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. The protest – in a city a long political rival of Tripoli – soon grew into a larger armed movement targeting the regime of Colonel Moammar Qaddafi, who had been in power since a 1969 military coup.

But the rebels were inexperienced and disorganized. After Qaddafi’s forces pushed back the opposition, the U.N. Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace on March 17. NATO airstrikes were launched two days later, allowing disparate rebel militias to gain territory in key cities. Over the next seven 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. Battles erupted frequently among rival militias. The most hopeful development was a democratic election for the General National Congress, which took control on Aug. 8, 2012.

But over the next two years, the new government’s authority was increasingly undermined by armed groups. 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. In August 2013, federalist leader Ibrahim Jathran and his allies blockaded four oil terminals, demanding greater autonomy for the east. The closures lasted nearly a year and cost the Libyan government billions of dollars in oil revenue.

In 2014, Libya experienced its worst wave of violence since the 2011 uprising. Clashes between Islamist and secular militias escalated across the country. Libya’s June 2014 election marked a key turning point. After secular politicians beat Islamists in the polls, a coalition of Islamist militias known as Libya Dawn drove the elected government out of Tripoli. Libya Dawn then supported creation of a rival government under Omar al Hassi, a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

Hardline Islamist militias in the east — who have steadily increased their numbers and weaponry since the 2011 uprising – faced a challenge from a secular militia led by Gen. Khalifa Heftar, a renegade officer from the Libyan military. In July 2014, a coalition of Islamist militias – including Ansar al Sharia – defeated Gen. Heftar’s forces and declared Benghazi and Islamic caliphate. Gen. Heftar continued to try to contest Benghazi, launching a new offensive in October.

The appearance of Islamic State affiliates further complicated the range of militias in 2014. In Derna, an eastern city with a strong jihadist history since the 1980s, a group of fighters returning from Syria formed the Shura Council of Islamic Youth. In October, the group formally declared allegiance to the Islamic State.

By 2015, Libya’s armed groups had sidelined politicians and driven the country to the brink of civil war.

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.

Feb. 26: The U.N. imposes sanctions on Libya and then refers Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Feb. 27: Benghazi residents announce creation of the interim Transitional National Council (TNC)

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 19-21: 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 September.

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.

Sept. 9: NTC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril arrives in Tripoli for the first time.

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, chairman of the NTC, fails to form 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 is 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 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 the Watan 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, known as the General National Congress (GNC), 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.

Oct. 15: Secular politician Ali Zeidan is elected prime minister, beating the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Harari.


March 29: Salafi militants blow up a Sufi shrine in Tripoli.

May 5: Islamist politicians pass the controversial Political Isolation Law, which bans Qaddafi-era officials from politics for ten years.

August: Federalist leader Ibrahim Jathran and his allies seize four key oil terminals, demanding greater regional autonomy in the east. Their blockade lasts for nearly a year and costs the Libyan government billions of dollars in oil revenue.

Oct. 10: Gunmen from the government-funded Libya Revolutionaries Operation Room militia briefly kidnap Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.


Feb. 3: Islamists in the GNC extend the assembly’s mandate beyond February 7. Secular militias from Zintan threaten to attack Tripoli in response.

March 8-10: Jathran’s forces defy the GNC and try to export oil in the east. The GNC attempts to liberate oil terminals by force, leading to clashes in Sirte and the Zillah oil field.

March 11: Zeidan is ousted as prime minister after failing to resolve the oil crisis.

March 16: U.S. naval forces seize Jathran’s oil tanker and return it to the Libyan government.

Early April: The government reaches an agreement with Jathran over the oil crisis. Two terminals reopen immediately, and the other two reopen in July.

May 4: GNC Islamists elect Ahmed Maetig as prime minister. Secular politicians declare the vote invalid for not following correct parliamentary procedure.

May 16: Renegade General Heftar launches “Operation Dignity” against Ansar al Sharia, a hardline Islamist militia, in Benghazi. Heftar later expands his attack to all Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

June 9: Libya’s Supreme Constitutional Court rejects Maetig’s appointment. He then steps down.

June 25: Libya holds parliamentary elections to replace the GNC. Only 630,000 people vote, and many polling stations close due to violence. The Brotherhood picks up only 25 seats.

July 30: Ansar al Sharia declares Benghazi an Islamic caliphate after capturing strategic areas of the city from Gen. Heftar’s forces.

August: Libya Dawn, a coalition dominated by Islamist militias from Misrata, captures Tripoli after a 5-week battle with secular militias. Libya Dawn refuses to recognize the newly elected government, dominated by secular politicians, and force it to flee to Tobruk.

Aug. 22: U.S. officials claim that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates conducted airstrikes on Islamists in Tripoli. Egypt denies involvement, and the UAE refuses to comment.

Aug. 25: Islamist members of the GNC establish a rival parliament in Tripoli, backed by Islamist militias. They elect Omar al Hassi as their leader.

October: Gen. Heftar launches a new offensive against Benghazi’s Islamists and recaptures a key military base from Ansar al Sharia.

Oct. 19: The elected government in Tobruk officially allies with Gen. Heftar and supports his attack on Islamists in Benghazi.

Oct. 21: Al Hassi meets with Turkish diplomats. Turkey and Qatar both support the Islamist government in Tripoli.

Nov. 6: Libya’s Supreme Court declares the elected government in Tobruk illegal. Officials in Tobruk claim the court was coerced into the decision by Islamist militias.

Cyana Chilton, Oula Alrifai, Avideh Mayville, Garrett Nada, and Cameron Glenn contributed to these chronologies.


Sign up for newsletter here.

In the News

Our Articles

For more articles, click here.


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

The Iran Primer Blog

Our Partner