The World

What if You Threw a Coup and Nobody Came?

Libyan protesters demonstrate against the extended mandate of the General National Congress, the country’s highest political authority, in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, on February 14, 2014.

Photo by ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP/Getty Images

In 1997, the Turkish military carried out what has become known as the “postmodern coup,” forcing the government to resign without using troops or suspending the constitution. But as the Lebanese architect and political satirist Karl Sharro joked, “Libya introduces the simulacrum and wins the title.” Indeed, even Baudrillard would probably be scratching his head about what went down in Tripoli today.

It all started when Major General Khalifa Haftar, a central figure in the uprising against Muammar al-Qaddafi, gave a recorded statement to Reuters in which, wearing a military uniform, he declared that it was time for the military to “rescue” the country and that “The national command of the Libyan army is declaring a movement for the new road map.” This seemed like a deliberate echo of the “road map” declared by Egyptian military leader Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi last July.

After the statement, though, nothing much happened. No troops appeared to seize power, the government wasn’t suspended, the new road map was nowhere to be seen.

Ali Zeidan, the prime minister, quickly declared that “Libya is stable. The [General National Congress] GNC is doing its work and so is the government. The army is in its headquarters, and Khalifa Haftar has no authority,” Zeidan told Reuters. “No military units have moved to touch any institutions.”

Unlike in Egypt, there isn’t really much of a military to carry out a coup in Libya, even if Haftar – a former Qaddafi loyalist who had been living in exile in for two decades Northern Virginia before the 2011 uprising – were actually in a position to lead it. As the New York Times notes, “the Libyan military never had much cohesion even under Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and it had splintered apart long before his ouster.”

At a bare minimum, Haftar seems to have gotten himself some international press attention, rattled the already shaky government, and provoked several thousand people to protest in three Libyan cities without actually doing anything.