European percpectives on the Libyan crisis

By Francesca Fabbri, MEDEA Institute

Among the countries in transition of the North Africa, Libya is probably the one that encountered the most radical changes. The political and security dimension, after the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, doesn’t seem to become stabilized. Combined with the importance of the Jamahiriya as a trade partner for Europe (especially in the energy sector) and for the borders of the Mediterranean and of the Maghreb and Sahel regions, the Libyan government fragility suggests fundamental questionings for the European Union and its Member States on their action in support of the post-revolutionary reconstruction.

Libya's Prime Minister Ali Zeidan speaks during a joint news conference at the headquarters of the Prime Minister's Office in Tripoli

Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan speaks during a joint news conference at the headquarters of the Prime Minister’s Office in Tripoli


The power of the government elected in 2012 is becoming increasingly vulnerable while confronting an extreme political fragmentation. The measure of this political polarization and of the obstacles the government is facing in keeping control over the country has been dramatically highlighted by recent events: the kidnapping of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan by a militia of former revolutionaries in what seems to have been a failed coup; as well as the arrest by the American special forces of Nazih al Ruqai’I, also known as Abu Anas al-Libi, incriminated for its alleged role in the bombing of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998.

Since three months, most of Libyan production and exports of oil have been blocked by the autonomist militias of Cyrenaica. They have shown the powerlessness of Ali Zeidan’s government, who has threatened the occupants to arrest them, encouraging the political leaders of the East, among whom there are former rebels, to form an autonomous regional government called Barqa  (Arabic name of Cyrenaica) and to establish a regional independent oil company [1].

The pre-Gaddafi division between Tripolitania, siege of the central power, and Cyrenaica, rich in oil, was already a problem for Libya, as much as that between the local powers and the central government and the social conflict masked in ethnical clash. After 2011, these elements combined with the collapse of the State’s security apparatus with all the State structures. This, combined with the biggest weapons’ circulation ever, has generated the proliferation of outnumbered militias not referring to any authority of the State and not interested in building a structured security system.

The European Union and some of its Member States have been implementing programs contributing to renforce the birth of a democratic system in Libya. Nonetheless, Libya remains the only State of North Africa that has not signed an association agreement and that has not been completely integrated in the euro-Mediterranean policy. As Mattia Toaldo, from ECFR [2], suggests, the Union and its Member States should give to the policies for the reinforcement of the democratic system the same weight for the establishment of an integrated security system. In this framework, a peer-to-peer approach, rather than political conditionality, would be more efficient, taking also into account the economic potential of Libya. Also, making the immigration policies more opened, could help in making the coasts of the Mediterranean safer and to prevent human trafficking.

The judicial system is also a sector in need of an urgent reform by the concerned actors in Libya [3]. It is not functioning in many regions of the country, while at the same time armed groups continue to impose their justice, also inside the prisons. Many divisions between the political actors come from the failure of the national reconciliation process. The serious deficiencies in the current system are deeply rooted in the previous one. Under Gaddafi’s rule the judicial power suffered from politicization, from generalized corruption and the use of extra-judiciary means to target the political adversaries. This heritage is a heavy burden for the efforts of the new government. The European Union and its Member States could provide technical assistance and an information service to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and could also support the civil society organizations in their efforts in documenting the past and the recent violations.

The drop in the citizens’ confidence in their elected representatives is making things worst. There are divergent calls for new elections or for the abolition of the General National Congress [4]. Nonetheless, the procedures for the election of the constituent National Assembly have been put on track in the last weeks and the candidates have started to register to form the “Committee of the Sixties” in charge to draft the new constitution and who should normally be elected in December. Political, religious and ethnic inclusion is fundamental for the success of this constitutional committee.

Transition in Libya will last long, but there is already much that the government could do, with its European partners, to stabilize the country and to be a fundamental actor in the euro-Mediterranean relations.

Bibliography :






[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/12/world/africa/in-challenge-former-rebels-in-libya-form-own-oil-company.html?_r=0

[2] http://www.ecfr.eu/blog/entry/libya_what_can_europe_do

[3] http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/Middle%20East%20North%20Africa/North%20Africa/libya/140-trial-by-error-justice-in-post-qadhafi-libya.pdf

[4] http://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/rhiannon-smith/libyas-constituent-assembly-light-at-end-of-tunnel