The fragile Libyan constitutional arrangement, reached after the dictator Muammar Qadhafi was overthrown in a regime-change operation instigated by NATO governments under cover of a United Nations no-fly resolution in 2011, is disintegrating. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who was kidnapped on October 10, 2013 and released within a few hours, fled the country in March 2014 after the General National Congress (GNC) passed a vote of no-confidence in him. Secondly, in December 2013 the GNC voted to extend its own mandate for another year, thereby violating the transitional constitutional plan, which gave it a mandate only until February 7. Various GNC factions have their own agendas too; the Justice and Construction Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Libyan branch, leads a bloc with 34 of the 80 party-allocated seats in the 200-seat Congress, and may well be spreading hardline Islamist influence. Furthermore, the eastern province of Cyrenaica (Barqa in Arabic) accuses Tripoli of not sharing oil revenues, and Barqa leaders based in Benghazi now demand a federal constitution. On March 10, a Barqa militia group blockaded Es Sidr, ensuring that a tanker of uncertain origin and ownership loaded an estimated $36 million worth of crude oil and put out to sea; the U.S. sent Navy SEALS to capture the ship. A wider blockade that started in August 2013 has already cost the country $8 billion.

Other tensions are causing yet more fighting. Early in March, Misrata-based militants exploded a bomb at a military base in Benghazi, killing five persons and injuring 14; moreover, the 225,000 Libyans registered as members of militias are paid by the state but remain under their own local or political commanders. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch and other observers have criticised western governments and sections of the international media for credulously accepting the rebel factions’ claims that the Qadhafi regime had engaged in genocide and had inflicted mass civilian casualties in the western-backed uprising. None of the claims has been substantiated, and foreign military intervention will almost certainly worsen matters, as it did during the uprising, when it enabled rebel groups to reject deals and escalate violence. In October 2013, U.S. commandos arrested an al-Qaeda suspect on Libyan soil, causing fury against Tripoli for collaborating with Washington, but the U.S. failure to create functioning public institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan may mean it will consider only military intervention in Libya, with or without U.N. legitimation. As Libyans face a new civil war and possible partition, unsurprisingly many of them are reportedly nostalgic about the Qadhafi era.

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