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libya uncertain

Unlike in other countries in the Maghreb and in the Middle East, the success of the Libyan revolution was not the exclusive outcome of a civil war fought by a people in despair who sacrificed their lives. Instead, an international coalition was put together with the intent of toppling Muammar Khadafi and aid the rebels win their war. In fact, it was the coalition that defeated the Libyan dictator and the militias merely collected his spoils. Mean me no disrespect for all those valiant combatants who have perished to oust Khadafi, but this is the harsh truth.

If an international coalition had not intervened, the Libyan dictator would still be in the top spot today. The way the civil war unraveled and the obstinacy that accompanied the fight of the loyalists against a preponderant enemy widely prove this. So - and this is the question - how do these statements help us understand what is happening in Libya today?


A victory without winners

In general terms, in a civil war where the actors are solely domestic, with no external interference, the final result usually reflects the strength of the forces on the ground. In other words, the winner is the strongest, the most determined and is also the most popular. When the civll war ends, the balance of power is immediately clear and the winners are tasked with coagulating the consensus they have gained and shift it from the military level, to the popular one and, finally, turn into political support.

But if this does not happen and the final result is tampered by external interventions, then the whole process reaches a standstill: none of the actors have proven to be better than the rest and no agreement can be reached among them on who is going to rule over the others. Libya falls in this category.

A corollary to this statement is that the foreign countries that helped you win the war will be the basis for your international support. This will bring about benefits for your foreign policy, but could have detrimental effects on the domestic front. Firstly because any help that is received in foreign policy turns into influence: some of it is spontaneous, some is out of gratitude, but a good portion are "pressures" exercised to appease the "expectations" of those who came to your help (diplomacy has turned around the word "blackmail" and given it a more suave impact).

On the domestic front this means - as the lesson learnt in Afghanistan teach us - that you'll end up having a government with loads of international support, but uninfluential at home. Another consequence of international backing is that the new authorities in town will skip all democratic tests or the passing of those exams on human rights and rule of law usually required in normal circumstances. The result is that the new rulers will be able to dedicate themselves exclusively to the consolidation of power according to schemes they are already familiar with.

Libya was never a democracy, it doesn't have any political models on which to build it's own democratic path. This inevitably leads to the involution of a noble social act as is the rebellion against a dictatorship.

In other words, a regime is ousted, but those replacing it are incapable of proposing alternative social or political models. A country like Libya that has still not found the way out of the civil war, without enough strength to build new political paths, is now at a crossroads: on one side the progressive and ongoing dissolution of the State, on the other the return of a coercive political authority that, just like under Khadafi, will rule through brute force and not with consensus.

The Kabyles, return to the future

Muammar Khadafi was with no doubt a bloodthirsty dictator, he could not tolerate dissent and wiped out without pity any form of opposition. He ruled over the policies of the State, but had also cultivated - in his unorthodox manner - his consensus throughout the country's main social infrastructure: the Kabyles (a term used locally to identify beduin tribes or clans). The civil war has shown how some Kabyles have supported his regime until the very end (like the Warfalla in Bani Walid), while others fought him to his death (as the Magharba in Cyrenaica did). Today Libya has sunken in its feudal past again.

The picture from Libya is the following: the Kabyles control - de facto - power; the militias are mostly all clan based, they hold onto their weapons regardless of the requests coming from central authorities and obey the orders from their respective Kabyles; the ancient rivalry between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica has reemerged together with the winds of secession; the social fabric is being ripped apart by clan and family blood feuds. Once the opportunity for national reconciliation was missed, the direct consequence was that the institutions leading over the country immediately lost their legitimacy. The outcome is a government that does not rule, an army with no strength, a police force that doesn't know who to report to and hence avoids all interventions.

Probably the most worrying aspect is the unwinding social fabric and the recurrent clashes between the Kabyles, the war between the Kabyles and the nomadic tribes, the resurfacing of the Tuareg and Berber separatist agendas. Khadafi cannot be held up as an example of social cohesion, but he was definitely capable of ruling over the Kabyles and regulated each of their conflicts. He did it his way: with gifts and threats and with the use of force when necessary. And he achieved his objectives.

If we take into account the fact that the Libyan civil war ended with the killing of Muammar Khadafi in October 2011, over two year later the country is still stuck in the middle of an institutional and power void that has still not found a solution.

abdul hakim belhadj
Abdul Hakim Belhadj

The return of armed political Islam

The Arab Spring has contributed to the resurgence, in Libya as elsewhere, of political Islam. In a country that had fought terrorism under the previous ruler - incarnated by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) - now hails as heroes people like Abdel Hakim Belhadj. With a battle name of Abu Abdallah Assadaq, the former member of the LIFG was arrested in Thailand (2004), "extraordinary renditioned" to Tripoli, detained and pardoned by the regime in 2009. Belhadj became the chief of Tripoli's military council after the civil war.

Such circumstances require an adequate timeframe to be socially metabolized and turning into founding elements of a new stability, On the political level, Libya is currently in a stall between Islamic factions, like the Muslim Brotherhood, and an alliance of secular National Forces. Killings have now become a routine. The areas surrounding Benghazi are at the mercy of Islamic groups.

The final question is: what will happen to Libya? What will be the outcome? The options and the solutions for an adequate reply will depend on how domestic events will evolve, but also from what will happen in neighboring countries. Bearing in mind what happened elsewhere, there are two probable paths: the restoration (not necessarily of Khadafi loyalists) of an authoritarian regime, just like what happened in Egypt, even though it is difficult to predict who could take over. The alternative is for Libya to become the next Syria or, in the worst case scenario, slide down the Somali path to dissolution.