The unbroken promise of Libya

Reading Time: 3 minutes

by John Naudi

‘Democracy!… Stability!… Prosperity!’. These were a few of the buzz words used by many when the political uprisings and widespread protests erupted in 2011, known as the Arab Spring, and had shaken the entire North Africa region.

History today tells us that the uprisings across the region did succeed in toppling the dictators in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. The
reality however is that they have produced only modest political, social, and economic benefits for some of the region’s population. Only Tunisia has experienced a relatively peaceful uprising followed by some changes. Egypt’s uprising, on the other hand, failed miserably, resulting in a military coup.

For many Maltese entrepreneurs, Libya was an automatic growth opportunity, a country which offered immense potential, and a
country which many invested substantial amounts of time and money in developing. Business before the 2011 uprisings grew at a
steady pace. Many believed that the country’s vision and leadership was changing with the potential of booming in the same way the UAE did a couple of decades before. When the uprisings started in Tunisia and Egypt, very few people believed that this could expand into Libya.

Everyone was wrong! The 2011 NATO-led operation in Libya succeeded in removing Gaddafi. It failed to establish stable political
institutions in the country. Libya steadily fell into conflict fuelled both by internal contradictions underlying the rivalry of various
political-military forces as well as external interference by regional and international actors pursuing their own economic and political-strategic interests. Since then, hopes of democracy, stability, and prosperity have been elusive in Libya. In many respects, the country is considered a failed state that cannot exercise nation-wide authority with competing forces claiming to rule the country. Libya is well known to have substantial fossil fuel resources which to date have remained untapped and many leading world powers have or want to have access to part of this. Libya has been a significant producer of crude oil since the early 60’s. With a relatively small and young population, and major annual oil revenues, amounting to over 30 billion in 2010, Libya offered great potential.

During Gaddafi’s 42 years in power, Libya experienced a lack of transparency, inefficient state institutions, widespread corruption.
Its oil wealth was mismanaged, leading to the underperformance of its economic potential. This was severely aggravated following
the revolution. In 2011, the rebels united to overthrow Gaddafi’s regime. Their loose alliance fell apart as the different groups pursued various agendas. They distrusted each other for political and economic interests. This led to significant, unintended consequences, generating regional turmoil, massive civilian displacement, and an environment conducive to terrorism and extremism. Today, Libya is fragmented and polarised, caught up in instability and insecurity.

A few consider Haftar and his LNA to have been one of the obstacles to the reconciliation process in Libya, as they have
attempted to impose their rule on the country. Libya continues to suffer from a political and economic crises, which weakens state
institutions by damaging its economy. The North African country has not only descended into violence and social breakdown but
has also come to be influenced by numerous militia groups, who many believe have taken advantage of the political instability as
the post war period presented huge business opportunities. Since August 2020, rival Libyan parties to the conflict have signed
on a ceasefire. This return to the negotiating table has increased hopes of reconciliation and resulted in the lifting of the oil
blockade. The truce is widely regarded as a move toward broader political negotiations and a way out of the conflict. However, the
risk of renewed violence still exists.

The current reconciliation talks under the UN sponsorship have contributed to increasing optimism for a viable, inclusive, lasting,
and peaceful political settlement. The need for security and stability might encourage the majority of Libyans to engage in
the process of peace and to support paths of reconstruction and development in the country. The world is waiting, and once the
Libyans move forward, other nations will be there to support and assist them in developing further this gem of a country.

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