Libya has often been described as politically, militarily and territorially divided, lacking a strong central authority and solid national political and military institutions.
Yet, as the kingdom emerges from 42 years of dictatorship, it offers the Libyan people the opportunity to build a pluralistic, vibrant and democratic new Libya.
Following years of oppression and grievances, the Libyan people revolted against Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011 and sought their long-overdue freedom. With the assistance of external intervention, the dictatorship was removed in the quest for democracy. What was not realized at the time, however, was that Libya’s transition to democracy would not be smooth sailing.
Libya has been trapped in cycles of violence and political instability since the 2011 revolution. Competing factions within Libya’s political and military leaders have spent the last decade alternating between violent conflict and unproductive power-sharing agreements.
In the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, political parties and alliances started to emerge in an attempt to develop the structures necessary for democracy to thrive. As a result, 374 party lists and 130 political parties appeared ahead of the first legislative elections in July 2012.
The National Forces Alliance and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party were the ones who rallied the most supporters and votes. However, only 80 out of the 200 seats contested were assigned on a political party basis and the remaining 120 seats went to independents. In the second legislative election in 2014, the political parties’ quota was removed and only independents were allowed to run.
In February 2021, the UN-led mediation efforts through the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) paved the way for change. As a result, the contending forces in the Libyan civil war, through the UN-led 5+5 Joint Military Commission, arrived at a historic ceasefire agreement in Geneva in October 2020.
This development set the pace for the transition towards democracy in Libya under UN sponsorship.
However, following the indefinite postponement of elections in December 2021, Libya’s political and security situation deteriorated further in 2022, deepening the political stalemate and division in the country. Libya still lacks unified national institutions, a widely accepted constitution and an electoral framework. While Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh serves as the country’s prime minister, the commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar, and corresponding political figures based in eastern Libya continue to challenge Dbeibah’s legitimacy. The existence of disparate, competing governmental institutions has led to increased instability in the country and complicated the Libyan government system.
Meanwhile, Libyan President Muhammad Yunus Al-Manfi told the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in September that as it moves towards building a State of institutions and establishing principles of democracy, there is a need for time limits during dialogues between the House of Representatives and the State Supreme Council, offering his willingness to intervene to get the political process out of its impasse whenever necessary. Furthermore, he restated his commitment to the Libyan Political Agreement.
He pledged that as the supreme political authority, he would lead efforts to prepare for a peaceful and democratic power transfer through presidential and parliamentary elections.
Moreover, the inability of rival political factions to reconcile has compounded the volatile security situation. Libya also lacks sufficient judicial and law enforcement authorities to enforce the order. Accordingly, there has been a notable development in the culture of impunity within Libya.
This absence of accountability stems from the growth of factional militias. Furthermore, any political compromise that materializes will likely be tenuous, partly because of foreign interventions which appear to be a hindrance to Libya’s road towards democracy and could push Libya into armed confrontations and lead to rigid political positions that hamper ideas to bridge gaps and build partnerships in the country.
Libya’s progress towards a full democracy continues to be slow, marked by institutional failures, sectarian politics and a culture of impunity. As a result, the Libyan people’s liberation from the Qaddafi era remains sweet and sour. Sweet because they have freedom but sour because the freedom is accompanied by immense uncertainty and fear without a basis of political stability and security. What remains uncertain is whether Libya will unite and successfully resolve its transitional challenges to become a democratic state or whether these challenges will spur a new regime. For Libya to successfully achieve a democratic transition, it must overcome the various impediments in its path.