Libya’s Fractious South and Regional Instability

Published: 1/Feb/2014
Source: Small Arms Survey (Geneva)

By Wolfram Lacher

A multitude of armed groups and smuggling networks with transnational reach are driving southern Libya’s integration into the Sahel–Sahara region. Contrary to widespread external perceptions, the extremist presence remains a marginal phenomenon in the southwest (Fezzan), at least in relation to the political struggles. Rivalries over the control of borders, smuggling routes, oilfields, and cities, as well as conflicts regarding the citizenship status of entire communities, are of far greater significance. These conflicts are centred on southern Libya, but have a regional dimension because of the transnational links of the parties involved.

This Note provides an overview of current actors and areas of contestation in southern Libya. It is based on interviews with political and military figures in Sabha, Ubari, and Murzuq during September 2013, and with representatives of southern Libyan communities in Tripoli, Benghazi, Niamey, and Agadez during 2012, 2013, and January 2014.



The problematic legacies of the former regime’s citizenship policies are now a major area of dispute in Fezzan. The stigmatization of entire communities has poisoned inter-communal relations. For example, while negotiating a peace agreement with Tubu in Sabha, Awlad Suleiman refused to pay blood money for Tubu casualties, asserting that they were not Libyan nationals.36 The issue is of acute importance, notably because the transitional government of Prime Minster Zeidan has begun implementing a national ID number scheme designed to clean up the public-sector payroll. In the absence of a clear approach to the citizenship issue, this process risks stripping substantial numbers of people of their rights.

Tensions flared in August 2013, when the body managing the process announced that it had cancelled one million ‘fake’ IDs attributed to Chadian aïdoun, Tuareg, and Tubu (, 2013). Partly in reaction to this, Tubu and Tuareg militia leaders swiftly issued a joint declaration in which they threatened to pursue regional autonomy for Fezzan. In October 2013, armed protesters began blockading the Sharara Field, north of Elephant Field, to demand the regularization of the citizenship status of Tuareg families. After two months, the government obtained a temporary suspension of the blockade with promises to look into the protesters’ demands. The impending elections to the constitutional committee add further urgency, as voters will need to produce their national ID number in order to register.

The transitional justice law, published in December 2013, could become an even more important source of tensions. Paragraph 29 of the law stipulates the revocation of Libyan citizenship for ‘anyone who was granted citizenship for military purposes or political reasons’ (GNC, 2013). The implementation of this law will pose a direct challenge to Tuareg soldiers in Ubari, as well as to Arab aïdoun in the army.

The citizenship issue also fuels tensions within communities, particularly among the Tuareg. With the collapse of the Qaddafi regime, Libyan Tuareg leaders lost their intermediary function between the central government and Tuareg of Sahelian origin. The tribal establishment of Libyan Tuareg communities is active in politics, such as in the General National Congress or the ‘High Council of Libyan Tuareg’. The military power, however, lies with groups of Sahelian origin. Formerly under regime control, they have become a force unto themselves, although lack of full citizenship rights prevents them from formally engaging in politics. The Libyan Tuareg elite is divided between those who champion citizenship for groups of Sahelian origin, and those who fear the loss of their political influence should these groups gain full rights. These divisions have contributed to the Tuareg High Council’s wavering over whether the Tuareg should participate in or boycott the elections to the constitutional committee.

Download full report from Small Arms Survey website:

Themes: Discrimination, Ethnic/Racial/Religious, Statelessness
Regions: Libya
Year: 2014