Libya, Divided We Stand

Almost a decade after the revolution, the country still struggles with civil war

East versus west, but the importance of oil is felt in every direction. This, in short, is the situation in Libya eight years on from the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi who had ruled the country for more than four decades prior to his execution during the 2011 revolution. Since then, Libya has plummeted into a series of interminable internal conflicts that have involved numerous forms of global Islamic extremism, while the country’s population has enjoyed not a single day of stability.

The west is the part of the country governed from Tripoli by Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya recognized by the United Nations, but in reality lacking genuine control over affairs of state. In the capital, as in large parts of Tripolitania, the real economic and military power is in the hands of the hundreds of private militias. These are heavily armed and enjoy the backing of Turkey and Qatar, and are ready to do whatever it takes to defend their own interests. Aggravating the general situation is a collapsing economy, infrastructure that has been left to rot, widespread corruption and the presence of thousands of refugees reduced to conditions of slavery in the country’s detention centres.

The east has as its fulcrum Benghazi, dominion of Field Marhsal Khalifa Haftar, the self-proclaimed strongman of Cirenaica, who boasts having liberated Libya’s second city from the stranglehold of Islamic extremism. The price paid by the city’s inhabitants, however, was extremely high: the complete destruction of the historic centre, which today consists of rubble and abandoned streets littered with anti-personnel mines, and the installation of a more or less totalitarian regime, enforced by a widespread apparatus of control and based on Haftar’s growing cult of personality. The Marshal, in fact, has his sights set on taking control of the entire country with the help of Egypt and the Arab Emirates.

Since the spring of 2019, the latest of numerous armed clashes has been under way on the edge of the capital, between Haftar’s forces and federal troops of the Tripoli government, including dozens of militia. Arab and European nations have sided, more or less openly, with the two different actors. In the meantime the population is now resigned to its fate, waiting for the outcome of this ongoing conflict that no one dares to call a civil war but, to all intents and purposes, is precisely that.

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