Assessing Libya’s transition

LibyaMEIThree years after the start of the uprisings that led to the ousting of leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libyan efforts to build a stable, cohesive, democratic state have faced repeated setbacks.

At this challenging moment in the country’s transition, The Middle East Institute is pleased to host experts David Mack (The Middle East Institute), Karim Mezran (Atlantic Council) and Fred Wehrey (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) for a discussion about Libya. They’ll be addressing the political and security conditions, steps needed to address the political chaos and divisions afflicting the country, and what more the international community can do to support Libya’s troubled reform process.


Amb. David Mack, Adjunct Scholar, The Middle East Institute

Karim Mezran, Resident Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East 

Frederic Wehrey, Senior Associate, Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Charles Dunne (Moderator) Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs, Freedom House, Adjunct Scholar, The Middle East Institute 

When: Wednesday, March 26, 12pm-1:30pm 

Where: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 1779 Massachusetts Ave NW,  Washington, DC 20036  


Libya After Qaddafi: balancing optimism with security concerns

libya-free_1835951cAs Libya prepares to draft its new constitution, a new public opinion survey shows that a majority of Libyans balance their optimism about the country’s future with immediate concerns over their personal safety, the National Democratic Institute reports.

A majority of Libyans believe that the country’s situation in three years will be better than before the 2011 uprising and conflict, but in recent months respondents have grown more critical of governing institutions and political leaders. The survey also explores citizens’ opinions on the constitution-drafting process, the General National Congress (GNC) and regional autonomy.

Most Libyans view the GNC, leaders and political parties with increasing negativity, and they are dissatisfied with the quality of public services. Citizens are also placing a greater emphasis on the need to disarm militias as a step toward improving the security situation. Despite these frustrations, Libyans remain optimistic about the country’s future and continue to believe that democracy constitutes the best form of government. The findings also indicate widespread disapproval of regional and tribal leaders’ efforts to pursue regional autonomy.

Some key findings from the poll:

  • Libyans continue to be deeply concerned about the country’s security and stability. The vast majority continue to view disarmament of militias, political stability and personal security as the most important issues.
  • A majority of Libyans do not support claims to regional autonomy. They largely reject the declarations of regional autonomy made by the Cyrenaican Political Bureau in Libya’s East and by tribal leaders in the South. Even within these two regions, majorities disapprove of the declarations. A majority of Libyans also view the seizure of oil production facilities by armed groups as unjustified.
  • One-third of Libyans feel unsafe when traveling to work, school, the mosque and the market. Similarly, only 49 percent feel “very safe” in their own homes and 61 percent feel unsafe when traveling by bus or taxi.
  • Popular support for democracy remains high, with 80 percent saying they believe it is the best form of government. Ninety-one percent of Libyans characterize democracy as involving protection of rights and freedoms or elections. These attitudes are largely unchanged from findings in earlier surveys.
  • Political institutions such as GNC, political parties and political leaders evoke increasingly negative views. Forty-seven percent of Libyans now believe that parties are not necessary for democracy, compared to only 14 percent who held this opinion in May 2013. Political leaders across the board have seen declining favorability ratings, and satisfaction with the GNC has fallen. Sixty-eight percent now describe the GNC’s performance as poor; a 32-point decrease in the congress’ perceived performance rating since May 2013.
  • Among international organizations, the United Nations (UN) is viewed the most favorably by Libyans. Sixty-four percent have a positive view of the UN and 83 percent believe their country should cooperate with the UN to ensure political stability and security.


    libyagncThe 2011 overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi by internationally backed rebel groups has left Libya’s new leaders with a number of post-conflict challenges, including establishing security, building political and administrative institutions, and restarting the economy, says RAND researchers Christopher S. Chivvis, Jeffrey Martini. Their new report assesses these challenges, the impact of the limited international role in efforts to overcome them, and possible future roles for the international community. 

    Lack of Security

    Libya’s most serious problem since 2011 has been the lack of security. Insecurity has had negative repercussions across the spectrum. It has undermined efforts to build functioning political and administrative institutions, further constricted an already minimal international footprint, and facilitated the expansion of criminal and jihadist groups within Libya and the wider region.

    Stalled Statebuilding

    The lack of security has greatly undermined an already difficult statebuilding process in Libya, where the post-Qaddafi state was very weak politically and administratively. To begin with, Libya’s constitutional process has not kept pace with the schedule originally set out during the war. That schedule aimed to provide Libya with a constitution within a year of liberation. More than two years after Qaddafi’s death, however, the constitutional drafting committee has yet to begin its work.

