The pro-democracy uprisings that swept across the Middle East in 2011 made clear the need to forge a new social contract between rulers and ruled.
In Libya, the struggle to root out the Islamic State goes beyond the battlefield to the broken state left behind by Muammar Qaddafi and the lack of international support following the 2011 uprising.
In Libya, the government and its network of loosely affiliated militias struggle to defeat the Islamic State while at the same time working to build a functioning Libyan state.
While Tunisia is often and rightly lauded for its progress, social inequality and regional asymmetries are undermining the country’s democratic transition.
While the Islamic State is losing ground across Libya, divisions among various Libyan factions make it difficult for the unity government to convert the group’s defeat into legitimacy.
Libyans want to move forward with their government, with their economy. The United States has to harness that momentum.
Libyans and their international partners can unite against the Islamic State, but external political and military engineering is undermining the prerequisite nation building.
Militias have figured out that signing up for the campaign against self-proclaimed Islamic State is the best way to get legitimacy and attention. Whether or not they intend to use outside support solely against the Islamic State is another story.
The upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa have only just begun, and the hopes of Arab regimes and Western policymakers to retreat to old habits of authoritarian stability are doomed to fail.
In the years since the 2011 protests, rebellions have led to renewed repression in some places and chaos in others, but it may be too soon to say that they have failed.
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