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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy

Christopher M. Blanchard
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on U.S. interim offices in Benghazi underscored the serious security challenges facing Libya’s citizens and newly elected leaders. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel were killed after armed individuals attacked and burned a U.S. compound and subsequently attacked a second site where U.S. personnel had been evacuated. Libyan officials and citizens have condemned the murder of U.S. personnel and an investigation has begun. Armed non-state groups continue to operate in many areas of the country. On August 27, the U.S. State Department warned U.S. citizens against visiting Libya. This report provides updated information on the attack, and includes information from the August 9 version of this report that will be updated.

Libya’s post-conflict transition is underway, as Libyans work to consolidate change from the 40- year dictatorship of Muammar al Qadhafi to a representative government based on democratic and Islamic principles. The recent flare-ups in violence are coinciding with a number of important steps in the country’s political transition. On July 7, 2012, Libyan voters chose 200 members of a General National Congress (GNC) in the country’s first nationwide election in nearly 50 years. The GNC has elected its leadership is now overseeing national government affairs. The GNC elected a new interim Prime Minister on September 12. Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shuqur will propose members for a new cabinet, and the GNC is expected to determine the method for selecting members of a drafting committee to prepare a new constitution. If voters approve a constitution in a national referendum, then new elections are to be held by mid-2013, bringing a nearly two-year transition process to a close. Security conditions remain an immediate concern.

In the wake of the July election, Libya’s interim leaders remain answerable to a wide range of locally and regionally organized activists, locally elected and appointed committees, prominent personalities, tribes, militias, and civil society groups seeking to shape the transition and safeguard the revolution’s achievements. The shift from an appointed interim government to elected leaders may provide the government more democratic legitimacy and better enable it to make decisions in key areas, such as security, fiscal affairs, and post-conflict justice and reconciliation. However, further deterioration of security conditions may disrupt the transition, and the continued presence of armed non-state groups appears likely to continue to challenge the interim government. Libyans are debating the proper balance of local, regional, and national authority and the proper role for Islam in political and social life.

The proliferation of military weaponry from unsecured stockpiles—including small arms, explosives, and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADs)—remains a serious concern. The Obama Administration has been implementing a program with Libyan authorities to retrieve and disable weapons, including MANPADs. Non-government reporting indicates that some arms depots remain unsecured. U.S. officials believe that nuclear materials and chemical weapons components are secure (including previously undeclared chemical weapons), and Libyan leaders have recommitted to destroying the remnants of Qadhafi’s chemical arsenal.

As of September 2012, the U.S. government has allocated more than $200 million in assistance for Libya since the start of the uprising in 2011, including $89 million in humanitarian assistance, $40 million for weapons abatement, and $25 million in nonlethal assistance from Department of Defense stockpiles. Attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities may disrupt U.S. aid programs temporarily. As Libyans work to shape their future, Congress and the Obama Administration have the first opportunity since the 1960s to fully redefine U.S.-Libyan relations.

Date of Report: September 14, 2012
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: RL33142
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