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With the successful conduct of the first free elections since 1952, Libya has entered a second phase in the transition towards becoming a democracy. After almost 42 years under the regime of Gaddafi the people of Libya found a momentum to take over control in their country. Subsequently to the Tunisian uprising, first protests in Libya started halfway January 2011. One month later, the protests had turned into the most violent conflict between government and citizens among the different Arab uprisings at that time. Already before the conflict was officially ended on 23 October 2011, work was started on political reforms. With support of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) elections for a General National Congress were held on 7 July 2012. In a country with a quite homogeneously conservative and Sunni Muslim population, it was a surprise that the national elections were won by a liberal coalition. Moreover, this is in sharp contrast to election outcomes in other Arab countries which were mainly won by Islamists.


Libya gained independence in December 1951 after being under UN supervision as Italy lost the territory during World War II. Following a military coup in 1969, Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi designed his own political system, the Third Universal Theory, later dubbing the country the ‘Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’. The system was a combination of socialism and Islam derived in part from tribal practices. Sanctions from the UN isolated Gaddafi from 1992 until 2003, after which the absolute ruler improved its relations with western countries. For instance, Libya appeared as an important but controversial partner for the EU in its dealing with migration issues. Furthermore, Libya served as an important export country for oil, which made up for 65% of its GDP. Libya ranks ninth on the list of countries with the biggest proved reserves of oil.
After almost 42 years under the regime of Gaddafi the people of Libya sought to take over control in their country. Subsequently to the Tunisian uprising, first protests in Libya took off halfway January 2011. On 26 February, the UN Security Council paved the way for foreign intervention. On 20 October 2011, Gaddafi was killed. The civil war ended on 20 November that year. The overthrow and death of Muammar Gaddafi have been followed by continuing political instability, amplified by the weak performance of the Transitional National Council (interim government), rivalries between heavily armed militias, allegations of fraud, and a growing east-west divide. Amnesty International wrote in a report, issued on 5 July 2012, that the post-conflict period has been marked by lawlessness and human rights abuses. However, there has been progress in restoring oil exports and public services. Politically and socially seen, the country is perceived as conservative.

Momentarily, there is no clear political system in Libya. Under Gaddafi’s rule, the political system was designed according to his own personal insights. He was the formal leader of the country, but took no position in the government. There was no real parliament, only a network of small congresses that could make decisions at a local level. However, all decisions should be in line with the views of Gaddafi himself. After Gaddafi’s rule, Libyans could elect a General National Congress (GNC), a transitional government that should eventually hand power to the unicameral Council of Deputies. However, the GNC refused to lay down its mandate, and continued as the New General National Congress (NGNC), nowadays a largely unrecognised rival parliament based in Tripoli. The Council of Deputies is currently seated in Tobruk.


The election of a General National Congress in 2012
In July 2012, a GNC was formed, and it elected Mohammed Magarief of the liberal National Front Party as its chairman. This meant that he would be interim head of state. In October 2012, the liberal politician Ali Zaydan was elected to the post of Prime Minister. Meanwhile, however, violence had sparked again. In September, Islamist militants stormed the American consulate in Benghazi. The Libyan government condemned the attack, and used it as means to disarm several militias that had come into existence during the uprising against the Gaddafi regime. A new law was designed, that banned Gaddafi-era officials from holding public office. Therefore, Magarief resigned and was replaced by Nuri Abu Sahmein, a member of the Berber minority that was discriminated by the Gaddafi regime.

National Forces Alliance (NFA) 39 seats
Justice and Construction Party (JCP) 17 seats
National Front Party 3 seats
Union Party for Homeland 2 seats
Wadi Al-Hayat Gathering 2 seats
Central National Current 2 seats

In February 2014, the GNC was supposed to resign and hand legislative power to a democratically chosen parliament. Yet, they refused to leave office and protests erupted once again. The GNC was supported by Islamic militias and the Libyan Guard, and with their support announced the extension of their mandate with one year. Prime Minister Zaydan was sacked and replaced, first by al-Thani and then by businessman Ahmed Maiteg. In May 2014, general Khalifa Haftar launched a military assault against the militant Islamist groups in Benghazi. Also, he accused Prime Minister Maiteg of being the Islamists’ political string puppet. In June 2014, Maiteg resigned. Initially, former Prime Minister Zaydan condemned the assault by general Haftar as illegal, but after his resignation he decided to pick his side.

