By Cyana Chilton

            Libya’s uprising began on Feb. 15-16, 2011 after a small civil protest to demand freedom for human rights lawyer Fethi Tarbel in eastern Benghazi. Tarbel represented relatives of more than 1,000 killed during a 1996 prison massacre. The protest—in a city long a political rival of Tripoli—led to clashes with security forces. It soon grew into a larger movement targeting the regime of Colonel Moammar Qaddafi, who had been in power since a 1969 military coup.

           Despite a sweeping security force crackdown, protests spread to several Libyan cities. The decentralized movement gained momentum on February 27 when prominent opposition members—including former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil and former Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes—formed the National Libyan Council. The council tried to direct the newly armed resistance, but fighters were inexperienced and disorganized. Qaddafi’s forces were soon able to push them back almost to Benghazi.

           With Qaddafi’s forces on Benghazi’s doorstep, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on March 17 authorizing “all necessary measures short of an occupation force,” language that allowed creation of a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace. NATO air strikes were launched two days later, opening the way for rebels mobilized in disparate militias to gain territory in key cities.

           On June 27, the rebels opened a second front against Qaddafi from the western Nafusa Mountains. The twin assaults forced the government to split its forces. Rebels accelerated the campaign’s pace and squeeze on Tripoli, finally seizing control of the capital on Aug. 22. The renamed National Transitional Council (NTC) slowly began taking control in the capital.

           The war was not over, however. Over the next two months, anti-Qaddafi forces fought to take Qaddafi strongholds. Qaddafi was captured and killed on Oct. 20.

           After the eight-month uprising, the interim government struggled to regain control and unify the country for the next year. Battles erupted frequently among rival militias and tribes that refused to surrender weapons acquired during the uprising. Benghazi, the capital of Cyrenaica province, declared semi-autonomy from Tripoli in March 2012. The most hopeful development over the next year was a democratic election for a new national assembly on June 7. The interim government formally ceded control to the assembly on Aug. 8, 2012.

           In September 2012, Salafis destroyed several Sufi shrines and took over mosques in several cities. On September 11, Islamic militants attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens, three members of his staff and 10 Libyan security guards. Additional demonstrators converged on the compound to protest an anti-Islam film produced in the United States. But Libyan officials quickly condemned the attack and citizens staged demonstrations in solidarity with the United States. The Libyan army began to assume control of militias the following week.

Chronology 2011

Feb. 15– 16: In Benghazi, a small rally demands the release of a human-rights lawyer and condemns a prison massacre. The civil protest grows into a large anti-Qaddafi demonstration, which police and government forcibly try to quash.

Feb. 17 – 25: Hundreds are killed in protests in several cities.

Feb. 20: Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil and Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes defect to join the protesters.

Feb. 21: Most of the diplomats in Libya’s mission to the United Nations resign, call for Qaddafi’s resignation, and ask the U.N. to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

Feb. 19 – 22: Rebels battle with Qaddafi’s forces at al Baida airport, eventually taking it over.

Feb. 22: The Arab League suspends Libya’s membership.

Feb. 24 – May: Government forces battle rebels for control of Misrata, an oil-rich town close to Tripoli.

Feb. 25: The U.S. closes its embassy in Tripoli and imposes unilateral sanctions against Libya, freezing $30 billion in government assets. On Feb 26, the U.N. imposes sanctions on Libya and then refers Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court.

Feb. 27: Benghazi residents announce creation of the “National Libyan Council.”

Feb. 28: The EU adopts sanctions, embargoes arms sales, freezes assets and bans visas for senior Libyan officials.

March 3: Obama calls on Qaddafi to step down, saying his regime has “lost the legitimacy to lead.” The National Libyan Council announces that it will have 30 members and be chaired by Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Qaddafi’s former justice minister.

March 12: The Arab League asks the U.N. Security Council to declare a no-fly zone.

March 17: The U.N. votes in favor of “all necessary measures short of an occupation force,” to protect Libyan civilians, effectively sanctioning a no-fly zone. Five members abstain, including China, Russia and Germany.

March 19: NATO launches air strikes. On March 21, NATO strikes destroy a building in Qaddafi’s compound, though representatives deny the leader was targeted.

March 27: Rebels recapture oil towns Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad. International airstrikes target Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown.

April 16:  Rebels publish a draft constitution.

May 15: The ICC issues arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi.

May 28: TNC members say they will not seek political office after Qaddafi’s fall.

May 30: “Free Libya,” a rebel-run television station, begins broadcasting. The first big post-crackdown protest against Qaddafi’s rule takes place in Tripoli.

June 1: NATO votes to continue the Libya mission until Sept.

June 6: Rebels take Yafran, west of Tripoli.

June 27: Battles begin in the rebel-controlled Nafusa Mountains, ending a period of relative peace in the west.

July 6: Rebels launch a two-pronged offensive against government forces from Misrata and the mountains southwest of Tripoli. Rebels seize al Qawalish and Kikla, 60 miles southwest of the capital.

July 15: The U.S. and the international contact group recognize the NTC as the “legitimate authority” in Libya.

July 28: Abdel Fattah Younes, the rebels’ chief of staff, is killed, apparently by rebel troops.

Aug. 7: Rebels take control of Bir al Ghanam, 50 miles south of Tripoli.

Aug. 8: The TNC dissolves its cabinet as a result of Younes’ murder.

Aug. 18: The TNC releases a draft constitution for post-Qaddafi Libya. The rebels take control of Zawiyah, 30 miles west of Tripoli.

Aug. 20: Rebels take control of Brega.

