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Libya Modern History

Muammar Gaddafi took power in Libya in 1969. The eccentric leader made huge changes in the country. He pursued a radical foreign policy and fought, among others, Israel and the United States by supporting militant groups around the world. As a result, Libya was subject to UN sanctions, damaging the country's economy. Gaddafi spent the 1990s trying to piece together relations with the Western world. In the early 1990s, Libya succeeded in breaking its isolation, not least as rising oil prices increased the country's economic significance. Gaddafi was overthrown in connection with the Arab Spring of 2011.

On September 1, 1969, a group of officers conducted a bloodless coup while King Idris was abroad (see Older History). At the head of the military junta stood 27-year-old Muammar Gaddafi, captain of the army (later Colonel) and son of a Bedouin from Sirtica desert. Gaddafi was strongly inspired by Egyptian Arab nationalist President Gamal Abdel-Nasser. In 1970, the US and British bases were evacuated and foreign oil companies were nationalized.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Libya. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

A year later, the Arab Socialist Union (ASU) was formed, which became the country's only permissible political organization. ASU would mobilize the people and undermine the position of traditional tribal leaders, but did not prove very effective. After Nasser's death in 1970, Gaddafi began to develop his own ideology, with Arab nationalist, Islamic and socialist elements. Gaddafi's own behavior also became increasingly eccentric.

Contemporary History of LibyaThe green book

In 1973, Gaddafi proclaimed "the people's revolution" against "imported ideologies". Society would be built on the Qur'an and resources would be redistributed to the lower middle class and to the lower class, from where Gaddafi himself had come. He presented the principles in "The Green Book", an ideological writing that was published in three parts 1975-1979. Libya would be a direct democracy ruled by all the people. Deciding power would grow from the bottom up, through a system of people committees in neighborhoods and workplaces. The People's Committees were assembled at local People's Congresses, which appointed delegates to Parliament and the Government.

Gaddafi resigned as head of state in 1974 to engage in revolutionary activities, but he held the post of commander-in-chief.

Contradictions in the military junta and protests not least among students culminated in August 1975 in a failed coup attempt.

The following year, the General People's Congress, the Parliament which now replaced ASU, was convened, and the People's Committee system now took over larger parts of the state apparatus. Later it was announced that a special movement had been formed with the task of stepping up the revolution: the revolution committees. They only responded to Gaddafi and monitored the political loyalty of the citizens, with the right to imprison and even execute the "enemies of the revolution".

Industrial workers were invited in 1977 to take control of companies. Private property was abolished in 1978, and two years later, private savings accounts were also removed. The income gaps were leveled. Thanks to the oil money, great efforts were made in health care and education. At the same time, the jerky and improvised economic policies and widespread corruption undermined the country's development. Gaddafi was able to issue new orders from one day to another, and the state was expected to reschedule its entire business immediately.

Financial deterioration

By the mid-1980s, oil prices were falling and Libya's economy was deteriorating. The situation was made worse by Gaddafi's attempts to implement his ideas, for example that everyone would "own their needs". The companies would be run by people's committees, the houses would be owned by the residents, the land by those who used it, and private small shops would be replaced by state department stores.

The Gaddafi regime was also radical in foreign policy. Libya repeatedly tried to form unions with other Arab states. First, union attempts were made with Egypt, Syria, Sudan and Tunisia. After that, Gaddafi focused on spreading his Islamic socialism to countries south of Libya, but in 1981 the plans for a merger with Chad also went for nothing. During the 1980s, Gaddafi fought a tough but unsuccessful armed conflict with Chad over a mineral-rich border area, the Aozour Strip. A highly unlikely union with the conservative monarchy in Morocco was entered into in 1984, with Libya promising to stop supporting the Polisario guerrillas in Western Sahara, but the union quickly broke down.

In 1989 Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia formed the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), with inspiration from the EU. The association has never worked effectively.

Libya's relations with the western world deteriorated rapidly in the early 1970s. The country was then the driving force in the Arab oil states' struggle to take control of the oil industry from the multinational companies. Libya's close relations with the Soviet Union, which provided the country with arms, its support for Palestinian guerrilla groups and anti-Western nationalist movements, and finally its involvement in various terrorist attacks, led to fierce conflict with the United States and Western European states.

In 1982, the United States banned all imports of Libyan crude oil. Four years later, the United States bombed targets in Libya and 37 people were killed, including Gaddafi's adoptive daughter.

