Wiesław LIZAK

Consequences of The Crisis For The Stability of Libya and Its International Environment

Contrary to the hopes of both the participants of the Libyan revolt and the intervening coalition of states, the process of rebuilding the structures of political power after the overthrowing of al-Qaddafi’s dictatorship did not proceed as expected.

Regional differences, ambitions of local leaders, tribal divisions, different visions of the future of the state, striving by local political and military forces to control territories and maximize their possession, efforts to take control of the oil extraction sites, transport routes and oil exports facilities – all this lay at the background of the gradual evolution of internal situation in the country towards anarchy. This was favoured by the weakness of the central authorities elected as a result of electoral procedures (aimed at legitimizing the new authorities) and the resulting lack of efficient and effective military forces.

The inability to form a strong army encouraged local groups, usually formed on the basis of tribal loyalty, to manifest their own interests. The first elections after the collapse of the al-Qaddafi regime, carried out on July 7, 2012, brought hope for stabilization of the political system, nevertheless the political disputes in then National Assembly caused by different views of the form and future of the state (including works on the new constitution) led to pre-term elections ( June 25, 2014).

Lack of consent by some political forces to such a resolution led to the contestation of newly elected authorities and, consequently, to the formation of two rivalling decision-making centres and, although the peace negotiations held subsequently under the auspices of the United Nations led to the formation of the National Unity Government (agreement of December 17, 2015), many influential groups and their leaders refrained from accepting the adopted solutions.

As a result, Libya found itself under the control of rival power centres that, apart from their mutual rivalry, had to face the expansion of jihadist forces and regional and tribal groups. Political chaos in turn gave rise to competition for resources (oil) attracting the interest of external actors.

Libya, during the previous regime, was a state with a relatively well-equipped army. Its collapse with the fall of the al-Qaddafi’s regime due to a lack of armed forces capable of taking control of this equipment led to the proliferation of weapons and radical reduction of the citizens’ security. It was one of the reasons why local militias began to appear in many parts of the country to guarantee the security of local communities.

The country found itself in a kind of a vicious circle: the lack of security and strong power centre enforced the emergence of local military forces guaranteeing to the inhabitants of various regions stability and preservation of status quo, at the same time this factor deepened internal chaos leading to the increasing anarchy of political life. It is worth noting that Libya’s destabilization processes have also affected other countries of the region.

The desert character of most of the Libya’s border areas with neighbouring states facilitated the transfer of people and weapons beyond the borders of the country. This, in turn, facilitated the activities of jihadist groups (such as Islamic State or Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) which, using the weakness of central government structures, tried to create territorial base for their activity in North and West Africa.

Fundamentalist groups present in Egypt, Tunisia or Algeria took action across the borders of these countries trying to expand their influence, especially during the time when the Islamic State was celebrating triumphs in Syria and Iraq – Libya became another country in which it tried to create the territorial bridgehead of the restored caliphate.

In particular, the central coastal part of the country (with Sirte as the main city) was temporarily controlled at the turn of 2014 and 2015 by the forces related to the Islamic State, eventually repudiated by the coalition of various groups (including AlQaida) in December 2016. Activities of jihadist militia were also favoured by natural conditions – difficult to control areas of the south of the country enabled functioning of the routes leading to sub-Saharan Africa. The instability in Libya constitutes also a factor affecting the situation in western Sudan.

The lack of effective control of interstate borders was encouraged by anti-government groups operating on the territory of Darfur to seek a territorial base in Libya. Through the territory of the Sahara, weapons and combat equipment are supplied to partisans in Darfur and local armed groups support each other’s goals. The destabilization of Libya was also one of the causes of escalation of the conflict in Mali in 2012. It was caused by the tensions between the northern Berber people inhabiting the northern regions (Tuaregs) and the representatives of the Negroid people inhabiting the southern provinces who are politically dominant in Bamako.

The outbreak of another Tuareg insurgence in March 2012, seeking to proclaim an independent state (Azawad), was possible mainly because after the collapse of the al-Qaddafi’s regime huge amounts of weapons were released from the Libyan warehouses to the south supplying rebel troops.

Many Tuareg mercenaries also served in the Libyan army – after its disintegration they joined the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) which set for itself the goal of building the independent state in the northern part of Mali. The training and combat experience gained in Libya increased the military capability of the Azawad partisans contributing to the escalation of the conflict.

The outbreak of insurgency in northern Mali became the starting point for the activation of groups referring to militant Islam. They successfully undertook military effort resulting in taking control of the region and establishing their administration over the areas affected by the conflict.

