Libya remains a chaotic state with a UN-backed government hard pressed to exert control over territory ruled by a rival government, assorted militias, and extremist organizations. Stabilization will require building both trust and negotiating capacities among diverse partners. The U.S. Institute of Peace contributes to local dialogue processes and helps Libyan researchers inform policymakers on tribal allegiances and religious forces. Working on Libya since 2011, USIP also has reported on little-understood elements of the conflict such as how prisons help incubate extremist ideology, and the impact of cross-border illicit activities.
Thomas Hill, senior program officer for North Africa, testified on May 15 at the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism hearing on “The Conflict in Libya.”
From Algeria to Libya and beyond, North Africa has been roiled by unrest in recent months. USIP’s Thomas Hill says at its core this turmoil is the result of “governments having not performed to the degree that they [the people] want or need them to” and discusses how it impacts U.S. interests.
The Libyan faction leader, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, made global headlines this month with his assault on the capital, Tripoli. But in January, fewer people noticed his preparatory move: a takeover of the country’s vast southern region, Fezzan. Fezzan is mostly desert but flecked with oil fields and agriculturally rich oases. Libya’s U.N.-recognized government, which is Haftar’s rival in claiming power, has largely neglected the south, leaving armed groups from different tribes to fight for control of economic resources. This absence of governance, across an area larger than California, offers a haven for threats to regional and U.S. security interests: human trafficking, arms smuggling, and violent extremist groups.
Diplomats and peace practitioners often cite lack of familiarity with the religious landscape as a barrier to their engagement of religious actors. In 2013, USIP launched an initiative to address this need by developing a methodology for systematically mapping and assessing the religious sector’s influence on conflict and peace dynamics in discrete conflict settings. These mappings, which have been done or are underway in Libya, South Sudan, Iraq and Burma, help illuminate recommendations for effective partnerships within the religious sector for peacebuilding.