Following Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster more than three years ago, Libya fragmented, and the absence of a capable central government opened up the space for a violent political struggle over the country’s key resources and state institutions that continues today. Given Libya’s troubled history with centralization, there is a need for a rethink about a post-revolutionary form of governance. However, calls for federalism based on the country’s three historical regions (Cyrenaica in the east, Fezzan in the south, and Tripolitania in the west) are outdated and do not take into account that Libyans’ loyalties to tribe, clan, or region trump their sense of national identity. In “The Case for a New Federalism in Libya,” Karim Mezran, a senior fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and Mohamed Eljarh, a nonresident fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center, argue for a different approach. In order to empower local authorities to address distinctly local grievances while supporting a vision for a unified Libya, the authors offer a fresh proposal for a federalist system in which the executive branch handles foreign affairs and national security issues and considerable legislative powers are devolved to the regions.
Such a set-up would require clear communication between the levels of government and help to eliminate the threat of partition by more effectively responding to the distinctive challenges of different segments of Libyan society. Federalism in Libya, however, faces obstacles, including the fundamental one of trust, as concerns linger that federalists’ real objective is to secede. The authors provide recommendations for how to overcome these roadblocks and institutionalize federalism, including by establishing a consultative constitution-drafting process and launching a civic responsibility initiative focused on self-governance within the rule of law.