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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy

Christopher M. Blanchard
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi underscored the serious security challenges facing Libya’s citizens, their newly elected leaders, and U.S. diplomats. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel were killed after armed individuals attacked and burned buildings on the main mission compound and subsequently attacked a second annex site where U.S. personnel had been evacuated. Libyan officials and citizens have condemned the murder of U.S. personnel and investigations have begun. Armed non-state groups continue to operate in many areas of the country. On August 27, the U.S. State Department had warned U.S. citizens against visiting Libya and stated that “intermilitia conflict can erupt at any time or any place in the country.”

Libya’s post-conflict transition is underway, as Libyans work to consolidate change from the 40- year dictatorship of Muammar al Qadhafi to a representative government based on democratic and Islamic principles. Recent flare-ups in violence have coincided with a number of important steps in the country’s political transition. On July 7, 2012, Libyan voters chose 200 members of a General National Congress (GNC) in the country’s first nationwide election in nearly 50 years. The GNC has elected its leadership and is now overseeing national government affairs. The GNC elected a prime minister-designate in September, but later removed him in a no-confidence vote after his proposed cabinet list was rejected. The GNC selected Ali Zeidan as prime minister designate on October 14, and is expected to determine the method for selecting members of a drafting committee to prepare a new constitution. If voters approve a constitution in a referendum, then new elections are to be held by mid-2013, bringing a nearly two-year transition to a close. Security conditions are the immediate concern of Libyans and their leaders.

In the wake of the July election, Libya’s interim leaders remain answerable to a wide range of locally and regionally organized activists, locally elected and appointed committees, prominent personalities, tribes, militias, and civil society groups seeking to shape the transition and safeguard the revolution’s achievements. Many Libyans have hoped that the elected GNC and the yet-to-be-appointed cabinet will enjoy greater legitimacy that will enable them to act decisively on security issues and other key areas, such as fiscal affairs and post-conflict justice and reconciliation. However, the insecurity prevalent in Libya complicates important issues, including debates over the centralization of government authority, the provision of security, the proper role for Islam in political and social life, and related concerns about the potential for Libyan territory to be exploited by terrorists, arms traffickers, and criminal networks.

The proliferation of military weaponry from unsecured stockpiles—including small arms, explosives, and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADs)—remains a serious concern. The Obama Administration has been implementing a program with Libyan authorities to retrieve and disable weapons, including MANPADs. U.S. officials believe that nuclear materials and chemical weapons components are secure (including previously undeclared chemical weapons), and Libyan leaders have recommitted to destroying the remnants of Qadhafi’s chemical arsenal.

As of October 2012, the U.S. government has allocated more than $200 million in assistance for Libya since the start of the uprising in 2011. Attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities have disrupted U.S. aid programs temporarily. However, since the attacks, U.S. officials have proposed expanded security cooperation to Libyan officials and underscored a U.S. commitment to partnership with Libya. As Libyans work to shape their future, Congress and the Obama Administration have the first opportunity since the 1960s to fully redefine U.S.-Libyan relations.

Date of Report: October 18, 2012
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: RL33142
Price: $29.95

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