A year ago, Libya was a failed state, split by warring factions serving as pawns in a proxy war between Turkey and Russia. The country, liberated from a dictator a decade ago during the Arab Spring, had descended into violent chaos, much like that in Syria and Yemen. National reconciliation seemed like a desert mirage.
Yet on Oct. 5, a major construction and building trade fair opened in the capital, Tripoli. Hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of attendees from around the world gathered in anticipation of the North African state becoming stable enough for mass investment. The day before, the country’s new unity government said construction had started on an oil refinery. These were signs that the stigma of a failed state is lifting after a Jan. 12 cease-fire between major warring parties.
What’s changed for Libya is that a peace process shepherded by the United Nations and a few European leaders has begun to take hold. Reconciliation among Libya’s 20 major tribal lines and between rival leaders in the east and west is still far off. But the pieces of peace are falling into place. Libyan activists in civil society groups, who have championed a national identity based on equality, individual rights, and social inclusion, seem hopeful.
Two big hurdles remain. One is the holding of elections, slated for Dec. 24. The other is the withdrawal of thousands of foreign mercenaries and military personnel. The United States and Europe are pressing for both to take place. Germany has kept a steady hand on the process. And on Sept. 28, the U.S. Congress passed the Libya Stabilization Act, which calls for penalties on anyone who contributes to violence in Libya. In addition, leaders of Libya’s rival militaries met in Tripoli for the first time in the presence of U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, who leads the U.S. Africa Command.
The cease-fire has allowed Libyans to travel again between east and west, helping efforts at unity. National healing has also begun with the first U.N. report on serious human rights violations committed during the civil conflict. The report opens the way for an accountability that might prevent further violations.
Libya is far from being a model democratic state for the Arab world. But its steps toward reconciliation are setting an example for other trouble spots in the Middle East.