Notes internacionals CIDOB, núm. 97
The carrion-eaters screaming ‘Libya is a failed state’ have cause. If there are grounds for optimism in the current morass, it is that the chaos and despair gripping Libya is cutting some knots, sealing off some unproductive policy options, and consolidating positions across parties previously reluctant to speak with one another. This process is replicating itself in Libya’s immediate neighborhood, as Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia seem to be finding common cause in preventing a collapse of the Libyan state - which would have disastrous consequences for all of them. Further, the international community as a whole seems to have come to the conclusion that outside military interference under current conditions is unproductive and untenable. At the time of writing a multi-party push was underway to liberate Benghazi from extremist militias - with uncertain consequences.
Origins of an Impasse
Libya’s disintegration has been slow and obvious. It is tied, alternatively to the 2011 NATO intervention that ended the Gaddafi regime, or, more productively, the failure of the West and Libya both to consolidate gains and rebuild in its wake. The post-revolution marginalization of the Eastern city of Benghazi was a mistake, leading as it did to a drain in resources from one of Libya’s most important commercial and intellectual centers, and a massive pile-on of disgruntled and heavily armed supplicants in the re-instated capital of Tripoli. Tripoli became the stage on which old, transformed and new powerbrokers sought to prove their relevance, through force of arms. The old include some nostalgic for the Gaddafi regime. The transformed comprise those who had positions of influence in the previous regime but remade themselves into liberals, and those former opponents of the regime now tapped into deeper, more politically savvy networks promoting ‘extreme Islam’. The new are those groups whom the 2011 conflict afforded status and a feeling of entitlement-- prominent among these are the Misurata and Zintan-based militias. The current struggle is over competing visions of Libya’s future. Even more so, however, it is about opportunism run amok.
* Ethan Chorin is the author of Exit the Colonel: The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution (New York: PublicAffairs, 2012)