On February 17 it will be 7 years since the start of the events in Libya which led to the overthrow of its leader – Muammar Gaddafi. These years have been full of dramatic and often bloody events, which, according to a number of different indices (effective sovereignty, stability, commercial activity etc.), have left the country much worse off.
Since 2014 the country has been in chaotic situation- divided into two sectors, with opposing capitals in Tripoli and Tobruk, each of which have their own government, parliament, and security services. The balance of power between them is changing.
In the last year the area controlled by the National Army, led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar (i.e. the eastern, or Tobruk, sector) has expanded. That sector includes the ‘oil crescent’ (the oil wells and the main ports for oil exports). The Government of National Accord, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, has an unsteady hold over the country.
For three years the United Nations and a number of neighboring Arab countries have tried, without success, to persuade the two opposing parties to comply with the peace agreement that they signed in Morocco (which called for the creation of unified national transitional state structures, elections to the new parliament etc.) The Shkirat Agreement expired at the end of 2017.
Many experts consider that the negotiators meeting to discuss issues arising from the treaty lack the authority to make any decisions, and the military groups who they represent are heterogenous, each split into a number of camps, divided along regional and tribal lines.
To save the negotiating process, the UN special representative for Libya, Hasan Salam has presented a three-stage plan for the next year. He proposed that the Shkirat Agreement be amended, the Tripoli-based government be restructured, a constitution be drawn up and elections be held in the new parliament.
The question is, how can fair, impartial and democratic elections be held, when there are two governments? And how important are elections to the average Libyan, living in a delicate security situation and suffering from disorder and social and economic problems?
The falling value of the Libyan dinar and annual inflation of 30% are causing a fall in his standard of living. Before the revolution a dinar could be exchanged for three dollars and at its highest level Libyans looked down on the ‘green dollar’ with contempt. Now one dollar can be exchanged in the market for 9 Libyan dinars.
This is genuinely resulting in an increase in prices, as the majority of goods, especially food, are imported. Libyans are faced with the curse of cash shortages, queues in banks, power cuts, deteriorating services etc.
All these problems are the result of the collapse of Libya’s economy and manufacturing sector. According to Mustafa Sanalla, the president of the National Oil Corporation, Libya has lost $180 billion since 2011 because of the actions of various militias in the regions where oil is extracted, refined and transported.
In 2017 Libya received $14 billion from oil sales, three times more than in the previous year. But in 2010, the year before the revolution, oil exports brought approximately $47 billion into the national budget. It is true that recently the amount of ‘black gold’ extracted has increased to 1 million barrels a day, but this is still below the pre-revolution level of 1.6 million barrels a day.
Out of the 150 countries listed in Forbes Magazine’s rating of the ‘Best Countries for Foreign Business’, Libya occupies the last but one position.
As a result of the above situation, people’s attitudes towards the ideals of the February revolution are changing. Today, in Libya’s political and media circles, a clear divide is being observed between so-called ‘Februarists’ and ‘Septemberists’.
The ‘Februarists’ are those who fully support the February 17 revolution, and are convinced that the ‘rebels against a despotic regime’ won a just victory.
Those who support the former Gaddafi regime are known as ‘Septemberists’, as it was the September Revolution that brought Gaddafi to power. The latter camp, shaking their heads in wonder, ask themselves whether it was worth shedding so much blood, losing lives and suffering a huge material loss, merely to end up in Libya’s current fragmented state.
Both of these schools of thought have their own liberal, Islamist, and secular factions. That is why many local political analysts are urging them to find common points of agreement, steer clear of extreme positions, and put the interests of their country above their own selfish political calculations and concerns.
For example, Fatima Hamroush a former minister in Libya’s first post-revolution government, called for the creation of an emergency cabinet made up of politicians with a wide range of affiliations, including former associates of Gaddafi (). That is despite the fact that Dr. Hamroush was at one time a fierce critic of the previous regime.
It appears possible that a political consensus, arrived at in accordance with the law, might be able to fill the current institutional vacuum. But Libyan society is still divided by the powerful shocks it suffered in a war involving NATO and other foreign powers, and during the period of sectarian conflict which followed.
Political circles are pulled apart by disagreement, and are kept hostage by mutual resentments, suspicions and hostilities that have built up over a number of years.
Yury Zinin, Leading Research Fellow at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.