While the hated dictator Muammar Qaddafi is dead and gone, the people of Libya still suffer as instability deepens and eastern Libya increasingly acts semi-autonomously in a movement led by former Libyan army officer Idris al-Rahel. The region’s top tribal leaders convened in Benghazi to plan a unilateral move toward statehood with only a loose federation agreement tying the east to western Libya.
Critics fear such actions will divide the country permanently but eastern Libyans want to see an end to the dominant rule by the western half of the country. Under Qaddafi, easterners faced discrimination and deprivation, and now they are ready to set out on the road alone. The central government in Tripoli has been unable to assert its sovereignty nearly six months after Qaddafi’s fall, with most of all central authority that once emanated out of Tripoli gone. While Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen each experienced domestic turmoil during the Arab Spring of 2011, they are not in nearly as dire a state as Libya is.
Libyans held high hopes for their country after the fall of Qaddafi, hoping to capitalize on their oil wealth and become a booming oasis of investment for investors in the horn of Africa. Now, people fear the lack of central government may hinder their development for decades to come and now the dreams of modernization and glorious democracy are replaced with day-to-day survival and acquiescence to circumstances outside of their control.
Qaddafi’s rule was marked by his ability to successfully divide communities and ethnic groups against one another. It is this legacy analysts say that will be the most difficult for Libyan civil society to overcome. There is no national army, and the capital city Tripoli remains under the control of various militias who each work in an atomistic fashion. The city of Kufra is a hotbed of ethnic conflict between Arabs and Africans and the city of Misrata acts as a semiautonomous region ruled by militiamen brutal to anyone thought to have been friendly to the Qaddafi regime.
Misrata was one of the first cities to rise up against Qaddafi’s rule and it paid for it heavily in terms of casualties. Some militia leaders decry the slow pace in which democratic decisions are made and have eschewed this process for this reason. Eastern Libyans had opposed the Qaddafi regime for generations, and the region’s people have paid for it in terms of a lack of funds for healthcare, schools, and social services. Benghazi, the first city to rise up against Muammar Qaddafi, once hosted the National Transitional Council, which moved to Tripoli after that city’s fall. Calls for the formation of a federal state continue but the process is frustrated by the civil instability plaguing the country.
Nonetheless, in the midst of the chaos some eastern Libyans have taken the opportunity to become even more proactive in establishing autonomy, forming the Barqa Supreme Military Council led by Colonel Hamid al-Hassi to direct military affairs on their side of the country. Tripoli, meanwhile, advocates for a decentralization plan that devolves power to local city and district governments with a strong central government as the lynchpin. Many, however, feel that the country’s civil society must first recover from the excesses of Qaddafi’s war before they can reform civil society.