Oil, Banks, and Governance: Economic Realities in a Divided Libya (Mikail-Engelkes)

Oil, banks, and governance: Economic realities in a divided libya

Authors: Dr Barah Mikaïl and Simon Engelkes

Despite limited improvements, the Libyan economy still lingers well below its potential, obstructed by continuing violent conflict and political uncertainty. Libya’s poor economic performance is evident in the numbers, and it is rendered even more obvious by the population’s claims. Many efforts – including specific policies and economic orientations – have been developed by Libya’s political authorities, in the East and in the West, to try and limit the effects of economic problems on the society. However, results remain limited so far.

To contribute to a deepened understanding of the Libyan economy in its current state, the KAS Regional Program South Mediterranean in cooperation with the Madrid-based think tank Stractegia organized a roundtable within the framework of a two-year series of dialogue rounds dedicated to assess the state of play and identify a possible way forward in order to overcome Libya’s key socioeconomic dilemmas and difficulties. The roundtable on 8 March 2018 in Tunis provided a platform for Libyan-Libyan dialogue by bringing together a variety of experts and stakeholders from within the Libyan economy, who exchanged their analyses and testimonials during panels on the country’s oil and banking sectors, the role of the private and shadow economies in absence of effective state governance and the function of municipalities in filling the gap of public service provision.

Libya, the country with the largest oil reserves on the African continent, stopped being a stable supplier to the regional economy. Oil revenues have decreased by a quarter and despite reports of increasing production, the country lags far behind its potentials. The economic crises – seen by some of the experts present as the main motivation behind many faces of the conflict – undermines both social peace and public confidence in the state while it requires the country to stay on the drip of foreign humanitarian and development aid. Inflation accelerated, the black market is thriving, and the future challenges for the Libyan economy range from the reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure and a diversification of the sources of revenue to nurturing the private sector and fighting organized crime and corruption. Thus, finding sustainable solutions for the key economic issues in Libya can be the start for a resolution of the crisis, and an emphasis on a united political economy and ‘good governance’ could be a catalyst for Libyan development. The expert roundtable concluded with five main recommendations:

  • Rebuild the oil and gas infrastructure

Oil is central to Libya and its economy; it is its first source of revenue. Although diversification is important for creating a vital Libyan economy, as will be argued below, the oil industry should remain a priority considering that it still constitutes the most important source of wealth for Libya. 97 percent of state revenues rely on oil and gas production, which creates a weakness of dependency within state structures.  Furthermore, disruptions in Libya’s oil activity and the long-term closing of important fields – such as Mabrouk and Ghani – had a negative impact on the country’s economy. Irregular production further hinders the country to rely exclusively on oil income. Despite the oil benefits that Libya expects in 2018, 22,5 billion dollars, the country’s current production of 978,000 bpd (as of January 1st 2018) is low and deceptive.

The National Oil Company (NOC) is expected to have a strong role in this regard. In reality, its influence and its impact on the country’s oil prospects are rather limited. For instance, the NOC has repeatedly asked national authorities to repair the production fields that have been damaged, but its query was not met with any success. The Libyan NOC is perceived as an institution that should be able to pressure authorities into taking the necessary decisions; but the reality of the NOC is one of a divided institution, unable to appear as a strong body. Moreover, political divisions at the national level make it in any case quite difficult for Libyan ‘official’ institutions to have their say and impose their will on actors throughout the whole country.

As a result, oil production in Libya depends on many factors that include the political context; the security situation; the question of who is in control of oil fields as well as who among the involved external actors has more influence in cooperating with Libyan oil companies. The oil production output dropped after 2011 and productivity levels broke down completely in 2015 due to the security-related closure of oil fields and general instability. The haphazard shutdowns of key fields and ports during a long blockade of oil terminals in the Eastern Oil Crescent have reduced the pressure at the oil wells. Repsol, OMV, Total, and Waha are some of the companies that make a significant contribution to both Libya’s oil production and its level of exportation. Sharara, al-Fil, Wajala, and Abou Tefla, on the other hand, are important oil fields that notably participate in the country’s economy. The aforementioned disruptions in oil production make it hard for Libya to project itself on the long run and to proceed with a better organization of its economic prospects. Data and statistics insist on this reality; while Libya’s oil production was limited to 550,000 bpd in February 2017 given the developments in the Oil Crescent at that time, production went up to 1,01 Mbpd in July, before going down again to 917,000 bpd in December. In a country where 80 percent of the working population is said to earn a salary directly from the public sector, this creates a situation that is all too uncertain and problematic for a major part of the population.

Today, albeit producing again, oil facilities are used as “bargaining chips” for militias’ financial and political demands. A lot of the production is smuggled outside of the country. Reportedly, 40 percent of Libya’s neighboring countries’ markets are covered by smuggled Libyan oil. Experts called upon the authorities to find other forms of social support for citizens in need than oil subsidies. Libya is currently facing a budget deficit of around 12 billion Libyan dinars between state expenditure and revenues, which barely pays the income of its beneficiaries. Thus, efforts to reconstruct oil and gas infrastructure, revive the oil sector, and unlock the exploitation potential of existing resources require funds between $46-81 billion. Experts further noted that contracts with foreign oil companies need to be reviewed “for the sake of the Libyan people” and a prerequisite for this is an environment of united institutions.

Besides the oil, Libya has one other underexplored asset: it has comfortable volumes of gas and making a better use of it would considerably back the country’s sources of revenue. And this despite the fact that, like for oil, both infrastructures and the political context would need to be reassessed and to improve before Libya reaches a satisfactory level of oil and gas production. Some countries, such as Russia and Italy, have understood well the benefits that Libya’s oil and gas resources could provide; but their strategy is still at the very beginning, and it needs to be completed with an official and clear grand strategy that would also suit Libya’s interests.

  • Diversify economic activities and sources of revenue

The limited performance of Libya’s economy stands in the way of a prosperous future. Indeed, most of the Libyan economy is linked to the action of the public sector, while the private sector deals with few and very modest projects. This situation adds to the lack of dynamism that prevails at the economic level, though it also generates some contradictions: systems of production are generally obsolete, the Libyan market is not competitive compared to the outside, the Libyan working force lacks training, and the constant quest for projects that would guarantee immediate benefits is simply not realistic.

Moreover, there are many factors that limit the prospects of the Libyan private sector. These include the obvious security challenges; lacks and deficits in terms of human resources; the weak performance of the banking sector; the difficulties that private companies face in the real estate sector given the lack of capacities and financial resources, as well as the lack of anticipation of existing opportunities in general.

The private sector in Libya holds the potential to diminish poverty and to play an important role in securing investment in infrastructure, electricity, water, and health care. It has been impacted strongly by the economic, political, and social factors driving further division in the country, such as the continuous fluctuation of prices. Nevertheless, in the fields of finance, health, transport, trade, and general services, the private sector seems to perform better when compared to previous years. This might give the impetus to municipalities and actors in the private sector to set up Private-Public Partnerships based on a common strategy to boost economic prospects.

