Challenges to Democratic Transition and the Crisis of State-Building in Libya

26 January, 2023

The ACRPS has published Challenges to Democratic Transition and the Crisis of State-Building in Libya (392 pp.) by multiple authors and edited by Ahmed Qasem Hussein, a contributing author. The book is an attempt to close the gap in Arab knowledge production on the Libyan crisis, whose various dimensions are difficult to contain within a single volume. Thus, it sheds light on the core issues relating to the crisis of Libyan state-building on the eve of the revolution that erupted on 17 February 2011 across three sections. The first focuses on the challenges facing the Libyan state; the second discusses the economic dimensions of the crisis; and the third addresses the foreign component and its effect on Libyan state-building.

The challenges of state-building

In the first chapter, “The Crisis of the Desired Libyan Constitution and its Consequences for the Political Process”, Abdelhafid Kandir illustrates the contexts that paved the way for the crafting of a new Libyan constitution and its impacts on the country’s political process. He argues that the legal, political, and cultural disputes that accompanied the crafting of the constitution deepened the political crisis. The project caused greater division, tension, and state-building difficulties during the post-Gadhafi stage, instead of being a historic turning point toward democracy. Khayri Omar discusses the electoral system and the laws governing the electoral process in Libya since the 17 February revolution in the second chapter, titled “The Electoral System and Crises of the Transitional Phase in Libya”. The holding of elections for the General National Congress, the Constitution Drafting Assembly, then the House of Representatives highlighted various dimensions of the electoral system’s impact on political participation and the stability of state institutions.

Meanwhile, Najwa Wheba considers transitional justice part of the success of democratic transition, by doing justice to marginalised and oppressed groups and making reparations by revealing the mistakes of the past, working to avoid repeating them, and institutional reform. In chapter three, titled “Transitional Justice and Its Effect on the State-Building Process and Democratic Transition in Libya”, she presents the Libyan case as a model for the foundering of this justice, traces the reasons for the disruption despite the passage of much legislation on the issue, and clarifies the impact on the democratic transition process in Libya from 2014-2020. In chapter four, “Islamist Forces in Libya: Transformations during the ‘Transition’ Phase (2011-2014)”, Omar Ashour discusses the role of Islamist political and military forces in the armed revolution that, with the help of NATO, toppled the Muammar al-Gadhafi regime. These forces were inseparable from the political process during the transition stage, which included electoral competition, constitution drafting, and civil society activity.

Economic dimensions of the Libyan crisis

Faraj Suleiman Hammouda begins the fifth chapter, “The Division of Sovereign Economic Institutions and its Impact on Libyan State-Building”, by discussing the political fragmentation in Libya since the June 2014 House of Representatives elections, whose legitimacy was disputed to such an extent that the Libyan Supreme Court intervened and ruled them unconstitutional, leading to the division of the government. The relationship between the division of these sovereign economic institutions, the state-building crisis, and problems associated with democratic transition was, according to the author, one of cause and effect; the division occurred only after the country entered a political crisis that would later devolve into armed struggles from 2014 onward. In chapter six, “The Libyan Crisis: The Political Economy of Escalation and Pacification”, Adel Zeggagh clarifies the insights that the perspective of political economy can provide toward better understanding the dynamism of the Libyan conflict, focusing on the following issue: how might we thwart mobilisation among those who are undermining efforts to resolve the Libyan crisis and drive them toward a peaceful resolution? Zeggagh departs from the assumption that the success of pacification efforts must address this issue more seriously by redirecting economic interests from rewards and sanctions to target leaders at the intermediate level, not the top.

 The foreign component and its impact on Libyan state-building

In the seventh chapter, “The Bowl and Those It Feeds: Post-Arab Spring Foreign Interference in Libya”, Ahmed Qasem Hussein and Mohammed Hemchi address foreign interventions and their effect on the Libyan crisis, arguing that to move forward in examining the foreign element in Libya’s transition toward democracy beyond its preliminary role in overthrowing the Gadhafi regime, then in disrupting the transition itself, will not be of analytical use, unlike in Tunisia and Egypt. For Libya and Yemen, things are entirely different; foreign military intervention, whether directly via military operations or indirectly via support and armaments, played a twofold role: first by foiling the transition to democracy, then by stirring up civil war. The eighth and final chapter, “International Mediation Efforts in the Libyan Conflict and the Failure of Democratic Transition (2011-2020)”, by Abdelhamid Siyam focuses on the role of the UN support mission in Libya and international envoys. It explores the reasons for the stalling of those efforts and the inability to move from internal conflict to stability and democratic transition.

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