their seats, having failed to democratically gain the support of the Libyan people.
What emerges, therefore, is an authority derived by arms and money, as well as by foreign powers, instead of by results that are functional to the welfare of their citizens.
The issue of foreign countries meddling in local and national dynamics in Libya has grown into a chronic plague now, caused by several factors, first and foremost the fragility of successive governments over the years and their total lack of strategic vision.
In this scenario, the highest bidder takes it all, even if they play against the overall good of the citizens. A plethora of foreigners have often met over the past decade hoping for a diplomatic resolution. Nonetheless, they seem to continue postponing it, often through armed operations as demonstrated by the French, Russians, Egyptians and, of course, the Turks.
“Once again, the situation developed on the Libyan ground leaves no doubt about the interference in Libyan domestic affairs of a plethora of foreign actors, each pursuing its own parochial interests rather than those of Libya and of the entire region”, holds Karim Mezran.
Amid this international political game, Italy seems to have preferred to stay on the sidelines, convinced it would be the only diplomatic solution and therefore failing to realize that, on the contrary, the solution has always been — first and foremost — a military one.
The brain (and investment) drain
Today’s Libya, over ten years after the revolution, is a country with great human potential, infinite natural resources, and rich in fossil water — as Malak Altaeb elucidates — yet exhausted, demotivated, and impoverished by political infighting.
Its leadership is also poor as a substantial portion of the nation’s best brains have fled abroad to the US, Canada, Britain, Italy, and Qatar, to name a few.
People only return to Libya to meet relatives or close some business deals, but rarely to stay. Those who, on the other hand, have chosen the harder path of remaining in Libya now find themselves disappointed and tired of fighting without a clear goal.
To add fuel to the fire, investments have been rare, unsystematic, and insufficient. The economy is in tatters because of the 2014 and 2019 civil wars.
Anas el Gomati writes that “Libya’s current economic crisis is a perfect storm of new political and economic realities against a legacy of unresolved power struggles. Despite the enormous spending, Libya has not had a unified parliamentary approved budget since the 2014 civil war, which divided the country. Nevertheless, money continues to flow from Libya’s central bank into the government’s ministries outside of a parliamentary approved budget”.
Crucially, however, the Libyan economy is in far worse shape now than in 2014, with the dinar having plunged to an all-time low and recently devalued by the Central Bank. Moreover, the ongoing blockade of oil wells has cost the country billions of dollars.
An increasingly sharp food crisis is also looming on the horizon due to the war in Ukraine and the Russian-operated blockade of the Black Sea.
The unanimous voices of Libyan scholars are a resounding slap in the face to the false words of their rulers who, throughout all these years, have proven to be unworthy of their people and unable to lay the foundations for a true democracy.
Federica Saini Fasanotti is a Seniur Associate Research fellow, Middle East and North Africa at ISPI. She is also a nonresident Senior Fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, of the Foreign Policy program at The Brookings Institution. In 2004, she gained a PhD degree at the University of Milan, with a study on controversial relationship between Fascism and the Italian Red Cross.