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Since the overthrow of Colonel Gadaffi in 2011, Libya has joined a long list of “failed” or “fragile” states around the world, that is, states riven by internal dissent and without effective national government. In the case of Libya there have been rival governments based in Tripoli and Tobruk for several years, while a large part of the country is controlled by neither.

One of the effects of state failure is that neither Libyan authorities nor international agencies are able to offer effective protection and support for approximately half a million displaced Libyans who are either displaced internally or have returned from abroad. Similarly there are around two-thirds of a million non-Libyan migrants in the country who originate from elsewhere in Africa (mostly) and aspire to reach Europe. There are many reports of migrants and refugees alike being systematically mistreated and exploited.

Another effect of absent or weak government is that Libya has become a base for extremist Islamic groups, including elements of ISIS displaced from Iraq and Syria.

The United Nations, with diplomatic support from the EU, African Union and League of Arab States, is trying to broker a political dialogue that would result in new elections before the end of 2018 and the formation of a single unity government. To date there has been only limited progress.

To pave the way for successful elections and the rebuilding of a single set of national institutions it seems necessary not only to bring together the main tribal groups that still carry sway in Libyan politics, but also to align the foreign countries that have interests in Libya and support rival claimants for power.

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