Confused about what’s happening in Libya? Read our explainer

Published October 13th, 2015 - 06:19 GMT

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On Monday, politicians from both of Libya's rival governments appeared to reject a UN-brokered power-sharing arrangement that had been announced only days earlier. The breakdown of the proposed unity government is only the latest disaster for Libya, which has been racked by four years of war between a dizzying array of political factions, Islamist militias, Salafi fanatics, secular nationalists and tribal groups. If you can't keep track of it all, don't worry: Here’s a simple explainer of what’s happened in the country since Gaddafi was ousted in 2011.

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In 2011, during the Arab Spring, popular protests erupted in Libya against the strong-handed rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who had been in power for 42 years. In October of that year, French fighter jets from a NATO coalition fire on Gaddafi’s convoy, sending the once-revolutionary leader scrambling for cover.
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Image 1 of 17:  1 / 17In 2011, during the Arab Spring, popular protests erupted in Libya against the strong-handed rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who had been in power for 42 years. In October of that year, French fighter jets from a NATO coalition fire on Gaddafi’s convoy, sending the once-revolutionary leader scrambling for cover.

Enlarge
Gaddafi takes shelter in a drainpipe, but rebel fighters soon catch up with him and drag him to the street. Amateur video shows rebels sodomizing him with a pole or a knife. Gaddafi dies of bullet wounds soon thereafter, but it’s unclear who killed him.
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Image 2 of 17:  2 / 17Gaddafi takes shelter in a drainpipe, but rebel fighters soon catch up with him and drag him to the street. Amateur video shows rebels sodomizing him with a pole or a knife. Gaddafi dies of bullet wounds soon thereafter, but it’s unclear who killed him.

Enlarge
After Gaddafi’s death, Libya is ruled by a National Transitional Council, a political body made up of representatives from various tribes and rebel groups. Fighting between local militias continues throughout the country as warlords vie for power in the vacuum created by Gaddafi’s absence.
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Image 3 of 17:  3 / 17After Gaddafi’s death, Libya is ruled by a National Transitional Council, a political body made up of representatives from various tribes and rebel groups. Fighting between local militias continues throughout the country as warlords vie for power in the vacuum created by Gaddafi’s absence.

Enlarge
In July 2012, nine months after Gaddafi’s death, the first free elections in over four decades are held in Libya. A newly-appointed 200-seat General National Congress replaces the transitional government.
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Image 4 of 17:  4 / 17In July 2012, nine months after Gaddafi’s death, the first free elections in over four decades are held in Libya. A newly-appointed 200-seat General National Congress replaces the transitional government.

Enlarge
Two months later, in Sept. 2012, a large group of Islamic militants (many from the Salafist group Ansar al-Sharia) attack the US Special Mission in the city of Benghazi, as well as a CIA annex nearby. A US ambassador and three other Americans are killed.
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Image 5 of 17:  5 / 17Two months later, in Sept. 2012, a large group of Islamic militants (many from the Salafist group Ansar al-Sharia) attack the US Special Mission in the city of Benghazi, as well as a CIA annex nearby. A US ambassador and three other Americans are killed.

Enlarge
The next month, Libya’s General National Congress installs human-rights lawyer and liberal politician Ali Zeidan as prime minister. Zeidan is tasked with naming a new government that the congress can approve, and with restoring security to Libya.
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Image 6 of 17:  6 / 17The next month, Libya’s General National Congress installs human-rights lawyer and liberal politician Ali Zeidan as prime minister. Zeidan is tasked with naming a new government that the congress can approve, and with restoring security to Libya.

Enlarge
A year later, Zeidan is kidnapped from a Tripoli hotel by a former rebel group, apparently as revenge for the Libyan government allowing the US to capture a top Al Qaeda official. Zeidan is released hours later, but for many his abduction symbolizes Libya’s rapid descent into chaos.
Reduce

Image 7 of 17:  7 / 17A year later, Zeidan is kidnapped from a Tripoli hotel by a former rebel group, apparently as revenge for the Libyan government allowing the US to capture a top Al Qaeda official. Zeidan is released hours later, but for many his abduction symbolizes Libya’s rapid descent into chaos.

Enlarge
The fall of 2013 in Libya sees sporadic battles between Gaddafi loyalists, rebel groups who fought to overthrow him, tribal factions, and the country’s national army. Politicians are assassinated, suicide bombs are detonated, and states of emergency are declared in major cities.
Reduce

Image 8 of 17:  8 / 17The fall of 2013 in Libya sees sporadic battles between Gaddafi loyalists, rebel groups who fought to overthrow him, tribal factions, and the country’s national army. Politicians are assassinated, suicide bombs are detonated, and states of emergency are declared in major cities.

