17 February Revolution: Libyans Clutch at New Hope After Decade of Chaos


A decade of infighting and the blood of the Libyan people continues to be spilled, their future stolen, and wealth squandered. Since 17 February 2011, the country has completely changed. The dream for which the revolution was started, has turned into a nightmare for its people. The uprising which began in Benghazi by youths who demanded change and quickly spread throughout the country saw victory in the fall of Muammer Gaddafi on 20 October, 2011.

“This is our flag, designed by our ancestors, green for that land in which we were born, and black for those nights that touched us, and the blood of our martyrs is red, under which we made our revolution, its colors tell our story. We proclaim our full faith in our land,” they claimed.

Violence spread across Libyan cities, leading to various wars between rival militias, tribes and governments. The situation only worsened and the conflicts grew until 2014, when a fully blown civil war began in the country. The Libyan National Army (LNA) succeeded in taking control of the east and south of the country, defeating a number of extremist armed groups, and securing oil installations.

During the beginning of the outbreak of the revolution, the National Transitional Council (NTC) was established on 27 February 2011, as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

At that time, Head of the NTC Mustafa Abdel-Jalil stressed that the council was not a transitional government, and wanted to transfer its headquarters from Benghazi to Tripoli, which was still under Gaddafi’s control. The Council renewed its call for international air strikes by NATO against Gaddafi, and the Libyan Army during the conflict.

During Abdel-Jalil’s Liberation Day speech on 23 October, after the death of Gaddafi he showed his islamic leaning’s by stating, “any law that violates Islamic law is suspended immediately, including the law that limits polygamy. The new Libya will seek to establish an Islamic banking system, including exemption from banking interests, and the abolition of usury.”

Once liberation was declared, the rebel forces did not surrender their arms to the new state. Instead, they hurriedly entered the political field after they united and formed the “Guardians of the Revolution,” as a means to protect against reactionary forces. Many of these groups tried to fill the security vacuum, and Abdel-Jalil called on them to unite under the Ministry of Defence. The NTC also pledged to pay salaries to all revolutionary brigades, giving them legitimacy in the eyes of the state and public.

Violence quickly became rampant, and a series of assassinations took place across the country. On 11 September 2012, a group of militants allied with Al-Qaeda attacked the US Consulate in Benghazi, killing the American Ambassador, Chris Stevens and three others.

During the NTC era, the Muslim Brotherhood is believed to have infiltrated the middle management of the government in post, communications, and foreign affairs, taking control of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA). Their boards of directors remained under the influence of the organization even a decade later. The scheme expanded to legitimize the Brotherhood’s presence, so the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) was devised. This was between the elected Libyan Parliament and the outgoing General National Congress (GNC), under the auspices of the United Nations in the Moroccan city of Skhirat on 17 December 2015.

Since 2011, Qatar and Turkey have intervened vigorously in Libyan affairs. Doha was one of the first countries to recognize the NTC, and had close contacts with military and political leaders, such as Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Ali Al-Sallabi. It also sent the commander of its special forces, Hamad Al-Murri to support these groups and fight against Gaddafi. This is thought to be a prelude to take control of Libyan gas, as control of the NOC and its marketing was done through a Swiss company whose second largest shareholder was Qatar.

Turkey has seemingly been working in the background for years alongside Qatar, both of whom have Brotherhood governments. Turkish officials have openly declared their ambitions in Libya. Recently, one of President Erdogan’s advisers said, “Libya is a country rich in its oil wealth and its vast coastlines on the Mediterranean, but the people do not benefit from this wealth. By managing these resources, we will bring prosperity to the Libyan people in a short period of time.”

Turkey found a foothold, by taking advantage of its strong ties to armed organizations and religious-ideological militias, supported by its ally Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. It was able to open direct lines of monetary and military support with the Brotherhood members in Libya. Turkey has also made its ports a springboard for foreign fighters, mercenaries, and weapons despite a UN arms embargo against Libya. All this gave Turkey the opportunity to create a security and institutional vacuum, allowing it to strengthen its influence and control in the country.

In light of the chaos that Libya has endured for years, the LNA remains a light at the end of the tunnel for many Libyans, in hopes that the country would see normality return.

The eastern-city of Derna was under the control of the extremist Abu Salim Brigade, as was Benghazi which was under the control of the Libya Shield Force, the February 17th Brigade, the Rafallah Al-Sahati Brigade.

The LNA was formed by uniting the remaining military forces, under the leadership of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, in response to the almost complete takeover of the east by extremist forces. In July 2013, Human Rights Watch issued a report confirming the assassination of 51 political and military figures in the largest wave of assassinations primarily in the cities of Benghazi and Derna.

In 2014, Operation Dignity was launched to “cleanse the country” of these militias. The army began to liberate one city after another, which dashed the hopes of the terrorist groups, who wished to establish an “Islamized” state in Libya. After that, the operation turned into a popular revolution aimed at liberating the country from all extremist and armed groups, as it became necessary to end the siege of the government by armed militias. In 2013, the offices of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Interior, and Finance, were attacked by armed groups, causing complete paralysis of the state. They also surrounded the GNC, to pressure it to pass the Political Isolation Law. The LNA set its sights on clearing the entire country of mercenaries and extremist militias, as well as the foreign occupation.