During the Libyan revolution the diaspora collaborated with Libyans on the ground to deliver information to those outside of Libya. Through family and friends, the Libyan diaspora was able to utilize social media, such as Twitter and Facebook in order to keep international news agencies informed regarding events unfolding within the country.
Now, one year after the official conclusion of the Libyan Civil War, Record turns to the diaspora to understand the current state of affairs within the country.
“During Muammar Gaddafi’s rule, there were military checkpoints between every city, military camps in large cities, and pictures of Gaddafi taunted people, always reminding them ‘Big Brother is Watching’,” said Khaoula Bengezi, a Libyan-born digital activist living in Canada, who recently returned for a visit. “People lived in fear all the time.”
Initiated by the National Transnational Council (NTC) based in Benghazi, a city in the Eastern Libyan region of Cyrenaica, the uprising finally ended with the capture of Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, and his death at the hands of rebels on October 20, 2011.
Since the liberation of their country, however, the Libyan people have been learning a difficult lesson. Federalism based upon national cohesion does not come parsimoniously in a region where, for generations, all the important decisions in the country were made by brutal autocrats who ignored most religious, ethnic, and cultural divergences.
Sadat El-Badri, deputy chairman of the Tripoli Local Council told the Washington Post,“we went from complete dictatorship to complete freedom in one step, and everyone is doing just exactly what they want.”
“The previous NTC has done very little to adequately address the pressing security concerns that Libya faces,” clarified Bengezi. “For example, there are weapons everywhere and militias unassociated with the army still roam the countryside.”
“This has led to a bit of confusion and uncertainty,” Bengezi added. “Everyone has a viewpoint. Everyone wants to do and say what they weren’t ever able to do under Gaddafi, which has led to violence, chaos, and political unrest in some parts of Libya, some of which can be attributed to our history of European colonial occupation.”
Libya’s colonial baggage
“History matters, and endures, and its consequences constantly must be grasped, not ignored,” wrote Palestinian journalist Rami G. Khouri in the New York Times. Due to the history of European occupations, “many countries [in the Arab world] have enjoyed neither the logic of a sensible balance among natural and human resources, nor the compensatory vitality that comes from self-determinant and truly sovereign states.”
“Libya is a classic example of colonialism’s twisted and enduring legacy of nearly dysfunctional states governed by corrupt and often incompetent elites, whose people never have a chance to validate either the configuration of statehood or the exercise of power,” continued Khouri.
With the uprising’s successful dislodging of these autocratic colonial legacies, the GNC (General National Council) must address numerous governance gaps en route to legitimate democratic transition.
“There were no laws, no rules. It was just the word of one man,” Libyan computer science professor and blogger Almabruk Sultan told the Washington Post. “In government terms, Libya was a farm. And the farmer is dead.”
Fixing the farm will not be an easy task, either. “Compared to Egypt and Tunisia, which maintained (farcical) electoral institutions during their periods of authoritarian rule, Libyan civil society was completely destroyed during Gaddafi’s 42-year rule,” according to Daniel Bodirsky, Eurasia Review correspondent. “Building up public institutions and participation from scratch will be a process measured in decades, not months.”
The resurgence of regionalism
Consequentially, the results of the July 7th election have proven inconclusive. The secular National Forces Alliance (NFA), led by NTC figurehead Mahmoud Jibril, came out as the election’s strongest party, winning 39 of a possible 80 party seats.
However, with 120 of the total 200 seats allocated for independent candidates, as opposed to political parties, who are elected on the basis of community contributions as opposed to ideological beliefs, voting patterns are unpredictable. As new legislation requires two-thirds majority, governance relies on these non-partisans members.
Alongside the unpredictability surrounding non-partisan loyalties, Libya’s newly elected congress will have to deal with regionalism, which according to Bengezi, is “surprisingly” a much more serious threat to sustainable Libyan federalism than any form of tribalism.
While regional strains between Tripolitania (western Libya) and Cyrenaica (eastern Libya), were quelled during Gaddafi’s time, his ousting has led to the reigniting of tensions.
Before Gaddafi, Cyrenaica, possessing nearly 80 per cent of Libya’s total oil reserves, was the most affluent region in the country. However, due to his Tripolitanian origins, Gaddafi begrudged the east, and diverted all eastern oil reserves to beautify Tripoli.
With Gaddafi deposed, the most serious challenge to Libyan congressional authority comes from the Cyrenaican capital of Benghazi, headquarters of the revolution. Benghazi citizens are unhappy the province was only designated 60 of the 200 seats in national congress, causing them to gradually push for greater autonomy from Tripoli.
Yet it is not total emancipation that eastern Libyans want, it is democracy. “We got rid of Gaddafi, but not the regime,” human rights activist Hanna El Gallal told The Guardian. “We didn’t do a revolution and our people did not die to bring a new dictatorship.”
Speaking from his home in Benghazi, federalist leader Ahmed al-Senussi told the Washington Post that the federalists are not seeking independence from Libya, “we are not for splitting up the country… we are not calling for separation. We are calling for our rights. And that is not a crime.”
The struggle for stability
“Post revolution, Libyans everywhere utilized social media to inform each other about pressing issues within their country, update the world about the Libyan elections, and more recently also condemn the actions against the US embassy in Benghazi, and clarify that the actions of few are not representative of the majority of Libyans,” said Bengezi.
According to Bengezi, the newly elected congress is slowly making progress towards stability, but it is not coming easily. “It is only after the death of Ambassador Stevens, and the Benghazi protests against the militias,” she continued, “that the government set up campaigns for gun control and to unify militia groups with the army.”
So far, these campaigns, led by the “National Mobile Force,” have been very successful in “evicting militias after handing them a deadline to withdraw from military compounds, public buildings and property belonging to members of the former regime,” according to the CNN staff.
However, senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Frederic Wehrey, told CNN “Militia members across Libya remain loyal to their groups and distrust the new government’s authority, in part because of the ‘taint’ of a link to the Gadhafi regime.”
Washington has expressed surprise and anger over the Libyan congress’s apparent inability to get a handle on the violence. “The Libyan authorities have been irresponsibly lazy in confronting this threat,” Washington director of Human Rights Watch, Tom Malinowski, told Time World.
“They [the Libyan people] have a choice to make,” Malinowski continued, “Are they going to be a country connected to the outside world, or are they going to allow a small number of people in their midst make that impossible.”
Despite efforts to control arms and employ former rebels, “months of war last year left militia groups in effective control over bits of turf, protected by mountains of weapons left abandoned by Gaddafi’s regime,” said Time World correspondent Vivienne Walt.
While city life in Libya is better than it was during Gaddafi’s rule, according to Muhammad al-Daeki, a Tripoli shopkeeper speaking to the Washington Post, “some people are getting around with guns,” he said. “I don’t want revolutionaries in control of security. I want them all under the government.”
However, with a recurrent “go-it-alone attitude” serving as a rejection of four decades of brutal dictatorship, Libyans must relearn how to “work as one people,” Adnan El-Gherwi, the head of Tripoli’s executive council told the Washington Post.
“Libyans can be a critical people,” concluded Bengezi. Therefore, this relearning process may take some time. And while the move from autocracy to democracy in Libya will be a gradual one rife with disagreement, at least public disagreement is now an option.