The following excerpt is taken from the upcoming policy report The Libyan Political Process: The Need for A New International Approach, to be published in early 2019 by the Brussels International Center. This extract is taken directly from the Chapter 2 of the article Historical Analysis of Libya’s Political Transition – (2011–2018), and examines the initial stages of post-revolution Libya from 2011 to 2014. This analysis seeks out indicators of trends of destabilization and spoilers in the democratic process from the outset.
The complete article analyses the complex cycles of distrust and bad faith built between Libya’s actors since the revolution that overthrew former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, leading up to the political polarization present in the country today. It examines the role of international stakeholders, with emphasis on the United Nations, European Union and specific European member states, and their various, often contradictory and competing, initiatives to foster a successful democratic transition in the country, including the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement, and the 2018 Paris and Palermo Conferences.
Each individual section of the paper examines a different, interrelated object of analysis, and is proceeded by a critical analysis called “The BIC View”. And following these diagnoses of failings in the democratic transition process and the international response to that process Libya, the article then proceeds to offer some recommendations for improvements primarily towards those international policy makers vested in the Libyan process.
Revolution, the National Transition Council and General National Congress (2011–2014)
The events leading to the divisions between the West and East of Libya are complex and are rooted in failings of the previous post-Gaddafi administrations in Libya. From the outset of post-revolution Libya dangerous precedents and trends were being set, undermining the political process.
Firstly, following the start of the dissent against Muammar Gaddafi, the initial transition government, the National Transition Council (NTC), was established extremely quickly on 27 February 2011. This was less than a month from the start of the first protests earlier that month. Ultimately, the NTC was first and foremost a revolutionary organization, with the political face acting only as a server of legitimacy. Its supporters, while they were composed of peoples across Libya, were united only in virtue of being anti-Gaddafi. An oversimplified example demonstrates this: some eastern rebels in Benghazi and across the old territory of Cyrenaica appeared to revolt against perceived economic inequalities, such as unfair distribution of oil wealth, and suppression from the western capital reason. However, other rebels revolted for reasons of Islamism and expression of religious identity. For that time in 2011, it is not so clear as to assume these grievances were perfectly geographically divided into east and west, as secularist and Islamist rebel groups were present in all parts of Libya. But what is clear is that there were varied, often differing grievances against Gaddafi. And these differences were expressed by a growing divide between revolutionary secularists and Islamists in the very new NTC.
Secondly, the ease in which the NTC gained international recognition set a dangerous precedent for the legitimacy of armed political movements in Libya. On March 10, 2011, under recommendation from the European Parliament, France recognized the NTC as the legitimate representative of Libya. This just less than a month after the revolution had begun, and ahead of other European states all seemingly competing to support the rebels at that time. An over-eagerness by states to acknowledge rebels can be seen again during the events of 2014, when Qatar and Turkey supported the Libya Dawn rebellion against the then-elected government.
Thirdly, the NTC only developed a temporary legal framework for transitional rule. The Libyan Interim Constitutional Declaration was finalized by the NTC on August 3 2011. In principle this was to be held in effect until a more permanent constitution was ratified in a referendum. While the Declaration made some positive steps, such as articulating a few broad and progressive specifications for personal freedoms between Articles (7) and (16), it had some underlying problems.
For instance, it contended that Islamic Sharia was to be the principle source of legal legislation in Libya, specified in Article (1) of the Declaration. This directly became a problem in 2013 when the controversial second President, Nouri Abusahmain, of the successor government to the NTC, the General National Congress (GNC), made successive reforms consolidate the primacy of Sharia as legislature in Libya. This then justified other oppressive reforms against personal freedoms in keeping with a general trend of suppression of alternative opinions and dissent. This was an exacerbating factor for the violent events of 2014. The Declaration was also overly ambitious for timeframes for constitutional reform. Perhaps buoyed by the rapid fall of Gaddafi, the Declaration had a target for a new constitution by December 2013, as articulated in Article (30). Again, this became a problem when the failure to meet these deadlines contributed to the rise of Haftar and Operation Dignity in February 2014.
