With the country in turmoil and potentially on the brink of civil war, Libyans head to the polls today. We may only hear about Libya these days from the nine million Google results relating to the infamous B-word, but the pre-election picture of the country is something pretty dire.
Let this one curtain raiser from Reuters help set the context:
Heavily armed militias outgun its fledgling army. A renegade former general has launched a purge of radical Islamists. Weapons looted from arsenals of ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi help fuel the bloody conflict in Syria. And an estimated $30 billion in oil revenue has been lost in the past 11 months.
Even by the (flawed) metrics of the Good Country Index — in other words, how much a country contributes to the global community — Libya came in dead last.
This dysfunction notwithstanding, the elections today are being viewed as a test of the popularity of the Islamists, which have provided some security in the absence of a strong central government, police force, army, et cetera. Turnout has been low compared to the 2011 post-Gaddafi elections, which were widely celebrated and marked by broad participation.
The white knight (bearing many shades of gray) leading the charge against the Islamists is General Khalifa Haftar, a beguiling character (to say the least) who survived a recent assassination attempt while leading a military offensive against Islamist militias. He's not on the ballot, but he is seen by some as a potential leader. Or a new dictator.