TRIPOLI — This month, Libya marks the second anniversary of the liberation of Tripoli and the fall of the regime of Muammar Qaddafi with the country mired in chaos: Militia violence stalks the land, strikes threaten to cripple the oil industry, jihadist violence is on the rise in the east and economic stagnation is everywhere. The promised constitution, the cornerstone of the reform process, has failed to materialize, with politicians deadlocked both over the role of Sharia law and bitter regional rivalries. It is a picture that few in this oil-rich nation would have predicted in the heady days of revolutionary euphoria.
In August 2011, Libya's newly liberated capital was awash with tricolor flags, emblems of the uprising. The tricolor was the original Libyan flag, adopted on independence in 1951, and replaced by Qaddafi with a plain green flag, detested by most Libyans. Qaddafi was still alive at the time, to be captured and killed two months later in Sirte, but the revolution already seemed won. In that heady atmosphere, the rebels' interim government, the National Transitional Council, sounded a surprising note of caution. The war had been long and damaging, the wounds deep, so the council members issued a constitutional declaration, otherwise known as the Road Map, which envisaged a lengthy, 18-month transition to full democracy. Stage One was the election of a transitional parliament; Stage Two, parliament's supervision of a new constitution. Once that was adopted, by referendum, Libya would be ready to take its place among the world's democracies.
In the post-war euphoria, Libya seemed to have everything going for it. The country boasts the largest oil reserves in Africa, plus huge deposits of natural gas and $168 billion in foreign assets -- all for a population of a mere 6 million. Surely, now that the dictator was gone, Libyans could finally enjoy their birthright. The future looked rosy.
The Road Map made a bright start when Libya held its first free elections for more than half a century, more or less on schedule, in July 2012. Turnout was high and violence low; election observers lined-up to pronounce it free and fair. The voting took place amid scenes of euphoria. Those tricolor flags once again filled the streets.
The elections also brought a surprise defeat for the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been victorious in Libya's neighbors and fellow Arab Spring participants, Egypt and Tunisia. The Brotherhood's Justice and Construction Party polled only ten percent of the votes, beaten into second place by the National Forces Alliance (NFA), an unlikely coupling of former rebels and former Qaddafi supporters, united in their determination to keep the Brotherhood out. The Brotherhood suffered from the lack of a tribal base, and because in this conservative Islamic country, there is suspicion towards any party claiming a monopoly on interpreting the faith.
On election night, NFA leader Mahmoud Jibril offered himself as a man to heal the wounds of war. As former rebel prime minister, he would guarantee that the promise of revolution would be fulfilled, and as a former economic advisor to Qaddafi, he would ensure that representatives of the old order would be protected against possible witch hunts (which, so far at least, have not materialized).
But by the time the GNC met in September to elect a prime minister, Jibril's alliance had fractured, with liberals and civil rights groups accusing him of siding with the apparatus of the former regime. On September 12, with the country distracted by the killing of the U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi the day before, he narrowly lost the contest for prime minister to Mustafa Abushagur, a U.S.-educated former dissident more popular with the former rebels.