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  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 19,131     71
     
GNI per capita
 US $ n/a n/a
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 109 - (26/02/13)

The Glass half Empty
Summary: The authority of the army, which with few special exceptions, was a weak institution even under the Qadhafi era, remains compromised by militias, or rather, semi-criminal groups that continue to resist disarmament and integration within a central armed force answering only to the authorities in Tripoli – authorities that have been struggling to extend legitimacy or credibility beyond Tripoli itself. Present day Libya is experiencing problems that have been more typical of Sub-Saharan than North African countries; Somalia has been cited by many observers by way of comparison, but even the DR Congo, with its various failed schemes to disarm a series of renegade local militias in an effort to extend the state’s reach can serve as an example of the risks that the new Libya is experiencing.

Two years ago, Libyans started the revolt that would result in the toppling of 42 years of Qadhafi’s dictatorship and a civil war that has not yet quite subsided. Qadhafi wasn’t the average Middle Eastern or African dictator; indeed, more even than the Baath governments in Iraq and Syria, and certainly more than the presidents in Algeria or Egypt, Qadhafi tried to instill an ideology, even ‘dabbling’ in his own brand of political philosophy. One of Qadhafi’s formal titles, after all, was Mu’allim al-Thaura (Philosopher of the Revolution).

This has left Libyans having to completely re-invent their country in the aftermath. Evidently, as with all wars, the winners dictate the rules and impose their will on the new direction, for better or worse, that the country will eventually adopt. In Libya, the process of change and who will lead it has turned out to be more complex.

Qadhafi ruled through very weak institutions, leaving the skeleton of State bare. Key areas of society like the education system were subservient to clientele and pseudo-ideological interests while most Libyans, despite the rhetoric, were left with no links to the State, organizing their interests more through a tribal than an institutional framework. This has made the question of who is actually running Libya now very problematic. The proto-institutions established in the wake of the revolt such as the National Transitional Council (NTC) that started in Benghazi and then moved to Tripoli, acquired legitimacy as the representative of the rebels during the uprising. The General National Congress (CGN), the Assembly or Parliament made up by 200 elected members, replaced the NTC in the summer of 2012 while a Constitution and new elections are expected to take place in 2013. All this suggests progress; however, there is no real authority in Libya and, without a Constitution, no way of ensuring a balance between individual rights and obligations and legality.

In the midst of the power vacuum, filled by a series of medieval European-style ‘potentates’ that are producing a number of ‘strongmen’, the oil & gas business and the private retail sector are performing even better than in the last Qadhafi years, while other sectors of the economy are lagging and failing to attract foreign or local investment. The latter aspect is directly attributable to the persisting sense of insecurity. Even the national army remains weak. The authority of the army, which with few special exceptions, was a weak institution even during the Qadhafi era, remains compromised by militias, or rather those semi-criminal groups that continue to resist disarmament and integration within a central armed force, answering only to the authorities in Tripoli – authorities that have been struggling to extend legitimacy or credibility beyond Tripoli itself.

Present day Libya is experiencing problems that have been more typical of Sub-Saharan than North African countries; Somalia has been cited by many observers by way of comparison, but even the DR Congo, with its various failed schemes to disarm a series of renegade local militias in an effort to extend the state’s reach, can serve as an example of the risks that the new Libya is experiencing. Apart from the way that Libya’s liberation was achieved – it received an excessive external contribution (NATO) which ended up altering the ‘natural’ course of events and producing an excessive power vacuum – Libya’s history is unique in its regional context.

Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and even Morocco to a lesser extent, did fall under Ottoman influence in the centuries preceding the era of European colonization. However, their distance from Istanbul allowed them to develop their own authority from the Ottoman’s European successors, such that when the time came for independence in the 1950’s and 60’s, they could boast a core national identity, conducive to the idea of a central State authority. Libya, also an Ottoman province, never quite had a chance to develop that ‘State’ identity. It has always been more tribal than any of its neighbors. It was Benito Mussolini who had the idea of Libya as a unified state encompassing the three main regions of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica (Barqa in the local Arabic) and Fezzan when all these provinces were part of ‘Italian Africa’. The unified state only had a chance to form in 1951 with formal independence under a Cyrenaican monarchy, favoring that region.

