United in revolution, Libya’s various rebel groups have high expectations of a new government but are divided on many fronts. Understanding who these factions are and the tensions among them is key to finding common ground on how to rebuild Libya’s political process.

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Summary

  • Who the rebels are in Libya has been a common question surrounding the revolution that overthrew Muammar Gadhafi. This report maps out the factions in Libya’s east, centering on Benghazi. It identifies the various groups, their narratives, their part in the revolution, and emergent grievances that could translate into instability or future conflicts.
  • Libyans share a strong sense of historical narrative and ownership of the recent revolution, but complexities lie within that ownership. There are tensions between the youth movement and the National Transitional Council; between local Libyans and returning members of the Libyan diaspora; between secular groups and religious ones, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood; within militia groups that did the fighting; and among Libya’s tribes and ethnic groups.
  • The widespread sense of ownership of the revolution, which kept morale high during the fighting, has translated to expectations of quick improvements, both overall and in people’s day-to-day lives. Managing expectations will be key to ensuring that tensions within Libyan society do not overcome the sense of unity that the revolution fostered.
  • International actors should ensure that local ownership of the political process remains at the fore and is not undermined. In addition, research is needed to understand the situation in Libya more clearly, in order to identify ways that the international community can support, aid, and advise local efforts in forming a stable and secure environment in Libya.

About the Report

Most of the research for this report was conducted in June and July 2011. Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof was based in Benghazi, Libya, from March 2011 to September 2011, conducting observational research, focus group discussions, and in-depth interviews with civilians, National Transitional Council (NTC) members, militia leaders, youth and civil society groups, tribal leaders, and Islamists.

From June 2011 Manal Omar has been conducting regular visits to Libya to make strategic assessments and implement U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) programs, during which she has engaged with civil society organizations and activists, NTC members, and international organizations and players.

About the Authors

Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof is the founder and president of Shabakat Corporation, an international research and communications firm. In the past, she has carried out research and communications work in Sweden, France, China, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Manal Omar is the director of Iraq, Iran, and North Africa Programs under USIP’s Center for Conflict Management. Previously, she was regional program manager for the Middle East for Oxfam–Great Britain, where she responded to humanitarian crises in Palestine and Lebanon. She also has worked in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Bahrain, and Kenya for several international organizations.

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