Libya: risks increase in 2022
After the overthrow of Gaddafi’s 42-year-old regime, Libya imploded into violence in which its three historical regions – east, west and south – struggled for power and control of resources, including fields oil companies in the country. Indeed, Gaddafi’s rule has left Libyans without a consensus on their social contract with each other or with their government. Deep divisions have emerged on issues as fundamental as the formation of a centralized or federated state. More than half of the population is between the ages of 15 and 40, creating a huge problem of unemployed and under-educated young people who are likely to be recruited as fighters for militias or extremist organizations.
Worse still, a wide range of outside powers play a role in the conflict, many of them supporting various factions in the war with weapons or mercenaries that have increased the violence. Recent assessments by humanitarian organizations found 800,000 displaced people across the country – either Libyans uprooted by the fighting, or refugees and foreign migrants – and a similar number in need humanitarian aid.
The most recent attempt to help the Libyans establish a unified government was blocked last year after a Political dialogue supported by the UN chose an interim government to hold elections in December. But the elections were postponed and tensions rise. One of Libya’s rival blocs, based in the east of the country, named what it proclaimed a new national government in March, a rival to the existing interim administration in Tripoli. The move reignited the problem of dual power claimants in recent years and also reflects a shift in alliances in the long struggle between Libya’s regions.
With a recent increase in human rights abuses, hate speech and violence, “Libya now faces a new phase of political polarization, which risks dividing its institutions again and reversing the gains achieved over the past two years,” the UN said. Assistant Secretary General Rosemary DiCarlo said last month.
The White House announced on April 1 that Libya will be one of five countries or regions facing violence where the United States will provide new peacebuilding support under its new law-mandated strategy. of 2019 on global fragility. (Other priorities are Haiti, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea and five West African coastal states from Benin to Guinea). longer-term investment: 10-year commitments of assistance to be delivered within the framework of better coordinated strategies for economic and human development, and for conflict resolution. It takes a step back from what analysts – including a Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States convened by USIP – have found to be an overreliance on military operations in response to extremist violence and insurgencies. .
The new U.S. decision to invest in stabilizing Libya is vital, because like other long-running conflicts, the Libyan unrest risks losing global attention, especially in the shadow of the collapse of the government last year in Afghanistan and this year’s escalation of Russia’s assault on Ukraine. The last annual Fragile States Indexmaintained by Washington-based research group the Fund for Peace said Libya was the country in the world where stability deteriorated the most over the period 2011 to 2021, ranking it only 17th from the low for instability risks among 179 nations surveyed.
Potential for improvement
Yet the Libyans’ own peacebuilding work underscores that a targeted US investment in the country’s stability will have allies and the potential for impact. A vital feature of Libya’s potential is its often unnoticed flourishing of local civil society groups. In 2014, just three years after the overthrow of Gaddafi’s government created the possibility of establishing voluntary associations, 2,000 such groups were active in Libya – a per capita ratio six times that of Iraq and paralleling that of Egypt, a study found.
Over the past few years, USIP has worked in disparate parts of the country, training peacemakers, including among youth and civil society groups, and then partnering with these communities and local government authorities. Through these efforts, grassroots Libyans have built peace in their own communities, even as national factions in the country have escalated fighting, such as around the capital, Tripoli, in 2019 and 2020:
- Rival Arab and Amazigh ethnic groups from Libya’s western Nafusa mountains united in 2020 to reopen roads and repatriate community members who had been driven far from their homes by the lockdowns triggered by the COVID pandemic. Communities that had fought fiercely before reached an agreement to share medical resources in the fight against the virus.
- In 2019, a movement of local peace advocates, including the courageous mother of a young man killed in tribal fighting, persuaded tribal leaders in the Saharan town of Ubari to end the local war and sign a peace agreement. Once stabilized, this town of 35,000 inhabitants was able to build a new central market, with funding from the UN, to boost the local economy.
- USIP-supported peacemakers in Libya’s main southern city of Sebha united rival tribes to consolidate peace in the city – home to 100,000 people – after the war.
The United States’ designation of Libya for an enhanced long-term peacebuilding effort will refocus American decision-makers and vital resources on resolving the conflict. It can also rekindle international attention and contributions to the effort. A more stable and self-sufficient Libyan state can provide for its people, reduce the dangerous smuggling of migrants to Europe, and work with international partners to counter extremism and terrorism. It will be able to resist pressure from Russia or other states that may seek to destabilize Libya or its neighbours.
The next step will be to apply diplomacy and foreign aid to bring Libya’s fighters back to the negotiating table with the vital initial goal of defining and implementing a roadmap for national elections. In such a renewed effort, the United States should engage other international actors to help urge Libyan political leaders to resolve outstanding disputes.