Libya’s decision to postpone a landmark presidential vote has damaged efforts to rebuild a nation riven by conflict since the overthrow of strongman Moammar Al Qaddafi a decade ago. Foreign powers that waged a proxy war there still appear to support a transition to democracy. But the delay has weakened the authority of the interim government and left Libyans wondering if their country will slip back into violence, potentially disrupting vital oil exports and choking the economy.
Libya’s state institutions evaporated during Qaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship, so his removal left a void that was filled by a multitude of armed groups, many of them based on tribal affiliations. A succession of governments failed to restore order or stop weapons flooding into the country. National elections in 2014 that were supposed to unify Libya only split it down the middle, with a Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital, Tripoli, in the west vying with an eastern coalition of troops and irregular fighters known as the Libyan National Army, led by Khalifa Haftar. Haftar secured major oil resources by extending his grip in the east and south before moving to capture Tripoli in 2019 with the help of Russian mercenaries. Turkey, backing the GNA, sent in troops the following year and Haftar’s men were forced to abandon the effort after battles that left more than 2,000 people dead and tens of thousands displaced. A cease-fire was declared in August 2020 after Egypt threatened to intervene.