Are We Facing a Second Somalia?

The Libyan writer and political analyst Mustafa el-Fituri describes here the most important challenges that Libya must now overcome on its way to democracy

By Mustafa el-Fituri

The kidnapping of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in early October provides clear proof of how catastrophic the situation is in Libya two years after the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime.

The popular uprising in Libya was massively influenced by the NATO military intervention. And it is now clear that the country, still undergoing reconstruction, is confronted with far more complex challenges than those facing Egypt or Tunisia, for example. The euphoria that followed the overthrow of Gaddafi has long since evaporated. Two years after the end of the dictatorship, there are still no functioning state institutions in the country.

It would be irresponsible to maintain that Libya now stands at the crossroads. This junction was left behind long ago, and, unfortunately, events have propelled the country in the opposite direction. Now, Libya is heading at full speed towards becoming a second Somalia. In order to escape this scenario, the country must overcome a number of very serious challenges.

Ministerpräsident Ali Seidan, Foto: Reuters
Im Würgegriff der Milizen und Clans: Libyens Ministerpräsident Ali Seidan hatte Mitte November eine härtere Gangart gegenüber den ehemaligen Revolutionsbrigaden angekündigt, nachdem Milizionäre Mitte November ein Blutbad unter Demonstranten in Tripolis angerichtet hatten.

The recent kidnapping of Prime Minister Zeidan has made absolutely clear that the security situation in Libya remains unmanageable. If even the Prime Minister can be kidnapped from the Corinthia Hotel, frequented by international guests and one of the most secure locations in the country, then how are average Libyan citizens coping with the situation?

Caught in the whirlpool of lawlessness

Although the militias are financed by the state, they are not under government control and have developed into an army composed of unemployed young men. Today, it is difficult to differentiate between the revolutionaries who fought under the leadership of NATO and the "rebels" who are taking advantage of the precarious security situation. Far removed from any media scrutiny, criminal groups attack whole regions on a daily basis.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi was certainly correct when he announced that weapons had fallen into the hands of close to 16,000 criminals, who were posing as "rebels". These weapons were those delivered two years ago by NATO or those looted from the weapons arsenal of the Gaddafi regime. This situation is sucking Libya ever deeper into a whirlpool of lawlessness.

Since October 2011, all of Libya's transitional governments have failed in one of their most important tasks, namely, in disarming the rebels. Yet, as long as the new leadership remains impotent in stopping the trade in arms within the country, it will surely fail in its fight against international smuggling.

Erdölförderung in Libyen, Foto: DW/K. Zurutuza
Unfreiwillige Drosselung: Das Öl- und Gasgeschäft leidet unter den andauernden Unruhen in dem Land. So blockierten Milizen zuletzt die Ölraffinerie in der Stadt Al-Sawija westlich von Tripolis. Im Osten des Landes behindern Milizen, die zum Teil mit Angehörigen einer offiziell nicht anerkannten Autonomieregierung zusammenarbeiten, die Produktion und den Export durch die staatliche Ölgesellschaft.

Within next to no time, the country has turned into a haven for extremists. They, in turn, even pose a threat to neighbouring countries. The unstable situation in Libya also plays a negative role in the Syrian civil war, as the majority of foreign fighters and weapons on the side of the Syrian opposition come from Libya.

Between economic collapse and political stagnation

Without a doubt, the new political players in the new Libya are simply not up to the labyrinthine tasks facing them, as most members of the national assembly lack any measure of experience, skill in governing, or leadership qualities. Many of them have lived for decades in exile and know little of the complex social structures in present-day Libya.

This political situation has impeded economic growth and, since 2011, blocked the expansion of infrastructure that was previously supported through foreign investments before the overthrow of Gaddafi. In particular, oil exports, the most important source of income for the state, have been systematically sabotaged. Armed groups have controlled the oil fields for the past two months. This has resulted in a loss of billions for the state and is creating a huge hole in the budget. Libyan workers will suffer the most, as the vast majority are employed by the state.

The more the new Libyan elite is occupied with setting up state institutions, the less they are able to fulfil their regional responsibilities. This fact has led neighbouring states to increasingly cast doubt on Libya's capability to be a reliable cooperation partner at the regional level.

This mistrust has led to political stagnation within the Maghreb Union, as bilateral relations between the Libyan state, Tunisia, and Algeria are frosty at best. Even relations with sub-Saharan governments appear to have soured. The reason is that the national transitional government in Libya continues to accuse a number of African states of having sent mercenaries to Libya in 2011 to fight on the side of the Gaddafi regime.

Mustafa el-Fituri

© Qantara 2013

Mustafa el-Fituri is a Libyan political scientist and the recipient of the 2010 Samir Kassir Prize for Freedom of the Press.

Translated from German by John Bergeron

Editor: Lewis Gropp/