Enlarge
In Feb. 2014, three years after the overthrow of Gaddafi, the General National Council’s mandate expires. The GNC has accomplished little, due to gridlock between Islamists and nationalists. Ordinary Libyans are angry at how little progress it has made. An election is held to draft a constitution, but voter turnout is paltry.
Reduce

Image 9 of 17:  9 / 17In Feb. 2014, three years after the overthrow of Gaddafi, the General National Council’s mandate expires. The GNC has accomplished little, due to gridlock between Islamists and nationalists. Ordinary Libyans are angry at how little progress it has made. An election is held to draft a constitution, but voter turnout is paltry.

Enlarge
Spring 2014: Prime minister Ali Zeidan (the liberal human rights lawyer) is ousted for failing to bring stability to Libya; Zeidan flees to Europe. Turmoil prevails in the country as rebels seize oilfields and ports, and the underprivileged eastern part of Libya demands a greater share of resources.
Reduce

Image 10 of 17:  10 / 17Spring 2014: Prime minister Ali Zeidan (the liberal human rights lawyer) is ousted for failing to bring stability to Libya; Zeidan flees to Europe. Turmoil prevails in the country as rebels seize oilfields and ports, and the underprivileged eastern part of Libya demands a greater share of resources.

Enlarge
May 2014: Renegade ex-general and political opportunist Khalifa Haftar capitalizes on populist anger with extremists and Islamists in Libya, announcing a military campaign to expel them from the country. With support from the army, Haftar begins air-strikes against militias in Libya’s impoverished east.
Reduce

Image 11 of 17:  11 / 17May 2014: Renegade ex-general and political opportunist Khalifa Haftar capitalizes on populist anger with extremists and Islamists in Libya, announcing a military campaign to expel them from the country. With support from the army, Haftar begins air-strikes against militias in Libya’s impoverished east.

Enlarge
In June 2014, elections are held in Libya, but violence prevents many from casting votes. Nevertheless, a new parliament is sworn into office, lending its support to Haftar, the rogue general. The election sees Islamist groups lose out big time.
Reduce

Image 12 of 17:  12 / 17In June 2014, elections are held in Libya, but violence prevents many from casting votes. Nevertheless, a new parliament is sworn into office, lending its support to Haftar, the rogue general. The election sees Islamist groups lose out big time.

Enlarge
Only two months after being elected, the new parliament is forced out of its home in Tripoli by Libya Dawn, a loose coalition of rebel factions and tribal fighters. Libya Dawn reinstalls the General National Congress that was elected in 2012. Meanwhile, parliament sets up shop in eastern city Tobruk, where Haftar and his soldiers are based.
Reduce

Image 13 of 17:  13 / 17Only two months after being elected, the new parliament is forced out of its home in Tripoli by Libya Dawn, a loose coalition of rebel factions and tribal fighters. Libya Dawn reinstalls the General National Congress that was elected in 2012. Meanwhile, parliament sets up shop in eastern city Tobruk, where Haftar and his soldiers are based.

Enlarge
With the country split between two rival governments, Salafi groups, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated militias and others battle with Haftar’s “Operation Dignity,” which indiscriminately attacks Islamist fighters of all stripes. Among those fighting Haftar are Turkish and Qatari nationals.
Reduce

Image 14 of 17:  14 / 17With the country split between two rival governments, Salafi groups, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated militias and others battle with Haftar’s “Operation Dignity,” which indiscriminately attacks Islamist fighters of all stripes. Among those fighting Haftar are Turkish and Qatari nationals.

Enlarge
Fall 2014: The internationally-backed government in eastern Libya, which is controlled by Haftar, begins negotiations with the Islamist government of Libya Dawn, which controls western Libya. The talks, which are brokered by the UN, aim to create a unified government in order to stabilize the country.
Reduce

Image 15 of 17:  15 / 17Fall 2014: The internationally-backed government in eastern Libya, which is controlled by Haftar, begins negotiations with the Islamist government of Libya Dawn, which controls western Libya. The talks, which are brokered by the UN, aim to create a unified government in order to stabilize the country.

Enlarge
In early 2015, with the talks underway, ISIS exploits the political confusion in Libya, carrying out attacks and taking control of various cities. Human smugglers also take advantage of Libya’s lawlessness, establishing illegal cartels to smuggle migrants to Europe from Libya’s Mediterranean ports.
Reduce

Image 16 of 17:  16 / 17In early 2015, with the talks underway, ISIS exploits the political confusion in Libya, carrying out attacks and taking control of various cities. Human smugglers also take advantage of Libya’s lawlessness, establishing illegal cartels to smuggle migrants to Europe from Libya’s Mediterranean ports.

