This article is part of a series that will be released before the end of 2015, drawing from The Contour‘s annual print issue titled Upheaval, Revolution & Tragedy: The World of 2015, which can be found online at The Contour: Print Edition
Libya is ranked by the Human Development Index as Africa’s second most developed state. But enter “Libya” into a search engines you’ll find images of instability and violence. Most recently, anti-ISIL air strikes were deployed in the northern part of the country, killing 31 Libyans. Scroll farther down, and archives from the past few weeks all send out news of civil war and chaos in a law-less state. So how is it that Africa’s most developed continental country is facing its most violent uprising in recent history?
To understand the current situation in Libya, one must understand the relationship between religion and government in the country. Since the seventh century, Libyans have identified as Muslim. Over the years such an identity has been refined and most Libyans now identify as Sunni. The Sunnis in Libya believe that church and state should not be separated. Religious law is very evidently intertwined with Libya’s Constitutional Declaration. This Declaration, signed in 1952, marked the beginning of freedom in a former British colony. After some rehashing of political order, Muammar Gaddafi from outside of Sirte, Libya, emerged as the leader of a young, North African nation in 1969.
In the beginning years of Gaddafi’s reign, the Libyan people saw him as a young and charismatic leader. Throughout much of the 1970’s and 1980’s, people fell in love with him and his policies. With his cunning intellect and strong debate skills, he was able to foresee an economic boom in oil demand. After establishing his country as a global petroleum power, Gaddafi stood firm against oil corporations, forcing the renegotiation of treaties and agreements. Libya’s wealth skyrocketed, and Gaddafi’s politics lead Libya down a new, and seemingly bright path.
Gaddafi’s reign—as is the case with many totalitarian leaders—had some major flaws. While the economy boomed and Libya developed, political opponents of Gaddafi were silenced with force. Such silencing coupled with Gaddafi’s aging state caused people to begin to question his motives and morality. Finally, a movement in North Africa and the Middle East, known as Arab Spring, forced a full out rebellion against Gaddafi’s regime in the year of 2011. This revolt was unpredicted by many analysts, but nonetheless toppled Gaddafi’s government. The death of Gaddafi brought about a new Libya, one that still has to find itself.
After Gaddafi’s death, the National Transitional Council declared Libya “liberated” but failed to gain control of armed militias to restabilize the nation. It handed power off to the General National Congress until the institution of the Council of Representatives selected by the Libyan people. Jihadists overran the GNC. Libya is currently operating under two systems of government and Libya has gone through six prime ministers since 2011.
Being that it lacks the backbone of age-old tradition, Libya must reconstruct a nation that has only been independent for seventy years. Foreign intervention like colonial rule has backfired in the past, depriving and infantilizing a people for many centuries. But the foreign-backed Arab Spring gave rise to change and potential for good. The countries that encouraged revolt must also take part in guiding Libya’s growth to completion.
by Alex Small ’18