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Four years on, Gaddafi's legacy plagues chaotic Libya

Abdullah Doma, AFP | Smoke rises from buildings in the coastal Libyan city of Benghazi on October 20, 2015 following shelling the previous night

Exactly four years after Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed in his hometown, his legacy of misrule lives on in his unruly nation. Only now, it’s worse with seemingly no political solution in sight.


On Monday, Libya’s internationally recognised parliament rejected a UN power-sharing proposal despite international calls on the country’s rival administrations to “immediately approve” the agreement.

Ignoring the exhortations, the parliament based in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk refused to sign the deal, noting that the UN had refused to exclude amendments added by the Islamist authorities based in Tripoli. On the western side of Libya’s coastal highway, the Islamist-led government in the Libyan capital issued a statement declaring the deal “would lead to further complications”.

It’s hard to imagine how the situation in Libya could get any more complicated than it is today. Two governments are battling for power, two rival investment authorities are claiming the oil-rich nation’s revenues, a motley mix of militias are fighting turf wars, the Islamic State group (IS) is widening its Libyan footprint, and human traffickers are sending ever-increasing migrant flows to Europe’s shores.

“Libya is the largest piece of terra nullius in the world. As of today, there is no sovereignty in Libya,” said Jason Pack, president of “After Syria and Ukraine, Libya is the third most pressing Western foreign policy crisis because many of the main threats Europe is facing right now – the Islamic State, migration – are symptoms of state implosion in Libya.”

Under Gaddafi’s unique and quixotic form of governance, the North African nation was a “Jamahiriya” – a state of the masses – where traditional institutions were abolished and replaced by so-called local self-governance committees. In reality though, all power rested with the Libyan autocrat, who proclaimed himself the “Guide to the Revolution.”

Four years after the “mad dog of Libya” was dragged through the streets of Sirte and lynched, the absence of democratic and civil institutions is underpinning the country’s failure to establish a unity government.

Unlike neighbouring Tunisia, where a robust civil society – including trade unions – enabled the country to overcome a difficult transition following the 2011 ouster of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Libya lacks a tradition of independent civil society institutions.
“Gaddafi’s legacy lives on in that rules don’t matter, personalities matter. Power depends on tribes, on people with guns,” said Pack. “Under Gaddafi, everyone passed the buck, only the top guy had responsibility. Libyans today are breaking into factions and each body is willing to make deals with militias and ignore parliamentary practice when it suits them.”

Too important to fail

The October 20 deadline for the approval of the UN deal -- which was negotiated by UN special envoy for Libya, Bernardino Leon -- had been touted as a red line for the international community.

“We are not reopening the text and our hope remains that all sides will agree to the text for the good of the people of Libya,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told the Associated Press, noting that Leon had stressed “that this is the final text”.
Despite the tough talk, the failure to approve the deal came as no surprise to negotiators, analysts and many Libyans. While the international community is growing weary of Libyan intransigence, there is an overwhelming belief, particularly in European capitals, that the geopolitical stakes of the Libyan crisis are too high to ignore.

In an interview with Politico last month, Leon broke one of the cardinal rules of diplomacy, admitting that he had a Plan B and a Plan C if his efforts to find a political solution to the problem failed.

According to Politico, Leon explained that Plan A was a full agreement, Plan B would be only a partial agreement, while Plan C involved the possibility of sending boots on the ground.

The EU has a plan, or two or six

The EU is also considering a number of scenarios to help Libya strengthen its borders and disarm militias, including relaunching its Border Assistance Mission in Libya.

An EU document -- which was sent to European capitals on Monday and was seen by Reuters – lists six security boosting options. The choices range from actions possible "regardless of the political situation" in Libya, and others that would require a green light from Libyan authorities once a national unity government is formed.

These include sending civilians to monitor ceasefires between factions once a unity government is approved. If a peace deal holds, the EU action "would be of modest scale and limited to support to a mediation unit, provision of aerial monitoring and possibly the provision of civilian monitors", the document says, adding a military option would be considered if ceasefires do not prove effective.

For the moment though, these are simply policy options, which would have to be approved by EU member states.

And that’s a long step away.

More than four years after then French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s David Cameron led the international effort to support the Libyan uprising against Gaddafi, Libya is being ignored if only because the situation in Syria is dominating international concern.

“The problem is no one has the willpower,” explained Pack. “There is a tragic lack of interest because no one wants to be like [President George W] Bush and [Prime Minister Tony] Blair in Iraq.”

And so, the impasse looks set to continue more than four years after Libyans rose up to overthrow a tyrant.

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