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Ribale Sleiman-Haidar

December 11th, 2014

Is Libya a Proxy War?

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Ribale Sleiman-Haidar

December 11th, 2014

Is Libya a Proxy War?

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

by Frederic Wehrey, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

This memo was prepared for The Arab Thermidor: The Resurgence of the Security State’ workshop held at LSE on 10 October  2014 in collaboration with POMEPS.


Libyan Governmental Plane destroyed by a NATO attack, Tripoli International Airport. Copyright: Il Fatto Quotidiano, 2011.
Libyan Plane destroyed by a NATO attack, Tripoli International Airport. Copyright: Il Fatto Quotidiano, 2011.

Recent reports of Egyptian military aircraft bombing Islamist militant positions in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi have highlighted once more how the Mediterranean state has become a contested site of regional proxy wars. The projection of Middle Eastern rivalries onto Libya’s fractured landscape has a long pedigree, dating back to the 2011 revolution and perhaps even further, when Moammar Gaddafi’s propaganda apparatus portrayed the country as a plaything at the mercy of predatory imperialists. During the uprising, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar jostled for influence, with their respective special forces supporting disparate revolutionary factions with intelligence, training and arms. Initially, the choice of actors had less to do with ideological affinity and more with expediency, history and geography. Libyan expatriates residing in each country shaped the channeling of funds and weapons.

As the revolution wore on, these interventions had a profound effect on its trajectory and aftermath. The availability of outside patronage reduced incentives for factional cooperation and consensus-building on the ground. It sharpened preexisting fissures in the anti-Gaddafi opposition: Revolutionary factions competed for arms shipments, withheld foreign intelligence and targeting data from one another, and tried to outmaneuver one another in the revolution’s endgame – the liberation of Tripoli.

But the intra-regional tussling of the 2011 revolution pales in comparison to the intensity of today’s proxy war. Back then, the factions and their foreign backers were at least united in the common goal of toppling a universally despised tyrant. Today, the outside powers are engaged in a struggle far more divisive and consequential: a war of narratives.

>> read the full memo on the Monkey Cage Blog


Other available memos in the series

‘The Authoritarian Impulse vs. the Democratic Imperative: Political Learning as a Precondition for Sustainable Development in the Maghreb’, John P. Entelis, Fordham University

‘Elite Fragmentation and Securitization in Bahrain’, by Toby MatthiesenUniversity of Cambridge

‘Militaries, Civilians and the Crisis of the Arab State’, by Yezid Sayigh, Carnegie Middle East Center

‘Arab Transitions and the Old Elite’, by Ellis Goldberg, University of Washington

‘Explaining Democratic Divergence: Why Tunisia has Succeeded and Egypt has Failed’, Eva Bellin, Brandeis University

‘Fiscal Politics of Enduring Authoritarianism’, Pete W. Moore, Case Western Reserve University

‘The Role of Militaries in the Arab Thermidor’, Robert Springborg, Sciences Po

‘Mass Politics and the Future of Authoritarian Governance in the Arab World’, Steven Heydemann, United States Institute of Peace

‘Security Dilemmas and the ‘Security State’ Question in Jordan’Curtis R. Ryan, Appalachian State University

‘Authoritarian Populism and the Rise of the Security State in Iran’, Ali Ansari, University of St Andrews

‘A Historical Sociology Approach to Authoritarian Resilience in Post-Arab Uprising MENA’, Raymond Hinnebusch, University of St Andrews

‘The Arab Thermidor’, Marc Lynch, George Washington University

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