During the roundtable, experts referred to “a certain chaos in the activities of the private sector in Libya” and laid emphasis on the need to create a legal framework for an involvement of the private sector in the economy. Attempts should also be made to start relying on new and alternative sources of revenue by diversifying the market and expanding industrial activity. Similarly, empowering the private sector entails an efficient strategy against the black market economy and transboundary smuggling as well as providing a more stable security environment for companies and investors.

  • Stabilize the banking sector, overcome divisions of the internal market, and rebuild trust in institutions

In economic terms, the true decision maker in Libya is the Libyan Central Bank (LCB). However, even the LCB hardly provides official and reliable data and statistics on the country’s economy. The most recent information available dates back to 2016, and even then, not all the data available was necessarily reliable. Nevertheless, there are some indications that can help understand where the country stands economically.

From a financial point of view, the Libyan economy is divided into three main sectors: banking (83 percent), insurance (16 percent), and investment (1 percent). While inflation is said to have stood officially at 26,3 percent for the month of February 2018, in reality, inflation goes as much as five times higher. This situation comes mostly as a consequence of the activity of the black market, but also because the entire country tends to align virtually to the rates practiced in Tripoli. Businessmen and their activities also contribute to the increasing inflation, since many of them – while they keep working in their original businesses – also find interest in currency trading. Besides, Libya has a low industrial and manufacturing activity, which explains why the market is flooded by Turkish (in the West) and Egyptian (in the East) products.

With its heavy dependency on oil revenues, the economic situation in Libya was better placed before 2011. In the 2000-2010 period, agreements signed between Libya, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) had allowed Libya to benefit from a positive conjuncture. But since 2011, the worsening of the political and security situation had a deep impact on the country’s economy. After the revolution in 2011, public funds were spent unwisely in numerous state institutions due to major expectations by the population and the budget deficit widened into the revenues from taxes and customs. In 2015, 36 percent of the central bank’s reserves were used to pay for the national budget. A year later, 70 percent of the budget was drawn from the reserves. The country’s currency reserves of $120-130 billion were burned at a rate of $20 billion a year, to the effect that now, only an estimated $20-30 billion are left. Bank runs and large cash outs lead to the liquidity crisis at hand today.

Experts confirmed that more than $40 billion, the “real money,” are outside the banking system and about 60 percent of state expenditures go to ‘officials’ on its payroll. The mistrust that citizens feel towards their institutions adds to this uncertainty and results in the population squirrelling away their foreign or local printed money reserves rather than handing it over to the banks. Representatives of the banking sector present at the roundtable accentuated the need to rebuild this trust in financial structures and the Libyan dinar.

All of this led to a catastrophic economic situation fixable only though a coherent economic strategy and a set of measures coordinated amongst central and local government officials as well as stakeholders in the banking sector. Remedies to this situation exist, but they require serious political reforms and a revolution in habits. Solutions can only be straightforward, and some consider that they can only come through dispositions that would include the backing of families with giving them an additional financial aid, restricting the importation of selected products in order to increase prospects for national production, issuing a new currency so that the crisis of liquidities is limited, reducing the state control over the economy, having better state management and good governance, more effectively controlling the currency rates, unifying financial and economic institutions, starting with the LCB, and putting an end to subventions on oil products.  A stable Libyan currency adequately managed by a united LCB is crucial for the future of the country.

  • Include local governance structures in economic negotiation and implementation processes

Notwithstanding, there are some existing institutions that are able to define common priorities for the Libyan economy: local governance structures. One example with regards to infrastructure is the Committee for the Transfer of Competences of the Local Administration which has started several initiatives that nevertheless need backing by a stronger and a more determined political actor. Given that the Tripoli-based Ministry of Local Governance is, according to its own employees, not concerned about the tensions between Libya’s East and West, this might be a window of opportunity that should be exploited.

As effectively governing municipalities can stabilize the country not only in terms of providing and maintaining sustainable infrastructure, local structures need to be supported, state institutions need to be rebuild, and the economic and governance systems within Libya need to be decentralized. In light of municipalities being at the heart of Libyan society and economic aspects composing the core of instability in the country, local governance should not only be on the priority list for the central government, but be enabled to bear the main responsibility in service provision.

Decentralization requires a gradual delegation of powers on the basis of municipality performance. The establishment of a Ministry of Local Governance by the GNA is thus a crucial step in supporting local sources of revenue as an alternative to the resources of the central government. Not only due to the large geographical distances between the municipalities, the local coordination of administrations is not an easy endeavor.

In fact, some of the main issues prevailing in Libya are those related to the lack of proximity, both at the level of the relation between the central authorities and the municipalities, and between political/executive structures and the society at large. Neglecting this side will only make it more difficult for Libyans to benefit from improvements in the health sector, sanitation, Foreign Direct Investments, and issues such as the future of IDPs and the impact of migration movements on the country.

This is where “changing habits” and promoting a deep, revolutionary reform of local management and governance is crucial. Thus, Libya is clearly in need of clear regulatory frameworks and policies for local governance as well as a long-term vision of  how municipalities can foster local investments in infrastructure to ensure service provision, guarantee state accountability, and bring an end to corruption.

  • Dismantle criminal networks fueling a ‘shadow economy’ and cut economic links to militias

The black market has evolved into the controlling element behind the prices in the whole Libyan economy. Lifting this headlock necessitates a clear strategy on how to deal with the parallel markets and an action plan in order to narrow the gaping difference between the official and unofficial currency exchange rates. Many experts agree that the only unified and most active economy in Libya today is the parallel market, which is less impacted by political disputes and conflict than the divided formal economy. Any attempt for a solution must account for the fact that there is a network of interests intertwined with all kinds of criminal activities, ranging from the smuggling of oil and other subsidized goods to weaponry and human beings, and ingrained into the socioeconomic fabric of numerous local communities.

The Libyan regime under Gaddafi exerted a certain level of control over the smuggling business. Since then, open competition has taken over and provoked local conflict. The absence of stable statehood and dominant security actors led to a professionalization of the smuggling economy and – following the spread of armed groups – required smugglers to hire personnel for armed protection which again gave rise to an informal protection market. All throughout the country and empowered by Libya’s hybrid security sector, militias are fighting over control of smuggling routes; oil, gas, and transportation infrastructure; the control over borderland territory; state bodies; economic and trade nodes along the coast; and the predation of state revenues in what has been termed a war economy that depends on the dispensation of violence.

Given the fact that a lot of the liquidity in Libya is consumed by armed groups and local militias, these economic links must be interrupted by efforts to reintegrate members of armed groups into the economy and find alternatives to the central distribution of public wealth in order to preserve stability. The wealth of the militias exceeds billions of dinars and any solution requires the inclusion of the local governance level.