Enlarge
October 2015: UN envoy Bernardino Leon announces the formation of a national unity government, to be led by a prime minister from the Libya Dawn parliament in Tripoli. MP’s from both governments blast the announcement, declaring that it will be a failure.
Reduce

Image 17 of 17:  17 / 17October 2015: UN envoy Bernardino Leon announces the formation of a national unity government, to be led by a prime minister from the Libya Dawn parliament in Tripoli. MP’s from both governments blast the announcement, declaring that it will be a failure.

Enlarge

1

In 2011, during the Arab Spring, popular protests erupted in Libya against the strong-handed rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who had been in power for 42 years. In October of that year, French fighter jets from a NATO coalition fire on Gaddafi’s convoy, sending the once-revolutionary leader scrambling for cover.

Image 1 of 17In 2011, during the Arab Spring, popular protests erupted in Libya against the strong-handed rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who had been in power for 42 years. In October of that year, French fighter jets from a NATO coalition fire on Gaddafi’s convoy, sending the once-revolutionary leader scrambling for cover.

2

Gaddafi takes shelter in a drainpipe, but rebel fighters soon catch up with him and drag him to the street. Amateur video shows rebels sodomizing him with a pole or a knife. Gaddafi dies of bullet wounds soon thereafter, but it’s unclear who killed him.

Image 2 of 17Gaddafi takes shelter in a drainpipe, but rebel fighters soon catch up with him and drag him to the street. Amateur video shows rebels sodomizing him with a pole or a knife. Gaddafi dies of bullet wounds soon thereafter, but it’s unclear who killed him.

3

After Gaddafi’s death, Libya is ruled by a National Transitional Council, a political body made up of representatives from various tribes and rebel groups. Fighting between local militias continues throughout the country as warlords vie for power in the vacuum created by Gaddafi’s absence.

Image 3 of 17After Gaddafi’s death, Libya is ruled by a National Transitional Council, a political body made up of representatives from various tribes and rebel groups. Fighting between local militias continues throughout the country as warlords vie for power in the vacuum created by Gaddafi’s absence.

4

In July 2012, nine months after Gaddafi’s death, the first free elections in over four decades are held in Libya. A newly-appointed 200-seat General National Congress replaces the transitional government.

Image 4 of 17In July 2012, nine months after Gaddafi’s death, the first free elections in over four decades are held in Libya. A newly-appointed 200-seat General National Congress replaces the transitional government.

5

Two months later, in Sept. 2012, a large group of Islamic militants (many from the Salafist group Ansar al-Sharia) attack the US Special Mission in the city of Benghazi, as well as a CIA annex nearby. A US ambassador and three other Americans are killed.

Image 5 of 17Two months later, in Sept. 2012, a large group of Islamic militants (many from the Salafist group Ansar al-Sharia) attack the US Special Mission in the city of Benghazi, as well as a CIA annex nearby. A US ambassador and three other Americans are killed.

6

The next month, Libya’s General National Congress installs human-rights lawyer and liberal politician Ali Zeidan as prime minister. Zeidan is tasked with naming a new government that the congress can approve, and with restoring security to Libya.

Image 6 of 17The next month, Libya’s General National Congress installs human-rights lawyer and liberal politician Ali Zeidan as prime minister. Zeidan is tasked with naming a new government that the congress can approve, and with restoring security to Libya.

7

A year later, Zeidan is kidnapped from a Tripoli hotel by a former rebel group, apparently as revenge for the Libyan government allowing the US to capture a top Al Qaeda official. Zeidan is released hours later, but for many his abduction symbolizes Libya’s rapid descent into chaos.

Image 7 of 17A year later, Zeidan is kidnapped from a Tripoli hotel by a former rebel group, apparently as revenge for the Libyan government allowing the US to capture a top Al Qaeda official. Zeidan is released hours later, but for many his abduction symbolizes Libya’s rapid descent into chaos.

8

The fall of 2013 in Libya sees sporadic battles between Gaddafi loyalists, rebel groups who fought to overthrow him, tribal factions, and the country’s national army. Politicians are assassinated, suicide bombs are detonated, and states of emergency are declared in major cities.

Image 8 of 17The fall of 2013 in Libya sees sporadic battles between Gaddafi loyalists, rebel groups who fought to overthrow him, tribal factions, and the country’s national army. Politicians are assassinated, suicide bombs are detonated, and states of emergency are declared in major cities.

9

In Feb. 2014, three years after the overthrow of Gaddafi, the General National Council’s mandate expires. The GNC has accomplished little, due to gridlock between Islamists and nationalists. Ordinary Libyans are angry at how little progress it has made. An election is held to draft a constitution, but voter turnout is paltry.