Consequently, in fear of further expansion of jihadism, France (Operation “Serval”), supported by the military forces of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), launched a military intervention on January 11, 2013 which restored the control of the authorities in Bamako over northern provinces of the state.

However, due to their specific conditions, desert areas are still penetrated by anti-government forces38. Jihadist groups undertook terrorist actions in several countries of West Africa (alongside Mali, also in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast). The expansion of jihadism in this part of the world is therefore one of the consequences of the Libyan crisis and the progressive dysfunctionality of this country.

This dysfunctionality was to a certain extent “exported” beyond the borders of Libya, contributing to the increase of the security threats in neighbouring countries. At the same time, the anti-Western sentiments in this region were strengthened – both the international intervention in Libya in 2011 and the French intervention in Mali in 2013 encouraged the radicalization of local communities previously marginalized and devoted to religious traditions of Islam in North and West Africa (all Sub-Saharan Africa countries in the geographic region of Sudan are inhabited mostly by Muslim population).

The destabilization and anarchisation of political life in Libya was also the source of threats to the security of Western Europe countries. The proximity of the southern coast of Italy (Sicily) makes Libya the transit state for migrants from Africa seeking to improve their living conditions.

Under the regime of Colonel al-Qaddafi, the authoritarian order was able to create an effective mechanism to protect the Libyan coasts and transit routes from Sub-Saharan African countries towards the Mediterranean coast.

Especially after waiving sanctions imposed on Libya by the UN Security Council in 2003 when the authorities in Tripoli were seeking normalization of relations with the countries of the high-developed West (by seeking investments in the oil sector and contracts for the supply of energy resources) one of the conditions of cooperation laid down by European countries was to seal borders and strengthen control over the illegal emigration flow.

These actions proved to be effective – the Libyan routes of migrants to the north were to large extent blocked. After the political changes caused by the so-called the Arab Spring the situation has changed fundamentally. Lack of effective power capable of controlling the entire territory of the state led to the reconstruction of migration routes and the development of illegal smuggling structures controlled by criminal groups.

Transporting people across the Mediterranean is at the same time associated with high risk due to the quality of ships and boats used for transport, excessive burden or, frequently, deliberate actions of criminal structures incapable of ensuring to smuggled persons basic security conditions.

The “Libyan” route became one of the three main directions of the influx of people seeking asylum during the migration crisis which emerged in Europe in 2015 along the eastern route through Turkey (then used to the greatest extent) and the western route between Morocco and Spain. The migration crisis contributed to the rise of nationalist moods in many European Union countries, led to increased tensions between EU member states in connection with the strategy of adapting illegal immigrants and displayed the weakness of the European Union institutions in the absence of effective means and mechanisms to solve the problems generated by the crisis.

This situation made European leaders aware of the need to pursue a more active policy aimed at neutralizing contradictions and threats generated in Africa. It also constitutes a proof of the progressive process of the internationalization of threats generated by dysfunctional states in the modern world. The dysfunctionality of the Libyan state translates also into the stability of the oil markets. The high dependence of extracting operations on the political conditions resulted in large fluctuations in the level of oil extraction and export in Libya.

This further aggravated the uncertainty on the international energy raw material markets and among recipients of Libyan resources, although in the context of low oil prices after 2015 it should be noted that this did not have a huge impact on the level of supply and prices on international markets – uncertain supply from Libya was previously taken into account in the market assessments by experts, intermediaries and recipients of crude oil.

However, stabilizing the Libyan oil market is in the best interest of both importers and exporters of this raw material – as a factor stabilizing the international situation in the sector that is crucial for the global economy. This increases the involvement of third countries in activities aimed at forcing solutions that are positive from their point of view (in particular, Western European countries are involved in such activities due to geographic proximity and prospects of favourable business solutions).

In the long term, however, this may preserve the phenomenon of Libya being objectified by external partners. The involvement of Italy and France in attempts to peacefully resolve the intra-Libyan conflict, the Italian initiative to strengthen the potential of the Libyan coast guard or Russia’s attempts to use political divisions in Libya to rebuild influence in this part of the world indicate the existence of such tendencies.

The dysfunctionality of Libya is a consequence of the presence of at least several factors favouring the destabilization of this country. Among them, the external military intervention must be mentioned, which was decisive for the fall of the authoritarian political regime symbolized by Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi.

Lack of political forces capable of effectively managing the transformation process, in the absence of sufficient interest of external players for its support, contributed to the anarchization of the internal situation, the destabilization of the state and creation of threats to the stability of the international environment.

The example of Libya has become another case for analysis in discussions regarding the rationality of actions aimed at enforcing political change through external interventions even when they are justified by humanitarian reasons.


Wiesław Lizak – University of Warsaw


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