Libya in Free Fall

The dissolution of the country's elected parliament in Tobruk is the latest disaster to unfold in the once-hopeful country.

Libyan lawyers celebrate the invalidation of the country's parliament outside the Supreme Court in Tripoli, November 6, 2014. (Ismail Zitouny/Reuters)

This has not been a great year for Libya, and on Thursday, things got worse. Libya's Supreme Court announced the dissolution of the country's elected parliament in Tobruk, a city where the country's internationally recognized government has governed in exile since Islamist forces pushed them out of Tripoli. The parliament assumed office after a June 25 vote that brought Abdullah al-Thinni, a moderate, into power. The Supreme Court decision sparked both celebration and outcry.

"Lawmakers will not recognize a verdict decided under the gun," Tobruk-based parliamentarian Issam al-Jehani wrote on Facebook.

Libya has not had a central leadership since this summer, when the new parliament fled Tripoli shortly after being elected, while the old parliament refused to step down. Ever since, the country has had two different parliaments and two different prime ministers presiding over two different parts of the country.

Then there's Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and the birthplace of the anti-Qaddafi revolution in 2011. There, a former pro-Qaddafi general named Khalifa Haftar is battling for control of the city with groups of Islamist militias, with neither thus far claiming full control. One of those militias is Ansar al-Sharia, a group aligned with al-Qaeda that pulled off the raid on Benghazi's U.S. Embassy in September 2012 that led to the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Hundreds of miles to the south, fighters from the Tebu and Tuareg minorities have battled near the city of Owbari, located near Libya's Al-Shararah oil field. Oil production, a central source of revenue for the country, has fallen in recent months to around 800,000 barrels per day.

As Libya disintegrates from within, its neighbors in the Middle East have allied themselves with the country's competing factions. Qatar and Turkey have supported the unelected Islamist parliament in Tripoli, while the United Arab Emirates and Egpyt back the more secular regime in Tobruz. Last month, two Egyptian officials claimed that the country's warplanes, flown by Libyan pilots, had begun bombing Islamist positions in Benghazi, a claim denied by Egypt's foreign ministry.

Beyond the Middle East, interest in Libya's crisis has waned. Because of the violence and lack of central authority, few media outlets have full-time journalists stationed in the country, rendering it difficult to obtain accurate information. International policymakers and journalists have also been preoccupied with problems elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly with the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Libya's problems seem a world removed from the late summer of 2011, when the country's successful overthrow of Qaddafi inspired hope that its best days were ahead. Visiting Benghazi in September of that year, British Prime Minister David Cameron told Libyans that their "friends in Britain and France will stand with you as you build your democracy."

Three years later, Cameron hasn't been back. And in Washington, where the Obama administration launched airstrikes in order to defend Libyan people from Qaddafi's charging army, the desire to intervene in Libya has evaporated completely.

"Libya's problems can really only be solved by the Libyans themselves," John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, said in August.