Understanding Libya’s Current Political Crisis and The Failure of Imposed Democracy

Ebenezer Makinde
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Libya represents a sorry case of intervention in world politics. At the very worst, the current Libya crisis shows that intervention could go all wrong when not managed properly.  Based on what we already know, we can at best say that choosing between the Red Sea and the Devil is not a difficult choice after all. But it seems Libyans chose wrongly. Or from the perspective of our beginning statement, the western world helped Libyans to choose wrongly.

My point basically is that the political events in Libya as we currently have it cannot be dissociated from the 2011 political impasse that led to the death of Muammar Gaddafi. Though other factors had since combined to make the current Libya situation the more complicated and complex, the starting point of our analysis is Muammar Gaddafi forty-two years’ rule and its eventual crumbling.

Gaddafi was popular with his dictatorial style of governance, holding grip of the oil-rich nation for many years before the uprising cut up with him. The revolt was influenced by the popular Arab Spring of 2011 in the Middle East which was characterized by series of protests, unrests and armed rebellions against the leaders and governments of several countries in the Middle East including Tunisia and Egypt.

What began simply as an anti-government protest descended into a full blown political crises as Gaddafi used security forces to intimidate and eliminate the protesters. It was in this context that the United Nations passed a resolution which among other things called for the protection of Libyans and of course, the usurping of Muammar Gaddafi`s regime. As a result of this resolution, NATO carried out air strikes on the security forces in Libya which unfortunately also led to the death of many civilians.

Apparently, the people of Libya protested against the government of Muammar Gaddafi which culminated into a civil war, foreign military intervention and of course, the ousting and death of the dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. At that point, the Libyans voted for the Devil and ousted the Red Sea with the apparent help and assistance of foreign governments under the guise of NATO.

Contrary to popular expectations, the ousting of Gaddafi did not solve any problems in Libya, it rather escalated and intensified the problems. It escalated the crisis such that Libya is now a shadow of its former self. Reminiscence of the Saddam Hussein`s regime in Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi had created a personalized state, and the state could not survive with his death.

The forces that came together to oust Gaddafi in 2011 were with no future plans for the country. And so when Gaddafi`s regime collapsed, the forces went their separate ways with many jostling for the control of post-Gaddafi`s Libya. It was in this context that post-Gaddafi`s Libya has descended into full blown political crises since 2011 till date.  Barrack Obama in 2016 commenting on the political crises in Libya had said that lack of preparation for a post-Gaddafi Libya was probably the “worst mistake” of his presidency. Eight years after the western governments backed assaults against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya remains in shambles with no government to hold it together. From Arab Spring, Libya sprung to a failed state.

Is there Government in Libya?

Perhaps the easiest way to identify a failed state is to see if the national government still holds considerable control over the national territories. That is, if the government still enjoys the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force.  In the case of Libya, since the government of Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011, Libya has continued on a path of political impasse with no substantial national government which has also created a suitable environment for armed militias and Islamist groups to operate.

It would be recalled that following the successful ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, a rebel group known as National Transitional Council was in charge of the country for a period between the First Libyan Civil War (the war that led to dethronement of the government of Muammar Gaddafi) and the general election of 2012.

However, after the election was held in 2012, General National Congress was inaugurated and the legislative body (GNC) tasked primary to lead Libya to a system of democratic of governance was given 18 months to achieve this objective.

In the light of this deadline, another election was conducted in 2014 to a new House of Representatives. Those politicians that lost election into the new House of Representatives created a parallel parliamentary government known now as the General National Congress. Meaning that two parliamentary governments: new House of Representatives and the General National Congress existed in Libya after the 2014 election. And it is in this context that the current Libya impasse found meaning.

The House of Representative has its stronghold in Eastern Libya and enjoy the loyalty of the Libyan National Army of General Khalifa Haftar. Other countries that support the House of Representatives is Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The General National Congress is based in western Libya and backed by various militias and some form of support from Qatar, Sudan and Turkey.

However, in 2015, after a long peace talks led by a UN envoy for Libya, Bernardino Leon, a Government of National Accord was formed as a result of the compromise between the House of Representatives and General National Congress where they signed Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). The leader of the Government of National Accord (Fayez Sarraj) have since worked to bring about palpable unity in Libya but still faced opposition from House of Representatives and General National Congress.

Basically, the desire for power which includes access to the oil wealth is the driving force of current crisis in Libya. Since the formation of the internationally recognized government, Government of National Accord (GNA) in 2016 led by Fayez Sarraj, the country has experienced renewed political uprising as a results of the continued attacks by General Khalifa Haftar and its Libyan National Army which we said fully support the House of Representatives (one of the rival groups).

As Libya is currently constituted, the belligerent groups include the House of Representatives (Tobruk based) supported by the Libyan National Army of General Khalifa Haftar, Libyan Air force, the Government of National Accord established in 2016 and the internationally recognized government of Libya, the National Salvation Government formed by the General National Congress that lost the 2014 elections and host other smaller groups including ISIL.

General Khalifa Haftar Recent Assaults

On 4th of April, 2019, the Libyan National Army controlled by Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on Libya`s Capital in an attempt to add the city to his controlled areas in Libya. The attacks were launched too close to the beginning of a national conference initially scheduled to hold between April 14 to 16. The conference was intended to inaugurate a plan and electoral framework for the war-ravaged country at-least to put her on a path of democratic governance.

Having being posed as the next likely leader of the Libya government, the latest move by Haftar to carry out attacks on the State`s capital has been seen by many analysts as miscalculated move which might later cost him dearly. But that is if Haftar planned to rule the country through the democratic processes. All the available evidence lately suggests that General Khalifa Haftar is not interested in the democratic processes. He probably fancies his chances of ruling the country through a battle or guile or both.

Khalifa Haftar seems to be enjoying every bit of Libya current situation. Nonetheless, as Khalifa continued his assault on Libya`s territories, his hitherto positive reviews have tended to become negative especially in the light of his latest attacks. He has continued to prove that he is not interested in politics nor democracy but to instill fear in an already fearful populace.

Already, the scheduled conference has been postponed which means that Libya has more time to stay on this current path of political impasse characterized by war and bloodbath. Commenting on the latest attacks and the postponement of the proposed conference, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres argued thus: “we are not always successful, I must confess”

Intervention Truly Gone Wrong

Since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya is experiencing her second civil war as the different factions that emerged after the death of Gaddafi have since failed to reach a compromise. The international community indeed played important role in the emergence of the current crisis and unfortunately, they have continued to play critical role in the sustenance of the current crisis situation.

Regional players have used the current crisis in Libya and of course the alliances and groups to further their own ends. For example, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and France have on some occasions supported and backed the House of Representatives led by General Khalifa Haftar. On the other hand, Qatar, Turkey supported the Government of National Accord. Where is the incentive to end the conflict when these country give arms, training and financial supports to these belligerents?

While the current interventions in Libya by regional countries and some European countries have to a large extent escalated the crisis, it was the 2011 intervention that was the biggest of all scam. The US-led UN had hope to imposed democratic government and avert the continued abuse of human rights by Muammar Gaddafi of Libya in the light of the political uprising propelled by the Arab Spring, but while the UN and the US toppled the evil of Muammar Gaddafi`s government and regime, bigger evil was unleashed by the death of Gaddafi. Violent deaths and violation of human rights have since increased more than seven folds in Libya after the death of Gaddafi.

Eight years after his death, peace is yet to reign in the oil-rich nation. In retrospect, it would have been better if the UN and the US had not ousted the government of Muammar Gaddafi. But what do we know? Things are always clear and easy to grasp in retrospect.


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