Who Controls Libya?

Ben Johnson
Dec. 5, 2023


October 20 th 2023 marked the 12 th anniversary of the death of Libya’s dictator Muammar Ghaddafi. Since 2011, Libya has been through a seemingly endless civil conflict which has left the country split between two different governments.

In the west there is the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity which is backed by the UN, NATO and the EU. In the East there is the Tobruk-based Eastern Libyan Forces controlled by Khalifa Haftar and backed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Russia.

The Tripoli-based government is headed by Abdel Hammid Dbeibeh who is not properly recognised by the East and vice versa for Khalifa Haftar.


Who is Khalifa Haftar?

Haftar is considered quite a controversial figure who had been exiled under the old Ghaddafi regime. He returned back in 2011 at the start of the civil conflict and led a force aided in the overthrow of Ghaddafi. Later on he was instrumental in leading Libyan forces against Islamic extremists and the Tripoli-based government.

He is said to have fought alongside and against nearly all of Libya’s different groups and is considered Libya’s most potent warlord. He has also been accused of war crimes and human rights abuses by the USA in 2021.

He was set to run for President in 2021 until the elections were postponed. He is in frequent talks with many world leaders and many Libyans view him a strongman successor who could rule Libya with an iron fist, much like that of Ghaddafi.


What impact is it having?

One of the biggest impacts of the fractured nature of Libya’s politics is that it makes it very difficult to repair and maintain the country as it is. Reforms are almost impossible to implement and bureaucracy is immense.

This bureaucracy is even said to be the blame for the flood disaster in Derna, where a dam that was in need of repairs burst, leading to the deaths of almost 20,000 people. In addition to this terrible incident, there are still conflicts between groups that are on the same side as there are many confusing factors that play into local politics.

In August of 2023, two militia groups broke out in a skirmish in Tripoli, leading to the deaths of twelve people. These two groups were both supporting the same NATO-backed Tripoli government. Militia attacks are however rare in Libya and this was one of the worst incidents since fighting stopped in 2020.

This crisis has made it very difficult for Libya to control its borders, which many have said has resulted in an increase in Islamic extremism near the land border areas in the south and the recent surge of migrants (mostly not people from Libya, but using Libya as a launching pad between Africa and Europe) illegally leaving Libya to cross the Mediterranean. While both sides have successfully gotten rid of most extremist elements since 2016, the lack of cooperation makes access to more resources more difficult which ultimately stifles any kind of progress.

Anyone trying to organise a tour to Libya or a Libyan tourist visa will have experienced a taste of the disjointed nature of Libya right now.


What is the future looking like?

With latest news showing elections to be stalled further, the likelihood of both sides agreeing is seemingly becoming less and less. One thing to look at though is how the nations backing both sides are working with each other. Cooperation increasing between NATO member Turkey and its neighbours in the Middle East could be beneficial for Libya’s unity. But again, like with many things in Libya, no one knows.


Is it possible to visit Libya and is it safe?

Despite all that is going on in Libya, it is safe to travel to Tripoli and the surrounding areas, however you will have to be on a tour and you will have to jump through some hoops. We also thinks it’s important to note that while we say travel to Libya is safe, Libya is also unstable and situations can arise very quickly just as they did with the militia groups fighting in August.

We would recommend that you make sure you can enter Tunisia with your passport in case a situation arises where you may need to cross the land border instead of flying out.


If you are interested in traveling to Libya then contact us and we can sort you out!



Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson

Originally from Perth, Australia, Ben has had the travel bug from a young age starting from a school trip to Beijing and Tokyo. He is known as a language nerd, having studied Mandarin, Japanese, French, Russian and now Arabic. In his downtime he loves to spend hours cooking and eating foods he’s discovered across the globe.

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