Libya lacks the presence of a long-term vision for its economy and this will not change until it becomes clear who exactly is taking decisions. Infrastructure and basic social services, such as health and education, are deficient, but reverting this situation needs time, money, and foreign investors. Oil reserves are important and exploring them accurately could help overcoming the crisis of liquidity and the budgetary problems that Libya is facing. Nevertheless, while having a regular and efficient oil production is critical for the country, positive achievements also need Libyans to clearly set the responsibilities for their core institutional bodies, such as the NOC and the LCB. An often raised question in this regard is on what basis oil benefits will have to be distributed.

Libya desperately needs to adopt extensive economic reforms before the situation totally slips out of the hands of those still executing some influence. Accurate reforms, however, need to be based on a good assessment and a correct understanding of the current situation in the country. In order to achieve that, Libya requires effective leadership under a government perceived as legitimate by the majority of its population.

While all eyes are on Libya’s – possible – upcoming elections, going to the polls might not necessarily contribute to solving the issues at hand, at least for the time being. This is where Libya will most probably need the few truly influential leaders to agree on feasible power-sharing before they develop accurate economic policies that would benefit the country. This, however, still sounds like wishful thinking for now.

About the Authors

Barah Mikaïl is Founding Director of Stractegia and Associate Professor at Saint Louis University in Madrid.

Simon Engelkes is Libya Project Coordinator at the KAS Regional Program South Mediterranean/Tunis.

Crisis energética en Libia: Entrevista con Abdelmagid Hamza (en árabe)

 ازمة الكهرباء في ليبيا: الاسباب والحلول الواردة

لقاء خاصّ مع رئيس مجلس إدارة الشركة العامة للكهرباء في ليبيا المهندس عبد المجيد حمزة

امام تفاقم ازمة انقطاع الكهرباء المتكررة في اغلب المدن الليبية الكبرى كمدينة طرابلس وضواحيها وبنغازي والجنوب بالكامل، فقد اضطرّت الشركة العامة للكهرباء لطرح الاحمال، وهي طريقة تقوم الشركة من خلالها بقطع الكهرباء على المدن لفترات طويلة من الوقت ثم ترجعها من جديد وبالتناوب بين المدن. امّا استمرار هذا الوضع فقد زاد من حالة الاحتقان لدى الكثير من المواطنين إلى أن خرج البعض منهم عن طورهم مثال عدد مهمّ من اهالي بعض المناطق الّذين قاموا بمهاجمة موظفي الشركة العامّة للكهرباء وتعرّضوا لهم بالضرب والاهانة.

ولمناقشة هذا الملف المهم كان هذا اللقاء الّذي اعدّه الصّحفي والبّاحث في مركز الأداء الاستراتيجي (ستراكتيجيا) محمّد الصّريط مع رئيس مجلس إدارة الشركة العامة للكهرباء المهندس عبد المجيد حمزة الّذي وافانا بوجهة نظره حول اهمّ التّطوّرات القائمة في ليبيا والمتعلّقة بازمة الكهرباء وتأثيرها على الوضع السّاري في البّلاد عموماً.


س \ هناك من يروج داخل ليبيا فكرة أنّ ازمة الكهرباء القائمة في البّلاد قد تكون ازمة مفتعلة لا فنّيّة كما يروّج البّعض، هل هذا الكلام قريب للواقع؟

ج \ بالطبع هذا الكلام غير منطقي وليس بالقريب ولا بالبعيد عن الواقع فالأزمة التي تمرّ بها ليبيا فيما يخص الكهرباء هي ازمة وهي ناتجة عن عدم تعاون المواطن مع الدّولة. بمعنى ادقّ فهناك عجز في الانتاج مقابل وجود قوّة استهلاك كبيرة فقوّة الاستهلاك الحالية تصل إلى ما بين 5500 إلى 6000 ميغاوات بما معناه أنّ الوضع الحاليّ يشابه ما حدث في شهر يناير من هذا العام عندما وصل عجز الإنتاج إلى ما يقارب ال1800 ميغاوات. وهذا يجعل الكثير من المحطات تخرج عن الخدمة بسبب كثرة الطلب على الكهرباء وهو ما لا يتوافق مع قدرة الانتاج ومن هنا دواعي اللجوء لطرح الاحمال.

لذلك فهذا الامر ليس له علاقة بالتوجّهات والمواقف السياسية أو غيرها بل هو امر فني بحت. 

س / كيف يمكن مواجهة هذا العجز في الوقت الرّاهن وبقصد التّخفيف عن عبء المواطن الذي يعاني قلّة السّيولة وانقطاع الكهرباء؟

ج \ يجب أن يتعاون المواطن بالدرجة الأولى وأن يستوعب المرحلة الحرجة التي تمرّ بها البلاد من خلال تكثيف الجهود، وبالفعل بإمكاننا أن نخرج من هذه الازمة من خلال تكثيف الجهود والتقليل ممّا أطلق عليه تسمية ” الاستهلاك العبثي”.

فمن ناحية نحن الآن بصدد صيانة بعض المحطات المتوقفة بطرابلس لتزويد المستهلك بالإنتاج سواء كان هذا المستهلك مواطن او صناعي أو زراعي. ولكن ما نطلبه هو الترشيد في الاستهلاك وإدراك المواطن للواقع ولحجم الازمة، فعلى سبيل المثال فقد قمت شخصيّاً بزيارة إحدى صالات البيع بإحدى الاسواق التجارية بطرابلس فوجدت هذه الصالة تحتوي على ما أكثر من 1600 مصباح علماً بأنّ هكذا أمر غير مقبول حيث أنّه في الكثير من الاحيان نحن نرى أنّ إضاءة المنازل والمحلّات والشركات تجري في وضح النهار حينما يخرج الموظّفون مع نهاية الدوام دون إقفال ما لا يحتاجونه من إضاءة ومواد كهربائيّة.

ايضا يتم ايجاد الحلول من خلال اعطاء فرصة لشركات الانشاء باستكمال مشاريعها داخل المدن والمناطق ودون التعرض لها من قبل الخارجين عن القانون، وعلى هذا الصّعيد فإنّ ملاحقة الاجهزة المعنية لهم سيكون سبب مهم في اجتياز الصعوبات. 

