When the future rushed down a drain

Gaddafi, escorted by an agent from his bodyguard team, is received in 2008 by Berlusconi at the Rome airport. / C. SIMON / AFP

Civil war in Libya

Ten years after the death of Colonel Gaddafi, Libya suffers the endless conflict generated by militias and warlords

The discovery of Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi, exhausted and scared, in a drainage canal seems a metaphor for the future that awaited Libya. After his capture, on April 20, 2011, half a century of iron dictatorship seemed to plunge into the sink of history. But happy endings are rare in contemporary politics. As in Yugoslavia, the disappearance of the tyranny revealed a state that was more artificial than failed, victim of numerous centrifugal forces, regional differences in the north and tribal differences in the south.

Ten years later, the country is mired in a complex and multilateral conflict. The elections, scheduled for next December, should restore order. But, for this, its results should satisfy all parties, duly armed, and such a solution seems very difficult.

The atmosphere began to cloud as soon as the contest ended. The permanence of the militias involved in the fight against the regime constituted the first obstacle to the establishment of a democracy. Its relevance derives from the uniqueness of the territory itself. The majority of the population is concentrated in the north, habitable Libya, around urban centers, possessing great autonomy and scattered along a 1,770-kilometer coastline. In the fight against the dictator, the cities, subject to clan relations, equipped themselves with their own self-defense groups. The new ruling class believed they had them as a support force for their political and economic interests.

The derailment came with the ballot box. The General Congress of the Nation, a temporary legislative body, was commissioned to hold elections in 2014 and complete the process. But the population did not support those who held power, of Islamist creed and bases around the capital Tripoli and the population of Misrata. The electorate voted by a secular majority and the provisional authority, reluctant to abandon its seats, responded by denying the legitimacy of the House of Representatives. The new and beleaguered MPs sought refuge in Tobruk, at the eastern end of the Cyrenaica province, traditionally hostile to the West.

The division was served. The regular Army, commanded by General Khalifa Haftar, supported the legislators and two centers of power were created. Both disputed the fidelity of the city-states and of the Tuareg and Toubu tribes, with their own areas of influence. Like opportunistic diseases, Islamist gangs took advantage of the chaos to seize their own strongholds, mainly around the city of Derna. Control of hydrocarbon deposits and port terminals became the focus of a new contest.

The dictator is targeted in the head after his arrest. /


The European Union and the UN have sought dialogue between the parties, between truces and agreements turned into dead paper. The importance of Libya, the fourth largest oil exporter, polarized alliances. Tripoli got the support of Turkey, which has provided the military, Syrian mercenaries and drones, while Tobruk got the backing of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia. On the other side of the Mediterranean, a struggle was taking place between emerging powers.

Without freedom

The people were the victim of the board. Citizens, who had enjoyed the highest per capita income on the continent, lost, once again, their freedom and security and, furthermore, three-quarters of that income. Throughout this time, the militias, officially inserted in the Defense or Interior ministries and provided with absolute impunity, are responsible for all kinds of human rights violations, such as torture, assassinations, disappearances and forced displacement. The Libyan Arab Armed Forces, in the east, also protect groups guilty of all kinds of crimes. Immigrant smuggling became another clandestine business and the focus of new crimes.

After dismantling the Islamists, the East sought the ultimate defeat of its opponent. Haftar’s offensive, dubbed Operation Dignity Flood, drove regular troops and their allies to the outskirts of the capital. The election, promoted by the United Nations, of Fayez al-Sarraj as president of the Government of National Accord to redirect the process, did not prevent the assault on Tripoli.

The elections, scheduled for December, should restore order, but for this their results should satisfy all parties

The last bankruptcy occurred with the failure of the general, unable to take the capital. His withdrawal, in June 2020, led to a round of negotiations promoted by Russia and Turkey, the main supporters of the sides. The creation in March of this year of the National Government of Unity, led by Abul Hamid Dbeibé, is the last letter in that process, unsuccessful to date, to recover unity and peace.

The spring is the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for December 24. But the problem is that the West and the powers involved have delegated the end of the conflict to the will of the Libyan people for ten years. As with Gaddafi’s fate, his hope for progress and freedom also fell down a sewage pipe.


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