Libya, recent trends and problems to solve in order to achieve security and stability

These days Libya is experiencing strong instability due to a number of factors: the signal that the institution-building process started with the end of the Qaddafi regime has been undermined is that on 11th of March 2014 Ali Zeidan has lost confidence vote in the General National Congress. That happened after a North Korean-flagged tanker laden with oil taken from a rebel-hold port fled from naval forces. Since August separatist militants occupy the most important eastern Libyan ports and this episode has been the last demonstration of instability within the country[1].

The tanker’s escape has been an additional humiliation for the government, considering that U.S. Special Forces managed to board the tanker off Cyprus some days after the event. Meanwhile the General National Congress, that is Libya’s interim parliament, called a vote of confidence immediately after they were told the fact and Ali Zeidan, who came to power in 2012 thanks to the first free parliamentary elections after Gaddafi regime, was replaced by Defense minister Abdullah al-Thinni[2].

A member of the parliament, Suad Gannur, before voting told Agence France-Presse: “The situation in the country has become unacceptable. Even those MPs who used to support the prime minister no longer have any alternative”[3]. The government has been continuously criticized for its failure in facing country’s problems such as the presence of rebel militias that has not been substituted with a regular national army and the stalemate of the political roadmap drafted in order to improve the lives of people and assure stability. The no confidence, indeed, was approved by 124 of the 194 members that are four more of the minimum required for the president’s dismissal. It is important to highlight that the Congress had already unilaterally extended its mandate beyond the expiry date (February 7th, 2014), approving a new “roadmap” which implies that whether a special 60-member committee will not show progress about the new constitution within May, there will be early elections, otherwise if there will be improvements in the constitution drafting process the GNC will remain until December to assure stability before regular elections take place. 

Saad Bensharrada, an independent GNC member declared: “We have issued the roadmap, giving the exact dates, and now we will leave it to the people to decide”, but the situation is slightly different: people in Libya have strongly criticized the behavior of the CNG and the lack of significant progress since its first elections in July 2012[4].

This lack of political legitimacy has to be added to another factor of instability within the interim parliament: it has long been blocked due to tensions between Islamists and their opponents. The Muslim Brotherhood during these months is experiencing many difficulties in the Arab world, in December 2013, the Egyptian army government declared the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group[5] and the 27th of March 2014 a court sentenced 529 Brotherhood members to death for their continuous assaults and attacks against the police and army since Mohamed Morsi’s ousting[6], in Saudi Arabia they have been blacklisted as members of a terrorist organization, furthermore with UAE and Bahrain, Riyadh has withdrawn its ambassador from Qatar to protest against the support Doha gives to the Brotherhood that are considered a terrible menace by these three countries[7]. The Libyan experience differ consistently from the general trend: even though Islamists had a weaker support in comparison with Egypt and Tunisia, they became more and more influent through building a structured party that collected hundreds of members all over the country. At the local level they are represented in many local councils, in particular in Misrata and Benghazi. The elections held on 7th of July 2012 have been successful for the Brotherhood: even if the National Forces Alliance, expression of the so-called “secular politicians” led by the ex-interim Prime minister Mahmoud Jibril el-Warfally won 38 of 80 seats[8], the Justice and Construction Party (the party of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood) won not only 17 seats reserved for party labels, but also 60 of the 120 seats that were assigned to people running as independents[9].

Zeidan was elected with the support of liberals and from the beginning he was targeted by many no-confidence motions in the General National Congress that never achieved the statutory quorum until the 11th of March 2014. His mandate has been characterized by his attempt to limit the Islamist power as well as his efforts to purge institutions and bureaucracy by Gaddafi’s supporters and to secure Saharan boundaries, where Tuareg guerrilla and Al Qaeda cells are settled. Moreover, the former president failed in addressing several problems that affect the country: the armed militias born during the 2011 revolution were not replaced with an official national army and tensions between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica didn’t improve after the end of Gaddafi’s regime. The situation in Cyrenaica is very important to understand the complex scenario in Libya: it is a very rich territory in terms of raw materials and for a very long time it has been the country’s principal revenue, even though the region suffered continuous poverty because profits were directed towards Tripoli. The resentment of the eastern part of the country did not lower with the new government, determining an increase of power of federal movements and its leader, Ibrahim Jadhran who has recently blockaded Libya’s main oil ports and that is also the head of the Cyrenaica Political Bureau. The federalist movement is composed by both pacific and more intransigent people and one of the main reason of contrasts between Ali Zeidan and Muslim Brotherhood could be the former president’s special relationship with the al-Senussi that not only promote federalist claims, but descend directly from King Idris I, the first Libyan king, overthrown by the coup d’état of Muammar Gaddafi who established the Libyan Arab Republic in 1969. Idris was the principal promoter of the Sufism movement. Sufism is a movement considered fundamental for the development of Islam, because the most spiritual and mystical aspects are preserved in its tradition: in contrast with the mainstream of Islam it supports an alternative interpretation against the idea of identification of theology and law, and this position is not accepted by the Brotherhood. Due to their tolerant approach and the diffidence towards Islamist approaches, there have been several attacks to Sufi places of worship and the relationship between Ali Zeidan and al-Senussi family put him in a difficult situation with Islamists[10]. After his loss of confidence, the former premier accused his opponents of seeking to dismiss him in order to replace him with another candidate[11]

