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10 Years Since: Gaddafi's Libya hasn't disappeared

Emad Badi, Global Initiative

Emad Badi, Global Initiative

The year of 2011 was the day that Colonel Muammar Gadaffi’s Libya came to an end but the institutional contours of his Jamahiriya - "State of the Masses" - were never overhauled by the country’s political elite after his demise. The wilfully protracted delay of much-needed reforms that could have enabled a new chapter for the country, and that NATO failed to plan for and implmement, left Libya’s nascent democracy vulnerable to foreign interventionism.


Libya’s population, starved of justice and dignity, grew increasingly war-weary and disillusioned; the political class the people voted for in 2012 continues to disappoint them. Self-serving venal politicians and ideologically motivated armed groups proved to be ideal proxies, while the palpable gradual decay of the rules-based liberal order proved a boon to states that had differing visions of post-revolutionary Libya. These setbacks allowed the figurehead of the counter-revolutionaries to emerge onto the scene: with the military, economic and political support of the external powers, General Khalifa Hafter has sought to advance his own agenda.


Aggrieved citizens’ search for a scapegoat for revolutionary failures were found in Haftar’s expedient incrimination of Islamists, which provided a momentary respite. Ironically, Haftar’s ascent is built on bolstering the maladjusted facets of Gaddafi's totalitarian rule that led to the latter’s downfall – particularly the zero-sum impulse to eradicate political opponents and critics, as well as the blundering approach to hereditary succession. His gambit to monopolize control over Libya is failing because, much like Gaddafi, he is forcing his opponents – Islamists and non-Islamists alike – into make-shift alliances.


Overall, the Jamahiriya always featured as an after-thought to the tyrant that built it. Attempting to graft a democratic system onto the institutions that survived him is the core reason why today's Libya is the theatre of a battle that pit Haftar’s caricature of Gadaffi’s Jamahiriya against a kleptocracy. Yet, this domestic paradox has been gradually overshadowed by extraneous dynamics. The proxy powers that exploited Libyans’ tussle to define the shape of their country’s post-revolutionary landscape have, a decade later, become key actors themselves. In assuming the role of protagonists in a conflict that was never their own, they are now effectively ensuring the core root of Libya’s strife remains unaddressed.

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