Ferhat Polat

Political instability sparked by opposing forces vying for a slice of the pie in the North African nation has remained the biggest stumbling block for the country. February 17 marks the 13th anniversary of the uprisings in Libya but Libyans have little reason to celebrate as the country continues to grapple with instability.

Since the removal of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been engulfed in a state of turmoil. The attempt to overthrow Gaddafi’s regime did not succeed in establishing stable political structures. Libya has become embroiled in a complex civil war consisting of multiple phases.

Since 2014, the country has experienced a division between rival administrations, resulting in the emergence of numerous militias and a state of lawlessness. The country gradually descended into conflict due to internal fuelling the rivalry between political-military forces. From 2014 to 2021, Libya was divided between two rival administrations, one in Tripoli and another in Tobruk.

In March 2021, a new interim government called the Government of National Unity (GNU) was established. The GNU was chosen through a process backed by the United Nations and endorsed by Libya’s east-based parliament (HoR). This approval was a significant milestone for Libya, as it marked the establishment of a unified government for the first time since 2014. The establishment of the GNU gave rise to expectations of political stability and the prospect of holding parliamentary and presidential elections in December 2021. However, the plan did not take place as expected, leading to the indefinite postponement of the elections.

Lack of Security

In the past thirteen years, the security situation in Libya has become increasingly unstable due to the ongoing failure of rival political parties to find common ground. The polarisation in Libyan politics and the subsequent inability to unite rival militias into a cohesive, professional national armed force has resulted in a significant security vacuum within the country.

Security threats have emerged from various militia groups in both western and eastern Libya, with a particular concentration in the east of the region. This is primarily due to Khalifa Haftar, who leads the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), consisting of militias and mercenary groups.

The power vacuum also allowed foreign mercenaries like Russia’s infamous Wagner paramilitary company to exploit the situation and establish a presence within the country, even controlling Libya’s oil fields. Libya’s division at both the political and security levels has resulted in fierce competition for its oil resources. Consequently, oil ports and fields have been subjected to blockades by foreign forces.

In June 2020, armed fighters associated with Wagner seized control of two of Libya’s largest oil facilities, El Sharara, and its most prominent oil-exporting port. Libya is known for having the second largest oil reserves in Africa and is considered one of the wealthiest economies in terms of its oil reserves per capita.

Unfortunately, due to prolonged conflict and instability, Libya has become a country with limited revenue. This has led to a decline in socio-economic conditions across the nation.

Institutional shortcomings

State building has become the critical solution to fragility and post-conflict demands, and it helps a country’s progress towards economic and political stability and democracy. In this regard, Libya’s main hurdles to the state-building process are the presence of spoilers and groups who view the peace process as a danger to their interests and power and work to undermine any state-building efforts and the peace process.

Thus, thirteen years after the Libyan conflict, the key to restoring the country lies in the unity of governmental institutions, especially security and economic institutions. The effectiveness of emergency response and recovery efforts is hindered by the absence of a centralised authority and the presence of armed groups.

This makes it challenging to coordinate and implement effective measures. Additionally, the ongoing power struggle between different factions impedes resource allocation and slows the process of rebuilding essential infrastructure. For example, the collapse of two dams in the port city of Derna resulted in devastating floods that caused huge civilian casualties, displaced residents, and destroyed entire neighbourhoods.

Long-awaited elections

The much-anticipated presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya, initially planned for December 2021, have been indefinitely postponed due to a lack of preparation and ongoing disagreements among various political forces about the legal framework for the election.

The international community sees holding elections in Libya as crucial for addressing the crisis of legitimacy and rebuilding trust in the political system. Conducting a free and fair electoral process will effectively resolve this issue. However, the upcoming poll at this stage is facing several challenges. One of the main issues is the lack of agreement on the constitution.

Moreover, polarising figures like Haftar and Saif al Islam al Gaddafi are vying for the presidency, further contributing to the confusion and disorder surrounding the election. To establish a more effective political system, it is necessary to go beyond the current infrastructure. One key aim of elections is to provide a roadmap for the nation, outlining policies and plans for the future.

Previous polls have lacked clear manifestos or policy agendas, with the Constitutional Declaration of 2012 being the last indication of a political vision. Therefore, conducting a new election would enable the formation of a mandate for the elected government, shaping the path ahead.

It is imperative to note that Türkiye and Egypt have been making efforts to repair their strained relationship, especially since the start of 2021. Both Ankara and Cairo have the potential to significantly impact promoting stability in Libya, considering their influence over the conflicting factions.

Ankara has supported the UN-recognised Governments in Tripoli, while Cairo has backed Haftar’s LNA. However, despite their differing allegiances, both nations acknowledge the importance of restarting the political process and offering support for democratic elections.

The future of Libya remains uncertain as it undergoes a delicate transition. A clear and pragmatic roadmap for establishing democracy is urgently needed. This road map must include the development of a new constitution, holding elections and unifying the state institutions, which will lead to more long-term objectives of constructing a stable, secure, prosperous, and sustainable democratic society in Libya.


Ferhat Polat is a Chevening scholar and researcher at TRT World Research Centre. He specialises in North African geopolitics and security, with a particular focus on Libya.


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