Libya: the Outlook

The situation in Libya is fragile. Some commentators have spoken of fears of a failed state, but that is alarmist and not evidence-based; the situation in Libya today can not be compared with that in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or Yemen. One Libyan commentator who recently used the expression "failed state" suggested that the model might as well be Belgium as Somalia.

The government, which is transitional, is acquiring more authority, but local leaders, particularly military leaders, are not fully under control. Progress on unfreezing assets, and the unexpected speed with which oil production has returned to about half the pre-revolution level, mean that the government can now more or less pay its way. Electricity, water, food supplies and other services are reasonably normal, but there have been some alarming incidents, the worst being the murder in July of the military commander Abd al-Fattah Yunis.

 Progress towards the goal of a constitution in mid-2012 and an elected government in mid-2013 is so far on track. The main problems identified by international advisers are excessive expectations, the electoral process, reconciliation, human rights (especially those of non-Libyans), proliferation of weapons, and accountable oversight of funds. To these may be added unemployment and the future of the fighters who overthrew Qadhafi, and the threat of continuing counter-revolutionary activity by members of the Qadhafi family and fringe elements including Islamists and tribal and regional extremists.

The government is in principle unwilling to take decisions with long-term consequences, as well as lacking the resources to do so. The resulting lack of decision, reminiscent of the Qadhafi period, is frustrating for foreign governments and foreign business.

Governments have so far resisted the temptation to try to call the shots. The British government, for example, have stuck to the line taken by the Prime Minister in Parliament in August: "Our task now is to do all we can to support the will of the Libyan people, which is for an effective transition to a free, democratic and inclusive Libya. This will be a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned process with broad international support ..."  

If the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta harboured any hope on his recent visit that Libya would provide the long-sought African location for the headquarters of AFRICOM he was commendably discreet about it: ""The last thing you want to do is to try to impose something on a country that has just gone through what the Libyans have gone through...They've earned the right to try to determine their future. They've earned the right to try to work their way through the issues that they're going to have to confront."

Many recent articles try to assess the position. One worth looking at published on the Foreign Policy website at  is an interview with Ali Tarhuni, the former minister of finance and oil who was dropped in the recent reshuffle. He conveys a hopeful message, but accuses Qatar of infringing Libyan sovereignty by supporting the Muslim brotherhood; he ends by announcing his intention of forming a political party. Another published in the Abu Dhabi newspaper the National at  emphasises the importance of reconciliation and reining in the militias.


By Oliver Miles, Director, MEC International Ltd.  Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Libya Business News


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