س / هناك من يقول أن مصر وتونس والمغرب اقلّ استهلاكاً للكهرباء من ليبيا بالرّغم من وجود قاعدة صناعية اوسع واهمّ في هذه البّلاد فما تفسيركم لذلك؟

ج \ نعم هذا صحيح، انا شخصياً إتّصلت بمدير شركة الكهرباء ” استاك ” بتونس السّيّد يونس الغرابي والذي قال لي انّه في بداية هذا الصيف وصلت درجة الحرارة إلى 47 درجة مئويّة مما جعل قدرة استهلاك تونس للكهرباء تصل لـحدّ ال4524 ميغاوات وهو رقم لم تعرفه تونس من قبل. برغم من أن عدد سكان تونس 9 ملايين نسمة فهم في متوسط استهلاكهم للكهرباء لا يتعدّون ال4200 ميغاوات، بينما في ليبيا الّتي وصل عدد سكانها إلى 5.847089 مليون نسمة حسب إحصائية عام 2012 فإن استهلاك الكهرباء فيها 7350 ميغاوات بينما قدرة الانتاج 5500 ميغاوات.

لذلك فإن استهلاك المواطنين الفّعلي في عدد من الدول يعادل في أغلب الاحوال 3 اضعاف ما يستهلكه المواطن في ليبيا، وهذا يرجع لأسباب عديدة لعل الانفلات الامني وتوقف الشبكة عن الصّيانة بسبب خروج الشركات الاجنبية من البّلاد له الدّور الاكبر في خلق هذا الوضع إلى جانب النّتائج الواردة عن تمادي المواطن في التّعاون مع الشركة. 

س / لماذا قبل عام 2011 كان إنتاج واستهلاك ليبيا لا يتعرّض لازمات مثل تلك الّتي تمرّ بها البّلاد الآن؟

ج \ في عام 2010 لم يتجاوز إنتاج ليبيا الكلّي من الكهرباء ال5100 ميغاوات بينما في عام 2003 لم يتعدّى إنتاج البلاد ال4200 ميغاوات، فعندما يساوي التوليد والانتاج حاجة الإستهلاك لا تكون هناك مشكلة ولكن عندما يحدث عجز في الإنتاج وتنامي الاستهلاك هنا تحدث المعضلة. هذا وقد زادت الاحمال في ليبيا وذلك تحديداً مع نهاية عام 2012 عندما إرتفعت ووصلت حاجة المواطنين إلى ال3000 ميغاوات وهو رقم فلكيّ بالمقارنة بعدد السكان وقدرة الانتاج إلى جانب عدم قيام المواطن بسداد فواتير الكهرباء، كما انّنا نعدّ الدولة الوحيدة في العالم التي لا يقوم مواطنوها بسداد فواتير الكهرباء فيها وهو جزء اخر من المعضلة. 

س / هل هناك خطّة اعدتها الشركة للخروج من هذه الازمة نهائيا أو على المدى البّعيد؟

ج \ هناك خطّتين في الواقع، الأولى تتعلّق بالشّركة وبعملها الفنّيّ امّا الثانية فتتعلّق بالدّولة وبأجهزتها الضبطيّة والرّقابية. وفيما يخص دور الشركة فنحن الآن نقوم بتطوير محطات عدّة في ليبيا منها محطّات الخمس والزّاوية وطبرق وزويتينه واوباري وسرت وكلّها كفيلة بأن تجعل القدرة الانتاجية ذات كفاءة عالية، فمحطّة خمس ستوفر ما يقارب ال550 ميغاوات بينما محطة اوباري ستوفر 230 ميغاوات ومحطّة سرت 640 ميغاوات، وبالتّالي سيكون لدينا 8770 ميغاوات وهو رقم ضخم سوف ينهي الازمة، بالإضافة إلى الفّائدة الّتي ستنتج عن إعادة تفعيل العقود الكبيرة مع الشركات الاجنبية وهي عقود أبرمت في عامي 2009 و2010 وهي خاصّة ببناء وتطوير محطات جديدة كبيرة جدا ستجعل من ليبيا دولة ذات قدرات إنتاجيّة كبيرة جدّاً في مجال الطّاقة.

Comentario: Quién es el “Haftar del Oeste”? Por M. Sreit

La reunión de París, organizada el martes 25 de julio de 2017, entre el mariscal Jalifa Haftar y el primer ministro libio Fayez Sarraj ha sido recibida positivamente por una gran parte de los libios, especialmente en Trípoli. Aunque parezca temprano – y arriesgado – apostar por un éxito y hablar de paz, son muchos los libios que consideran que la reunión de París supone una iniciativa seria. También hay aquellos que ven en este encuentro la prueba de que el mariscal Jalifa Haftar ha aceptado la “hoja de ruta” que el primer ministro libio anunció hace una semana. De hecho, la propuesta del primer ministro Sarraj, incluye, entre otros puntos destacados, el asunto de las elecciones anticipadas así como la reconciliación nacional; temas que también han sido abordados por los dos líderes libios en París.

Al mismo tiempo, últimamente se han organizado en la capital libia varias reuniones dedicadas al tema de la seguridad. Estas reuniones, encabezadas – y supuestamente promovidas – por Najmi Nakou’, jefe de la Guardia presidencial en Trípoli, no tienen precedente en la historia reciente de Libia. Destacan por la voluntad de Nakou’ de unificar las milicias armadas de Trípoli y ponerlas bajo el control de un aparato militar central. Pero también cabe mencionar que, al organizar estas reuniones, Najmi Nakou’ ha excluido a los representantes de otras milicias importantes en el Oeste, como aquellas basadas en Misrata o en Zintan. La ciudad de Misrata está dividida desde hace tiempo entre quienes están a favor de un acercamiento entre Sarraj y Haftar y los que rechazan este escenario y recomiendan una oposición al líder del este de Libia. No obstante, si el posicionamiento de Misrata tiene importancia, es también porque se trata de milicias originarias de esta ciudad que se encargan de la seguridad del primer ministro Fayez Sarraj así como de varios ministros del Gobierno libio de unión nacional, entre ellos, los ministros de defensa y del interior.

Habrá que ver si las perspectivas que se califican como positivas de la reunión de París se confirman a largo plazo. Mientras tanto, también habrá que tener en cuenta la influencia de ciertos militares sobre la percepción que los libios tienen de la realidad del país. Najmi Nakou’ aparece hoy como una personalidad poderosa con recursos – incluso militares –, mientras que muchos libio siguen viendo a Fayez Sarraj como una persona débil. Además, Nakou’ tiene una ventaja importante: es una figura de consenso desde el punto de vista de los libios del oeste. Eso no implica necesariamente que Nakou’ llegará a tener un papel significativo a nivel político; dicho esto, Nakou’ ha adquirido una reputación de hombre poderoso en un tiempo bastante corto. Además, a día de hoy, hay quienes se preguntan si Nakou’ no podría acabar siendo, a largo plazo, el “Haftar del oeste libio”. Este escenario podemos descartarlo de momento; pero este tipo de rumores siempre hay que tomarlos en consideración, por si acaso.


