Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/©Gulf News

The latest fighting in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, is just a reminder of the chaotic situation in that faltering North African country. Since the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime more than two years ago, the disastrous state of Libya was fully exposed.

Regional and international parties that helped overthrow the regime quickly parted ways, leaving the country with the supposed “revolutionaries” to build it. Since then, successive interim councils and governments did almost nothing in the project of state-building.

New politicians have no actual power and militias are the only active factor in the country. In-fighting between rival militias, kidnapping and assassination of army officers, attacks on official bodies are common practices. Only the last incident in Tripoli drew some attention because of the large number of casualties and the fact that a militia attacked unarmed demonstrators protesting armed militias in the city.

Ironically, a Libyan friend told me last week that many people now longed for the days of the old regime — not exactly for the Gaddafi rule, but for restoration of some order, even if it is unjust order. Yet, many Libyans are aware that the chaotic state they suffer now is a result of decades of negligence under Gaddafi. He ruled in a way that did not allow any development of proper state institutions for 40 years.

Instead of using the country’s wealth from oil exports to invest in state-building and development of his people, Gaddafi threw billions on his ambitions beyond Libya’s borders and spent few billions on subsidising essential goods and payments for the majority of Libyans working in the government and public sector. The end result was a country with no proper state and people dependent on the ‘leader’ to secure their income.

Even the army was not developed, trained or properly armed. Gaddafi always feared that a strong army could topple him in a coup or any strong state institution for that matter — so he left none. That is not enough excuse for Libyans to fail in more than two years to start rebuilding their country.

Though Gaddafi’s legacy is a big hurdle, other factors play a role in the current Libyan debacle. During more than 40 years of his rule, there was no significant opposition to Gaddafi. A security iron-fist and Gaddafi’s brutality in eliminating any potential opponent made things difficult, but the Libyan elite — especially those who studied and lived abroad — is partly responsible too. And when the regime fell, they came back looking for posts and power, not caring much about the fact that their country and people were in a mess and needed a huge effort to start building a state from a scratch.

The vacuum left by regime-change was quickly filled up mainly by armed militias — some belonged to militant groups, while others represented tribes and towns. These groups are now using guns to advance their narrow interests. In some towns and cities, different militias even fight to ransack government inventories, including military warehouses.

These groups are wielding power over ordinary citizens who are as helpless as the central authority in Tripoli. The situation was aggravated by the near-collapse of the country’s oil industry — the main source of revenue for the country. So, the two main pillars of authority, power and wealth, are lost and none in Tripoli or any other major Libyan city can rule without these two pillars.

Dividing chaos

Now, the Eastern province — where most of the oil is — is trying to separate itself from the rest of the country and take the wealth it considers itself deprived of for decades. The danger is that Benghazi — the capital of the East — and its surroundings became a hotbed for militant groups. But nobody outside Libya seems to be concerned about it turning into jus — ‘an oil well financing terrorists’.

The problem is that some within Libya and outside think that some sort of a federation, or even a confederation, can be the best solution. That means Barqa in the east, Tripoli in the middle and west and Fazan in the south can be the three semi-autonomous provinces. Unfortunately, this will mean just dividing the chaos by three with no guarantee of ending it.

Continuing militia rule and stoppage of oil production and export will lead to further deterioration and delay in state-building. The political elite, that feels abandoned by regional and international parties, is in a real dilemma. The only hope is the rise of some Libyans — not expatriates who benefited from regime-change, not militias, not Gaddafi orphans — who can revolt against this chaos and take the responsibility of building their country all over again.

Dr Ayman Mustafa is a London-based Arab writer.