Ruling in the Name of the Revolution: The Local Grounding of Non-State Armed Groups in Western Libya


Since the fall of the Qadhafi regime, Libyan armed groups have emerged as the de facto power holders in many parts of the country. Much of the existing research on Libyan non-state armed groups has looked at the relation between the armed groups and the central authorities, or between the armed groups and other powerful actors. This article is based on fieldwork in four cities in Western Libya and shows that the armed groups should be understood as locally grounded actors. Several armed groups from local communities are seen as legitimate powerholders, because of their role during and after the revolution. Many of the armed groups also originate from the same ethnic and social group as the people they set out to rule, which creates a tacit social contract between the militias and the local population. I argue that the main factor which determines how the rule of armed groups in Libya plays out is the legacy of the Qhadafi regime and the revolution. This may have implications for the future organization of the Libyan state.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i20398573v5n1p89


Arjona, A 2016, Rebelocracy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Arjona, A, Nelson, K & Zachariah, M 2015, Rebel Governance in Civil War, Cam-bridge University Press, Cambridge.

Baldinetti, A 2018, ‘Languages in Libya: Building Blocks of National Identity and Soft Power Tools’, The Journal of North African Studies, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 418–439.

Bøås, M & Kevin, CD 2007, African Guerrillas: Raging against the Machine, Lynne Rienner, Boulder CO.

Börzel, T & Thomas, R 2010, ‘Governance without a State: Can It Work?’, Regula-tion & Governance, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 113–34.

Chiodelli, F, Tim, H & Ray, H 2017, The Illicit and Illegal in Regional and Urban Gov-ernance and Development, Routledge, Abingdon.

Clunan, A & Trinkunas, AH 2010, Ungoverned Spaces: Alternatives to State Authority in an Era of Softened Sovereignty, Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Cole, P & McQuinn, B 2015, The Libyan Revolution and Its Aftermath, Oxford Uni-versity Press, Oxford.

Eaton, T 2018, Libya’s War Economy: Predation, Profiteering and State Weakness, Re-search paper, Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, 12 April, viewed 16 June 2019, .

Idler, A & Forst, J 2015, ‘Behavioral Patterns among (Violent) Non-State Actors: A Study of Complementary Governance’, Stability: International Journal of Se-curity and Development, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 1–19.

Lacher, W 2011, ‘Families, Tribes and Cities in the Libyan Revolution’, Middle East Policy vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 140–54.

Lacher, W & al-Idrissi, A 2018, Capital of Militias, SANA Briefing Paper, Small Arms Survey, viewed 16 June 2019, .

Lane, E 2011, ‘After Gaddafi, Libya’s Amazigh Demand Recognition’, BBC, 23 December, viewed 16 June 2019, .

Menkhaus, K 2007, ‘Governance without Government in Somalia: Spoilers, State Building, and the Politics of Coping’, International Security, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 74–106.

Menkhaus, K 2010, ‘Chapter Nine: State Failure and Ungoverned Space’, Adelphi Series, vol. 50, no. 412/413, pp. 171–88.

McQuinn, B 2012, After the Fall: Libya’s Evolving Armed Groups, Working Paper 12, Small Arms Survey, October 2012, viewed 16 June 2019, .

Meddeb, H 2016, ‘Smugglers, Tribes and Militias. The Rise of Local Forces in the Tunisian-Libyan Border Region’, in L Narbone, A Favier & V Collombier (eds), Inside Wars: Local Dynamics of Conflicts in Syria and Libya, EUI RSCAS, pp. 38–43.

Micallef, M & Reitano, T 2017, The Anti-Human Smuggling Business and Libya’s Politi-cal End Game, North Africa Report 2, Institute for security studies, Decem-ber 2017, viewed 16 June 2019, .

Mundy, J 2018, Libya, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Murray, R 2012, ‘Tackling Conflict on Libya’s Margins’, Al Jazeera, 10 August, viewed 16 June 2019, .

Pack, J & Barfi, B 2012, In War’s Wake: The Struggle for Post-Qadhafi Libya, Policy Focus 118, February 2012, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, .

Porsia, N 2014, ‘Libya’s Most Successful People Smuggler: ‘I Provide a Service’’, The Guardian, 1 August, viewed 16 June 2019, .

Quesnay, A 2013, ‘L’insurrection libyenne : un mouvement révolutionnaire décen-tralisé’, in A Allal & T Pierret (eds), Au coeur des révoltes arabes: Devenir révolu-tionnaires, Armand Colin, pp. 113–135.

Reno, W 2002, ‘The Politics of Insurgency in Collapsing States’, Development and Change, vol. 33, no. 5, pp. 837–58.

Shaw, M & Mangan, F 2014, Illicit Trafficking and Libya’s Transition: Profits and Loss-es, Peaceworks no. 96, United States Institute of Peace, viewed 16 June 2019, .

Toaldo, M 2015, Migrations through and from Libya: A Mediterranean Challenge, Work-ing Paper, Instituto Affari Internazionali Rome, viewed 16 June 2019, .

Wehrey, F 2012, ‘Libya’s Militia Menace’, Foreign Affairs, 12 July, viewed 16 June 2019, .

Wehrey, F 2017, Insecurity and Governance Challenges in Southern Libya, Carnegie en-dowment for international peace, 30 March, viewed 16 June 2019, .

Wittenberg, J 2013, What is a Historical Legacy?, APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, viewed 16 June 2019, .

Full Text: pdf


  • There are currently no refbacks.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia License.