Two great allies of the Brotherhood are Nouri Abusahmain, the president of the General National Congress that until the adoption of a new constitution is also the Head of State, and the Grand mufti Sheikh Sadik Al-Ghariani, who is the most important Libyan religious authority with a great influence on Muslims. He plays an important role in explicitly supporting the Islamists role in the interim parliament as he forbid protests against the remaining in office of the Congress. In addition, the Brotherhood is supported by local governments of Misrata (in Tripolitania) and Derna (in Cyrenaica) with their armed groups, in contrast with the Zeidan’s supporters in the southwest of Tripoli[12].

The CNG replaced temporarily Ali Zeidan with Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thinni that handed his resignation on 13th of April 2014 due to an attack to his family. He will carry out his duties until the parliament will find a substitute, but this role is becoming difficult to fill as the prime minister must have the ability to assure stability through rebuilding a national army, as well as to find a compromise with the autonomists in the East and to struggle against control brigades of former rebels. al-Thinni managed to overcome a standoff with some rebels that were blocking two important ports, but Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, that are the principal ones, remain still closed as negotiations about the division of oil’s revenues within the country are still ongoing[13].

Considering the recent changes in the government structure, it is possible to say that the interim parliament attested itself as the major authority in the country, in particular after determining the resignation of Ali Zeidan. However there is still a lack of tools to exercise this role and Libyan people are afraid of the Islamist growing power: Benghazi is becoming more and more insecure due to assassinations and bombings by jihadist factions that aim at imposing Islamic law. Even though the Libyan religious tradition has its roots in the moderate Malaki school and its comprehensive approach to the study of Islamic jurisprudence, during these years the country has experienced a constant growth in militant Salafist group’s attacks[14]. A reason for the Salafi-jihadist rise is that governments in the Middle East and North Africa have been generally unable to guarantee stability and security: according to the World Bank after the Arab uprisings in 2011 levels of political stability decreased by 17%, government effectiveness by 10%, rule of law by 6% and control of corruption by 6% as well. This allowed Salafi-jihadist groups took advantage of governments’ inability to guarantee and maintain the rule of law: estimates of the World Bank confirm a decline by 21% in Egypt, 31% in Libya, 25% in Mali, 20% in Niger, 17% in Nigeria, 61% in Syria, and 39% in Yemen and, in most cases, levels were low even before the Arab spring[15].

Federalist claims in the East, the stalemate of the roadmap drafted to foster the institution-building process, the lack of GNC legitimacy and a weak government are all problems to be solved, Libya is an important geopolitical actor and its instability could contribute to weaken the balance of power in the Mediterranean region, considering that the Muslim Brotherhood won’t renounce easily to the position within the Libyan institutions. The next important steps are the adoption of a new constitution and the elections that will show which has been the result of the institutional behavior according to Libyans.



Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)



[1]U. Laessing, F. Bosalum, Libyan parliament sacks PM after tanker escapes rebel-held port, “Reuters”, March 2014.

[3]U. Laessing, F. Bosalum, Libyan parliament sacks PM after tanker escapes rebel-held port, “Reuters”, March 2014.

[5]M. Ajbaili, Saudi: Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, “Al Arabiya”, March 7th, 2014.

[6]A. Alsharif, Egyptian court sentences 529 Brotherhood members to death, “Reuters”, March 24th, 2014.

[7]M. Ajbaili, Saudi: Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, “Al Arabiya”, March 7th, 2014.

[8]P. Manfreda, Parliamentary Elections in Libya 2012. Islamists lose the vote, “”, July 2012.

[9]Libya’s Muslim Brothers The knack of organisation, “The Economist”, January 2013.

[10]S. Restelli, S. Santangelo, G. Vargiu, Il golpe bianco dei Fratelli musulmani libici: una minaccia per il Medio Oriente e per l’Europa, “”, March 25th, 2014.

[11]Ousted Libyan PM Zeidan heads to Europe, “Al Arabiya”, March 2014.

[13]P. Markey, R. Pomeroy, Libya’s Interim Premier Hands Resignation to Parliament, “The New York Times”, April 13th, 2014.

[14]H. Ghosheh, Libya’s leaders must now confront Salafi extremists, “The National”, September 2012.

[15]S.J. Jones, Back to the Future: The Resurgence of Salafi-Jihadists, “RAND Corporation”, February 2014.

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