Libya’s problem could be its solution

On the 15th of April, the Jordan ambassador to Libya, Fawaz Artan, has been kidnapped in Tripoli, resulting the last example of Libyan instability. European incompetence, both at the Union level as well as on the side of Member State, in monitoring Libyan external borders (Frontex and Eurosur do not seem to be productive in the “search and rescue” activity) is powering the Libyan dimension of smuggling and human traffic, as well as of overall criminal activities, especially in the southern porous frontier, near Chad, Niger and Algeria.

National fragmentation and the evolving gap between Libya’s urban and rural power centers still reserve some positive implications as tribal and local elders can still represent a unifying brokering instrument in national disputes, as in the case of the recent interim agreement between Tripoli and Jadhran regarding the reopening of the ports of Hariga and Zueitina and the terminals of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, in the aftermath of the Nort Korean-flagged tanker “Morning Glory” escape from naval blockade.

Still, there is reluctance and opposition in the Central Government in Tripoli regarding the double acknowledgment of the regional tribal elders role and the increasing necessity of considering Libya as a plural entity, especially after the action against Ali Zeidan, on the 12th of March, as the result of the American Navy SEALs action against the “Morning Glory” tanker near Cyprus, and Al Thani’s (interim prime minister) refusal to form a new government, a month later.

Restarting oil production can be a first step in recovering the fragile process of building a “New Libya”, but without addressing the “geographic problem” of Libya’s particular contingency. Libyan power vacuum is amplified by its geography that menaces at the same time its strategic political and economic targets. Regional security and geographic challenge is making foreign intervention more difficult because Army’s training is useless in short-term and the political conundrum of the Libyan cabinet, requesting more power and larger mandate as a pre-condition for establishing a certain strong central control, is completely unreachable without an overall rethinking of Libya’s structure[1].

In Libya we assist to a double interdependent process, where state and nation building go on parallel rails: this is the resulting product of the interaction of three distinct actors who have potentially the power to shape the future of the country, the tribal confederation, the civil society and the religious groups[2]. These actors can represent both a menace and an opportunity for the Country and the evolution of the situation, as a possible new structure of governance might and should derive from a combination of local actors and federalist instances[3].

Libya faces a relevant issue: relying heavily on oil revenues could turn to be a condemnation for the country as fighting for oil possession is the first demonstration of the collapsed unity of the country. The resulting negative chain affirms that the more the country loses revenues in the battle between distinct factions, the more the central government cannot afford to establish a central apparatus for sustaining police and army[4]. The consequent inability of the government to impose its will by retaining the monopoly on violence set a series of questions: unemployment and poor conditions in governmental finances bring more people to consider militias as a reliable source of income, and the rising influence of radical Islamism, although until recently the spreading instability has took expression only outside Libyan borders, especially in Mali, Syria and Niger, the phenomenon could change its direction and compete with tribal clans for power detention.

Any requirement of security that is not guaranteed by Tripoli’s authorities is partially the result of the poor legacy of administrative procedures under Ghadafi’s regime as well as tribal conflicts in the Country. In these conditions, the “federalist” option is gaining support, above all because the Cyrenaica’s collapsing stability due to both the Ghadafi’s and the current government inability is spreading support for the 1951 Constitution model[5]. Federalism could be a relevant card to be played by the central government, at least until tribal clans Cyrenaica do not allow any éntente with radical Islamism. Federalism sets several questions about security disputes between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (or Barqa) and oil revenues of the hydrocarbon industry is still seen as the primary condition for avoiding a total degenerative crisis. Foreign Minister Abdel Aziz advanced the idea of the returning of a Constitutional Monarchy as the last resource for saving and unifying the country. The idea would not be so particular in its structure, if only Libyans would remind how the central authority of Gadhafi has been enough for maintaining a balance between Libya’s regions and local tribes and for reducing the realistic problem derived from an unrealistic geography.



Research Fellow at “Iran Progress”

[1] “Challenges to stabilizing Libya”, Stratfor,

[2] S. El Taraboulsi – S. Ahmed, Giving in transition and transitions in Giving. Philanthropy in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia (2011-2013), Cairo, The John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy & Civic Engagement – The American University in Cairo, May 2013.

[3] C.N. Myers, Tribalism and Democratic Transition in Libya: lessons from Iraq, “Global Tides”, vol. 7, article 5, 2013.

[4] A. Varvelli, Trilemma: Ilsam, Democracy and the Rentier State, “Caucasus International”, vol. 3, no. 1-2, spring summer 2013,

[5] 1951 model calls for a federal constitutional monarchy that grants more authority to the provinces.

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