    Meanwhile, groups in the eastern province of Cyrenaica have seized control of oil facilities there and threatened to create an autonomous state-within-a-state. Islamist and revolutionary groups have forced the passage of a political isolation law that excludes many Libyans from participation in government, thus exacerbating existing rifts in society and reducing the available pool of talent for government positions. The General National Congress, which was elected in July 2012, has been deeply divided over many issues.

    In general, Libyan public administration is in very poor shape and capacity building is sorely needed to strengthen the state. Public confidence in the democratic political process has declined as frustration has mounted. In the absence of a national state, regional and tribal substate actors have strengthened and will likely seek to hold onto their entrenched power.

    Economic Challenges

    Oil production restarted quickly in the aftermath of the war and has allowed Libya to avoid some of the most serious choices that post-conflict societies face because it could fund reconstruction and pay salaries to many groups, including militias. With the armed takeover of many of Libya’s oil facilities in the summer of 2013, however, the stability of Libya’s economy—including the ability of the government to continue to pay salaries indefinitely—was drawn into question.

    Upping International Role

    Despite a significant investment of military and political capital in helping the Libyan rebels overthrow Qaddafi, international actors have done very little to support Libya’s post-conflict recovery to date. ….International actors have recently started increasing their efforts in Libya somewhat. More should have been done and still needs to be done, however. The United States and its allies have both moral and strategic interests in ensuring that Libya does not collapse back into civil war or become a safe haven for al Qaeda or other jihadist groups within striking distance of Europe.

    In contrast, if Libya sees gradual political stabilization under representative government and constitutional rule, the United States and its allies would benefit from Libya’s energy and other resources. The region as a whole would also be much stronger.

    Improvements will take time, but despite its current challenges, Libya still has many advantages when compared with other post-conflict societies. Notably, it can foot much of the bill for its post-conflict needs—even if it currently lacks the administrative capacity to manage complex payments to foreign entities.

    The Way Forward

    There are four areas that international actors should focus on while looking ahead:

    Support a National Reconciliation Process

    The most serious problem in Libya today is continued insecurity, which impedes political and other advances and could wipe them out altogether. Absent an international peacekeeping force, which should be considered but would be difficult under current circumstances, the best way to improve security is to engage Libyans in a national reconciliation dialogue. Such a process could facilitate disarmament, complement constitution making, and increase international actors’ access to information about the capabilities and intentions of key Libyan groups.….

    Strengthen Libya’s National Security Forces

    Insecurity in Libya is partially attributable to a lack of reliable national security forces. International actors are well placed to help remedy this lacuna, and Libya is prepared to foot the bill. Recent U.S. and European efforts to train a so-called “general-purpose force” of approximately 15,000 over the next several years will help. The effort should proceed in parallel with reconciliation and strike a balanced representation of Libyan society, lest individual groups perceive the training as being directed against them and revolt. …

    Help Libya Strengthen Border Security

    Border security remains a major challenge. The porousness of Libya’s borders and their susceptibility to smuggling and the circulation of criminals and jihadists will continue to undermine Libyan and broader regional security. Improvements will take time and require building institutional capacity within the Libyan state as well as investments in monitoring capabilities, such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms. …

    Help Libya Build Its Public Administration

    The personalistic nature of the Qaddafi regime left Libya with a severe lack of public administrative and bureaucratic structures. International actors are well positioned to help Libya improve its public administration, especially if the security situation improves. The EU and its member states are in a particularly good position for this task, due to their proximity to Libya…..


‘One-of-a-kind map’ details threats across MENA


Three years after the ‘Arab Spring’ erupted, the increasing presence of Islamist parties and explosive number of terrorist activities has led to an alarming security situation across a vital region, according to the London-based Henry Jackson Society. The group today launched Terrorism and Islamism in the MENA Region, a one-of-a-kind map which:

  • Assesses the increasing dangers facing the Middle East and North Africa through the terrorism-Islamism nexus
  • Identifies the strength of Islamism in each country in a detailed information box
  • Details the main terror groups active in the region
  • Shows the number of terrorist attacks, fatalities and injured
  • Displays the danger and actual reach of a potential Iranian nuclear weapon
  • Describes the two major strategic points in the region: the Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz
  • Locates the major oil fields and foreign military bases
  • Underlines both the heavy defense expenditure and importance of military forces in the area
  • Includes the demographics and economic indicators for each nation

The MENA Region Map is available to download here.

Personnel Change or Personal Change? Rethinking Libya’s Political Isolation Law

libyastanfordNearly three years after the fall of the Qaddafi regime, Libya’s revolution has stalled. Militias continue to run rampant as the government struggles to perform basic functions. Theoretically to protect the revolution, Libya in 2013 passed its Political Isolation Law (PIL), effectively banning anyone involved in Qaddafi’s regime from the new government. The law has raised serious questions: Does it contribute to effective governance and reconciliation? Does it respect human rights and further transitional justice? Will it undermine Libya’s prospects for a successful democratic transition?

