Political Instability in Libya
Continued political fracture and growing militancy in Libya resulting in state failure, minimal governance, and further military interventions by Arab states
Libya’s government is struggling to maintain order and rebuild state institutions amid rising violence since the ouster and subsequent death of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi in October 2011. The presence of rebel militias has increased—approximately 1,700 armed groups, including fighters loyal to the self-declared Islamic State—especially since the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
Libya's House of Representatives (HoR) has struggled to consolidate legitimacy as the main authoritative power in Libya, after replacing the General National Congress (GNC) in June 2014. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has tried to regain control of the government, but continues to face opposition from multiple fronts.
In September 2014, a former Qaddafi loyalist, retired General Khalifa Haftar began “Operation Dignity” with an initial focus on attacking Islamist militant groups in Benghazi, and later calling for a dissolution of the GNC. To counter this revolutionary movement, an alliance of Islamists and militias formed “Operation Dawn.” The current conflict pits the Dawn coalition, which controls Tripoli and much of western Libya, against the Dignity coalition, which controls parts of Cyrenaica and Benghazi. Each coalition has its own self-declared parliament and government, as well as nominal military chiefs. The United Nations has created a proposal for a national unity government that would reinstall the Dignity-affiliated parliament in Tripoli along with a mostly Dawn-affiliated consultative body, but it is unclear whether either group will accept the proposal.
A growing presence of jihadists affiliated with Ansar al-Sharia and the self-declared Islamic State are also gaining a foothold in Libya. Taking advantage of the widespread political instability, jihadists are using the country as a hub to coordinate broader regional violence and launch attacks. Since these terrorist groups regard Dawn and Dignity as enemies, their growth only threatens to further escalate the violence and fracture warring parties.
In order to help rebuild and refocus Libya’s security infrastructure, the United States will train five thousand to eight thousand security forces, as it is increasingly concerned about the prevalence of terrorist groups and potential weapons transfers across the country’s unmonitored borders. Other neighboring countries have vowed to offer security assistance over fear of Islamic State spillover, which established a foothold in the Libyan city of Derna, close to the border with Egypt.
- Salvaging the Wreckage of Libya's Flawed Peace Deal
October 16, 2015
- UN Announces Libya Unity Government; 2 Sides Must OK Names
Samia Errazzouki and Cara Anna, NYT
October 8, 2015
- Is Libya Headed for Another Qaddafi?
Frederic Wehrey, New York Times
October 1, 2015
- Can the Libyans Close a Peace Deal?
Patrick Bury, War on the Rocks
September 29, 2015
- Libya in crisis: 'This is not just Misrata's fight'
August 19, 2015
- Libya’s Bad Peace Deal Is Worse Than No Peace Deal
Fadil Aliriza, Foreign Policy
August 7, 2015
Human Rights Watch
- Mapping Libya's Factions
Mary Fitzgerald, European Council on Foreign Relations
- Libya profile - Timeline
- Libya's Escalating Civil War
Daniel P. Serwer, CFR Contingency Planning Memorandum Update
- Preventing Conflict Escalation and State Collapse in Libya
Samantha Andrews, CFR Blog, "Politics, Power, and Preventive Action"
June 18, 2015
- Is It Too Late For Libya?
Mary Fitzgerald and Bernard Gwertzman, CFR Interview
October 3, 2014
- Post-Qaddafi Instability in Libya
Daniel P. Serwer, CFR Contingency Planning Memoranda
- Matthew C. Waxman
Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy
- Elliott Abrams
Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
- Steven A. Cook
Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
- Robert M. Danin
Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies
- Ed Husain
Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies