What Happened in Libya?

On February 15, 2011, in reaction to widespread unrest across the region demonstrators in Libya staged a “Day of Rage” protesting Qaddafi’s rule, calling for an end to his 41-year reign — the longest in the Arab world.

Initial protests in Tripoli quickly spread across the country, prompting a violent response by Qaddafi’s government as security forces opened fire on protesters killing at least 500 civilians. The Libyan despot used fighter jets, tanks, snipers and heavy artillery to target civilians in major urban areas under the control of the opposition.

The international community, led by the United Nations Security Council, responded with diplomatic efforts, condemnation, sanctions and a threat of accountability through an International Criminal Court investigation.

As Qaddafi’s forces approached the opposition stronghold of Benghazi threatening to fight door to door showing no mercy, the UN Security Council took decisive action to protect civilians through a no-fly zone calling upon member states to take “all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat”. The no-fly zone was administered by NATO and allied countries and subsequent airstrikes in support of opposition ground forces helped to deter attacks on Benghazi and eventually turn the tide on Qaddafi.

Forces opposing Muammar Qaddafi sit on top of a tank in March 2011 (Credit: Nasser Nouri)

After six months of struggle the Libyan capital of Tripoli was captured and Qaddafi was killed. The country was formally declared liberated by the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) in October 2011. Legal steps have been taken to elect a constitutional assembly that will write a new constitution and establish a legitimate government. However, the interim government continues to face challenges to assert its legitimacy beyond Tripoli and to contain armed militias perpetrating violence and human rights abuses. The presence of public servants from the old regime in the current administration further raises questions about the credibility and effectiveness of the interim government.

On July 7, 2012 Libya held landmark national polls after decades of rule under Qaddafi with significant turnout from the populace. Despite reports of acts of violence in eastern Libya, international observers described the electoral process as a success. What followed was the creation of a 200-member General National Congress and former opposition leader Mohammed el-Megarif was elected as the country’s interim president on August 10, 2012.

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