In 1969, Qadhafi’s revolution shifted the balance in favor of Tripolitania and after 2011, the ‘cards’ have been re-shuffled with a renewed struggle between Libya’s Eastern and Western provinces. Within these provinces there are additional ethnic divisions. There are Berbers who live in the western Jebel Nefousa area, who follow the Kharajite school of Islam (milder) and who struggled to be recognized as a special identity group in the Qadhafi years. Then there are the Tuareg in the deeper south who supported the regime (as discussed in the February update) and the Tubus who despised it – and vice versa.

Today, the ‘martyrs’ of the anti-Qadhafi revolt in the West are embodied by the people of Misrata - the third largest city and industrial capital of the country – who have almost become independent, while the people – or tribes - of Bani Walid and Sirte (related to the Qadhafi tribe) and close to Misrata, have been struggling in the new Libya as some of the former regime’s biggest backers. The ethnic and regional divisions of the ‘Jamahiriya’, a word that has quickly been forgotten as the brainchild of Qadhafi’s political ideas, have been compounded in the new Libya by religious ones.

Under Gaddafi, Cyrenaica was considered an important center for jihadists and, in fact Qadhafi’s initial reasons for challenging the revolt, which started in Benghazi (during a televised and passionate if bizarre speech, Qadhafi claimed, not without some reason, that the revolt was being led by al-Qaida). Indeed, a large number of those Libyans who fought in Afghanistan, in support of the Taliban, are from Cyrenaica. Today, Islam and Islamic law have been proposed or praised by almost all the new political leaders, who may be looking for some general shared sense of experience or culture to forge unity among the disparate mass.

Not all who speak of Islam are Islamists in the sense that the popular Western imagination considers these, and this makes it difficult to determine who the real Islamists are, or to distinguish between the radicals from the liberals. The liberal camp, which includes some members of the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, are currently leading Libya in a coalition led by Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. His government is being constantly challenged by the conservatives, who of course include Muslim Brotherhood members and then there is the vast majority of MP’s who were elected as independents and whose loyalties are unclear and may range from liberal to religious radicals. They came second in the elections. Their influence is not negligible: half of CGN is composed of independents, these are sensitive to Islamists. As in other countries that experienced the so-called Spring or Awakening in the past two years, the Islamists have trans-national links.

Qatar has been meddling, as it has in Egypt, Palestine and Syria and then there is the pressure from the Islamists in the Sahel region, ironically experiencing an unprecedented influence thanks to the collapse of the Qadhafi regime. While the French offensive in Mali pushes these groups north, Libyans will be increasingly concerned of their possible crossing the borders into Fezzan and de-stabilizing that area further. If much of this picture is grim, there may be reason for optimism in that as volatile the political and militia situation was, elections took place in no less proper a manner than in other Arab countries emerging from the ‘Awakening’.

More significantly, unlike Egypt and Tunisia, which face tremendous economic challenges, generating considerable risks to their future, Libya’s oil wealth is intact and growing.

Those who see the ‘glass half full’, point out that oil production has actually equaled the production levels of the Qadhafi era with realistic prospects of increasing from about 1.5 million BpD – the 2012 peak – to over 1.7 million BpD in 2013 according to Oil minister Abdel Bari Al-Arousi . The Libyan state still managed to earn USD 50 billion – while Egypt struggles even to negotiate IMF loans for USD 4 billion! In 2011, during the revolt the almost exclusively oil and gas driven GDP fell by over 60%; it grew by 124% in 2012. The IMF estimates that it will grow by 17% in 2013. If that weren’t enough, Libya can still boast having the largest oil, and fourth largest gas, reserves in Africa (47 billion barrels). The big cloud over this potential is Security.

The rise of Islamic extremist groups, especially in Benghazi, the resurgence of independence of Cyrenaica, the tribal and militia struggles and the internal disagreements within the Executive continue to cast long shadows over the new Libya. The arrest of four Christians accused of proselytizing in Benghazi on the basis of a Qadhafi era law – a charge that can carry the death penalty- is testament to the contradictions and massive problems still faced by Libyan society two years after the start of the revolt that ended the Qadhafi regime.  
 

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