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Why Libya Lurches from One Crisis to The Next

Libya's capital Tripoli.

Libya's capital Tripoli.

Photographer: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

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More than a decade after the US, European and Arab governments helped Libyans to overthrow their tyrannical ruler Moammar Al Qaddafi, the country remains beset by periodic crises and bloodshed. United Nations-backed efforts to reconcile the oil-rich nation’s two competing governments have stalled. And war in Ukraine is pushing Libya’s plight down the international agenda, draining impetus from the peace process. All the while, basic public services are fraying and living standards declining amid galloping inflation. 

Libya’s state institutions crumbled during Qaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship and his overthrow left a vacuum that was filled by myriad militias, many based on tribal affiliations. A division emerged between the country’s wealthier west and the east that’s home to much of Libya’s oil production. Following elections in 2014, Libya was split in half, with a UN-recognized administration based in the capital, Tripoli, clashing with General Khalifa Haftar and a coalition of troops and irregular fighters known as the Libyan National Army in the east. An internationally brokered cease-fire in October 2020 led to a new transitional government under Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who was supposed to guide the country toward elections in late 2021. But the vote was postponed amid legal disputes and Dbeibah stayed on in the role. This angered parliamentarians in the east, who appointed a rival premier, Fathi Bashagha, based in the central coastal city of Sirte.