Libya is ruled by everyone and no one. Chaos in Libya is endemic, the state is non-existent, and calls for regional autonomy and secession are increasingly loud. “Libya is not one big mess,” North Africa expert Bill Lawrence, a visiting professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, said in January 2014. “It is a bunch of little messes that are not very related. So, the string of assassinations in Benghazi is very different from the political game involved in the militias and their GNC allies in Tripoli, which is different from what’s going on in the borders, which is different from the fighting over smuggling of the trafficking in the South, different from the ethnic conflicts in other communities, and what is happening at the oil facilities. We tend to conflate this all because of the catastrophic weakness of the military and the police.”
But by mid-2014 the civil war in Libya had been transformed into a proxy war, which pitted Islamist forces supported by Qatar, Sudan and Turkey, against more secular forces supported by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt [and probably the United States]. This became clear after Egypt and the United Arab Emirates launched airstrikes against Islamic militants in the Libyan capital starting on 17 August 2014 and continuing into September.
Nationwide political violence erupted in February 2011, following the Libyan Government’s brutal suppression of popular protests against Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi. Opposition forces quickly seized control of Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, as well as significant portions of eastern Libya and some areas in western Libya. Drawing from the local opposition councils which formed the backbone of the “February 17” revolution, the Libyan opposition announced the formation of a Transitional National Council (TNC) on February 27, 2011. The Council stated its desire to remove Qadhafi from power and establish a unified, democratic, and free Libya that respects universal human rights principles.
On 07 July 2012, Libya held its first election in more than four decades, choosing a 200-seat General National Assembly to replace the Transitional National Council (TNC) that governed during and after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. The largely peaceful election marked the first step toward national unity and rebuilding a government by establishing a representative body; over the past several months, support for the interim government has been declining due to poor management of the transition and a lack of transparency. The General National Assembly will formulate Libya’s government, with its two main objectives being to choose a prime minister and select a Constituent Assembly, who will draft a constitution, within 30 days of their first meeting. The success of the election is a promising sign for future state building efforts, despite many issues leftover from the Gaddafi era and civil war.
Lacking effective army and police units, the the National Transitional Council (NTC) has sought to co-opt the country’s numerous revolutionary “brigades,” incorporating them into provisional security forces, the Ministry of Interior's Supreme Security Committees (SSC) and Army Chief of Staff's Libyan Shield Forces. After the 07 July 2012 elections for the General National Congress (GNC), not much changed.
There have been assassinations recently in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, mainly of security personnel. And the government has made little progress on forming a national army to replace the disorderly revolutionary militias it has to rely on for security. Exasperation has been building at the slow pace of change, from reforming a corrupt Gadhafi-era bureaucracy to repairing crumbling schools, hospitals and a dilapidated infrastructure.
By 2014 the government was paying salaries to 200,000 people who registered as veterans of the uprising that toppled Gadhafi, despite the fact that most analysts believe the actual rebel fighting force was made up of no more than 25,000. Clashes between rival militias over the summer of 2014 cost hundreds of lives and displaced over 250,000 Libyans. The fall of Tripoli to militias, and the move of the elected parliament to Tubruq has left the country with two competing authorities. The fighting has caused widespread damage to public and private property, and infrastructure and precipitated power, water, fuel and food shortages in Tripoli. Insecurity and lawlessness are hampering the delivery of cash to commercial banks across the country, further undermining economic activity. Outside the largest cities most affected by the fighting, the situation is marginally better.
Since 1969, Qadhafi determined Libya's foreign policy. His principal foreign policy goals have been Arab unity, elimination of Israel, advancement of Islam, support for Palestinians, elimination of outside--particularly Western--influence in the Middle East and Africa, and support for a range of "revolutionary" causes.
After the 1969 coup, Qadhafi closed American and British bases on Libyan territory and partially nationalized all foreign oil and commercial interests in Libya. He also played a key role in promoting the use of oil embargoes as a political weapon for challenging the West, hoping that an oil price rise and embargo in 1973 would persuade the West--especially the United States--to end support for Israel. Qadhafi rejected both Soviet communism and Western capitalism and claimed he was charting a middle course.
Libya's relationship with the former Soviet Union involved massive Libyan arms purchases from the Soviet bloc and the presence of thousands of east bloc advisers. Libya's use--and heavy loss--of Soviet-supplied weaponry in its war with Chad was a notable breach of an apparent Soviet-Libyan understanding not to use the weapons for activities inconsistent with Soviet objectives. As a result, Soviet-Libyan relations reached a nadir in mid-1987.
After the fall of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, Libya concentrated on expanding diplomatic ties with Third World countries and increasing its commercial links with Europe and East Asia. Following the imposition of UN sanctions in 1992, these ties significantly diminished. Following a 1998 Arab League meeting in which fellow Arab states decided not to challenge UN sanctions, Qadhafi announced that he was turning his back on pan-Arab ideas, one of the fundamental tenets of his philosophy.
Instead, Libya pursued closer bilateral ties, particularly with North African neighbors Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco. It also has sought to develop its relations with Sub-Saharan Africa, leading to Libyan involvement in several internal African disputes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. Libya also has sought to expand its influence in Africa through financial assistance, ranging from aid donations to impoverished neighbors such as Niger to oil subsidies to Zimbabwe. Qadhafi has proposed a borderless "United States of Africa" to transform the continent into a single nation-state ruled by a single government. This plan has been moderately well received, although more powerful would-be participants such as Nigeria and South Africa are skeptical.
There have been no credible reports of Libyan involvement in terrorism since 1994, and Libya has taken significant steps to mend its international image. In 1999, the Libyan Government surrendered two Libyans suspected of involvement in the Pan Am 103 bombing, leading to the suspension of UN sanctions. On January 31, 2001, a Scottish court seated in Netherlands found one of the suspects, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, guilty of murder in connection with the bombing, and acquitted the second suspect, Al-Amin Kalifa Fhima. Megrahi has appealed his conviction; the appeal began on January 23, 2002.
Full lifting of UN sanctions was contingent on Libyan compliance with its remaining UNSCR requirements on Pan Am 103, including acceptance of responsibility for the actions of its officials and payment of appropriate compensation. Libya did pay compensation in 1999 for the death of British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, a move that preceded the reopening of the British Embassy in Tripoli, and paid damages to the families of the victims in the bombing of UTA Flight 772.
On November 13, 2001, a German court found four persons, including a former employee of the Libyan Embassy in East Berlin, guilty in connection with the 1986 La Belle disco bombing, in which two U.S. servicemen were killed. The court also established a connection to the Libyan Government. The German Government demanded that Libya accept responsibility for the La Belle bombing and pay appropriate compensation.
On December 19, 2003, Libya publicly announced its intention to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)-class missile programs. Subsequently, Libya cooperated with the U.S., the U.K., the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons toward these objectives. Libya has also signed the IAEA Additional Protocol and has become a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. These were important steps toward full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Libya.
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