The deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, which took place a year ago Wednesday, symbolized the violence, chaos and struggles that have defined Libya since the ousting of dictator Moammar Gadhafi two years ago.
The country is split along regional and tribal lines. The government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who is considered a liberal, has little control over either security or the various militia groups that are often better armed than police. The economy has stalled as oil production plummeted recently, and is now at about 10 percent of capacity. As Reuters notes, “many Libyans feel little has changed since the 2011 war that toppled” Gadhafi.
Here’s a look at where things in Libya stand today:
Zeidan’s government appears to be on the verge of collapse. Critics say he has failed to rein in militias and Islamist groups, or to end a strike by workers and guards at oil facilities that has crippled the economy of North Africa’s top largest oil producer.
This week, Mohammed Sawan, the head of the political arm of the Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood, said Zeidan, who was elected last October, hadn’t done enough to tackle corruption or the militias. He said he was considering withdrawing five ministers of his Justice and Construction Party, from the Cabinet. Libya has a broad-based consensus government that includes liberals and Islamists.
“We have waited months for Zeidan’s government,” Sawan told Reuters. “Had we believed there was a chance for success of even 10 percent, we would… (wait). The problem is that for Zeidan to stay in power will only worsen this failure.”
He said there was growing support for a no-confidence motion against the Zeidan government in the 200-member National Assembly.
He isn’t alone in his criticism. Libya’s top cleric called on Zeidan’s government last week to be sacked for incompetence.
Security is still fragile. A car bomb went off Wednesday near the Foreign Ministry building in Benghazi. There have been drive-by shootings, bombings and kidnappings. The Washington Post reports:
“Even minor disputes escalate into frequent gun violence on the streets. Kidnappings and armed robberies are increasing, and government officials and others have been assassinated with guns and bombs. Militants and arms smugglers easily cross poorly protected borders shared with Niger and Chad.
“The murky security situation is threatening stability in a desert nation with North Africa’s largest oil reserves. And it is causing new jitters in a region already on edge over rising violence in neighboring Egypt and the looming prospect of U.S. military strikes in Syria.
“As the postwar government struggles to rebuild after 42 years of dictatorship, it has left security primarily in the hands of hundreds of private militias, which are far larger and better armed than the country’s poorly trained and equipped police and army.
“The militias, most of which were formed to oust Gaddafi in the 2011 revolution, range from ragtag outfits of a couple of dozen men to organized forces of thousands of fighters.”
Libya’s oil exports are critical to its economy, but production has fallen to a tenth of capacity because of the recent strike. This has contributed to jitters in the global oil market. Other OPEC members have increased production, but it isn’t enough to offset the fall in Libya’s output.
The Associated Press estimated the losses at more than $5 billion. Here’s more:
“The closure of onshore oil facilities have driven down production to just 130,000 barrels per day, Libya’s Deputy Oil Minister Omar el-Shakmak told reporters earlier this week. An official in Libya’s National Oil Corp. said Saturday that figure had risen slightly by the end of the week to 150,000 barrels per day, less than 10 percent of its pre-war levels. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“Libya was producing 1.6 million barrels of oil per day under Gadhafi and was exporting around 1.2 million barrels daily. Production stopped briefly during the civil war, but picked up within months of Gadhafi’s capture and killing at the hands of rebels, who now comprise many of the militias.”
Cooperation With The U.S.
Although the U.S. Justice Department has indicted suspects in the Benghazi attacks, Libya hasn’t arrested them. Militia leader Ahmed Khattala, one of the suspects in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, has been interviewed several times by U.S. news media, but remains free. The New York Times says:
“Some senior Obama administration and law enforcement officials would like Libya to arrest and try the suspects because they do not want the United States to be seen as interfering with another country’s sovereignty. But with militias controlling much of eastern Libya, that may not be possible logistically or politically. If the suspects were handed over to the United States, it is not clear whether they would be tried in civilian courts or military tribunals, like the ones in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”
Reasons For Optimism
For all its problems, some still see Libya as a place that could be peaceful and prosperous and caution that it should not be written off. As Christian Caryl writes in Foreign Policy:
“Libya is not Afghanistan, it’s not Pakistan, and it’s certainly not Syria. It’s a country whose people, with a bit of help from the outside world, fought for eight bloody months to overthrow their dictator. It’s a country whose people then voted in a fair and free election for a government led by secular political parties. It’s a country where opinion polls show that a majority of the population — a solid 83 percent, according to the latest survey from the National Democratic Institute, believe that democracy is the best form of government. And it’s a place where people (in stark contrast to, say, Egypt) still have a largely positive attitude towards the countries of the West. All this means that Libya still has a real shot at becoming a strong and healthy democracy.”