Rebuilding Libya

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By Alan Selby

Much has happened since this time last year. The 15th of February 2011 saw the first Libyans take to the streets of Benghazi against a brutal dictatorship which ruled over them for 42 years. The events that followed sent shockwaves around the world, led to a NATO intervention and culminated in victory for the Libyan people, albeit at a heavy cost. An estimated 30,000 people lost their lives during the campaign and the dust is still settling following Muammar Gadaffi’s death four months ago.

A panel came together at the Frontline Club to discuss how far Libya has come, as well as what the future holds. A tone of cautious optimism prevailed as each member of the panel delivered their own frank assessment of the work of the National Transitional Council (NTC), as well as its ability to uphold the promise of democracy for the people of Libya. Ian Black, The Guardian’s Middle East editor, steered a discussion which exposed differing views on the NTC’s work to date.

Ahmed Gebreel, deputy head of the Libyan embassy in London, suggested that “The NTC has been established for less than a year, with limited resources, and they’re doing their best.”

However, Khaeri Aboushagor, a Libyan writer and spokesman for the Libyan League for Human Rights, made his view that the NTC has a lot of work to do abundantly clear:

The reality sometimes hits us in the face. The ex-prime minister recently said that Libya is not a functioning state, has no proper army, no proper police and that the militias run the show… Democracy is not just elections. It’s much broader and deeper than that. We have to recognise this, if we deny that problems exist it won’t work.”

Carsten Jurgensen, Libya researcher for Amnesty International, echoed this view as he made reference to human rights abuses which have taken place in detention centres:

“What struck us was that those who committed the abuses were quite open about it… No investigations are conducted. The judiciary is totally weak. Prosecutors say that they can’t go and interrogate the chiefs of the militias. It’s quite worrying.”

The panel also suggested that post traumatic stress is now a real issue facing many of the young men who must now try to re-integrate with society and rebuild their country. However, Dr. Faraj Najem, a Libyan writer and historian, made it clear that the damage runs much deeper than at first glance:

I was horrified when I heard that 400 women were raped, but then it was announced that 8000 women had suffered. We need help from psychologists and social workers. We need to reinvent a culture where we can talk openly about the sexual violence that these women suffered for no reason.”

The panel largely agreed that it will be a long road to recovery, as Rana Jawad, a Tripoli-based BBC journalist and author of Tripoli Witness, observed:

“Overall I am optimistic of the journey Libyans will take, but I don’t doubt for a second that it will be extremely difficult. Anyone who thinks it will happen in the next year or two is quite delusional. It’s a very long process and it’s going to take a long time, but ultimately Libyans are striving for it.”