Terrorism and sanctions

The explosion of a US commercial airplane in 1988 over the Scottish village of Lockerbie had far-reaching consequences for Libya. The attack killed 270 people, including three Swedes. Two Libyan citizens were eventually identified as suspects of the attack. Following the explosion of a French passenger plane across the Sahara in 1989, which claimed the lives of 170 people, France issued an arrest warrant for four Libyans. The Libyan government refused to extradite the suspected assailants.

The refusal led to the UN Security Council imposing sanctions on Libya in 1992. All air traffic to and from the country was stopped, exports of military equipment to Libya were banned and Libya's diplomatic representation abroad was cut. Libyan assets abroad were frozen. In 1996, the United States also imposed sanctions on companies that invested in the Libyan oil and gas sector.

Libya was severely affected by the sanctions, isolation and growing concerns caused by the government's own economic policies. The situation was exacerbated by the collapse of the Communist East Bloc from 1989 to 1991, which both caused problems for Libya's foreign trade and left the country without strong allies. In the early 1990s, the economic crisis prevailed, despite the oil resources, and dissatisfaction with the Gaddafi regime grew.

This paved the way for a series of reforms. Hundreds of political prisoners were released. Gaddafi again allowed private companies and let a new ministry take over most of the functions of the so-called Revolutionary Committees. But soon the oppression hardened again.

A minor Islamist insurgency continued in 1995-1998, led by the Islamic War group, a jihadist organization with roots in the environments of al-Qaeda. The violence was particularly concentrated in eastern Libya, where many residents felt they were discriminated against by the regime. The uprising was very brutally crushed. In 1996, a massacre was carried out in a prison in Tripoli, where 1,200 prisoners were summarily executed.

The insulation is broken

To try to solve their financial problems and alleviate the pressure from the outside world, Gaddafi chose to send negotiators to the US, UK and France on the Lockerbie attack from the mid-1990s. In 1999, the suspects in the case were handed over to an international trial in The Hague.

During the first year of the 2000s, Libya's long-standing international isolation was broken. Following the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, Libya hastened to highlight its earlier duds with militant Islamist movements. Gaddafi's security services began to cooperate with the CIA against al-Qaeda. As a thank you, the United States and Britain seized and handed over a group of exiled leaders in the Islamic warring group to Libya.

In a well-publicized play in 2003, Gaddafi announced that Libya would scrap all its weapons of mass destruction. That same year, Libya officially acknowledged its responsibility for the Lockerbie attack (although Gaddafi would later try to take it back) and began to pay damages to the victims' families.

More and more countries have now become interested in the economic opportunities in Libya in the light of the explosive oil price rises in the 2000s. Libya needed to upgrade its infrastructure and had plans to invite foreign companies and implement major privatizations. The old socialist appeals were now completely gone. In 2003, Gaddafi began to talk about his economic policy as "popular capitalism".

Still unpredictable

In 2004, the EU lifted its arms embargo on Libya and the US lifted its oil sanctions. Two years later, Libya was removed from the US list of states that support terrorism, and the US again opened an embassy in Libya. Several Western companies tried to enter the Libyan market, despite bureaucracy and trade barriers, and France and Italy, among others, concluded economic and political agreements with the government. Libya also offered southern European countries cooperation on migration issues, which was eagerly accepted by Italy in particular.

Despite this, relations with the outside world remained complicated, mainly because of Gaddafi's own erratic behavior.

The wave of revolution that began in Tunisia in December 2010 and spread in the Arab world soon reached Libya. In February 2011 protests against Gaddafi broke out. They were quickly defeated in western Libya where the regime was strongest, with the exception of a few isolated locations. Eastern Libya, on the other hand, was almost immediately conquered by rebels. Several army units jumped to the resistance side and civilian protesters armed themselves by plundering the army's weapons stockpile.

Most rebel groups gathered around the National Transitional Council, formed in Benghazi. The Council's position was strengthened by the fact that it quickly gained recognition from several countries around the world. However, Gaddafi's army was superior both in number and armament and quickly approached Benghazi.

Natural joint insert

Since the UN Security Council granted the Member States the right to protect Libyan civilians by "all necessary means" in March, an international operation with fighter aircraft was launched. The effort led by NATO included flights from NATO countries France, the UK and the US, but several other countries also participated. The participating countries directed all their attacks on Libyan government forces and it was obvious that the goal of the effort from the beginning was to overthrow Gaddafi, even though it was not openly stated.

