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Last Updated: 12/13/2011
Half-Accomplished Libyan ‘Civil War of Liberation’
Hriday Ch. Sarma

In this provocative piece on the aftermath of the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, Hriday Ch. Sarma comments on projections for the future of Libya under the leadership of the National Transitional Council. Describing the current situation in the country as one of 'dormant violence', Sarma warns that "if the democratization process is not carried out with utmost caution, the multi-ethnic and presently extensively armed state of Libya will soon turn into another Afghanistan."


The article opens with the lead event of Muammar Qaddafi’s death, before factually stating in brief how and when he was killed. Then, the connection is drawn between the Libyan Civil War and the larger Arab Spring: the local people’s movements against their respective dictatorial regimes. Listing the similarities and uniqueness of the Libyan episode as compared with other Arab resistance movements, I argue that the death of Qaddafi has prompted Libya to enter a new stage wherein the role of the NTC will be crucial in determining the future trajectory of Libya. Finally, I technically gauge the civil war and conclude by analysing whether or not the goals of the civil war have been achieved.

The ‘Turn-Around’ Event

The Libyan tyrant Muammar Qaddafi was finally trounced and extirpated by Libyan rebel fighters outside the town of Shirte, his last bastion of resistance, on October 20, 2011 after 8 months of gory fighting between his personal military and the National Transitional Council of Libya,[i] which was assisted by NATO.[ii] Immediately preceding the final ground assault of rebel fighters, NATO had conducted precision bombings over the fleeing convoy that carried Qaddafi.[iii]


The historic event undeniably marks a new beginning for Libya, and will be forever scribed in the state’s history as the most prized event in its ‘Civil War of Liberation’. I give full credit to the rebel fighters and countrymen for the uncountable, pitiable sacrifices they made in the course of the exceedingly arduous period of bloodshed and violence. I also give a pat on the back to NATO member states for getting on-board with the righteous NTC during the most challenging hours; notwithstanding the fact that NATO states extended their solidarity and expressions of legitimacy regarding the democratic aspirations of the majority of Libyans only when they sensed that the partial ground advances made by NTC forces could be turned into a complete victory without acute internal public opposition.

Arab Spring: A New Avatar

I place the Libyan Civil War of Liberation within the ambit of the 2011 Arab Spring; as a refurbished sprig of the Arab people’s movements against their respective autocratic state regimes. Like all other Arab Spring movements, here too large numbers of young, educated and unemployed protestors tactfully participated along with native hardliner groups, like the recently disbanded Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, etc. However, the revolution in Libya is unique in itself from the other resistance movements that prevailed, or are still prevailing, in certain Arab countries. The opposition forces in Libya were comprised of a comparatively larger number of professional fighters who were militarily better trained than their counterparts in other Arab countries. This can be attributed to the fact that scores of Qaddafi’s former military men defected to the NTC. This interim governing body was erected by a few influence-wielding Libyan military and civilian personalities who were either existing Qaddafi regime dissidents, or had consequentially become dissidents on witnessing the excesses committed by Qaddafi forces against the protestors with the outbreak of the civil war. It ‘self-notes’ to act as the "only legitimate body representing the people of Libya and the Libyan state"[iv] that will guide the country to free elections and the establishment of a constitution for Libya.[v]

A New Epoch Unfurls

Hereby, I plainly agree to the fact that the excessive, overt form of violence in Libya has ceased after with the killing of Qaddafi by rebel forces. However, I contend that Libya’s Civil War of Liberation has not yet been wholly alleviated in reality. This contradicts the official declaration made by the NTC on 23rd October that Libya has been “liberated" following the death of Colonel Qaddafi.[vi] I believe the particular event has marked the civil war’s entry into a new state of ‘dormant violence’. The present transition state is likely to witness the NTC’s entrenchment in the political superstructure of the state. Qaddafi cronies, patrons, as well beneficiaries will be purged out of the superstructure with the unveiling of the process of state-democratization, which will induct prevalent elements of socio-cultural and Islamic traits. What features are to be included or discarded will be primarily decided by the dominant political fraction, i.e. the NTC. It will endeavour to maximise its occupied space in the superstructure and not give any leeway (at least until the next general elections are held in Libya, if at all) to other socio-political groups under the pretext of restoring order in the state.


I am sure that if the democratization process is not carried out with utmost caution, the multi-ethnic and presently extensively armed state of Libya will soon turn into another Afghanistan.

Hybrid Form of Intra-State War

I categorize the Libyan episode of violence as a hybrid form of partially-internationalized civil war. As such, foreign forces enthusiastically played a sidekick role to a belligerent resistance coalition party-- which, when initially formed, was a non-state actor but with the progression of the war became the de-facto state-- against an initial de-jure state that gradually lost its international legal personality. The civil war is partially internationalized considering the fact that NATO forces had flown a total of 7,943 sorties, 398 strikes that dropped ordnance, and 1,851 strike sorties targeted against Qaddafi’s forces and installations. A prime example can be remembered from 31st October,[vii] the day when the UNSC officially called-off the aerial bombing campaign under Operation Unified Protector,[viii] which dated from 23rd March, the day when the operation commenced on ground[ix] in Libya. I believe this to be a substantive force-multiplication in the overall assault composition of the NTC.

