Libya Country Profile 2014-2015

Like Norway, Libya is a country with little cultivable areas, but with a lot of oil and gas. Libya has slightly more inhabitants than Norway and over five times the area – most of it is desert. The former Italian colony has Africa’s largest oil reserves, and virtually all export revenue comes from the oil sector. This has given Libyans both higher life expectancy and less illiteracy than most other African countries. After Muammar Gaddafi’s regime was toppled in 2011, Libya has fallen into a spiral of ever-worse chaos, with two governments and many militias fighting for power in various parts of the country. Norway’s participation in NATO’s bombing of Libya in 2011 is disputed.

The Qadhafi regime had been built around the person of Qadhafi without any form of political representative body. The new holders of power therefore had to build a political system and, by the way, a new state apparatus, from bare ground.

The development was further characterized by how the old board was our field. The rebels had a National Transitional Council as a leading body, but the battle was led by a long line of independent local militiamen. Desse retained governance in its various areas and took relatively little notice of the new state organs created by the Transitional Council.

It was unclear how many militias existed in the country, since many of them were groups that formed around a local camp that could be more or less closely allied with other groups in various militia alliances. We have mentioned numbers of up to 1,600 different militias in the country. [1] Most of these are city-bound and work to secure “their” city, village or neighborhood, without any particular ideological markers. Such local militias can also coincide with tribal identity, since Libya is one of the countries in the Middle East that is most strongly characterized by social organization in tribes. However, some militias also emerged on a more ideological Islamic basis, not least in the eastern part of the country (Cyrenaica).

Political quarrel

During 2012 and 2013, attempts were made to form a political party, with a view to electing a parliament that would then set up a constitutional assembly. However, the election to this General Congress in 2012 was essentially a choice for individuals, what came closest to serving as a party was the newly formed Muslim Brotherhood, with inspiration from Egypt. The prime minister nevertheless came from a more Western-liberal stream.

Congress began to build state institutions, but failed to gain authority over the militants. In the city, they cooperated with leading militias. Some of these, for example, were given the status of police and army departments, though they were still taking orders from their military leaders rather than from state forces.

Throughout 2013 and 2014, tensions between politicians as well as between militias increase. Several groups in the Austrians demanded autonomy or, most preferably, self-sufficiency for Cyrenaica, and a militia there managed to block the oil ports for a long time, thus reducing exports. In August, more radical Islamist groups emerged, among them Ansar al-Shari’a, most likely behind the assassination of US Ambassador to Benghazi in 2012.

In the west, rivalries between two major militia alliances were geographically based, one from the small town of Zintan in the western mountains, the other from Libya’s third largest city of Misurata. In 2014, regular fighting broke out over control of the capital, Tripoli. Each of them also joined a group of parliamentarians, so that the Misurata militia supported a group in which the Brotherhood also participated, while Zintan supported the group that was characterized as “liberal”.

Two parliaments, two governments

In June 2014, the new election was held, where the General Congress was to be replaced by a new Deputy Assembly. At the same time, the battle for Tripoli intensified. When Vala showed that the Liberal bloc had strengthened and gained majority, while the “deira” Zintan militia lost the Battle of Tripoli in favor of Misurata, fleeing the majority of the newly elected east to the city of Tobruk, near the Egypt border, and established themselves there. The minority refused to approve this, and restored the old General Congress in Tripoli. Both congregations appointed government and both demanded the rule of Libya. The international community recognizes the Tobruk government, which has gone out of the last held elections, while the Tripoli government seems to be controlling the state apparatus centrally.

In total, the two governments probably control no more than perhaps 10-20 percent of the land area of ​​Libya. The Tobruk government has joined an important militia in the east rented by former General Khalifa Heftar, who has worked for Cyrenaica autonomy and who has managed to gather many military with experience from the pre-revolution era. Heftar was then also appointed army commander by the Tobruk government and calls the group Libya’s national army. Both he and the Tripoli government’s Misurata militia have air weapons.

Emergence of IS

The Heftar and Tobruk governments strongly mobilize opposition to Islamism and point out that the Muslim Brotherhood is part of the Tripoli alliance. This alliance is heterogeneous, but it is clearly an element of essentially moderate Islamists. In 2014, a group of allies with IS established themselves in the city of Derna Aust in the country. They were squeezed out of there, but took the city of Syrte further west in 2015 and spread to surrounding areas. They have also attacked oil installations and are at odds with both governments in the country.

There is also unrest in other parts of Libya, in the south there are more regular tribal struggles, not least between the minority groups tuaregar and teda (toubou), and most of the country is probably ruled by local groups that are not part of any of the three major alliances in the north.


Libya’s economy is wholly dominated by oil production, which picked up rapidly after the war in 2011. However, this has subsequently suffered damage, and in 2014 was reduced to below half the normal level.

Libya is characterized by a chaos of increasingly fragmented forces, where ideology and Islam are mixed with local power struggles, tribal conflict and personal struggles. Egypt supports the Heftar and Tobruk governments, while the outside world is worried about the rise of IS in the political void in the country. The UN has been involved in creating a unifying government between the two parties in Tobruk and Tripoli, but has been countered by fighting forces and militias in both camps. By the end of 2015, they had not reached this work.