After a Decade of Chaos, Can a Splintered Libya Be Made Whole?


Posted – 17th February 2021

An interim government promises peace, unity and democratic elections. Skeptical Libyans say they’ve heard this promise before.

CAIRO — Fluttering flags and ornamental lights in red, white and green went up on buildings and lampposts around the Libyan capital, Tripoli, this month to mark the 10th anniversary of the uprising that toppled its dictator.

There seemed to be reason to celebrate: After a decade of fighting and instability, a new interim government had been formed, one promising to unify the country and hold democratic elections by year’s end.

Outside the banks, where some customers were waiting in six-hour lines to claim their salaries, at gas stations, where fuel was only intermittently available, and in the Tripoli suburb of Ain Zara, where Ahmed al-Gammoudi lived without electricity for two months last year, the festive lights seemed little more than a mockery.

“I’ve heard all this talk about elections for eight years, and nothing has changed except we’re getting older,” said Mr. al-Gammoudi, 31, who works 14-hour shifts at a Tripoli cafe to finance repairs to his house, which was damaged during Libya’s civil war. “Every year the situation gets worse, and every government that comes says that it won’t be more than two years before we hold elections, but what happens is the exact opposite. The only thing that happens is war.”

His cynicism is rooted in experience.

Since the ouster of its dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, during the Arab Spring revolts that swept the Middle East a decade ago, Libya has seen its hopes for change and greater freedoms descend into a rinse-and-repeat cycle of diplomatic progress followed by stalemate followed by war — and, through it all, profound misery for Libyans themselves.

But diplomats and analysts say the government created by United Nations-brokered talks in Geneva this month, while no guarantee of peace or stability, represents a breakthrough.

Negotiated by 74 politicians, power brokers and representatives from Libya’s many regional factions and tribes, the transitional government is intended to be the next step toward uniting the oil-and-gas-rich country after an October cease-fire in its civil war.

Until a few months ago, it would have been difficult to imagine this group convening to vote for new leadership, said Claudia Gazzini, a Libya specialist at the International Crisis Group. The provisional government has also managed to claim endorsements, whether lukewarm or robust, from most of the major players in Libya’s tangle of political cliques, business interests, geographical rivals and foreign powers.

Credit…Ayman Al-Sahili/Reuters


“I wouldn’t have bet a cent on this U.N. dialogue forum,” she said, recalling how previous attempts had blown up as a result of foreign spoilers or squabbles between Libyan factions. “But we haven’t seen these aggressive reactions, and that’s why I say all these factors together bode well. It might not all work out, but as long as we’re not going to have an immediate military response, it’s all good news.”

In part, the cautious acceptance has to do with Abdul Hamid Dbeiba, the man chosen, after a surprise vote, to serve as interim prime minister.

A wealthy businessman from the coastal city of Misurata, Mr. Dbeiba, to many, represents the el-Qaddafi-era “culture of corruption,” as one analyst put it. Among the Libyan elite, however, he is viewed as a nonideological deal maker with whom all sides can negotiate, analysts said.

“Dbeiba, just the family name, leaves a bad taste in Libyans’ mouths,” said Tarek Megerisi, a Libya analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Still, he said, the new leaders “technically have the keys to the safe, and because everybody wants to have access to the state coffers and so on, they’re going to try to work with him.”

Mr. Dbeiba did not respond to a request for an interview.

The Libya Consultancy does not imply any association with, nor endorsement by or of the publisher of this article

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