Security and Stability in Libya: The Way Forward (B. Mikail)


Barah Mikaïl

 Compilation of the findings and recommendations discussed during a workshop on “Security and Stability in Libya” held in Tunis on 22 May 2017 by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in cooperation with STRACTEGIA

The ongoing situation in Libya reflects well the depth and the complexity of the country’s multifold crises. At this stage, Libya’s key actors remain far from capable of reaching a durable political agreement, despite intensified regional and international initiatives meant to help and to support them. So far, the meeting between Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in Abu Dhabi early May 2017, as promising as it sounded, has not been followed by strong initiatives. Prime Minister Sarraj’s grab on the country may be growing but ongoing tensions and fights in Libya also indicate that finding a solution to the Libyan conundrum remains difficult.

Besides security remaining a main concern in Libya, tribal dynamics, while not new, have also been growing worryingly. Dramatic evolutions in the oil crescent, where Benghazi’s Defense Brigades (BDB), the Libyan National Army (LNA), and their respective allies fought in spring 2017, also indicate how deep and how complex Libya’s problems are. The Tripoli-based Presidential Council, the eastern-based LNA, as well as many alleged poles of power (Bunyan Marsus, BDBs, armed militias, influential tribal leaders, etc.) have taken positions that question the prospects for achieving political national reconciliation.

Ongoing conflicts and their impact on security structures in Libya

Continuing unrest in Libya can be explained by a myriad of factors. Among others, the difficulties the Presidential Council encounters in imposing its will on all Libyan actors decisively limit its ability to guarantee security and stability. Similarly, problems prevail when it comes to identifying who is in charge of “the” army and who are the real military commanders responsible for the security and the stability of the country.

Furthermore tribal, ideological and/or political conflicts have serious consequences on stability, with the role and the influence of external actors – including but not limited to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Qatar – as further factor interfering in the already complex Libyan environment, as highlighted recently with evolutions in Derna for example. Moreover, human trafficking and the smuggling of goods alter both the conditions for the development of Libya’s social and economic perspectives and the citizens’ day-to-day perspectives. Libyans are still faced with a deteriorating economic situation and a liquidity crisis that drastically limits access to cash. In the context of lacking accountability and control, free circulation of arms and weapons favours the proliferation of uncontrolled armed gangs and militias and the increasing role of mercenaries. On the political level, the ongoing fragmentation and all actors’ prioritization of consolidating their own power over achieving security are important spoilers for stability. This is also linked to the allocation of positions within the government based on cronyism rather than merit – a practice that only serves to further erode the trust of the population in the government’s ability and will to achieve positive development for the country.

With this multitude of challenges ahead, quick and efficient solutions do simply not exist. But there is a way of assessing and determining where priorities are. Acting efficiently in Libya requires a focus on key steps. On the level of security forces, this includes efforts to build a strong national army and to form militaries that will have the task of reintegrating militia members into a single national army under the control of a unique official government. Additionally, all groups and communities (including Tubus and Tuaregs) will have to be allowed to be part of national security institutions and to have their political representation guaranteed on the national level. Reforms of the security sector will have to be accompanied by better development plans and policies that would contribute to guaranteeing better perspectives for citizens and address the effects of the migrant crisis. None of these will however be possible without a prior reconciliation between Libyan warring parties (starting with representatives of “the east”, “the west” and “the south” of the country). It is in this context that the international community can contribute to an improved context for stability and development in Libya.

The tribal factor and its consequences for the security sector

While not new, the tribal factor remains an important issue in Libya, due to the fact that historical, political and social elements overlapped and contributed to shaping the Libyan society. Nuances in the influence of tribal structures do exist at the national level – for instance, the west is known for being less tribal than the east and the south –, but overall tribal dynamics remain both part of the Libyan contemporary problems and a possible contributor to solving them.

Tribes present a challenge and are oftentimes counterproductive to efforts of national stabilization when they act on their own, not recognizing any political and/or national authority. As an example, many tribes end up dealing with smugglers and their networks, hence maintaining – be it directly or indirectly – the existence of clandestine migration that presents a destabilizing factor for Libya. As another example, dynamics of retaliation and revenge between different tribes can increase the number of violent clashes and contribute to the emergence of further problems in already tense environments.

On the other hand, due to their political and social influence, tribes can also have an important role in solving Libya’s current crises. Tribes are important and influential actors in many parts of the country, and the authority they have on the people that belong to their “community” makes ‘asabiya (social cohesion) a potential driver for appeasement. Particularly in the context of the political vacuum that prevails in Libya, getting tribes to defuse their mutual tensions and put aside their rivalries can be of great help to overcome societal cleavages and contribute to a stabilization of Libya’s social landscape. The pivotal role of committees of reconciliation (where many important tribal figures intervene), and the way their mediations succeeded in limiting the effects of tribal and clan fights throughout the last two to three years are clear and strong indicators for this important role.

How to foster conditions for security and peace in Libya?

There are many ways security and peace could be fostered in Libya, depending on what priorities are set. Some of these deal with military prospects, others with political decisions. In any case, acting efficiently in Libya requires several cornerstones.

Firstly, the constitutional stalemate has to be overcome, which requires a review of the composition of the Presidential Council and the promotion of certain principles, such as limiting the number of vice-presidents to two. Additionally, the presidential mandate should be set for a limited period of time. Furthermore, the fostering of more transparency in all political processes is a necessary step, as well as the creation of a National Planning Committee that will help overcome Libya’s demographic contradictions, and developing initiatives that help citizens engage in reconciliation efforts. In order to achieve these cornerstones however, additional elements are required, such as putting an end to the interference by others countries whose strategies are causing tensions in Libya, and finding a solution to political and military divisions and the way they are impeding the emergence of a strong army.

The UN can make the difference and create conditions for stability and peace. The track record of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) may be seen critically in Libya by some people, such as those that consider that it has neglected numerous political parties and individuals that represented various ranges of the Libyan society (i.e. many of the parties that had been given official licenses with the end of the rule of Gaddafi). Others also criticize the UN for not having sufficiently worked towards facilitating new elections from which new figures could have better represented the population’s will. Nonetheless Libyans are almost unanimous in saying that UNSMIL is the only institution that can really guarantee a solution for Libya; they just consider that the UN should develop adapted and more adequate strategies that accurately target key problems and include all actors in negotiations. The many positive reactions that followed the announcement of the appointment of new UN special envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame come here as an opportunity for the intergovernmental organization to capitalize on the progress that has been achieved up to now and to act in a way that will allow Libyans to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Solutions are possible in Libya. Some local initiatives have proved successful in contributing to stability and security in Libya. A recent example for this is the Mubadara 53 (Initiative 53), a plan that was launched in Tripoli and that reached a total of 53 Libyan towns and municipalities. The initiative, which encouraged municipal councils and important local actors to develop common initiatives meant to guarantee ceasefires and stability, proved successful. Some experts even consider the Mubadara 53 as a potential alternative to overcome the country’s political stalemate. But targeted and adequate international support is also seen as an important contribution to the sustained success of such initiatives.