In the following section, I attempt to theoretically cross-check whether or not the Libyan episode of violence is a civil war in accordance with the criteria stated in the "Correlates of War Project" of Melvin Small and J. David Singer, under the second section ‘Constructing the Indicators and Generating the Data’, with specific references drawn from their article “Resort to Arms: International and Civil Wars.[x] First, the number of deaths far exceeds the threshold mark of 1000 per annum since its concurrent outbreak with other Arab revolutions this year. Mohammed al-Ghazwi, who leads the Committee on the Dead, suavely told The New York Times, "Every day we find another grave, so I can’t give you a specific number. But it’s about twenty-five to thirty thousand, like the minister of health (Naji Barakat) said."[xi] Hereby, I consider his words an official assertion of the new Libyan authority, since there is no authentic report on the number of combatant deaths, and given the fact that the theatre of war witnessed intense direct and indirect exchange of live-firing between the two belligerent sides. Hence, it is obvious that the total number of casualties included a very high number of civilians and combatants. Second, the central government was continually a party to the war. Libyan officials deputed to international organizations represented Qaddafi’s government almost until the halfway point of the civil war. However, numerous Qaddafi delegates started to dissociate or defect from the autocratic regime, as well as individual countries and international organizations who started to de-recognize international/diplomatic missions with allegiance to Qaddafi’s regime starting with the second-half of the civil war. Third, both the government and the adversary party put up genuine resistance in the course of war. Needless to repeat, there was significant intransigent resistance offered by NTC in the early stage, Qaddafi loyalists in the late stage, and a stalemate between the two belligerent parties in the middle stage of the war. Fourth, throughout the course of war, fighting was localized within a defined political unit, i.e. the state of Libya.

Further in line with all major civil wars of liberation in the course of human history, the contemporary Libyan civil war has also witnessed the rise of national popular leaders in the likes of Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and a handful of others. Again, if we draw inferences from history, it is to be assumed that the prancing rebel fighters, who had actively fought in the civil war, will soon emerge as a very privileged class within Libyan society. Though overt clashes have ceased, today, however, the people are much engrossed in their battle to scrap the dictatorial and repressive ideas Qaddafi had upheld, the terror-apparatus he had used for maintaining societal order, the personality cult he had created for instilling hegemony, the milieu he had erected for enjoying self-privileges, and channels he had designed for distributing benefits to his loyal clansmen and henchmen. This civil war was initiated and violently fought on the universally-upheld principles of individual and collective freedom, self-determination, dignity and general prosperity. Now, it remains to be seen if the same principles will act as the salient guiding principles for building the post-Qaddafi Libya, or will they be lost in transition?

Goals: Achieved or Not?

The first objective of the overt clash in Libya, which bound the different regime-opposing belligerent parties together as a collective, was to topple the physical autocrat ‘Muammar Qaddafi’. This has been achieved. A second objective was to bring down and remould the nepotism-based form of political, judicial and public administrative structure, which he had imposed on the state during his reign. This is presently underway. An underlying tertiary objective, which has been continually present since the time Qaddafi captured state power and started to show arbitrariness in his rule to date, is to create a people’s democratic state. This will persist inaudibly perhaps until the Westphalian state system is replaced by a different world system. The 42 years of Qaddafi’s rogue regime, throughout which he ruled the state with iron fists crushing every form of internal dissent remotely challenging his authority, had dragged Libya into an archaic society with no civil or political activism. With Qaddafi gone, today the world waits cautiously to see how the NTC will manoeuvre in time to achieve the objectives of the gory Libyan Civil War of Liberation.

I caution every Libyan and the international community to not let the gains attained with the precious blood and sweat of many freedom-loving Libyans get washed-out as a result of vested personal, fractional or geo-strategic interests of a few internal or external parties.

[i] Breaking News: Libya Liberated, Transitional Government Says (2011, 23 October). Fox News. Retrieved from

[ii] (The NTC could not have achieved its military successes without the help of NATO) Aujali, A. S. (2011, September 13) Building a free Libya. The Washington Post. Compiled National Transitional Council- Office of the Libyan Representative to the US. Retrieved from

[iii] NATO Releases Statement on Airstrike on Qaddafi Convoy (2011, October 21). Fox News. Retrieved from

[iv] National Transition Council

[v] A vision of a democratic Libya, (2011). National Transitional Council. Retrieved from

[vi] Libya: Abdurrahim al-Keib named new interim PM , (2011, November 1). BBC. Retrieved from

[vii] NATO ends Libya mission, (November 3, 2011). CNN, Retrieved from

[viii] Ibid at ii

[ix] NATO Arms Embargo against Libya Operation Unified Protector. (2011). NATO-Public Diplomacy Division-Press and Media Operations Section

[x] Singer, D. J. & Small, M. (1982) Resort to Arms: International and Civil Wars, 1816-1980. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.

[xi] Nordland, R (September 16, 2011) Libya Counts More Martyrs Than Bodies. the New York Times. Retrieved from

Hriday Ch. Sarma is a Researcher on Conflict Studies in Middle East. He is the present Vice President of Subject Association MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia University (India) and a Special Correspondent (South to South Development) for Global South Development Magazine Siliconcreation-Finland.