Reconciling with Libya’s History on the 13th Anniversary of NATO’s Regime Change

Credit: think0 on DeviantArt

On the 17th of February 2024, few Libyans commemorated the 13th anniversary of the NATO-led regime change that led to the destruction of Libya. As the people dwell in intense economic immiseration, sanctions, and lack of reconciling with their national history, reading a recently published book by Matteo Capasso, might shed some light on how Libyans could think about their history and how to reconcile with the events that led to the reproductive destruction of the country since 2011.

The recently published book on Libya, Everyday Politics in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, is unique in its approach to how Libyans navigated everyday politics in a country marred by colossal international pressures that marked the three decades leading up to the 2011 uprising and the NATO intervention that sanctioned the fall of regime. Matteo Capasso confronts the existing literature that frames Libya as stateless society for its direct democracy, authoritarian state where all successes and ills are solely the product of a single person (Muammar Qaddafi), or that the state is a rogue one as it carries its national and international policies in ill-studied manner rendering the regime an unpredictably perilous one. Capasso challenges these hot takes not by dismissing them but by bringing in the voices of ordinary Libyans to show how the everyday is more complicated than most of the post-2011 literature on Libya; centering people’s voices vis-á-vis the impact of the international pressures that collectively imposed on the people of Libya (i.e. sanctions as economic warfare).

As the title suggests, it does not propose a one-man show such as the number of literature produced after 2011 that equates the Qaddafi persona with the state, with titles such as Qaddafi’s Libya, Libya under Qaddafi, Rise and Fall of Qaddafi, etc. Capasso argues that the category of authoritarianism is not analytical and reduces the complexity of politics and economics to a sole figure. He further explains,

“Scholars and analysts have taken the part (Qaddafi) for the whole (Libya), assuming that there was no Libya-ness beyond the macrohistorical metanarrative of Qaddafi-ness. The ideas and personality of Qaddafi obscured Libya’s complexity… This turned Libya into a perfect terrain for studying authoritarianism and other types of regime behavior” (p. 6).