Image 9 of 17In Feb. 2014, three years after the overthrow of Gaddafi, the General National Council’s mandate expires. The GNC has accomplished little, due to gridlock between Islamists and nationalists. Ordinary Libyans are angry at how little progress it has made. An election is held to draft a constitution, but voter turnout is paltry.

10

Spring 2014: Prime minister Ali Zeidan (the liberal human rights lawyer) is ousted for failing to bring stability to Libya; Zeidan flees to Europe. Turmoil prevails in the country as rebels seize oilfields and ports, and the underprivileged eastern part of Libya demands a greater share of resources.

Image 10 of 17Spring 2014: Prime minister Ali Zeidan (the liberal human rights lawyer) is ousted for failing to bring stability to Libya; Zeidan flees to Europe. Turmoil prevails in the country as rebels seize oilfields and ports, and the underprivileged eastern part of Libya demands a greater share of resources.

11

May 2014: Renegade ex-general and political opportunist Khalifa Haftar capitalizes on populist anger with extremists and Islamists in Libya, announcing a military campaign to expel them from the country. With support from the army, Haftar begins air-strikes against militias in Libya’s impoverished east.

Image 11 of 17May 2014: Renegade ex-general and political opportunist Khalifa Haftar capitalizes on populist anger with extremists and Islamists in Libya, announcing a military campaign to expel them from the country. With support from the army, Haftar begins air-strikes against militias in Libya’s impoverished east.

12

In June 2014, elections are held in Libya, but violence prevents many from casting votes. Nevertheless, a new parliament is sworn into office, lending its support to Haftar, the rogue general. The election sees Islamist groups lose out big time.

Image 12 of 17In June 2014, elections are held in Libya, but violence prevents many from casting votes. Nevertheless, a new parliament is sworn into office, lending its support to Haftar, the rogue general. The election sees Islamist groups lose out big time.

13

Only two months after being elected, the new parliament is forced out of its home in Tripoli by Libya Dawn, a loose coalition of rebel factions and tribal fighters. Libya Dawn reinstalls the General National Congress that was elected in 2012. Meanwhile, parliament sets up shop in eastern city Tobruk, where Haftar and his soldiers are based.

Image 13 of 17Only two months after being elected, the new parliament is forced out of its home in Tripoli by Libya Dawn, a loose coalition of rebel factions and tribal fighters. Libya Dawn reinstalls the General National Congress that was elected in 2012. Meanwhile, parliament sets up shop in eastern city Tobruk, where Haftar and his soldiers are based.

14

With the country split between two rival governments, Salafi groups, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated militias and others battle with Haftar’s “Operation Dignity,” which indiscriminately attacks Islamist fighters of all stripes. Among those fighting Haftar are Turkish and Qatari nationals.

Image 14 of 17With the country split between two rival governments, Salafi groups, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated militias and others battle with Haftar’s “Operation Dignity,” which indiscriminately attacks Islamist fighters of all stripes. Among those fighting Haftar are Turkish and Qatari nationals.

15

Fall 2014: The internationally-backed government in eastern Libya, which is controlled by Haftar, begins negotiations with the Islamist government of Libya Dawn, which controls western Libya. The talks, which are brokered by the UN, aim to create a unified government in order to stabilize the country.

Image 15 of 17Fall 2014: The internationally-backed government in eastern Libya, which is controlled by Haftar, begins negotiations with the Islamist government of Libya Dawn, which controls western Libya. The talks, which are brokered by the UN, aim to create a unified government in order to stabilize the country.

16

In early 2015, with the talks underway, ISIS exploits the political confusion in Libya, carrying out attacks and taking control of various cities. Human smugglers also take advantage of Libya’s lawlessness, establishing illegal cartels to smuggle migrants to Europe from Libya’s Mediterranean ports.

Image 16 of 17In early 2015, with the talks underway, ISIS exploits the political confusion in Libya, carrying out attacks and taking control of various cities. Human smugglers also take advantage of Libya’s lawlessness, establishing illegal cartels to smuggle migrants to Europe from Libya’s Mediterranean ports.

17

October 2015: UN envoy Bernardino Leon announces the formation of a national unity government, to be led by a prime minister from the Libya Dawn parliament in Tripoli. MP’s from both governments blast the announcement, declaring that it will be a failure.

Image 17 of 17October 2015: UN envoy Bernardino Leon announces the formation of a national unity government, to be led by a prime minister from the Libya Dawn parliament in Tripoli. MP’s from both governments blast the announcement, declaring that it will be a failure.

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