The 2014 elections
On 25 June 2014, Libyans could vote for a new Council of Deputies. Of the 1.5 million citizens who registered to vote, only 630,000 cast their ballots, a meagre 45%. This was partly due to the bad security situation. A number of polling stations were forced to close as a result of attacks or the threat of attacks by competing militant groups. Moreover, at least five people died in clashes between government forces and militants in Benghazi.

Because all candidates ran as independents, it is impossible to define the outcome of elections as a division of seats amongst parties. Of the 200 seats up for election, 188 were announced on 22 July, with the announcement for the other 12 being delayed due to boycott or insecurity in some electoral districts. Most of the seats were taken by secular factions, with Islamists only winning around 30 seats.



As a reaction on both Haftar’s military operation in May 2014 and the results of the elections in July 2014, several Islamist militias united under the name of Libya Dawn. They conquered the main part of the Libyan capital Tripoli, including the airport. The elected Council of Deputies fled to the eastern city of Tobruk, whilst a new GNC, led by Omar al-Hassi, was installed in Tripoli. In November 2014, the Libyan High Court dismissed the June elections as unconstitutional. However, the Council of Deputies ignored this message. From this moment on, political power in Libya was divided between two conflicting governments, of which the Tobruk government receives most international support.


Alarmed by the political deadlock and the escalation of violence in Libya, the United Nations interfered in 2014. Their aim was to create a nationally united government. Negotiations with representatives of the rivalling factions were started, simultaneously with second-track negotiations between political parties, tribal leaders, local councils and representatives of civil society groups. Despite the efforts, progress was slow. On December 17, Libya’s two rival governments have signed a UN-backed deal to form a unity government. Negotiations over the agreement, which was signed in Skhirat, Morocco, had been underway for more than a year. It was finalized after intense diplomacy by Western nations, that was widely seen as motivated by concerns about the growing strength of a Libyan branch of the Islamic State. The peace deal envisages a national unity government, led by a Presidential council, and an end to fighting between forces loyal to the two competing parliaments. On 19 January, Libya’s Presidential Council announced a new government of national accord. However, the question whether this government can bring stability to Libya remains, because many members of Libya’s two parliaments did not back the agreement. 

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Before the civil war started in Libya, several opposition groups existed in exile, most of them in Egypt. Practically none of them had the means to have an influence in Libyan politics. Moreover, none of them participated during the elections in July 2012, at least not under the same banner as before. This left room to others to fill up a void in absence of existing politics. Some 130 political parties and 3700 individuals registered to take part during the elections of July 2012. The three bigger parties that took part in the 2012 elections were the National Forces Alliance, the Justice and Construction Party and the National Front Party.

During the Council of Deputies election in June 2014, all 1714 candidates stood as independents because party lists were forbidden. Most seats were won by liberal and secular factions. The Islamists only won approximately 30 of the 200 seats. Since this elections, the term ‘party system’ can no longer be used to describe Libyan politics. Due to the dual-government problem, the most important political players are not parties but factions: the NGNC in Tripoli, militarily supported by Islamist militias (Libya Dawn), and the Council of Deputies in Tobruk, militarily supported by general Haftar’s Operation Dignity.

New National General Congress (NGNC)
The NGNC is a political body formed by politicians from the blocs that lost the June 2014 elections. While it claims to be the rightful continuation of the old GNC, is does not represent a majority of the members of that congress. They are now mainly seated in Tobruk, in the internationally recognised Council of Deputies. The NGNC is dominated by the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Justice and Construction Party and the Loyalty to Martyrs Bloc, which again supports the Muslim Brotherhood. President is Nuri Abu Sahmein.

The NGNC is supported by several Islamic militias, amongst others Libya Dawn and Libya Shield. Libya Dawn is a grouping of militias that attacked and seized large parts of the capital Tripoli in 2014. Nowadays, it acts as the armed forces of the NGNC. The Libya Shield grouping operates in various parts of the country. It is viewed by the NGNC as part of its “Ministry of Defence” forces. In addition to Libya Dawn and Libya Shield, the NGNC also relies on other armed groups that are under control of the self-proclaimed commander in chief and President Abu Sahmein.

