The Arab Spring movement in 2011 disrupted the governing regimes in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The demonstrations, spawned by an increasing cost of living, initiated a reform movement which endeavored to liberalize these autocratically controlled economies. Some countries in the region, namely Tunisia and Egypt, removed these regimes entirely while the governments in Algeria and Morocco granted concessions which appeared to have successfully addressed the call for reform. In Libya, Qaddafi resisted the demand for a more liberalized economy and, due to his iron-fisted rule, there existed little room for opposition groups where the populous could express their discontent. Tension built over time and in a highly urbanized, sparsely populated country, Qaddafi’s regime was destined to fall.
After the death of Qaddafi, elections were held in Libya in 2012 in which the National Forces Alliances (NFA) Party garnered 48% of the vote and the Muslim Brotherhood backed political party, the Justice and Construction Party (JCP), only gathered about 10% of the vote. Despite this, the JCP was able to build a loose coalition that allowed them to control over 50% of the seats in Parliament and passed two initiatives aimed at cementing the JCP, and by extension the Muslim Brotherhood, as a political fixture in Libya.
The next round of elections in 2014 saw growing resentment towards parliament as a whole and the JCP and NFA suffered because of it. The people decidedly chose to elect parliamentarians based on their individual campaigns and not along party lines, which resulted in a mixture of parties now involved in Libyan politics. The Muslim Brotherhood backed JCP regarded this as a loss of their power and worried about potential retribution that might be leveled at the Brotherhood for its past purges of Qaddafi sympathizers. Fearing this, they moved to take military control of the capital, Tripoli. From this point on, the conflict in Libya can generally be divided into two distinct camps: the non-Islamist Operation Dignity and the Muslim Brotherhood backed Operation Dawn. Each have their own Prime Minister, Parliament, and military forces.
Operation Dignity is a loose affiliated arrangement of federalists, disaffected military units, and tribes from Eastern Libya. They are backed overtly by Egypt and the UAE and are generally regarded as the legitimate government of Libya by the international community. Operation Dawn is backed by Islamic forces and militias who want to rid Libya of Qaddafi-era holdovers and want further economic liberalization. They are not recognized internationally by the UN but are backed in a covert fashion by Turkey, Qatar, and Sudan. As a result, Libya is divided between fragile but stable alliances in which the potential for a larger, more violent civil conflict exists.
There have been mediation efforts via Britain’s Special Envoy Johnathon Powell and UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon, who have engaged both sides in talks. They have emphasized the need for Operation Dawn and Dignity to reunite under a single parliament once again, however, the fear is that any collaboration by either side may lead to further fragmentation. To add further complexity to the Libya conflict, ISIS has a growing presence due to the power vacuum created by the fighting. They are regarded as an enemy of both Dawn and Dignity; consequently, this may allow Dawn and Dignity an avenue for cooperation in the future.
Where does this leave Libya? Despite its recent past, there exists a potential in Libya to move forward in a positive manner, however, action needs to be taken soon in an effort to mitigate the possibility of cemented positions. The UN and the EU are already heavily involved because of the UN/NATO intervention in 2011, the worry that Libya might provide safe haven to Jihadist elements, and the presence of ISIS resulting from the power vacuum. Libya needs to focus on demilitarizing Operations Dawn and Dignity, amalgamating of the two separate parliaments, and initiating security sector reform. Canada, through its allies, can support these endeavors in an effort to increase stability in Libya and disrupt the ability for ISIS to spread beyond Iraq and Syria.