Les juifs de Libye peuvent-ils prétendre à un droit au retour ? Entretien avec Raphael Luzon

Après des décennies d’occultation, la question juive en Libye semble reprendre de l’importance. Ont joué en ce sens les multiples réunions organisées récemment en Italie, en Grèce et à Malte et où ont été évoquées des questions telles que la possibilité pour les juifs de Libye de retourner dans le pays ou d’accéder à des dédommagements. D’aucuns soutiennent ces droits, cependant que d’autres les rejettent, ou les accueillent avec prudence. Le fait pour des personnalités libyennes d’avoir procédé à des rencontres et des réunions avec des juifs dont beaucoup avaient quitté la Libye en 1967 ne pouvait en tous cas passer inaperçu.

Parmi ces réunions, figure la rencontre organisée sur l’île de Rhodes, fin juin dernier, par Raphael Luzon, président de l’Union des juifs libyens de la diaspora. Né à Benghazi, maîtrisant à ce jour encore « l’accent de Benghazi » comme le ferait tout habitant de la ville, Raphael Luzon, en dépit de décennies d’exil, a encore vif dans sa mémoire jusqu’au nom des quartiers et des rues de sa ville natale. Il est par ailleurs fier du fait qu’il continue, à ce jour, à écouter et à se laisser emporter par les chansons et mélodies de Ali al-Shaalya, Mohammed Sudqi et Shadi al-Jabal, entre autres chanteurs libyens.

Abdallah al-Kabir et Mohammed Sreit ont pu s’entretenir avec Raphael Luzon. Celui-ci nous a confié après coup qu’il s’était senti heureux de nous donner cette interview car elle lui a permis en quelque sorte de casser le « mur de la peur » qu prévalait jusqu’à peu dans son esprit. Dans le même temps, Raphael Luzon estime que beaucoup reste encore à faire ; pour cause, selon lui, l’absence de compréhension de beaucoup de Libyens du sentiment sincère que les juifs de Libye entretiennent vis-à-vis de l’idée de pouvoir rentrer dans un pays auquel ils se sentent étroitement liés. Propos recueillis.

Abdallah al-Kabir et Mohammed Sreit : Comment évaluez-vous la rencontre de Rhodes que vous avez organisée fin juin 2017 autour de la question des juifs de Libye ? Cette rencontre a-t-elle abondé dans un sens qui puisse servir votre cause ?

Raphael Luzon : La rencontre de Rhodes a incarné ce pas de géant que nous attendions depuis si longtemps. Elle a permis de briser la glace et de faire tomber ce mur de la peur qui prévalait jusqu’ici. La rencontre a d’ailleurs eu lieu de manière officialisée, elle a consisté en un dialogue courtois et humain qui a permis de réunir des Libyens répondant à des religions et des affiliations diverses, mais tous unis par leur appartenance à la Libye.

AA et MS : Pourquoi la participation à cette réunion de responsables gouvernementaux israéliens ainsi que de députés de la Knesset ?

RL : La présence de responsables politiques israéliens a plusieurs avantages. Certains partis politiques israéliens peuvent trouver à travers cette initiative un moyen pour se gagner sur le plan interne les voix des Israéliens originaires de Libye ; mais ils ont aussi à travers cette réunion un moyen par lequel ils peuvent convaincre les citoyens israéliens en général de ce que leurs actions s’inscrivent dans un sens favorable à la consécration d’avancées sur le plan régional. Par ailleurs, il ne peut y avoir que des avantages pour les responsables israéliens à s’entretenir directement avec des parties arabes et à échanger leurs points de vue mutuels.

AA et MS : Comment concilier dès lors le fait que les responsables libyens soutiennent le droit des juifs originaires de Libye à retourner en Libye, cependant qu’ils ne reconnaissent pas ce droit aux réfugiés palestiniens ?

RL : Il n’y a pas de principes en politique, seuls les intérêts prévalent dans ce domaine. Mais votre question devrait être adressée aux responsables politiques israéliens directement, et non à moi.

AA et MS : Khalifa Ghweil, président du Gouvernement de Salut National en Libye, a nié avoir envoyé un représentant à la réunion de Rhodes, tout comme il a nié vous avoir adressé une lettre à ce sujet. Comment réagissez-vous à cela, vous qui aviez pourtant parlé de cette lettre en considérant qu’elle avait valeur de missive historique ?

RL : Je conseille à monsieur Khalifa Ghweil de publier un communiqué officiel et signé dans lequel il niera ou reconnaitra avoir procédé à l’envoi d’une telle lettre. Cette valse-hésitation de sa part ne le sert en rien, elle ne fait qu’alimenter les soupçons à son encontre, les uns et les autres estimant que tout ce qu’il recherche au bout du compte est la satisfaction de toutes les parties. Pour notre part, nous attendons toujours qu’il nous réponde de façon officielle, sans tourner autour du pot et sans chercher à politiser la donne.

AA et MS : Comme vous le savez, la Libye souffre maintenant la présence et la superposition d’un ensemble de conflits. De plus, les ingérences étrangères en ajoutent à ce problème. Considérez-vous pour autant que les temps sont mûrs pour traiter de la question du retour des juifs de Libye ?

RL : Mais qu’est-ce qui alimente le plus les problèmes entre Libyens ? La rencontre de Rhodes, ou plutôt les envois d’armes, les replis communautaires et l’extrémisme qui prévalent dans le pays ? La Libye dispose de moyens ainsi que d’un réseau de relations à niveaux régional et international qui peuvent aider à accélérer la résolution d’une crise qui affecte les citoyens libyens, et non les responsables politiques. Pourquoi ne tirent-ils donc pas profit de ces moyens ? Par ailleurs, est-il logique de considérer que parler des ingérences turque, égyptienne, émiratie et italienne en Libye serait quelque chose d’admissible, cependant que notre retour à nous, fils et filles de ce pays, en Libye ne le serait pas ?

AA et MS : Pensez-vous que l’idée du retour des juifs en Libye est mieux admise par les Libyens aujourd’hui qu’elle ne l’était précédemment ?

RL : Les jeunes Libyens sont plus ouverts et bien plus conscients des réalités aujourd’hui. Quant à la question du retour des juifs en Libye, elle correspond à une démarche individuelle qui n’engagerait que ceux qui y tiendraient, et non la communauté des juifs de Libye prise dans son ensemble. Cela étant dit, j’aimerais poser une question qui est à mes yeux très importante : connaît-on l’exemple ne serait-ce que d’un seul juif de Libye qui aurait porté, de quelque manière que ce soit, tort au peuple libyen ? Ou peut-on considérer, au contraire, que nous sommes des victimes qui ont payé le prix de certains évènements et qui, malgré cela, ne sont mus que par de bonnes intentions vis-à-vis de l’ensemble du peuple libyen ?