Council of Deputies
The Council of Deputies is the parliament of Libya, that was chosen in June 2014 and was supposed to replace the GNC. Because of the occupation by Islamist militias, the parliament fled to Tobruk. Since the Council of Deputies exists exclusively of independent members, they have no clear political outline. However, they oppose the Islamists armed groups and the NGNC in Tripoli, and only thirty of the two hundred seats were won by Islamist candidates.

The Council of Deputies is backed by various forces comprising the Libyan National Army (LNA) and units supporting it. The LNA is commanded by General Haftar, who launched Operation Dignity against the Islamist groups in May 2014. Furthermore, several anti-Islamist militias that operate in the west of Libya support the government in Tobruk. These are the Zintan, al-Sawaiq and al-Qawa bridgades.

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nouri_abusahmain.jpgNouri Abusahmain

President of the NGNC (4 August 2014 – current)

Nuri Abu Sahmein has been the President of both the GNC and the NGNC, and therefore de facto head of state, since 25 June 2013. Abusahmain had worked in the assembly President's office, organising sessions among other tasks. He previously studied law and worked in a major petrochemicals plant near his hometown. Abu Sahmein is an independent member of parliament from western Libya and he is from the Berber minority Amazigh that suffered discrimination under Gaddafi´s rule. He is the first President with an Amazigh origin. Abu Sahmein won 96 votes to opponent Al-Sharif al-Wafi’s eighty in a run-off after a first round with nine candidates. The Justice and Construction party, which belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, decided to back Abu Sahmein. After his election, he immediately set up an Islamist armed group, the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room. It suffered heavy critique from members of the GNC, but is still functioning.

abdullah_al_thinni_august_2014_cropped_.jpgAbdullah al-Thani

Prime Minister of the Council of Deputies (22 July 2014 – current)

 After being nominated Defense Minister in August 2013, Abdullah al-Thani became temporary Prime Minister on 12 March 2014. He nevertheless quitted his post less than one month after his introduction. He declared that threats to his family had incited him to give up. After the election for the Council of Deputies, he was chosen Prime Minister. He was the one who ordered general Khalifa Haftar to attack Tripoli in October 2014. In March 2015, he officially appointed Haftar’s troops as the armed forces of the Council of Deputies in Tobruk.

zaydan.jpgAli Zaydan

Ali  Zaydan was born in Waddan, a town in central Libya in 1950. He worked as a diplomat in India under Ambassador Muhammad Mughrayef from 1975 until 1982. While in India, he also received a master’s degree in international relations. Both he and Mughrayef defected from the Libyan Embassy in 1980. In exile, he joined the left leaning opposition group, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya in Germany, a group that was established in 1981 by dissidents abroad. In 1989 he became the official spokesman of the Libyan League for Human Rights in Geneva. In total, he spent thirty years in exile. Later Zaydan was a key player in convincing the ex-President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, to support the uprising against Colonel Gadaffi.

 Khalifa Haftar

Libyan Ground Forces General

Khalifa Haftar is the principle military commander of the armed forces of the Tobruk-seated government. Under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, he served in the Libyan army. Also, he took part in the coup that brought Gaddafi to power in 1969. He is known for his expertise, having commanded the Libyan army in the Yom Kippur War and his role in the war against Chad. During that war, he was taken prisoner in 1987. After his release in 1990, he lived in the United States for almost two decades. After his return to Libya, he held a major position in the forces which overthrew Gaddafi in 2011. When the GNC refused to give up power in 2014, he was commander of the Libyan Army. He then started Operation Dignity and eventually sided with the Council of Deputies in Tobruk.

Aguila Saleh Issa
President of the Council of Deputies (5 August 2014 – current)

Aguila Saleh Issa is a Libyan jurist and politician. Since August 5 2014, he has been the President of the Council of Deputies. Furthermore, he is a representative of Al Qubbah, a town in the east of the country. In February 2015, Saleh Issa became the victim of an assault by Islamic State when they bombed his residence. However, was not at home at the time. A petrol station and police station were targeted as well. With over forty people dead, it was one of the deadliest attack in Libya since the first civil war ended in 2011.

