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Libya's Legitimacy Crisis

The Danger of Picking Sides in the Post-Qaddafi Chaos

A fighter from Zintan brigade watches as smoke rises after rockets fired by one of Libya's militias struck and ignited a fuel tank in Tripoli Courtesy Reuters

While much of the world’s attention has been fixated on the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Libya has been tearing itself asunder. Its airports lie in smoking ruins, foreign diplomats have fled, and its once outspoken civil society has been cowed through a spate of assassinations.

Libya’s chaos has been variously portrayed as a contest between Islamists versus more secular factions; between younger “revolutionaries” versus older technocrats and military officers of Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime; or between two rival towns in the west, Misrata and Zintan. Libya’s conflict is all these things. At its core, however, the fighting is about two centers of power -- consisting of town-, tribe-, and militia-based networks -- vying for the mantle of legitimacy in a country devoid of any workable institutions. And therein lies the conundrum. Over the past six months, these multiple factions have coalesced into two rival

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