Fourthly, while the initial elections for the GNC, as the first popularly elected transitional government in Libya in 2012, can be seen as successful for voter turnout and representativeness, this impetus was hindered by reforms it passed to systematically exclude candidates. For instance, the “political isolation laws” that excluded Gaddafi-era officials were vague and abused, and meant that a lot of people with political experience were cut out of the political process, including the first President of the GNC, Mohammed Magariaf. This also gave a space for Islamists from the Justice and Construction Party (J&C) and its affiliates to expand their influence. In turn, expanding the influence of their backers from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Fifthly, following the revolution, the fledgling Libyan government utilized a hybrid-security apparatus between the Supreme Security Forces, a directly controlled police force, and a decentralized “bottom-up” approach called the Libyan Shield Forces (LSF). The LSF u tilized large numbers of revolutionary armed groups, for national security in the absence of a functioning state army. Security reforms passed by Abusahmain in 2013 strengthened this power of de facto militia-based security, by establishing the Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) militia group as a personal security apparatus for Tripoli. Abusahmain consistently backed and financed the LROR and utilized the LROR to pass executive powers and subvert other members of the GNC. For example, in November 2013 the LROR successfully prevented the GNC from disbanding the group through armed coercion and intimidation tactics. This was then followed by a wave of violent suppression against protests regarding the power of militias. Also, during this time there were consistent threats and high-profile kidnappings against the then-executive of Ali Zeidan in October 2013, followed by his successor Abdullah al-Thani in April 2014.
Sixthly, the mandated election process for a new set of representatives, the HoR, as envisaged by the Interim Constitutional Declaration was severely compromised. The timetabling was affected after the GNC extended its mandate past December 2013 in February 2014. There were heightened security deficiencies throughout Libya due to the rising climate of militias and voter intimidation in the West, and a rising Khalifa Haftar and Operation Dignity in the East.
Haftar, a former military commander during the former Gaddafi-era as well as a senior commander of rebel forces during the 2011 revolution, appeared in February 2014 to declare an end to the GNC and called for a national revolt against the GNC as well as new elections. Though this did not result in a large uprising at the time, he managed to gather support in Libya’s east and formed an army, the Libyan National Army (LNA), to combat the Islamists of the GNC. On 16 May 2014, Operation Dignity was announced as a military operation in Benghazi to purge the city of Islamists.
Meanwhile, Islamist candidates that were served well by the previous administration of the GNC boycotted many votes for the June 2014 elections for the HoR, and some ballots did not take place at all. By the time elections for the HoR did take place in June 2014, the consequence was a turnout of barely 10%, and a slew of representation to favor more nationalist candidates. A result that would quickly be challenged.
The BIC View
The post-Gaddafi climate in Libya offered the Libyan people the opportunity to establish a new political system for themselves that would potentially better address the challenges the people faced. However, there are three key deficiencies that would continue to plague this process, and they began from the outset here:
Overly hasty and ambitious timeframes for negotiations and agreements to be made started here and would continue to feature prevalently in Libya. The failure to meet these deadlines fostered a widespread distrust and dissatisfaction with politicians and the political process in general. A prominence on the rule of the gun, as opposed to law and constitutional arrangements, began with the rapid endorsement of the NTC by European powers, and continued with the financing of the LROR and other militias in Tripoli, at the expense of actual constitutional reform and transitional justice. And the systematic exclusion of actors by those in power began with the sidelining of Gaddafi-era candidates and continued with the suppression of the Zeidan, and later al-Thani, executives. The era of the old-GNC was characterized by a manipulation of more-hardline Islamist candidates, like Abusahmain, to suppress dissenters and consolidate more power.
Consequently, little negotiation took place between the victors of the 2011 revolution, such as Benghazi and Misrata, to iron-out the varying grievances that led to their rebellion against Gaddafi in the first place. In this environment, it is unsurprising that opposition to the policies of the old-GNC and Abusahmain was expressed through a new armed movement, Operation Dignity’s LNA in the east, much like how opposition to Gaddafi in 2011 was expressed through an armed movement.