AA et MS : Pour finir, quel est le message que vous souhaiteriez adresser aux Libyens en général et aux lecteurs de cet entretien en particulier ?

RL : Je leur dis ceci : Ô peuple libyen ! Vous qui êtes ma famille en Libye ! Le temps passe, et le bateau Libye coule jour après jour. C’est pourquoi, je vous en conjure, mettez-vous d’accord, et éloignez-vous de la voie de l’extrémisme ! Construire un Etat moderne ne peut se faire que par le biais de l’ouverture intellectuelle, économique et politique, tous trois gages de stabilité, de développement et d’épanouissement.

ES – State Legitimacy And Local Governance In Libya: A Reading


Five years after the fall of former president Moammar Gaddafi, instability, insecurity, war, and political divisions still prevail in Libya. In Tripoli, the chairman of the UN-backed Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, claims that he is the only legitimate prime minister; further east, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives has not yet agreed to recognize al-Serraj’s legitimacy. Moreover, other powerful individuals claim that they are indispensable actors in the country. One such actor is ex-prime minister Khalifa Ghweil who in mid-October 2016 orchestrated a coup attempt against Prime Minister al-Sarraj. Another key contestant is general Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), and a rival to the al-Sarraj-led

Government of National Accord (GNA). Haftar’s latest “coup” was in September 2016, when he took control over important eastern oil export terminals before delivering them to the National Oil Company. While Haftar had been an important political figure in Libya, this move demonstrated the powerful means at his disposal as well as his personal quest for a national destiny.

This complex political environment is stressed further by a number of other threats and challenges. The uncertainties regarding the adoption of a new constitution, the war against Daesh and other radical movements, the key role of militias with conflicting political agendas, ideological divisions, the country’s faltering economy, and the role of tribes and clans all combine with a governance vacuum to jeopardize Libya’s future. Another key aspect will be the economic well-being of the country’s people, and whether or not the economic demands of the population are being appropriately considered.

Libya’s successive governments have all failed to address the population’s basic needs. As a result, many Libyans have turned to local governments, adding further to national divisions. There are a variety of drivers of national division. Geography, identity, and security concerns all help determine the population’s political affiliation. Currently, many Libyans look to local leaders and representatives they think can best defend their interests.

Some Libyans seek solutions by looking to their municipal councils, while others favor religious, tribal and/or clan leaders. A certain segment of the population does believe in national leaders, such as Fayez al-Sarraj or Khalifa Hafter, but it is hard to know the extent to which any such personality could represent a majority of Libyans. This complex political situation makes it increasingly important to correctly identify the trends in Libya’s most important towns and regions.

To improve understanding of these trends, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, in cooperation with Stractegia, organized a seminar in Tunis on December 9th, 2016, entitled “State Legitimacy and Local Governance in Libya.” Nearly forty guests shared their views on how to address Libya’s most pressing challenges. Participants represented many sectors of Libyan civil society: politicians, academics, human-rights activists, humanitarian workers, and civil-servants. Participants came with different, and at times conflicting, ideological points of view.

The seminar addressed four main topics: an overview of the political and institutional reality in Libya; the political prerogatives best left to local government; the aims of the Libyan civil-society amidst the growing role of the country’s tribes; and the global impact of local, national, and international perspectives on the country’s future.

Libya’s Political and Institutional Realities

Many Libyan towns and regions face instability and insecurity. Tripoli and its neighborhoods fall under the rule of militias with divergent political and ideological agendas. Despite appearances, the situation in Benghazi is hardly better: security concerns remain a problem in this important eastern city and clashes with radical groups continue to plague areas in the Western part of the city. The duration and intensity of the fighting against Daesh in Syrte indicate the degree of insecurity that prevails in some parts of country as well as the limited fighting-capacity of Libya’s armed battalions. Aside from this, the clashes that occurred at the end of 2016 in Sebha between two important tribes demonstrate the uniqueness of the Libyan political situation as well as the extent to which the country suffers from a growing political and institutional void.

We cannot explain the fragmentation of Libya’s military by blaming the absence of regular state institutions during the reign of Moammar Gaddafi. The political void that prevails in Libya today is also due to the failure of the UN-led process of reconciliation. The Tripoli-based government, set-up following the Skheirat agreements (December 2015), lacks both power and sovereignty. Compared to the government in Tripoli, the rival institution in Tobrouk, led by Abdallah al-Thinni, seems to be in a position of strength. Al-Thinni’s disagreements with the government of al-Sarraj will continue as long as the House of Representatives does not recognize the Government of National Accord (GNA).

Libya’s political divisions favored the emergence of armed groups and brigades that do not respond well to orders from the government. Well-known examples include Bunyan Marsous (BM), a coalition of fighting forces that originates from Misrata, and the Libyan National Army (LNA), which follows the orders of the east-based field marshal Khalifa Haftar. BM and the LNA are allegedly the most powerful military “institutions” in Libya. That said, they are rivals who have refused to share a common agenda, adding to the uncertainty over the future of the country.

The power of militias and the corresponding insecurity have also had a direct impact on the humanitarian and economic situation in Libya. Kidnappings are common in the country. Women, children, as well as skilled professionals, such as engineers, have mostly been the targets of these kidnapping. This level of uncertainty has put the process of national development on hold and decreased the public’s access to basic public services.

The state of the health sector is extremely worrying. The increase in the price of medicines, the impossibility for hospitals to deliver proper health services, and the spread of diseases, all present great challenges for the population. Recently, seventy-three babies died in southern Libya due to the deteriorating state of the country’s health sector.

The ability of the population to access services such as water, sewage, electricity, and telecommunications is sporadic, increasing the burden on the population. Migration remains a core issue with important consequences for the lives of Libyans. Everyday, Libyans and non-Libyans alike depart from the country’s coast in order to cross the Mediterranean. Migrants are aided by cartels profiting from illegal migration. Camps have been set up to provide basic services to migrants but their efforts have been complicated by inefficiency and inadequate facilities.

Many foreign countries are involved, directly or indirectly, in Libya. The United States, France, Italy, Russia, Egypt, Turkey and even some Gulf states have involved themselves in varying ways in Libya. Many Libyans believe that this foreign involvement has created negative externalities. Ultimately, while some voices continue to call for a democratic transition in Libya, the most likely  political outcomes for the time-being are the establishment of military rule and the reign of militias.

What prerogatives for local governments?

The important role of local governments is not a new phenomenon in Libya. Local governance, exercised through popular committees, was present during the rule of Moammar Gaddafi. Five years ago the Interim National Transitional Council adopted Law No. 59 of 2012 which affected the Local Administrative System. Law 59 helped define the role and duties of local and municipal councils, determined the powers dealt to governors and mayors, and decided the amount of financial resources to be allocated to provinces and municipalities. Reading through the law’s eighty articles makes clear that the writers of Law 59 did not think it necessary to differentiate between the concepts of “local administration” and “decentralization.”, while instability and political division have also not allowed the full implementation of some of the article’s key principles.

