Reconstructing Libya: Stability through National Reconciliation
The Libyan revolution’s defeat of dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, though extraordinary, marked only the beginning of a long process of national development and reconciliation.
October 2015 | by David Delaney
The Libyan people rose up against the 42- year tyranny of Colonel Muammar al- Qaddafi on February 17, 2011, and only eight months later, Qaddafi was dead – killed in the battle for his hometown, Sirte. Libyans cheered for the collapse of the Qaddafi regime and embraced their long-overdue freedom. They soon realized, however, that their transition to democracy meant that some of their greatest challenges were still ahead.
Now, almost two years since the death of Qaddafi, the Libyan people are still struggling to rebuild their country. Given the complexity of its post-conflict reconstruction process, this paper argues that Libya needs an inclusive national reconciliation process that helps in securing a successful transition to sustainable peace and stability. This process, however, faces a number of serious challenges. In an effort to cling to power, Qaddafi subjected Libya to a destructive civil war, leaving behind a divided society and a state of chaos throughout the country. The current security situation is untenable: militias and military councils effectively rule the country; entire towns and tribes have been excluded from the reconstruction process simply because they were accused of being supporters of the former regime; and the number of refugees from the country at one point reached almost one million, in addition to hundreds of thousands of IDPs.
The social fabric of Libyan society was shattered during the country’s revolution. Deep post-war divisions are likely to preclude an effective reconstruction process, threaten the prospects for stability and social peace, and sabotage the chances of a successful transition from dictatorship to democracy. With Libyan society fractured to this degree, national reconciliation must encompass more than the old regime and the revolutionaries.
Libyan society is not split into two halves; rather, it is splintered into a multitude of groups and factions, all of whom need to be given a stake in Libyan stability. The process of reconciliation, then, must also include refugees and the displaced, those now tarred as regime loyalists, and representatives of the new Libyan state. Though the challenge of accommodating this array of parties is daunting, it is only through society-wide reconciliation that Libya can transition from a fragile state with a war-torn, deeply divided society to a unified and stable nation.
Such reconciliation has proven difficult thus far, to a large extent because of the legacy left by Qaddafi. After Colonel Qaddafi came to power in a bloodless coup against King Idris in 1969, he established the Libyan Arab Republic, removing the country’s republican system in 1977 and establishing the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (mass state), premised on his own philosophy of governance – the “Third Universal Theory.” Qaddafi used the philosophy of the Jamahiriya to ensure that state institutions were built to serve his regime. The national army was marginalized, with Qaddafi instead empowering security apparatuses such as the powerful 32nd Reinforced Brigade of the Armed People. This brigade, also known as the Khamis Brigade after Qaddafi’s son, was completely loyal to the colonel. Qaddafi also exercised absolute political power, banning political parties and either imprisoning those who opposed him or sending them into exile. The uprising that began in 2011 therefore came as a shock to the country’s leadership.
At the outset of the Arab Spring, Qaddafi tried to preempt protests by reducing food prices and releasing political prisoners, but it was too late. On February 17, 2011, demonstrations broke out in Benghazi and soon spread elsewhere. Continuing protests were met with defiance from Qaddafi – who famously threatened to “cleanse Libya house by house” – and a punishing military campaign to retake control of the country. A brutal civil war began; in less than a week, however, the Khamis Brigade had seized the city of Misrata and was on the brink of launching a crushing assault on Benghazi, the cradle of the revolution. The United Nations Security Council’s Chapter 7 authorization of military intervention with the imposition of a no-fly zone reversed the war’s momentum, but not enough to spare Libya from additional months of grinding combat. Finally, on October 20, Qaddafi was captured and killed while attempting to flee his hometown. With the death of Qaddafi and the removal of his regime, the Libyan state collapsed, leaving the country in chaos.