Libya: “A country which seems to be falling apart by accident.”

September 25, 2014

By Caroline Rogers

On Wednesday 17 September, a panel chaired by Channel 4 News’ international editor Lindsey Hilsum, came together to discuss the current plight of Libya; what has gone wrong since the 2011 revolution, whether it really is on the brink of becoming a failed state, and what role the international community should play in pulling Libya away from this fate.

Libya

The discussion began with an attempt to untangle the complexities of Libya’s warring factions, which are divided by regional, religious and political differences. These difficulties were described by Hilsum as “sort of three-dimensional chess”. Hassan al-Amin, a human rights activist and founder of Libya al-Mostakbal (The Future Libya) observed:

“I don’t really call it a revolution; I think to me it is an uprising, because revolution, usually, would have leaders, would have some thoughts, some ideas, some kind of organisation, but this didn’t. We have people coming from everywhere.”

The panel agreed that the blanket use of the term ‘Islamist’ was, in many cases, both inaccurate and problematic, creating unnecessary divisions within the Libyan people.Libya Correspondent for The Guardian Chris Stephen, expressed similar sentiments, adding that, “This [recent] election has simplified things. You now have two sides, those with the parliament and those against the parliament.”

Next, the problem of the ‘Gaddafi vacuum’ was addressed. The panel discussed the difficulties that Libya has faced in rebuilding a nation in his wake. Huda Abuzeid, a filmmaker and TV producer, reiterated that:

“Gaddafi was the state. Once you removed Gaddafi, there was no state. What the failure has been is building that state. I think to say it’s a failed state after three years is, really, unfair.”

The Political Isolation Law, implemented in May 2013, was criticised for exacerbating this problem. Hilsum pointed out that, “For 42 years you have one man in charge, and if you’re going to work in government there’s no-one else to work for.”

The isolation law, therefore, has created a dearth of experienced government officials in Libya. Ghazi Gheblawi, editor of el-Kaf online newspaper, pointed out a secondary consequence of this law:

“Lots of people who were active in government and were doing good things . . . found themselves overnight just isolated completely.”

The panel also touched upon the role that the international community has played. Hassan al-Amin criticised international diplomacy efforts: “They don’t have any coherent strategy; what they have is, in my opinion, incompetence on all levels.”

This ‘incompetence’, according to al-Amin, was due in part to the failure of NATO countries to work together after the 2011 revolution; instead, they started going individually their own way. Al-Amin also emphasised that the failure of the international community to work with Libya was a double-edged sword:

“The Libyans . . . have never come up with a clear plan, a road map for what Libya actually wants from the international community, and at the same time the international community never actually helped Libya in trying to come up with some ideas.”

However, the panel agreed that it was too early in Libya’s development to write off the nation, with Abuzeid praising the country’s ‘amazing’ civil society.

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