In a new Brookings Doha Center-Stanford “Project on Arab Transitions” Paper titled “Personnel Change or Personal Change? Rethinking Libya’s Political Isolation Law,” Roman David and Houda Mzioudet examine the controversy over Libya’s PIL and the law’s likely effects. Drawing on interviews with key Libyan actors, the authors find that the PIL has been manipulated for political purposes and that its application is actually weakening, not protecting, Libya. They caution that the PIL threatens to deprive Libya of competent leaders, undermine badly needed reconciliation, and perpetuate human rights violations.

David and Mzioudet go on to compare the PIL to the personnel reform approaches of Eastern European states and South Africa. Ultimately, they argue that Libyans would be better served if the PIL were replaced with a law based on inclusion rather than exclusion and on reconciliation rather than revenge. They maintain that Libya’s democratic transition would benefit from an approach that gives exonerated former regime personnel a conditional second chance instead of blindly excluding potentially valuable contributors.

The paper was produced as part of the Brookings Doha Center -Stanford University Project on Arab Transitions. The project aims to generate comprehensive analysis of the conditions affecting democratization and good governance during the period of Arab transition.

You can view the paper online here or download the full paper (PDF) in English here or Arabic here.

Roman David is a professor at the Department of Sociology and Social Policy, Lingnan University, Hong Kong. For the past fifteen years David has worked in several areas of transitional justice, including lustration, victim reparation, truth commissions, international tribunals, and apologies in a number of countries. He is the author of Lustration and Transitional Justice (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

Houda Mzioudet is a Tunisian journalist currently working in Libya. She covered the first democratic elections in Tunisia, the liberation of Tripoli in August 2011, the first democratic elections in Libya, and other events in both Tunisia and Libya.

Security first, but Libyans remain committed to democracy and unity

libyandipollA rebellious militia in Libya’s east, emboldened by its progressing efforts to sell oil, is reasserting demands for autonomy with a government that appears to be at its weakest point since taking power in 2012, The Wall Street Journal reports. Former Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has sought refuge in Europe after parliament voted him out for failing to stop rebels independently exporting oil in a challenge to Libya’s fragile unity, according to Reuters

But most Libyans remain Committed to Democracy and Unity, according to a public opinion survey conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Danish JMW Consulting firm released today.

As with the previous two studies, the latest poll again confirms that security issues remain top priorities for Libyan citizens, the Libyan Herald reports:

Asked what is the most important task that Libya is facing today, the disarmament of militias (31%) and the assurance of political stability and public order (30%) score the highest, consistently reflecting the previous two polls.

Asked to describe their feelings towards Libya’s current situation, 64 percent responded optimistically, with 36 percent being pessimistic. Yet 41 percent believe that Libya is worse off than before the 2011 revolution. Only 32 percent believe it is better off. When asked to look forward, 64 percent felt that Libya will be better off in three years’ time.

On democracy, 80 percent of Libyans agree that despite its problems, democracy is still the best form of government. Surprisingly, 41 percent characterize democracy as the protection of human rights and individual freedoms and 36 percent as the opportunity to change the government through elections. Only 9 percent of responses involved economic improvement.

Whilst most Libyans expect either the government or the GNC to be responsible for their security, reconciliation and to combat corruption, 68 percent say the GNC’s performance is poor or very poor. Most public services are deemed as poor or very poor, except (surprisingly) for education.

On the political front, an increasing number of Libyans (47% compared to only 14% in May) believe that political parties are not necessary in a democracy, and only 50 percent as opposed to 74 percent in May and 61 percent in September said they intended to vote at the next parliamentary elections.

All political parties scored negative favourability and registering declines since the last two polls. The National Forces Alliance is the only party with positive net favourability and the most popular, while the Justice and Construction party is deemed as the least positive party.

When it came to political leaders, the worrying trend is that most have lost popularity, including the most popular, Mustafa Aduljalil and the second most popular Mahmoud Jibril. The least popular are Abdul Rahman Swehli, Abdul Hakim Belhaj, Abdullah Naker, and surprisingly Nuri Abusahmain.

With regards to the Political Isolation Law, only 39 percent support it while 52 percent disapprove.

On the issue of the constitutional-drafting committee, 42 percent believe that Islamic Sharia should be the main source of legislation. While 28 percent feel that Sharia should be a source and 28 percent feel that it should be the only source.