Municipal councils have been set up in Libya and their members are directly elected. Municipal councils fall under the purview of the Ministry of Local Governance (Wazarat al-Hukm al-Mahalli). However, the duties and activities of municipal councils should be reinforced. As of January 2017, more than half of Libya’s forty municipalities suffer from insecurity.

In some municipalities, elected local officials have been replaced by military figures. Such an outcome undermines the population’s democratic rights, increasing pressure on political systems. The arbitrary appointment of military officials–who seek to prove their importance to the country’s future– indicate the level of insecurity plaguing many Libyan towns. A key question going forward: how do Libyans view these developments? So far it seems that many voices stand in opposition to further “militarization” of Libya’s local institutions, but yet, oftentimes these voices go unheard.

Municipal councils have a very important role to play in Libya, especially since their proximity with people makes them aware of how Libya’s political trends affect life on the ground. Furthermore, municipal councils can help limit the violence provoked by the illicit flow of weapons throughout the country. Indeed, progress starts with local administrations having the capacity to assess where weapons are and who is using them. Moreover, municipal councils are able to directly communicate with the militant groups and individuals responsible for the violence. They can also reclaim weapons from militant organizations based on terms of agreements that can include the notions of forgiveness and reintegration.

The problem with local government authorities is that, while they lack money, their members also happen to be divided based on their political or ideological allegiances. The rejection by a majority of the Libyan youth of any overwhelming role for military leaders is a message that must not be missed. The country also needs to achieve serious reforms if it wants to take advantage of the pivotal and positive role that local government authorities can play. This is why an emphasis must be placed on agreeing on a new Constitution, reforming local administration, adopting a law for the functioning of the provinces (muhafazat) and appointing qualified people.

All of these objectives can hardly be achieved as long as Libya lacks the presence of a strong sovereign government. And this is where the UN and Libya’s backers can have a useful contribution, through sharing their experiences and giving relevant advice.

Civil society and the importance of the tribal factor

Civil society organisations (CSOs) existed formally under Moammar Gaddafi, but they only became relevant and active starting from 2011 onwards, thanks to the motivation of the Libyan people as well as the considerable support given to them by many public and private donors.

Five years on, it is easy to notice how limited the contribution of Libyan CSOs to “achieving the spirit of the revolution” has been. Obviously, positive examples exist, such as the experience of Jam´iyyat al-Sa´dawi, a Fezzan-based CSO that became a political party. That said, the reality is that most CSOs have not met expectations. The degree of their enthusiasm had nothing to do with this; CSO members were very motivated from the very beginning, and many of them earned considerable financial support from various donors.

Nevertheless, because of political divisions, security chaos, random circulation of weapons, and the affirmation of tribal and/or identity irredentism (ta´assob), CSOs could not claim to have changed the Libyan landscape. Their belief that changing Libya would be simple given its few inhabitants, the large youth population, and significant oil reserves, was shattered. A vibrant civil society remains the core of nation-building, but the

current situation in Libya does not allow for this. Rivalries, instability, political and ideological divisions, direct threats against CSOs and their members, and general insecurity are among the main factors forcing CSOs to hold off on activities. Political parties are becoming isolated in similar ways.

Furthermore, at a moment when governance vacuum proves problematic, tribal trends continue to have a considerable impact on social evolutions. This influence can be both positive and negative. On the one hand, there are situations where tribes cooperate with security forces and border guards in the fight against smuggling, particularly along the borders with Egypt and Tunisia. On the other hand, there are many cases (Sebha, Tobrouk…) where it is obvious that tribal tensions and rivalries only add to instability. Tribal disagreements, however, are typically resolved due in part to the presence of respected tribal members on committees of mediation.

Tribes have a history and members build on memory, follow ancestral traditions, and even guarantee social justice. Their importance is why the Libyan population and political leaders take the opinions of tribal leaders seriously. Even Moammar Gaddafi would rely on agreements with tribes and clans in an effort to ensure stability. Currently, political divisions and the absence of state sovereignty give tribes an even more pivotal social role. Tribes will remain important actors in Libya, but the question is whether they will have full sovereignty in parts of Libya due to the absence of a central government. Many Libyans do feel that in the twenty-first century it can be problematic to over-emphasize the role of tribal dynamics. Nonetheless, there remains a strong tribal factor in Libya and this system must be taken into consideration, especially given that tribes have a considerable impact on security issues.

The way forward

A single model of governance cannot define Libya. Libyans disagree over which institution holds the most power in society. The main institutions vying for power are: the Presidential Council, the Government of National Accord, the High Council of State, and the House of Representatives. All of these institutions have varying degrees of power and influence, but no one body has sovereignty over the whole of Libya.

This struggle for power raises the issue of the role of municipal councils especially in regards to the tribes, clans, and non-state actors who have recently had an expanding role in Libya. Are local government administrations in a position to compensate for the national political void? They most likely are not, especially in the short term. In their effort to consolidate power, municipal councils not only require financial means and capabilities, but also a unified vision of governance. Members need to be confident that Libyans do not perceive independent decisions by local governments as acts of treason.

Municipal councils also need to consider how “official” Libyan institutions – PC, HoR, etc. – might react towards independent initiatives. In Libya, like many Arab countries, decentralisation has given rise to geographic partitions in governance.

These issues recall one of Libya’s essential dilemmas: is a strong central government necessary to avoid further divisions? Or can Libya thrive under a system of federation while pushing for decentralisation?

Currently, the prospect of setting up a strong, central Libyan government is illusionary. On the other hand, allowing local actors (municipal councils, tribes, local leaders…) to have more power could provoke a strong, negative popular and political reaction. The international community has an important role to play in resolving this issue. Libya’s backers should focus on the following:

Continue to encourage conditions for the development of a strong central government;

Focus on the creation of a legitimate, strong army that would bring back security;

Consider the opinions of all Libyans (many official political parties in Libya feel they are ignored even though they represent significant trends within the population);

Organise regular inter-Libyan meetings to encourage the exchange of opinions and to create opportunities for reaching agreements;

Help clarify the demands of the tenants of decentralisation and local governance in a way that will promote stability;

Move beyond taboos and recognise that some social dynamics, such as the tribal factor, have to be dealt with;

Help address Libya’s many challenges (migration, oil, cash crisis…) by always framing them in terms of an “inter-Libyan agreement”.

Libya does not lack support from the international community, but the country needs honest brokers that are aware of the key challenges and social/political dynamics. Helping Libya necessitates that we revisit our pre-conceived ideas based on what is rather than what we wish for.

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