Saturday,25 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Saturday,25 May, 2019
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

Libya struggles for survival

Reason responds to the militant Islamist militiamen’s provocative behaviour in Libya, notes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Frustration at unfulfilled promise erupts into politically disruptive violence and democratic backsliding in contemporary Libya. The phenomenon of uncontrollable infighting rather leaves Libya in limbo and ironically also shows Libyans that their fate is in their own hands.
With the Arab Spring gone, or still some months away, the autumnal political chill comes at a cost to the oil-rich North African country. In the capital Tripoli in the west of the sprawling country, it has become increasingly evident that Libya’s new parliament will be much less of a rubber-stamp representative body than the previous regime’s Revolutionary Committees. And in Benghazi in the east, demonstrators urging greater autonomy for Cyrennaica are hitting the headlines, and the rabble-rousing easterners are requiring horse-trading among a curious coalition cobbled together with Islamist, liberal and independent parliamentarians.
The outcome comes at a cost for the country. The political forces are not as polarised as in Egypt and Tunisia, but the ideological chasm remains a troublesome headache and the tribal factor continues to be a terrible tribulation.
As the gloves come off in the battle for control of Libya, a country caught by a tenacious pessimistic mood that engenders renewed political uncertainty it becomes increasingly clear that in the North African country a common thread to developments is the culture of indignation coupled with political complacency.
Last Wednesday’s parliamentary fracas sounded the alarm bells. Defending parliamentarians from militiamen is no easy task. Tens of angry, armed militiamen stormed the Libyan parliament, or National General Congress, temporarily housed in the Ghabat Al-Nasr — the Jungle of Victory — Convention Centre an annex to the infamous Rixos Al-Nasr Hotel, Tripoli, where the Libyan authorities systematically herd members of the international media. Parliamentarians and Libyan security forces desperately tried to fend off the militiamen who objected to the choice of key portfolio cabinet ministers by the newly elected Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan. MPs promptly adjourned for prayers.
A profound mismatch exists between the aspirations of ordinary Libyans and the performance of their leaders in the post-Muammar Gaddafi period.
The Alliance of National Forces led by the liberal former prime minister Mahmoud Jibril has the edge over the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party. Mohamed Megarief, the head of the National General Congress, or speaker, acts as Libya’s interim leader.
That would signal that the door to national reconciliation remains open. Zidan was something of a compromise candidate and the previous prime minister Mustafa Abu Shagour, dismissed after the Libyan parliament voted down his cabinet, was far from popular — largely because of regional and tribal considerations. Shagour was accused of being biased in favour of Tripoli and its environs. Incredulously, the new cabinet hardly has any Tripolitanians. Unable to win parliamentary approval for either of two cabinets he proposed, Shagour was promptly and unceremoniously removed from office by a vote of no confidence on 7 October.
It was the oil price that has underpinned the growth rates of Gaddafi’s Libya. And, it is the price of oil that sustains the country today. It is also oil, or the prospects of an oil-rich Islamist emirate in the east, that is egging Cyrennaica on in its quest for national self-determination.
The dangers of disintegration threaten the country’s territorial integrity. Yet, Libya’s new rulers may have done enough to scrape together a semblance of national unity. Outlandish violence and tribal feuds have marred Libya’s tortured search for political stability. In a world of more extreme Islamist militancy, Libyans may have to accept that they can no longer get by with old tribal ways.
The violence this week wrought devastation in cities like Bani Walid on a devastating scale. Libyans do not need long memories to recall the deplorable end of Gaddafi. But Libyans believe that other societies have risen to challenges no less daunting — take Somalia and Afghanistan.
In the meantime, Libya is blessed with an abundance of oil. However, much of the oil wealth lies in the desert wastes of Cyrennaica. The call for a federal system of government is emanating from the east. The advocates of federalism in Cyrennaica are insistent that the 1951 constitution enshrines the principle of federalism, even though the protesters in Benghazi this week claimed to support the current Libyan government under the leadership of Prime Minister Zidan.
Revenge killings have sadly become warp and weft of life in post-Gaddafi Libya. Yet, reforms are being put in place to lay the foundation of economic recovery. But, everyone is acutely aware that without peace there can be no prosperity. The onus is on primary production.
There are germs too of a revival in manufacturing, and above all in the development of Libya’s shattered infrastructure. Libya was never an agricultural powerhouse, except perhaps in Roman times.
At independence in 1951, petroleum had just been discovered but not in commercial quantities. So when the oil boom started soon after Gaddafi usurped power and ousted the late King Idris, farming was virtually forgotten.
In Africa, successive post-Gaddafi governments have done precious little to refurbish Libya’s standing. The avoidance of risk in the domestic sphere has also left critical action lagging behind meaningless rhetoric and intention.
The risk aversion of successive post-Gaddafi Libyan governments is explicable. Flexing muscles has become a dangerous crutch in the struggle to rid the country of the routed remnants of the Gaddafi era. But, those Libyans who stormed the parliament failed to follow the logic of their own comprehension of the post-Gaddafi situation. They objected to the choice of minister of foreign affairs who is widely seen as a Gaddafi loyalist.
Foreign Minister Ali Oujali was Libya’s ambassador to the United States who defected to the anti-Gaddafi cause just in time to avoid being branded a pro-Gaddafi traitor. Mohamed Al-Braghathi, who served in Gaddafi’s air force, was appointed defence minister.
By the same token, Abdel-Bari Al-Arusi, from the city of Zawiyeh, regarded as another Gaddafi stronghold, was selected oil minister. The militiamen have to be incorporated into the national army not as groups, battalions, but as individuals. They must not serve in the national army as part of an autonomous group.
The past year has thrown in the mix of a succession of talented technocrats such as Al-Keib and now if Zidan is worth his salt his cabinet team of technocrats will help him rid Libya of militant Islamist militiamen who prey on the Libyan people’s souls.

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