Libya’s Chaos Has Caused a Predatory, Thuggish Economy

It’s now been more than seven years since the outbreak of the Libyan Civil War and the death of tyrant Muammar Gaddafi, but the country is arguably worse off than it ever was under the deceased tyrant. A complete lack of order or semblance of leadership has created a free-for-all economy in which war profiteering, predatory tactics, the rise of criminal factions seeking economic dominance, and other aspects that resemble a war-torn system of brutal capitalism.

It’s fitting, considering that war-torn is precisely how Libya remains. While the first Libyan Civil War was supposedly concluded in October 2011, a second Libyan Civil War is said to have broken out around 2014. In reality, the country has never settled down or attained any semblance of peace since Gaddafi, who had manned the Libyan throne since 1969, was abruptly captured and killed by rebel forces. As has been proven in so many cases in the Middle East, idealistic conceptions that removing a strongman will solve the problem are far-fetched. In fact, for all the warts of the Gaddafi’s and Hussein’s, the nation was undeniably better off with them in power.

Just as chaos continues to reign in Iraq 15 years after the United States’ initial invasion, Libya is showing no true signs of progress. The nation is now most known for its status as the launching pad for migrants seeking to enter Europe. Human trafficking and slavery have emerged as a disturbing consequence of the nation’s proximity to the primary landing islands for migrants, Italy’s Lampedusa and Greek’s Lesbos. Desperate migrants who arrive from Africa and the Middle East are often duped into paying large sums only to be held in bondage, either for ransom or until they are sold in open-air slave auctions.

When these revelations hit the news cycle last year, protests outside of Libyan embassies arose. People were outraged – or, at least feigned outrage well. But, they apparently never stopped to consider who they were appealing to. The UN-backed Libyan government has proven nothing more than an ineffectual figurehead. Sure, Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj and head of government Khalifa Haftar are ‘internationally recognized’ as legitimate. To Libyans, there is nothing legitimate about their government’s inability to turn the tide in a nation that has become a perpetual war zone with a black market economy run by thugs and opportunists.

Most of those protesting outside embassies were themselves confused about their aims, essentially shouting at a concrete wall. And, while they’ve likely found new causes to shout about since then, life in Libya continues to be characterized by uncertainty, fear, and chaos.

Hell, ISIS controlled several Libyan cities until mid-2017. Recent reports have indicated that the Islamic State, once pronounced dead, is regrouping and primed to “rise from the ashes” in still-vulnerable, defenseless Libyan cities, including its former base of Sirte. Nothing about the current state of Libya suggests that they will face any organized resistance in doing so. The people of Libya have now accepted that any sense of unity was thrown out of the window in the wake of the Arab Spring. What was once hope of a future free of tyranny was replaced by the reality of tyranny of a different form and name.

The tyranny that Libyans now live in manifests itself as a nation ruled by fragmented government factions, organized criminals, and terrorists bent on radicalizing the disenfranchised living within the nation’s borders. These rival forces have taken over geographic swathes of Libya, taking on responsibilities from providing security and running the local economy to managing prisons. Depending on who happened to come into power in a region, life could fall anywhere on a spectrum ranging from hellish to bearable. In all cases, the uncertainty that comes with an impermanent government is a fact of life.

The United States Institute of Peace may be well meaning, but their plan for resolving the core obstacles facing Libya reads like a corporate HR handbook. Their initiatives include ‘Improving Conflict Management Skills’ and ‘Informing Policy Through Groundbreaking Research’. What is clear is that, in the face of human trafficking, an illicit smuggling trade, terrorism, and a nation still reeling from the effects of living through war that has been ongoing for seven-plus years, ‘research’ and ‘conflict management skills’ aren’t going to do the trick.

Hit by the intersection of economic, political, and security crises that are deep and widespread, hope for Libya is difficult to salvage. The development of a war economy benefits those who have risen to power. Human traffickers, armed criminal factions, corrupt politicians and businessmen are all more than comfortable with a Libya in chaos, so long as the status quo sees them continuing to reside in positions of power and relative wealth. It suits these parties – now the de facto rulers of Libya – to maintain a certain level of chaos.

Those in power now are not eager to see the nation improve. The lack of a strong government or security forces are suited to the lawlessness that allows for corruption, an all-too-appealing prospect for those intent on making money quickly. These are the markings of a war-torn economy, with war being the operative word. With stability and a departure from the chaos that has created cracks in the illegitimate economy to be filled by the unabashedly, unethically ambitious comes accountability and a more equitable economic system.

This is perhaps the strongest reason why Libya has been failing to resurrect itself: those who have filled the cracks in the economy with guns, cunning and other forms of immorality, have clear reason not to bring upon the nation an equitable system. They are benefiting from the chaos of Libya financially, and until the force of greed is counteracted by an equal or stronger force that seeks to restore the nation to true peacetime, violence, terrorism, criminality, and chaos will continue to reign.

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