Muammar Gaddafi
Former Guide of the Revolution of Libya (1969-2011)


Muammar Gaddafi was born in 1942 ruled Libya between 1969 and 2011, when he was ousted in the Libyan civil war. After his academic training, he joined the military in the Royal Military Academy of Benghazi. The military provided him with a upward social mobility tool.

Taking advantage of King Idris’ growing unpopularity in the 1960s, he and his Free Officiers organised an overthrow of the monarchy, by occupying airports, police depots, radio stations and government offices in the country’s large cities. After abolishing the monarchy, he proclaimed the Libyan Arab Republic and became the country’s leader at 27 year-old.

At the beginning of his leadership he tried to destroy all Western influence from the country, as explained in his Green Book, which explains the problems with liberalism and capitalism. Nevertheless, he moved closer to the West from the 1990s on, when his power started to be challenged by Islamists.

The Arab Spring accelerated Gaddafi’s downfall : after Tunisia and Egypt, Libya underwent large demonstrations. At the end of March, a NATO coalition began to provide support for the rebel forces in the form of airstrikes and a no-fly zone. When Tripoli fell to rebel forces in late August 2011, it was seen as a major victory for the opposition and a symbolic end for Qaddafi's rule. On October 20, 2011, Libyan officials announced that Muammar al-Qaddafi had died near his hometown of Sirte, Libya.

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Flag of Libya Libya

Last update: 27 January 2016
Author: -

Population: 6.202 million (World Bank 2013 est.)
Prime Minister: Abdullah al-Thani
President: Aguila Saleh Issa
Governmental type: Unicameral parliament
Ruling Coalition: -
Last Elections: Council of Deputies, 25 June 2014
Next Election: -
Sister Parties: None

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Sources Sources

Brian Whitaker blogging about early developments
European Council Declaration on Libya, 11 March 2011
EU stance towards Libya
Opinion on the intervention, The Guardian
Italy and the intervention, Taylor & Francis
Imperialist intervention?, Taylor & Francis
End of Libyan civil war, The Guardian
Interactive timeline of Middle East protests, The Guardian

CIA World Factbook
Paper on EU-Libya relation
Latest UN Security Council Resolution
Transition to democracy, 23 May 2012, The Guardian
UN Security Council Resolution 1970
Documents of the Libya Contact Group, Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Amnesty International on Libya

Political situation
Official website Transitional National Council
The Constitutional Declaration, 3 August 2011
Announcement of Declaration, 11 August 2011, tunisialive
Discussion on developments, 22 August 2011, The New York Yimes
Libyan activists demand transparency, The Guardian
Libyan Election Law, 1 February 2012, Middle East Online
High National Election Commission
One year anniversary of February 17 Revolution, Reuters
Preparation of local elections in Misrata, 17 February 2012, Reuters
First Local Council Election, 20 February 2012, BBC
Creation of Cyrenaica Council, 7 March 2012, Libya Herald

Libya bans religious political parties, 25 April 2012, BBC
On registeration for Libya's Election, The Tripoli Post
Pro-federalist protesters storm election offices, 1 July 2012, Libya Herald
Sharia for Libya, says NTC,
Libya’s forgotten elections, Al-Ahram
Nervous Libyans ready for first taste of democracy, Reuters
Questions and Answers, BBC
It’s not pretty, but Libya is on the road to democracy, The National
NTC takes responsibility for constitution from National Conference, 5 July 2012, Libya Herald
Libya since Gadhafi: a timeline, The Daily Star
UNSMIL Statement on elections, 8 July 2012, UN
Libyan preliminary results trickle in, 9 July 2012, Al Jazeera
Update-to-date official Facebook-page, HNEC
Official Final Elections Results, 17 July, The Tripoli Post

Political parties
Libya’s independents might emerge as third power, The Malta Independent Online
Libya’s Jibril beats Islamist, 17 July, Reuters
Muslim Brotherhood fell ‘below expectations’, The Guardian
Profile of The National Front, Libya Herald
About Dr. Al Magariaf (National Front)

Nouri Abusahmain, Libya Herald, Al Arabiya, Reuters
Ali Zaydan, BBC News, Libya Herald
Mahmoud Jibril, The Guardian, Reuters
Muslim Brotherhood formally launches party, Libya Herald
Mohammed Sawan signals retreat over previous stance towards National Forces Alliance, Libya Herald

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