Of Conflict and Collapse: Rethinking State Formation in Post-Gaddafi Libya

In: Middle East Law and Governance
Author: Emadeddin Badi1,2
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  • 1 Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Middle East Program at the Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C., USA
  • | 2 Senior Analyst at the North Africa and Sahel Observatory – Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, Geneva, Switzerland,
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This paper explores the relationships between the Libyan state and society, and the ways in which these dynamics affected the subsequent civil wars in 2011 and onwards. Beyond the commonly-studied impact of oil and state rentierism, this paper demonstrates that the enduring centralization of the state, Gaddafi’s dystopian governance system, the socio-economic and political cultures pre-2011, and the interplay between local systems of legitimacy and central authority have played an underappreciated role in the contemporary Libyan landscape. The continuities and discontinuities of order that defined and characterized the Libyan state before and after 2011 are thus dissected. An exploration of the appositeness of Eurocentric theories of statehood to the Libyan landscape unveils the pillars of legitimacy that defined Libyan statehood pre-Gaddafi. This sheds light both on how the Gaddafi regime sought to control society by often manipulating these pillars and on the ways in which Libyan society either directly and indirectly resisted his rule or rested in complacency. This covert resistance, which turned overt, widespread, and violent in 2011, paved the way for a discursive mutation of “tribalism.” This notion morphed from one of a group behavioral binding mechanism tied to blood lineage into one underpinned by notions of solidarity that override kinship. This analysis in turn elucidates the precarity of the Libyan state and explains the subsequent turmoil in the country post-2011, characterized notably by the emergence of armed non-state actors. A key discontinuity identified is in the realm of foreign influencers that have exploited long-standing domestic grievances and weaponized Libya’s traditional pillars of legitimacy, thus tearing at its society’s social fabric.

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