The Libyan Trilemma: Islam, democracy and the rentier state

Besides the jihadist threat, besides the typical difficulties encountered by a nation that after 40 years of a dictatorial regime and a ruinous civil war – namely rebuilding the state - another set of challenges seems to be paralyzing the new Libya. The purpose of implementing a democratic order in a rentier country, where Islam is the dominant religion and, at the same time, the main source of popular identity, risks remaining unfulfilled for a long time. In this paper, the author theorizes that Libya faces a real ‘trilemma’ concerning the impossible coexistence of democracy, Islam and oil-based national revenues. However, the purpose of this essay is not to show the theoretical incompatibility of these three elements at this particular moment of Libyan history; instead, it will try to highlight what kind of connection can be established between them in the new Libya. It will also point out the difficulty of reconciling these factors, as demonstrated by the fact that nowhere in the world, today or in the past, has any country managed to balance these three factors.

Authors: Arturo Varvelli