While the so-called Islamic State is losing ground across Libya, divisions among various Libyan factions make it difficult for the unity government to convert the group’s defeat into legitimacy, Carnegie analyst Frederic Wehrey explains:
These divisions make it difficult for the unity government to convert the Islamic State’s defeat into legitimacy—an important goal for Washington and its European allies. Even without the Islamic State, the GNA faces enormous challenges, including forging a coherent army and police from disparate armed groups beholden to towns and tribes, fixing the country’s collapsing economy, and bolstering municipal governance.
Libya’s infrastructure needs are estimated at USD200 billion, according to a recent IMF-World Bank discussion on “Rising to the challenges of conflict and refuges in the MENA Region,” which brought together participants from Government, Parliament, civil society, think-tanks, the private sector, and the media.
Libyan society has shown its capacity to confront the most powerful and violent armed groups, but if the state authorities cannot follow up on these attempts at curbing the power of militias by maintaining justice and security, civil society cannot win alone against violent groups, analyst Jean-Louis Romanet Perroux wrote for the Brandeis Crown Center for Middle East Studies.
Organizations in Libya are learning lessons from Tunisia’s experience with civil society engagement and political settlements, notes USIP analyst Sherine N. El Taraboulsi:
In fact, a large portion of Libya’s civil society now operates out of Tunis. Thus, the structuring of political capital, defined here as investment in a particular political settlement for Libya, is undoubtedly informed both in the short and long terms by cross-border transactions. This means that the regional context is as significant as the local and international contexts when designing a peacebuilding intervention.
Despite these myriad challenges, civic activity continues to thrive, with hundreds of civil society organizations and dozens of media outlets helping to lay the foundation for the nation’s emerging democracy, Freedom House notes.
Libya’s institutional fragility was always likely to be a major obstacle to a democratic transition, according to a report from the National Endowment for Democracy.
But unlike relatively impoverished Egypt, “Libya has considerable financial and human assets, including the benefits of globalization, increased wealth, and a more educated elite,” the report noted. “Young Libyans in particular are demanding not just rights, but responsibilities, while an incipient national civic identity is becoming more powerful.”