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Political Chaos Reigns 3 Years After Moammar Gadhafi's Ouster


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. We are reminded this morning of how difficult the transitions have been in the countries of the Arab Spring. Egypt has had a coup. Serious bloody civil war carries on. And in Libya, two men now claim to be the rightful prime minister. One is a businessman elected by parliament earlier this month with the backing of Islamists.

The other is his predecessor, the former defense minister who's refused to hand over power. And meanwhile, a renegade general has gathered armed supporters and is attacking the city of Benghazi. In short, it is political chaos, and there's a risk that this could turn into a civil war. NPR's Leila Fadel has been following the situation from Cairo, and we have her on the line. Leila, good morning.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So let's just step back. Now, we are three years since the uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Why is this political system so broken? Where are these divisions coming from?

FADEL: Well, this is a country that had basically zero state institutions when Gaddafi was ousted. What did exist were the revolutionaries, or the rebels that fought Gaddafi - a bunch of militias born out of this revolt - and those guys are still armed.

But these militias are divided by ideology, by tribe, by region. And there's been infighting ever since, with no one group having enough power to take control of Libya, and a weak central government that can't control these men at all and also needs them to protect the state.

GREENE: Well, earlier this week, things got so bad that the United States urged its citizens to leave the country. What exactly prompted that?

FADEL: Well, I think there's a fear of prolonged violence. On May 16, this rogue general, Khalifa Haftar, began a battle. He says it's against extremists, and it is against these really long time Islamist militias in the East that are established there. Some 70 people were killed.

There were aerial bombardments this week, and I think that sort of prompted the United States to pull their citizens out. Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador was killed in 2012 in Benghazi ,and I think they're worried about losing other people in Libya.

GREENE: I think about a renegade general, a military man trying to take control and be his own strongman. I mean, does he see himself as sort of a return to the style of Gaddafi in a way?

FADEL: You know, it's a possibility. He says he doesn't want power. He just wants to cleanse Libya. You know, this is a man that came back to Libya in 2011. He really wanted to be a part of the new state institution but was quickly marginalized. And now there is a sense of desperation among people in Libya looking for a man who they can rally behind, and maybe that is Haftar right now.

GREENE: You have done reporting a Libya earlier this year. I mean, what is life like for people these days?

FADEL: Basically, it isn't safe. There aren't police. There isn't an army that people can depend on. They have to depend on themselves, and everybody has guns. So there's fear of kidnapping, of armed robberies, of kidnapping for ransom. And so a lot of people who have the means want to get out until things settle down and until there is some type of security.

GREENE: Is there hope - I mean, a feeling that this will, you know, lead during a difficult transition to some sort of positive end - or are people feeling that this has just gone downhill since Gaddafi left?

FADEL: Well, there's definitely a security vacuum and people don't feel safe. But unlike Egypt, where revolutionaries say they have been fighting a deep state, the institutions that they couldn't dismantle, in Libya, people are starting from scratch. They have an opportunity to build something completely new. The fear is that maybe they won't get the chance because of the security problems.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Leila Fadel joining us from Cairo. Leila, thanks as always.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.