Abandoned by the West, Libyans Vote with Little Hope

Three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Libyans have little reason to be optimistic.

A young man poses with a Libyan flag in the eastern city of Benghazi, February 25, 2011
A young man poses with a Libyan flag in the eastern city of Benghazi, February 25, 2011 (Al Jazeera English)

Libyans went to the polls on Wednesday for the second time since longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011 but turnout was low and the elections for a new parliament were overshadowed by disorder across the North African country.

Officials said barely 13 percent of Libyans had bothered to vote by noon. They blamed the hot weather but apathy and disillusionment three years after Libya’s “Arab Spring” revolution triggered a long civil war and Western military intervention seemed more likely causes.

The fall of Gaddafi, aided in no small part by NATO airstrikes, left Libya without a functioning government. The interim authorities in Tripoli, the capital, still struggle to assert their authority in the east and south where independence movements have sprung up. Former rebels and tribal militias that fought against Gaddafi’s army have refused to disarm, carving out fiefdoms of their own instead that are susceptible to corruption and weak to resist traffickers and terrorists who use the Libyan deserts as transit routes and a staging ground for attacks elsewhere in the region.

The country slid deeper into chaos in May when the retired military general Khalifa Belqasim Haftar launched a private campaign against Islamists in the eastern city of Benghazi, formerly the hotbed of the uprising against Gaddafi’s regime.

Unrest at oilfields and shipping ports has also cut oil production, Libya’s lifeline, to a trickle. An estimated $30 billion in oil revenue has been lost in the past eleven months.

Wednesday’s election looked likely to produce another feckless interim assembly that failed to approve major infrastructure programs or produce a new constitution after it was elected two years ago.

Western countries that intervened in Libya’s civil war in 2011 to help the rebels topple Gaddafi have largely shied away from providing significant support. France and the United Kingdom, which were among the most vocal in calling for intervention, have played virtually no role in the reconstruction while policymaking in the United States is stymied by political fighting over the September 11, 2012 attack on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. Four Americans, including an ambassador, were killed in a terrorist attack that the Democratic administration initially claimed was a riot. Opposition Republicans suspect a cover-up.

The Americans have also yet to train a single Libyan soldier for a proposed “General Purpose Force.” Last month, they cut their skeleton diplomatic staff in Tripoli and urged private citizens to leave the country.