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Libya's decline is a damning indictment of Nato's intervention

A Gallup poll is the latest in a plethora of reports detailing Libya’s unrelenting fall since 2011
Libyans are seen through a Kingdom of Libya flag during a celebration rally in front of the residence of Muammar Gaddafi at the Bab al-Aziziyah complex in Tripoli in 2011 (Reuters)

New opinion polls, economic statistics and human rights reports from Libya point to one conclusion: Western policy to keep Libya weak and divided is a resounding success.

A poll released by Gallup this week demonstrates the increasing desperation facing Libyans even before the latest round of fighting began last month.

No money for food

The poll, based on telephone interviews with over 1,000 Libyans conducted over July and August last year, reveals that record numbers of Libyans lacked money for food and shelter over the previous year, and a record low are deemed to be "thriving".

Forty-three percent said they lacked money for food at some point over the previous year - a number which has been consistently rising since the annual poll began in 2015 - whilst 37 percent said they had lacked money for shelter, up from 22 percent in 2012.

Over a third of Libyans now say they would like to leave their homeland permanently

Respondents were then asked to give a rating between nought and 10 for both their life today and their expected life in five years, and were classified as "thriving" if they gave an answer of at least seven and eight respectively. Only 19 percent did so.

A majority of 52 percent said their local economies were getting worse, quadruple the 2012 figure of 13 percent. Most damningly, perhaps, over a third of Libyans now say they would like to leave their homeland permanently.

Unrelenting decline

The Gallup poll, however, is but the latest in a plethora of reports detailing Libya's unrelenting decline since 2011. The UN's Human Development Index, published annually, ranks 169 countries according to measures such as life expectancy, access to education, and healthcare.

Under the rule of longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi, Libya stood at 56 on the scale, in the top third of countries worldwide and officially classified as "high human development," with the longest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rates on the African continent.

 Libyans prepare to distribute snacks and water to people to break their fast during Ramadan in the Martyrs Square of the capital Tripoli, on 15 May (AFP)
Libyans prepare to distribute snacks and water to people to break their fast during Ramadan in the Martyrs Square of the capital Tripoli, on 15 May (AFP)

Since then, life expectancy has dropped two and a half years, from 74.5 to 72.1, under pressure of ongoing warfare and the collapse of public services, whilst the country's overall ranking has dropped to 108, almost into the bottom third of countries overall.

Another indicator of decline comes from the British foreign office's biannual economic fact sheet. The latest, published last month, reveals that Libya has an annual inflation rate of 23.1 percent - that is, its currency is losing a quarter of its value every year - whilst it ranks 186 out of 189 countries for "ease of doing business," one place ahead of Yemen.

Per capita income has fallen every year since 2011, and now stands at $6,692, a little over half its pre-invasion level of $12,250.

Human rights violations

In 2010, before Nato's intervention, Amnesty International reported that in Libya, "serious human rights violations continue" and that "victims of human rights abuses have little hope of judicial protection and redress, while those responsible for torture, unlawful killings etc enjoy total impunity". 

The human rights organisation noted, though, that, "in a few short years, Libya has transformed itself from a pariah state to an active member of the international community". 

Fast forward to 2018, however, and we read that "torture was widespread in prisons, where thousands were held without charge," adding that "many detainees had been held since 2011 with no judicial oversight or means to challenge the legality of their detention".

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In particular, "migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers were subjected to widespread and systematic serious human rights violations and abuses at the hands of state officials".

The report adds that "up to 20,000 people were held in detention centres in Libya run by ... the Ministry of the Interior of the GNA [the UN-recognised Government of National Accord].

"They were held in horrific conditions of extreme overcrowding, lacking access to medical care and adequate nutrition, and systematically subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence, severe beatings and extortion."

In addition, "armed groups and criminal gangs ran thousands of illicit holding sites throughout the country as part of a lucrative people-smuggling business," some of whom, the report noted, were selling off their detainees in open slave markets.

Fighters loyal to Libyan internationally recognised government walk on the frontline outside Tripoli, Libya 15 May 15 (Reuters)
Fighters loyal to Libyan internationally recognised government walk on the frontline outside Tripoli, Libya 15 May 15 (Reuters)

Whereas the 2010 report noted that "freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to be severely curtailed," there was no suggestion that journalists' lives were at risk.

By 2018, however, "journalists, activists and human rights defenders were particularly vulnerable to harassment, attacks and enforced disappearance by armed groups and militias aligned with various authorities of rival governments".

Overall, "an environment of impunity continued to prevail, leaving perpetrators of serious abuses emboldened and without fear of accountability".

The Nato factor

This massive deterioration of all aspects of Libyan society since Nato's 2011 war - whether in terms of social welfare, economic conditions or basic human rights - has necessitated some serious intellectual contortions by its defenders.

According to them, Libya's collapse has nothing to do with Nato's destruction of its state apparatus, but rather result from either Gaddafi himself or from subsequent "mistakes".

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For example, Florence Gaub, deputy director of the EU Institute for Security Studies - who calls herself "Florence of Arabia" - argues in her book, The Cauldron, that "NATO's intervention in Libya was soundly conceived and executed".

The reversal of all development indicators since 2011 is, for Gaub and co, attributable to policies before 2011 and after 2011, but never to the fateful events of 2011 itself. Indeed, for such analysts, the intervention set the country up for a success, which it foolishly squandered.

Yet the link between that intervention and Libya's current problems is hard to deny: after all, it was precisely Nato's war that destroyed the state's security and public service infrastructure, and left power fragmented in the hands of the rival militias now slugging it out.

Whilst Gaub and others are right that decisions taken since then - such as the ill-fated move in 2012 to pay militia wages without integrating them into a unified command structure, or the law the same year granting effective immunity from prosecution to militiamen - have helped entrench instability and factional rivalries, the reality is that this is not a divergence from, but rather a continuation of, 2011.

When it comes to Western policy towards the Global South, Clausewitz gets inverted: politics truly is war by other means.

And the aim of that war - as was clear in 2011 and has since become ever clearer - was nothing less than the permanent prevention of Libya's re-emergence as a strong, unified, independent state.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Dan Glazebrook
Dan Glazebrook is a political writer and journalist. He writes regularly on international relations and the use of state violence in British domestic and foreign policy