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Research Report

Revolution and its discontents:: state, factions and violence in the new Libya

Rosan Smits
Floor Janssen
Ivan Briscoe
Terri Beswick
Copyright Date: Sep. 1, 2013
Published by: Clingendael Institute
Pages: 75
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 4-7)

    The speed and success of Libya's revolution surprised many observers of the Arab revolts. But the long and troubled aftermath of the uprising that toppled General Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi after a short war has not caused anything like the same astonishment. Long isolated from the outside world as a result of the regime's revolutionary shocks of the 1970s, its anti-Western dogma in the 1980s, and the international sanctions that were consequently applied until the mid-2000s, the Libyan people had enjoyed extremely little experience of civil society, political debate or economic freedom at the time of their liberation. The list of resentments...

  2. (pp. 8-17)

    For much of their history, most Libyans were merely bystanders as affairs unfolded at the national level. A succession of local and foreign rulers shaped a highly authoritarian system that was held together through intricate mechanisms of patronage and cronyism. Throughout the colonial period, the monarchy and the Qadhafi era, the spending and squandering of state resources served to keep a carefully crafted network of regime loyalists in place and ordinary citizens voiceless - all to secure regime survival. For decades, it was 'problematic to even consider Libya's people truly as citizens'.¹

    Libya's natural wealth permitted the emergence of such...

  3. (pp. 18-39)

    The revolutionaries who toppled Qadhafi's dictatorship in 2011 appeared determined to overcome decades of repression, co-option and selective distribution of oil wealth. As a result, Libya's transition rapidly generated a major upheaval in the political 'hardware' by establishing a system of political representation, free elections and reformed state institutions. Changing the institutional 'software', on the other hand, is set to take many more years.

    Exclusionary political practices from the past, of the sort described in the previous chapter, have resurfaced. Increasingly brutal competition over power and resources is shaping Libya's transition, and may well be influenced by a regional context...

  4. (pp. 40-55)

    Post-revolutionary Libyan politics is being pulled in two mutually antagonistic directions: towards the inclusion of as many interest groups as possible, and towards the exclusion of certain groups from power. Arguably, the goal of excluding the remainders and leftovers of the previous regime is characteristic of all successful revolutions.146 But the opposing urge towards co-option can only be fully understood on the basis of the security dilemmas that Libya is now facing. The intense political activity and coalition-making of the past two years must be interpreted against a backdrop of fundamental state weakness. There is, for now, no monopoly on...

  5. (pp. 56-59)

    Post-revolutionary Libya is riven by numerous internal divisions and disputes, each with an uncertain dénouement. Just as significantly, the surrounding region is immersed in multiple crises that are likely to spill over borders in unforeseeable ways, whether through tribal tension, extremist migration, weapons trafficking, or new forms of democracy or authoritarianism that could dramatically alter the course of the Arab transitions.

    In this turmoil, the country’s political settlement is characterized by extreme factionalism and ever-shifting coalitions of disparate interests – be they locally or tribally grounded, ideologically inspired, or financially motivated – glued together by oil and gas revenues. On...