Libya’s descent into chaos: Warring clans and its impact on regional stability

Jamestown Terrorism Monitor: Since the outbreak of the Libyan revolution in 2011 and the collapse of Mu’ammar Qaddafi’s Jamahiriya (Republic of the Masses), Libya has fallen into a process of constant and ever deeper chaos, which has lately reached a new climax. This conflict, however, has its roots in some specific features characterizing Libya as a “nation-state”: while Libya may be a nation-state on paper, it has yet to become a proper and unified national society. Indeed, the very roots of the revolution in Libya lie in the significant structural, regional and territorial imbalances that have characterized Libya since its establishment and the dominance of parochial and narrow interests.

Indeed, regional and political imbalances – the neglected east and south against the stronger and richer west – were key in setting the landscape in which the Libyan revolution took place. Revolts started in Benghazi and moved east to west, with a long military stalemate occurring in Ras Lanuf, historically a sort of informal cultural border dividing Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. Geographically, this was similar to what happened with the 1969 revolution. That revolution was a reaction against the dominance of the east, Benghazi and the royal circle. Among the 12 members of the Revolutionary Command Council, which led the revolution and then acted as the supreme authority in Libya between 1969 and 1975, only four were from the east.

Moreover, another factor explaining the complete collapse of order in post-Qaddafi Libya is the complete lack of any reliable state institution. Despite being the “Republic of the Masses”, Qaddafi’s Jamahiriya was essentially based on his sole, complete personal rule: 42 years under this system left Libya as a sort of institutional desert following the collapse of the regime. The regime overlapped the state and as a result the boundaries, both conceptual and organizational, between the two became soon nonexistent. That explains why, in Libya, the fall of the regime caused the fall of the state, unlike in Tunisia and Egypt where the regimes, not the state, collapsed. However, this lack of institutional capacity must be seen in a longer-term perspective: that was a structural feature of Libya as a nation-state since its foundation. Libya at independence did not have a stable state apparatus and oil and external revenue allowed the rulers to avoid building a bureaucratic state, moving from the rentier patronage of King Idris and the Senussi monarchy to the distributive republic led by Qaddafi. [Continue reading…]

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