Four years ago today, on October 20, 2011, Libyan rebels managed to capture former dictator Muammar Qaddafi in his hometown of Sirte after a months-long uprising at the tail-end of the Arab Spring turned into a full-fledged civil war. Video later emerged showing a visibly scared and bloody Qaddafi surrounded by a crowd of men who were beating and kicking him.
The embattled leader was killed by a gunshot to the head, according to the country's chief pathologist, ending his nearly 42 years of rule over the North African country.
Qaddafi's fall was seen by some as a brief moment of optimism for positive change in Libya, but the country has devolved into disarray in the years since as it has been wracked by political instability, militia violence, and Islamist extremist groups. The country has been torn apart between two rival governments, the older Islamist-dominated General National Congress (GNC), which is based in Tripoli, and the House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk, which gained international recognition after elections in 2014.
"It's not surprising that a country that had had so little experience with managing its own affairs in a broad-based way would fall into considerable disarray," said David Mack, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and former US diplomat with experience in Libya. He explained that prior to Qaddafi's rise to power in 1969, a legacy of Italian colonialism had left the country with weak or nonexistent institutions.
In a manifestation of the ongoing chaos, the fourth anniversary of Qaddafi's death coincides with reports of airstrikes carried out against an Islamic State stronghold, as well as a refusal by the country's internationally recognized parliament to accept a unity government proposal from the United Nations.
Witnesses reported seeing airstrikes carried out on Monday against Sirte, which since Qaddafi's fall has become a base for the Libyan-based faction of the Islamic State (IS) insurgency. The group, which began capturing swathes of land in Iraq and Syria in 2014 before proclaiming an Islamic caliphate, has taken advantage of Libya's political uncertainty to entrench itself within the country. Sirte has previously been the target of government airstrikes, as the internationally backed regime aims to combat the presence of IS.
The jihadist group controls Sirte and further down the Libyan coast the town of Derna. The group is believed to also have a presence in Benghazi. IS attacks have left dozens of people dead from both sides of the Libyan conflict. The group has also claimed attacks on a number of foreign sites in the country, including Tripoli's luxury Corinthia Hotel and the South Korean Embassy.
As both the government and the armed group known as Libya Dawn, which supports the GNC parliament, continue to fend off Islamic State, they have also been engaged in UN-brokered talks to establish a unity government. Optimism that these talks could soon bring a political solution was at least temporarily dampened on Monday when the HoR rejected the most recent draft accord, which had been proposed by the UN envoy for Libya, Bernardino León.
The accord included various amendments that the HoR said the GNC had inserted without its approval. The primary sticking point was a provision that would empower the unity government to dismiss officials who were not unanimously approved by the new lawmakers — a perceived threat to the viability of HoR army leader General Khalifa Hifter.
The agreement also included a list of individuals who would be candidates to serve in the new administration, but the release of this list became a matter of controversy for both factions, according to Claudia Gazzini, a senior analyst on Libya at Crisis Group.
"The majority of Libyans do want a national unity government," she said, explaining that the international community should allow for the revision of these names and other issues in order to move forward.
She said continuing these talks, something that both GNC and HoR appear ready to do, and finding a political solution is key to alleviating the other problems in the country, which range from ingrained corruption and a devastated economy. Oil production in the country, for example, has dropped from 1.6 million barrels of oil a day to an estimated 400,000 barrels, which Gazzini said is not enough to bring the country's expenditures out of the red.
In addition to general economic issues, Mack noted that infrastructure has been devastated and certain industries like telecommunications have been neglected. Such problems are in urgent need of fixing as the warring parties work to resolve their political issues.
"You don't gain legitimacy just by being elected, and you certainly don't gain legitimacy just by being appointed," Mack said. "You gain legitimacy by delivering services to your people."