At first, it seemed as if Libya would be one of the Arab Spring’s success stories: In 2011, it took just seven months to dislodge Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year-long dictatorship. A UN-backed intervention, air strikes and naval blockades brought swift results. Canada played a central role, with Royal Canadian Air Force jets flying 446 missions over Libya – 10 per cent of the NATO total.
Col. Gadhafi was overthrown, a so-called Transitional Council assumed power, and elections for a new General National Congress were held less than a year later. The new parliament was dominated by secularists, with a healthy mix of independent candidates and organized political parties. For a brief moment, Libya seemed poised to break free of its brutal history.
The promise, however, has not yet materialized. Today, the central government’s reach barely extends beyond Tripoli. Much of the rest of the country is under the control of militias. In the east, militias have just announced the creation of their own oil company, selling crude from seized oil fields and port terminals. The head of the central government, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, is nearly powerless. He was even kidnapped by a militia group last month, only to be freed by another, a few hours later.
What went wrong? Some of the blame goes to Col. Gadhafi and his four decades of personal rule. His death left a power vacuum with no national institutions to take his place. Some blame also lies with Mr. Zeidan, who has failed to effectively challenge the militias, let alone disarm them.
But Canada and its allies in Operation Unified Protector also bear some responsibility. Getting rid of Col. Gadhafi was only half the job, though the Western powers that brought about regime change always aimed to avoid getting themselves into a situation similar to Iraq or Afghanistan. Ottawa and its allies wanted no Western soldiers’ boots on the ground, and with good reason.
None of this is lost on Mr. Zeidan, who, this week, told Libyans that he would call on foreign powers to intervene again unless the militias stand down by Dec. 31. He argues that Libya is still subject to the same two-year-old UN resolution that originally paved the way for international intervention. Only the target now is the militias, who have become the latest obstacle to Libya’s future.