Libya marked on Sunday the 50th anniversary of the 1969 coup d’etat, known as the al-Fateh Revolution, as the country continues to be mired in chaos amid an ongoing civil war.
The day signifies King Idris’ (r. 1951 – 1969) removal from power by Muammar Qaddafi and the Free Patriotic Officers Movement, who went on to reign over Libya for 42 years.
King Idris took the throne as independent Libya’s first king in 1951, after the country gained its independence from former colonial power Italy following the Second World War. Discontent with his rule grew throughout the 1950s as the development of a booming oil industry led to increased corruption and closer ties with Western countries.
Anti-western sentiment and nationalism were rising simultaneously near the end of Idris’ reign. The unrest paved the way for newly-ranked military captain Qaddafi and a group of about 70 young officers to stage a coup.
On September 1, 1969, Idris left for Turkey to treat a medical issue. The Free Patriotic Movement, under Qaddafi’s leadership, overthrew his government in a bloodless coup and occupied government offices, airports, and police and radio stations.
The group quickly garnered public support, and had established military control throughout the country within days.
Following the coup, the royal family was held under house arrest and its members were stripped of their nationality and had their property and assets seized. They were later expelled from the country.
Idris sought refuge in Cairo, where he lived until his death in 1983 at the age of 94.
But just as Qaddafi’s entry to power came through a military coup, so did his downfall.
On October 20, 2011, Qaddafi was deposed. But unlike the overthrow the Libyan leader led four decades earlier, this coup came with blood.
Qaddafi began to lose control of the country in January 2011 when Arab Spring protests inspired Libyans to rise up against him. During his reign, Qaddafi emphasized socialist-style equality for his citizens. However, Libyans had no real political rights, and wealth was primarily funneled into the hands of Qaddafi supporters.
The arrest of a human rights lawyer, Fethi Tarbel, sparked the anger of protestors in Benghazi in February 2011, who called for Qaddafi to step down and for the release of political prisoners.
Qaddafi’s government responded with lethal force and, for months, government forces battled with rebels. In October, Qaddafi was captured and killed by rebels in his hometown of Sirte.
The ousting of Qaddafi was met with optimism both inside and outside Libya.
The New Libya
Elections were held successfully in 2012, but failed to transition the country to a stable democratic system. The country fell into civil war and instability, as regional powers including Egypt, Syria, and Turkey interfered.
Militias continue to fight for control of the oil-rich country. Instability still plagues Libya today with multiple armed groups and militias competing for power in the country. There are two parliaments, three governments, and even more local factions.
Khalifa Haftar, a retired general who had taken part in the revolt against Qaddafi, unleashed an offensive in May 2014. The Libyan National Army (LNA), headed by Haftar and based in eastern Libya, opposes the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), currently headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
The LNA launched an offensive in April to capture Tripoli, home to the GNA, which relies on the support of Turkish-trained militias who are suspected of facilitating the movement of foreign extremists from Syria and Iraq into Libya. The fighting has killed over 1,100 people, mostly combatants, and displaced more than 100,000 civilians.
ISIS also recently re-emerged in the country's south, vowing to carry out attacks against the LNA.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that continued fighting had led to the halt of the UN-led political process in Libya. He expressed concern that the conflict in Libya will escalate.
“Unless action is taken in the near term, it is highly likely that the current conflict will escalate into full civil war,” Guterres said.