The airstrikes stopped Gaddafi's army, but the regime made stubborn resistance. For a long time, the front line was locked between east and west. Tripoli was conquered in late August. However, several areas continued to endure, especially those populated by tribes believed to be linked to the regime.

The main town of the Warfall tribe Bani Walid and Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte were captured in mid-October. On October 20, Gaddafi himself was killed after being captured by rebel forces from Misrata. Two days later, the National Transitional Council proclaimed the country's liberation. On 31 October, the UN interrupted international efforts. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's son tried to organize continued resistance, but was captured in southern Libya on November 19.

Soon, it became clear that the Transitional Council's main problem was to control the many armed militias formed during the uprising. Although most armed groups said they accepted the Transitional Council's rule, they often seemed to be loyal to an individual leader, their home region or a local clan. The problem was particularly big in the capital Tripoli, where neighborhoods were controlled by rival militias. The situation also remained troubled in Gaddafi's old fortifications in the central and western parts of the country.

Internal wear

The National Transitional Council tried to build its own army and demanded that the militia hand in their weapons, without much success.

Gradually, the board of the Transitional Council was criticized, partly because the Council refused to publish many of its decisions. The Council was also badly tormented by internal faction battles, which were exacerbated by the fact that various militia and foreign states interfered with the game.

In the summer of 2012, elections were held for a provisional parliament, the National Congress. The election took place under tense conditions and with some elements of violence, but was described by international assessors who were generally well executed. Over 100 parties lined up. The largest was the Liberal and predominantly Secular National Forces Alliance (NFA). Muslim Brotherhood Party The Justice and Reconstruction Party (JCP) came in second place. The majority of the mandate went to candidates who were elected as independent.

Government formation took off at the time, but four months after the election, Congress approved Ali Zidan as prime minister. Zidan had been in opposition to Gaddafi in exile since the 1980s.

The situation in the country was still unsettled and the parliament building itself was repeatedly exposed to riots by protesters. Miles groups acted largely on their own. Following demands from militiamen that surrounded several ministries in Tripoli, the National Congress decided in early May that all senior Gaddafi officials should be suspended from political assignments.

Continued unrest

As a result of the change in the law, Parliament's President Mohammed Magarief resigned to avoid being deposed. Magarief had been an ambassador in the 1980s and then spent more than 30 years as opposition leader in exile. His departure showed the problems with the new law, where long-time opponents of the Gaddafi regime also risked being shut out.

Nothing pointed to a diminished divide along political and regional lines. In Benghazi, at one time, more than 30 people were killed in clashes between rival groups, resulting in the resignation of the army chief.

Armed groups began to occupy oil ports and oil fields, so that the oil production that the state controlled in early September fell to a tenth of the normal level. The Tripoli government was isolated.

Gradually, more and more demands were made for the resignation of the National Congress, since it was created as a transitional parliament whose mandate formally expired in February 2014. Several members resigned as a result of the protests.

Prime Minister deposed

The problem with the rebel-controlled oil ports in eastern Libya was at the forefront when a North Korean-flagged oil tanker was loaded with oil in al-Sidra. The government side threatened to blow up the ship and the fleet tried to prevent it from leaving the port. It was reported that there was a change of fire before the oil tanker managed to get past the military vessels and out into international waters. This led to the National Congress casting Prime Minister Zidan through a vote of no confidence. Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thani (or al-Thinni) was appointed new prime minister.

In May 2014, fierce fighting broke out between rival groups, first in Benghazi and then in Tripoli. The unrest was the most serious since Gaddafi's collapse. A general from the Gaddafieran, Khalifa Haftar, led a group called the Libyan National Army (LNA with English abbreviation) that attacked Islamists. In Tripoli, the LNA attacked the parliament building, also with the goal of expelling Islamists. Khalifa Haftar, who participated in the revolt against Gaddafi, was supported by parts of the state leadership while others accused him of trying to stage a coup.

Despite the chaos, parliamentary elections were announced. In the June 2014 elections, which involved 200 members of the new House of Representatives, all were elected as independent candidates. The turnout was very low, with only 18 percent of voters voting. The elections went relatively poorly for Islamist candidates, which may have contributed to new fighting in Tripoli. An alliance of Islamist militia that came to be known as Libya's dawn (Fajr Libya) took control of the capital during the summer and was supported by parts of the outgoing National Congress. The members of the newly elected House of Representatives were forced to flee Tripoli and instead gathered in Tobruk on the east coast.

 
 

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