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Libya Remains Unstable Nearly A Decade After Muammar Gaddafi's Ousting


It's been nearly a decade since the U.S.-backed ousting of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and conditions in the country have gotten worse and more complicated. The U.N.-backed government in the capital of Tripoli has very loose control over about a third of the country. To the east, Libya is controlled by a renegade general leading what they have called the Libyan National Army, which has tried and failed to topple the government in Tripoli. We're joined now by Mansour El-Kikhia. He is a professor of international relations and Middle East politics at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and he is also Libyan. Welcome to the program.

MANSOUR EL-KIKHIA: Hello. Thank you for inviting me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: European powers and the United States held a conference in Berlin on Wednesday to try and work out a solution that can bring stability to Libya, including holding elections in December. It's only the latest negotiations that have gotten underway. I mean, do Libyans have any real expectations from these meetings?

EL-KIKHIA: No, I don't think so. I just came back from a long stay in Libya for about two months right now. I just came back last week. And the truth is I'm writing a book on Libya. I decided to call - change the title. In fact, I'm going to call it "The Politics Of A Failed State."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Describe to me what life is like there for ordinary people. I mean, what did you see when you were there?

EL-KIKHIA: Infrastructure is dilapidated. Thievery - nothing gets done with corruption. Corruption is just unbelievable. Food is somewhat available, but it's extremely expensive. People don't work. There's no productivity whatsoever. I mean, when you have 70%, 75% of the population living on salaries from the government, it's - and it's just unbelievable.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, there's so much political instability, as we have discussed. What do people say about how they view the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, who we should remember was a pretty brutal dictator?

EL-KIKHIA: Yeah, but it seems to me, at least, there was some sort of stability during the term of Gaddafi. At least there was no thievery. There was security. But - and so - and some of them even yearn back to that stage. But believe it or not, they're back. I mean, the east - Mr. Haftar has his armies made up of greens - former Gaddafi loyalists. And the west - you know, they're slowly creeping in. You know, Libya's given a horrible choice - either the military rule that's in the east or the conservative Islamist militias in the west. You have no government. There's no laws. It's bordering on chaos.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, we should remember that under Gaddafi, there was no governing body. There was literally Gaddafi and his green book. And basically, he was the state.

EL-KIKHIA: Exactly. And that continues to be today. Unfortunately, because what happened when you have 40 years - that's a generation. And those people are still in power. They are still there today. And they do exactly what they were doing during the time of Gaddafi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, of course, I mean, it is a divided country in so many ways, you know, with identities, you know, tribes, and now literally divided between General Haftar and the U.N.-backed government. You and I spoke last in 2019, when General Haftar was making an offensive to take the capital, Tripoli. And your sense back then was he was possibly the best choice to bring stability to Libya. After two years, he hasn't been able to actually bring that stability to actually take the capital. What do you think should happen now?

EL-KIKHIA: Well, I'll tell you something. I mean, I had high hopes for this chap. I thought that he in fact, he - living in the United States for 23 years, he would learn something. So Haftar has become worse. He has learned absolutely nothing. What Mr. Haftar, today, is doing in the east is despicable. He has given his sons - not worse to think about Gaddafi was doing. He has given his sons militias. He spends Libya's money as though it was his own. And Libyans are angry not only with him. They're angry at the whole situation. They have no faith in government. And even worse, they're expecting elections based on what? There is no constitution.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Foreign fighters, mercenaries backed by several governments, including Turkey, Russia, France, the UAE, just to name a few, are also involved on the ground in Libya. What is the responsibility of the international community right now, in your view?

EL-KIKHIA: I mean, the only way I see it, if Libya's invaded by some other power and kicks them out. You have the militias in the west. They want the Turks there. Mr. Haftar still wants the Russians there. And so, I mean, this dismal scenario that I'm seeing ahead that might unfold for me is that the west will be taken over by the Turks, the south taken over by the French. And the east will be left for the Egyptians and the Russians to fight over. This is how bad it is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is Mansour El-Kikhia, professor of international relations and Middle East politics at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Thank you very much.

EL-KIKHIA: Well, you're welcome. Thank you for having me again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.