Five years ago today the Arab Spring demonstrations spread to Libya, prompting a NATO-led intervention that would put an end to the 42-year rule of then leader Muammar Gaddafi. How do Libya’s youth feel about events since that day? What do they think about the revolution’s anniversary, the General National Accord, Daesh and the way forward?
Twenty-five year-old Nadia A. Ramadan has no doubts. “I am a huge supporter of the revolution,” she told me, “but I just think this year shouldn’t be the time for celebration.”
She is not alone. Many young Libyans feel that there is little to celebrate today. Ramadan would like to use the day to stand by the people of Sirte, Tawergha and Ben Jawad. The country is torn apart, she said. “We are not united any more.” The 17 February, she believes, can only be celebrated if all Libyans celebrate it together.
Libya 5 years on: #Feb17
Khadija Hussein lives in Tripoli, is the same age and agrees with Ramadan. “What’s there to celebrate today?” she asked rhetorically. To her, celebration hasn’t been something to think about since 2013. “Do I celebrate the fact that I can’t finish my education because of the black market exchange rate? Do I celebrate the fact that I can’t withdraw money from the bank this past week because it doesn’t have any money? Or that I’m too scared to drive my own car around Tripoli so I ended up selling it? Can I celebrate the fact that my neighbours took out their AK47s during a small argument about cars parked on the street?” It is, she claimed, a day to mourn.
The five years since Gaddafi’s fall and death have been tangled by a political power struggle between two rival governments: the House of Representatives based in Tobruk and the General National Congress in Tripoli; both claim legitimacy. In December last year, the two governments signed a UN-brokered peace deal and a government of national accord backed by the international body has been formed.
However, Hussein questions the efficacy of the new government. “The UN leads us to believe that the GNA is like a magic wand,” she said, “but it doesn’t have any real power on the ground.” According to her this government was never the choice of the Libyans. The way she sees it, the new government is a UN product that is sitting comfortably in a hotel in the capital of neighbouring Tunisia. “The people call the GNA the foreign government,” she explained, doubting that it will win Libyans’ trust.
However, as far as 29-year-old Aladdin Attiga in Tripoli is concerned the GNA could be the only remaining hope, especially from an economic and security viewpoint. “I believe it’s the only solution left for the country before it collapses completely,” he told me. At the same time, though, he isn’t all that optimistic. For the people in power, the Libyan people need to be the priority, not personal or regional gains. Libyan politicians need to focus on security, which is essential to get the economy back on track, added Attiga.
According to Ramadan, Libyans have reached a point where they just want the country to be restored to security and stability. “Maybe that can only be done once we have a unity government,” she suggested. “I’m not a huge fan of this government but I believe it is only going to be temporary before we can have real elections and practice democracy once again.” While stability is most Libyans’ priority, restoring security isn’t easy. Getting rid of militias is not realistic at this stage, argued Attiga. He insisted that there should be an agreement between militia leaders.
In addition to security, believes 27 year-old Hend Abdulwahed, reconciliation needs to be a priority now. To get there, step one has to be disarmament. “Everyone is scared and Libyans are scattered all around the world,” she pointed out.
The turmoil and power vacuum in Libya has also paved the way for a growing presence of terrorist groups such as Daesh. Many neighbouring and Western countries are concerned that the oil rich North African state will become the movement’s new stronghold.
Sadly, said Ramadan, fighting terrorism has become the main priority for Libya in order to move forward. If it’s not done quickly, the country will collapse. According to her, the only way forward now is to have foreign military intervention, just like in 2011, even if it’s only through air strikes, although this would have to be “in coordination with a strong local military on the ground.” For her, the first step should be to create a strong ground force in order to coordinate with air strikes against Daesh targets. “I don’t personally support these kind of operations, especially when it comes to tackling terrorists, but I am afraid it is now the only solution.”
Hussein, however, rejects foreign interference. An intervention is only an attempt for the Western coalition to fix their mistake, she argued. “It’s a sticking plaster for a gunshot wound.” The growth of the country’s religious extremism is a result of the power vacuum originally caused by the NATO-intervention, she said, so perhaps another intervention will increase the number of Daesh fighters. “It’s just another disaster waiting to happen.”
On the first few anniversaries of the revolution, explained Attiga, people went by themselves onto the streets to celebrate the end of dictatorship. Today’s celebrations seem to be “forced” on the people, which is a frightening reminder of the Gaddafi era. “Hopes and dreams are becoming nightmares,” he concluded. “The spirit is definitely not there now.”
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.