Libyan Conflict: Actors and interests

The country of Libya has witnessed two main internal conflicts, one of them the anti-Qadhafi regime protests which at the end of the day was removed from power and brutally was killed. The second wave of protests erupted upon the regime’s fall which divided the state into two opposing sides. Thus, fighting between parties grew strained and involved both regional and international powers. On one side Turkey, Qatar, and Italy supported Tripoli’s UN-recognized government and on the other side Russia, Egypt, UAE, Saudi, and France backed the self-established Government by Khalifa Haftar.(1)As long as the involved actors inside and outside have interests in Libyan conflict, the war will continue. I suggest “The Onion” and “Conflict Mapping” as a tool of analysis to study the dynamics of the Libyan conflict and ending the conflict.

1)Background of the conflict

Identity crisis

Libya has suffered identity crises throughout the Libyan history (Andersen,1986).Dynamics of the Libyan civil war after the fall of the Qadhafi regime which lasted from 1969 to 2011 rooted in the long history of the tribal divisions since the ottoman and Italian wars. Tribal and identity diversity made Libya a weak state which obstructed creating a national identity. East and West division traces back to the time before Qadhafi took power. King Idris declared himself as a prince of Cyrenaica which is on the Eastern coast of Libya and later became the king of the whole of Libya. (2)

Lack of national identity gave way to internal infighting and due to tribaland geographic diversity, the state has not been able to build institutions to include all diverse tribes within the state. Therefore, Libya failed to build civic nationalism to create a mutual identity for all Libyan regardless of family, tribe, or regional connection. Namely building of democratic institutions was important for Libya to unify the people. As Fukuyama says lack of democratic institutions, states are exposed to war such as cases of Syria and Afghanistan.(3)

 Tribal and Family diversity

Historically Libya was comprised of three regions and was administered through three separate provinces, one province in the East named Cyrenaica, and the other two provinces were in the Northwest and Southwest named Tripolitania and Fezzan respectively. Ottoman empire divided the country into two separate administrations one in Tripoli and the other in Cyrenaica. Later in the era of Italian colonization, the provinces were unified as a colony state. These divisions and tribal diversities have lent socio-economic differences which paved the way for civil war particularly in the vacuum of central power that came into existence after the Arab Spring in 2011. (4)

Even in the era of Qadhafi tribal identity was stronger than national identity but in the presence of a powerful central government, tribal leaders were not able to fight each other, so after the collapse of central power these differences and divisions surfaced. During the revolution, tribes were divided between supporting Qadhafi or opposing him and the same repeated after the revolution who opted for different governments. Even Qadhafi has formally established multiple tribal committees and assemblies which through these tactics could hold grip to power.(5 )

Libyan divisions in terms of tribe, family, and geography have made way for internal conflict. simultaneously facilitated external intervention where the external powers have distinctive needs and interests to support one side over the other. This had complicated the conflict more for the conflicting party to reach an agreement. So, international intervention has always impacted negatively on peace-making in conflicting countries(Edward lutak,199). (6)

External actors

Besides internal divisions and lack of identity, external power’s disagreement over peace-making is another factor of keeping the conflict alive. Interest discrepancies of these powers have disappointed the prospects of peace. They have exploited the lack of national identity and tribal divisions to achieve their own needs and interests. They took sides in the conflict to accomplish their needs, not the interests of the Libyan population. Libya’s energy resources have motivated them to take polarization politics there. Both Turkey and Italy require oil, so it was in their interest to involve, and on the other side Egypt, UAE, Russia have the interest of balance of power toward both Turkey and EU, and French’s interest besides of oil, fighting extremism. Eventually, multiple actors are involved to ensure their needs and interests namely strengthening their positions. Thus government in the Tripoli led by Alsaraj (GNA, the government of national accord) and another in the eastern part led by Khalifa Haftar (LNA, National Arab army ) took shape and were supported by different tribal and distinctive external actors. (7)

2) Conflict analysis tool

“Conflict Mapping” and “The Onion” as a tool of analysis

James Fearon believes that private information and commitment are two main factors that two conflicting parties do not reach an agreement (1995)(8)These two elements apply to the Libyan case. So, Identifying the actors in the conflict and understanding the needs of the conflicting sides is the start to initiate negotiations and potentially resolving the conflict. In this regard, “Conflict mapping “and “The Onion” are two important tools that can be employed to establish mutual interests and cooperation. The fightingactors within the internal conflict in the Libyan conundrum are divided among opposing sides which they have an end to achieve. So, they have both commitment and private information, on one side Haftar self-established government commits international actors such as Russia and Arabian Gulf states and on the other side Al-Saraj government commits other international actors such as Turkey and Qatar. Therefore private information and commitment preclude the opposing sides to reach an agreement.

Through the United Nations as a neutral actor is possible to keep away the external actors from the scene of the conflict and establishing conditions of terminating the war based on a win-win solution. As long as the conflicting parties inside Libya get support from external actors, the war is going on. So, As Donald Wittman “[V]iews the termination of war as a process of rational calculations by the participants; unless both sides believe that they can be made better off by a settlement, the war will continue”.(9)

3)Outcome and conclusion

Libya’s social structure in terms of geography and tribal life has made way for internal disagreement and lack of national identity. Such divisions set the stage for interest collision among tribal leaders and external powers. Energy resources have lent a factor of intervention which made the country more conflict-ridden. Both internal and external powers are working to meet their needs and protecting their interests. In doing so they are making alliances with internal fighting groups to enhance their positions. Establishing a kind of system which is ensuring all sides’ needs and interests is a key factor to finalize the conflict. To sum up, the conflict in Libya ends only in the case of considering the interests of all international and internal actors into considerations. Through “The Onion” and “Conflict Map”, the problem can be resolved, in a way the interest, need, and position of actors that were identified will be met.


Bayes Rascheed Amin
Bayes Rascheed Amin
Bayes Rascheed Amin is a freelance journalist. He is now a higher education student in the field of International Relations at the University of Essex in England. He is a political analyst and a contributor writer for multiple online websites in Iraqi Kurdistan.