Explainer: Unraveling the Crisis in Libya

A man walks next to burnt cars after yesterday’s clashes in Tripoli, Libya, August 28, 2022. REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed

Sign up now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

to register

Aug 29 (Reuters) – Libya’s worst fighting in two years suddenly hit the capital Tripoli on Saturday. This explains what led to the violence, why it is important and how things can develop.


Libya’s fault lines emerged as local groups took differing positions in the 2011 NATO-backed insurgency that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.

An attempted democratic transition spiraled out of control as armed groups built local power bases and rallied around rival political factions to seize control of economic assets.

Sign up now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

to register

After a 2014 struggle over Tripoli, a faction including most members of parliament moved east and recognized Khalifa Haftar as military chief, eventually forming a parallel government.

A UN-backed deal resulted in a new internationally recognized government in Tripoli, but eastern factions spurned the deal and Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) attacked the capital in 2019.

The riven armed factions that controlled western Libya came together to support the Tripoli government against Haftar and they repulsed his attack in 2020 with Turkey’s help, prompting a ceasefire and a new UN-backed peace process .


The peace process brought about a new government of national unity under Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah with a mandate to oversee national elections scheduled for December 2021, but there was no agreement on voting rules and the process collapsed.

In eastern Libya, parliament declared Dbeibah’s government illegal and appointed a new one headed by Fathi Bashagha. Dbeibah refused his moves, saying he would not relinquish power until after an election.

Meanwhile, the western Libyan factions, united against Haftar, again jostled for positions in Tripoli with occasional skirmishes, and some saw Bashagha as the best choice for promotion.

Bashagha attempted to enter Tripoli shortly after his appointment in March, but pro-Dbeibah factions blocked his convoy. He tried again in May but left Tripoli after a brief gunfight.

Alliances and coalitions between Tripoli factions changed over the months as both Dbeibah and Bashagha sought to court key players. Armed forces rubbed against each other’s territories on the streets of Tripoli.

As fighting broke out between two groups on Friday night, factions allied with Bashagha began what appeared to be coordinated attacks to install him in the capital. But the move backfired, apparently leaving Dbeibah more firmly entrenched.


Haftar’s powerful eastern faction and parliament speaker Aguila Saleh has shown little willingness to compromise on their goal of removing Dbeibah and installing Bashagha.

However, with Bashagha seemingly unable to build a coalition of western factions that can install him in Tripoli, they may need to reconsider.

Turkey’s continued military presence near Tripoli, where it maintained air bases with drones after helping repel the eastern assault in 2020, means another Haftar offensive against the capital looks highly unlikely for now.

Some politicians have floated the idea of ​​another attempt to form a new government that all sides can accept – something Dbeibah would likely try to block.

Meanwhile, diplomacy has stalled and an agreement on how to hold elections as a lasting solution to Libya’s political disputes seems further than ever.

International efforts to reach an agreement have been hampered by disagreements between the countries involved and local factions, which many Libyans believe want to avoid elections in order to remain in power.

Many of Libya’s nearly 7 million residents fear that whatever the next phase of negotiations and positioning, it will only be followed by another outburst of violence.


Control of revenue from Libya’s main export, its oil production of up to 1.3 million barrels a day, has long been the biggest price to pay for all major political and military factions.

Groups have previously shut down production repeatedly to put pressure on the government in Tripoli, where all foreign oil sales revenues are channeled into the central bank through international agreements.

Forces allied with Haftar, whose power extends over much of the territory that includes the main oil fields and export terminals, have been responsible for the largest shutdowns in recent years.

The latest shutdown, which cut exports by about half, ended when Dbeibah replaced the head of the National Oil Corporation with a Haftar ally – a move seen by some as an attempt to woo the eastern commander and make him more open to him to make a political agreement.

That could be enough to stop another shutdown while pro-Bashagha factions work out their next move. But with Libya’s political mess far from resolved, it seems unlikely that oil exports will remain untouched for very long.

Sign up now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

to register

Reporting by Angus McDowall Editing by Frances Kerry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

About Ellen Lewandowski

Check Also

European Midday Briefing: Miners, Oil Majors Help Lift Stocks; Energy crisis debated

MARKET WRAPS Stocks: European stocks posted solid gains on Friday, with investor attention remaining focused …