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.
Just as the United Nations was preparing to host a national conference in Libya this month to arrange for national elections to unify the country’s fractured governance, the faction that dominates the country’s east, the Libyan National Army, launched a military offensive last week on the capital, Tripoli. With the past week’s fighting, “the likelihood is greater than at any point since 2014 for destructive and bloody conflict” of an uncertain duration and outcome, according to Nate Wilson, who manages USIP programs in Libya. Wilson monitors Libya from neighboring Tunisia while working with Libyan officials, researchers on projects to inform international policymakers, and with local Libyan groups that work to reconcile disputes and build a foundation for national peacemaking. In response to questions, he discussed what’s at stake in the new fighting, and how the international community might respond.
The North African country has struggled to remain unified since the uprising in 2011 and the end of Moammar Qaddafi’s four-decade long rule. During the subsequent chaos, armed groups proliferated, and Islamism emerged as a powerful new political force.
Since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, successive U.S. administrations have watched Libya’s continuing collapse, mistakenly believing that the country’s unraveling threatens only Europe, says Thomas Hill. Ahead of the Palermo conference, which aims to find a solution to the crisis in Libya, Hill says that United States’ should play a more direct role in stabilizing the country.
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.