Aug. 22: Rebels take Tripoli, encountering little resistance. Qaddafi broadcasts a call for help.

Aug. 23: Opposition fighters invade Qaddafi’s military compound at Bab al Azizia.

Aug. 24: Rebels begin battles in Sabha and Zuwarah, two Qaddafi strongholds in the south and west.

Aug. 25: The U.N. announces release of $1.5 billion in frozen assets for the rebels.

Aug. 26: The NTC gives its first press conference from Tripoli, saying it will move its headquarters from Benghazi to the capital. NTC leader Mahmoud Jibril arrives in Tripoli for the first time on Sept. 9.

Sept. 9 – Oct 17: The rebels fight to take control of Qaddafi stronghold Bani Walid.

Sept. 15 – Oct 20: Rebel troops engage in heavy fighting and finally capture Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown.

Sept. 16: The U.N. accepts the NTC as Libya’s representative and removes some sanctions.

Sept. 18: Mustafa Abdul Jalil and the NTC fail to reach an agreement on a transitional cabinet due to internal divisions between the NTC and rebel commanders. They put off announcing a new government “indefinitely.”

Sept. 20: Obama meets with Jalil at the U.N.  Jalil addresses the General Assembly.

Sept. 22: Rebel forces gain control of Sabha, Jufra, and oasis towns Sokna, Waddan, and Houn. Rebels find radioactive material in Sabha, later confirmed by the IAEA.

Oct. 3: The NTC announces that it will disband and begin the elections process once Sirte is taken. Mahmoud Jibril is named interim prime minister.

Oct. 14: Battles erupt in residential Tripoli neighborhoods with hundreds of militiamen participating.

Oct. 20: Qaddafi is captured as he tries to flee Sirte and quickly killed by rebels, who document the event with cell phones. His son Mutassim is also captured and killed in unclear circumstances. Both bodies are displayed in a refrigerated meat store in Misrata for Libyans to see.

Oct. 23: Large celebrations take place in Benghazi as Mustafa Abdel Jalil announces that Libya is liberated. In a press conference, Jalil says that Sharia law will be the “main source” for legislation.

Oct. 31: NATO ends its mission in Libya, calling it a “successful chapter.” The NTC elects Abdurraheem el Keib, a dual U.S.-Libya citizen, as interim prime minister by placing votes in a transparent box.

November – June 2012: Battles between rival militias and tribes break out in Tripoli and across Libya; the new army and NTC members are forced to intervene to restore peace.

Nov. 17: In Benghazi, the Muslim Brotherhood holds its first public conference after being banned for decades.

Nov. 19: Saif al Islam, Qaddafi’s son and heir apparent, is captured.

Nov. 22: Interim Prime Minister el Keib appoints a new cabinet; the new defense minister was commander of the unit that captured Saif al Islam.

Dec. 9 -13: The First National Congress for Libyan Reconciliation and Reconstruction is held in Tripoli.

Dec. 12: Hundreds rally in Benghazi calling for Jalil to step down. In response, the NTC names Benghazi the “economic capital” of Libya.

Dec. 13: Protesters set up a tent city in Tripoli to demand membership in and voting transparency from the NTC.


Feb 20: Misrata holds local council elections, independent of the NTC.

March 6: Despite protests against them, leaders of eastern oil-rich Cyrenaica, including Benghazi, declare the province to be semi-autonomous.

March 7: Jalil vows to use force if necessary to prevent Cyrenaica from becoming autonomous.

March 17: Abdullah al Senussi, former intelligence chief, is arrested at the airport in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

April 20: The NTC takes control of Tripoli’s airport from a Zintan militia.

May 14: Islamist Abdel Hakim Belhadj, head of the powerful Tripoli Military Council militia, steps down to set up a political party.

July 1: Protesters storm Benghazi’s election headquarters and burn ballots after the eastern third of Libya is denied its request for one-third of assembly seats.

July 7: Elections for a new 200-member national assembly are generally peaceful.

July 17: Election results show Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Alliance wins 39 out of 80 Assembly seats reserved for parties. The Muslim Brotherhood wins 17 seats. Women win 33 seats.

Aug. 8: The NTC formally cedes power to the newly elected assembly.

Aug. 9: The assembly chooses former opposition leader Mohammed Magarief as its president.

Aug. 19: Two car bombs explode in Tripoli. Security forces disarm two other bombs and arrest several suspects.

Sept. 5: Qaddafi’s intelligence chief is extradited to Libya by Mauritania so that he can be put on trial for murder and war crimes.

Sept. 7: Salafists attempt to destroy a Sufi shrine in Rajma leaving three local residents dead.

Sept. 11: Heavily-armed Islamic militants attack the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens, three members of his staff and ten Libyan security guards. Demonstrators stormed the consulate in protest of an anti-Islam film.

Sept. 12-14: Libyans protest the killing of American diplomatic staff in major Libyan cities. Libyan officials blame al Qaeda-linked militants for the attack.

Sept. 22: Political and military leaders negotiate a deal to bring all Benghazi militias under control of the National Army.

Sept. 23: Crowds of Benghazi residents force militias to leave the city and authorities give groups two days to vacate military bases.

Oula Alrifai, Avideh Mayville and Garrett Nada contributed to these chronologies.

New Articles




The Islamists Are Coming is the first book to survey the rise of Islamist groups in the wake of the Arab Spring.  Often lumped together, the more than 50 Islamist parties with millions of followers now constitute a whole new spectrum—separate from either militants or secular parties.  They will shape the new order in the world’s most volatile region more than any other political bloc. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals.

The Islamists Are Coming

Our Partner