By Sami Zaptia.
Tripoli, 20 October:
A year today Libya’s ruler of 42 years, Muamar Qaddafi died. It was a day that is seared in the psyche of most Libyans. Most Libyans had only known one ruler since 1969. Waking up on October 21st last year without Qaddafi alive was surreal.
So much seems to have happened in the post February 17th Libya, yet it was only August 2011 that Tripoli was finally liberated and October 23rd that the whole of Libya was declared liberated.
A year on from Qaddafi’s death Libyans must take stock of a tumultuous 12 month period and reflect on a seminal period in their history. And the question must be asked as to whether the upheaval experienced by this nation in the process of removing the tyrannical Qaddafi regime worth it?
A year on, some may ask was this so-called liberty, freedom and democracy worth the tens of thousands of maimed, injured and martyred? Was it worth all the political, social, psychological, physical, emotional and economic trauma and upheaval? For a country that had enjoyed decades of control and order, does ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ justify the present political uncertainty and relative instability and insecurity?
Taking a closer look at current affairs, today, Libya is struggling with an ineffective transitional government. The General National Congress (GNC) looks torn by internal party divisions contributing to the failure to vote-in the government of the previous prime minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur.
Libya continues to drift in political limbo as the latest prime minister elect Ali Zidan attempts to form a new government over the next 2 weeks. The GNC and government struggle to impose the legitimate will over a geographically spread nation with long, porous and difficult to defend borders.
On the street, many of the disparate thuwar or militias are still resisting the push to unite them under official state organs amid tensions between the Minister of Defence and Chief of Staff and the Libyan National Army and the Supreme Security Committee. Meanwhile, the country is littered with arms an issue which the authorities have failed to come up with an adequate policy for reining-in.
Add to that a destroyed civil service, religious extremists and maybe Al-Qaeda infiltration, bombings, assassinations, car jackings, kidnappings, the Bani Walid issue, the displaced Tawergans, regional and tribal tensions, a depressed economy, unchecked freedoms, an ineffective judiciary with thousands of prisoners awaiting processing and reluctant foreign investors due to all of the above – does not make good reading and can look disheartening.
However, when we look at the bigger picture and put things into perspective and assess where Libya was pre the 17th February Revolution and where it is today, we will find that there is much to be encouraged by.
It cannot be denied that the new Libyan authorities – executive, legislature and judiciary – with no legacy of democratic administration and governance are learning on the job – in full view of the whole world. But these are the growing pains of newborn democratic child which in reality has made huge leaps and bounds in just months.
Today, in post Qaddafi Libya, for example, there is freedom of expression. If you walk into a newsagent in central Tripoli you will find over a hundred non-state owned newspapers with only two owned by the state. If you turn on the radio there are tens of local and regional channels and a similar number of TV stations – most of which are privately owned.
Libyans today are able to strike and demonstrate at will without government permission or control. Numerous demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience have already taken place since liberation to the extent that Libya’s interim parliament, the GNC, has been forcibly occupied by demonstrators on two occasions.
More importantly, there occurred a series of events in post liberation Libya that bode well for democratic development. In October 2011 Mahmoud Jibril, head of the Executive Office peacefully and voluntarily resigned his position as de facto prime minister – as he had promised.
The unelected National Transitional Council (NTC) then went on to democratically choose Abdulrahim Al-Kib as the new prime minster of the interim government.
Moreover, earlier this year two historical events occurred that signaled that Libya is still on the right path for democracy. Firstly, in July, Libya held historical elections, the first for decades, which were universally accepted as free and fair by local and international observers.
Secondly, and as a result of the elections, there followed a peaceful handover of power by the unelected NTC to the elected GNC on 8th August. The GNC went on to democratically elect Mohamed Magarief as its head. The GNC has gone on to elect Mustafa Abushagur and Ali Zidan as prime ministers-elect. Even when Mustafa Abushagur’s proposed government was rejected – it was done through a democratic vote.
The point is, in a so called third world or developing nation, all these events occurred democratically. The unelected Mahmoud Jibril handed over power, the unelected Mustafa Abdul Jalil and the unelected NTC handed over power to the elected GNC. The GNC elected Magarief and elected Abushagur and then Zidan – all democratically and peacefully.
Meanwhile, during all these political tribulations and despite all the pessimistic forecasts the country did not split up into west, east and south. No tribal or ethnic group has seceded from the rest of the nation and no sizable section of the population has risen demanding the return of the old dictatorial regime.
All these events took place within 12 months and in a country that was for 42 years ruled as a dictatorship with no history or legacy of democratic practice. Yet from the liberation of Libya in October 2011 Libya has been able to achieve all of this. It is very easy to take for granted all the progress that Libya has made democratically within just one year.
But we must ask how many third world or developing states have stalled at one of the many stages that Libya has already passed? How many African leaders have refused to peacefully hand-over power or allow elections to take place?
How many even democratically elected African leaders over the decades refused to hand-over power at the end of their term? It was only in 2011 that Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast, for example, refused to accept the election results and had to be removed from office by French military forces.
Clearly and by any standards Libya is far from being a complete story. It is still a nation in the making – one year in the making in fact – and in transition. It is still trying to create and find its own unique democratic identity and system and has many major issues to grapple with.
But is it heading in the right direction? Is it making step by step progress towards a democratic, accountable, responsive democracy? I think yes.
Today the average Libyan is to a much greater extent in control of his or her destiny than under the previous regime. The present sets of political rulers are much more sensitive to the needs and demands of the general populous who elected them. This is a huge difference between the dictatorial regime of Qaddafi and the present regime.
In other words, there is a completely different dynamic in today’s Libya between the rulers and the ruled. There is a social contract between the two and in theory and on the face of it the ruling elite try to represent and reflect the general public’s views.
More importantly a big difference between today’s and yesterday’s Libya is hope. Today with the democratically elected GNC and the ability to exert pressure through the media and demonstration, Libyans feel that they can affect the political process. There is no closed shop or glass ceiling. Something that did not exist under the one-man dictatorial regime of the deceased Qaddafi.
Many a democratic nation has had to go through a period of civil war and internal upheaval before becoming model democracies. Britain, France, the US, Germany, Spain, India and South Africa are prime examples. For some of these nations, getting to democracy took decades and even centuries. For Libya the process of democratization will be two years in February 2013.
Therefore, taking the long term historical perspective and when compared with many of our developing and African peers, Libya has achieved much in just one year, and in view of what it has achieved in this relatively short period of time, there is no reason why it should not go on to achieve even more over the next year or so.