By Osama Matri .
Tripoli, 24 October:
The recent security breaches, due to the inefficacy and limited reach of the existing security apparatus, . . .[restrict]compounded by unimpressive political performance of the GNC have caused widespread disappointment and cynicism that may threaten the legitimacy of the political process. The failure of mediation efforts in Bani Walid to put an end to the crisis could well lay open the prospect of protracted conflict in the area beyond any immediate pacification.
The assassination of the US ambassador in Benghazi and its likely repercussions present foretaste of what could be troubles ahead of Libya. This is not to mention the potential of upcoming constitutional debate to further exacerbate political fragmentation. Rising expectations are increasingly replaced by rising confusion.
These are some of the often cited “headlines” that paint not so rosy a picture awaiting Libya. But in trying to make sense of Libya’s tumultuous period, these pessimistic accounts often overlook important realities that will in the long run thwart the descent into the unknown as their gloomy scenarios predict.
One reality that these accounts ignore is that the majority of the Libyan people know clearly what they want; they have an unmistakable vision of where the country should go, how that should be accomplished and what must be done as a matter of priority. Despite the enormous political upheaval the country has experienced, the majority of people remain depoliticized and not actively involved in divisive politics or politicized divisions.
While this state of affairs in which a broad strata of population is apolitical might not be a positive thing for the long term health of democracy, but in the post conflict situation in which Libya finds itself, this situation has been credited with having averted a phenomena well known in post revolutionary countries with weak state institutions i.e. the transformation of regional and community ties into organized political institutions.
To be more specific, the fluidity that characterizes Libya’s political scene, while granting its danger, is reflective of two realities; first that there is not one single political force, or a grouping of forces, that can govern without needing to form a broad consensus. Political groups that rely on a narrow appeal, territorial or political, will quickly find themselves isolated and marginalized and unable to forge coalitions necessary to be truly seen as nationally representative.
Secondly and most importantly, the regional or community actors have not been politicized to the extent that they have turned regional affiliations into organized political forces. Their failure is not attributed to a lack of effort on their part. It is true that community ties and regional loyalties are and will probably continue to exercise an influence, but their potency is not so great that they threaten to make political parties mere political façade of regional or community groupings.
As has been said by other commentators, the outcome of the last elections with the victory of the National Forces’ Alliance and Justice and Construction parties corroborates this viewpoint. With time, and when the foundations of the political system are laid down, the organization of political life will further reinforce this trend in favor of broad national political alliances which will based on small shifting coalitions.
Nevertheless, some point to the existing “trouble spots” that could degenerate into widespread protracted conflicts. There are those who have even given their final verdict that Libya has entered a dark tunnel. Likewise, talk of establishing a democratic political system in Libya suffers a similar fate; many seem to have lost hope that democracy can be established in Libya, they have lowered their expectation to the modest ambition of maintain a unified and stable country.
I feel differently. I think such analyses are predicated on a romanticized and idealist view of history and society. As we navigate through the post revolution social and political mayhem, we recognize that democracy is not a kind of a magic wand, or a list of prescriptive policies that, once applied, will automatically restore balance, solve conflicts and deliver solutions
If by a democratic system we mean achieving a balance among competing claims and peacefully managing conflicts, then there is absolutely no grounds to adopt a hopeless outlook on establishing a democratic system in Libya, or resign to the notion that given obstacles and divisions, such a system is unattainable. For it is precisely the function of democratic political system to manage and address conflict situations of the kind that confront Libya today.
Hence, it is important to realize that our democratic aspiration is of a different character and is linked to the concrete realities of our socio- politico context. Establishing a democratic system is far from a luxury or an intellectual feat, it is a practical necessity dictated by current need to overcome existing contradictions and solve emerging conflicts. Any appraisal of Libya’s democratic experiment must take this into account.
This means that progress toward lessening and addressing seemingly insurmountable differences and conflict situations must be seen as the starting point for any discussion on Libya’s democratic experience in the post revolution period.
One can go at great lengths in explaining current conflicts as by product of revolutionary war or as legacy of a highly personalized system of government or the result of distorting social and economic relations through exploitation of rent. Regardless of the causes, the nascent democratic experience should be situated within this long and hard societal effort to rectify those inherited imbalances and conflict situations.
Now we come to what this means in practice. If we agree that the contribution of democratic system of government lies in bridging differences and addressing conflicts regardless of the cause and /or pretext, then, the question that we should be asking ourselves becomes not whether incidents of conflict are likely to spring up here and there or that simmering tensions are likely to remain beneath the surface, causing trouble from time to time.
But rather, the question should be to what extent we have been able to minimize the incidents of conflicts, how many tense situations defused, to what extend we have established and sustained an inclusive political dialogue where grievances are voiced and rapid response from state institutions is delivered.
To what extent we maintain consciousness of our noble aims, the commitment to public accountability and citizens’ rights even when reality sometimes unfolds in an undesirable direction, and it will. To what extent we absorb the meaning of Gramsci’s advice, “nothing is lost if belief and consciousness remain intact, if bodies surrender, but not souls.”
A state building project, in which Libya is engaged, cannot commence without a broader framework that manages and addresses both political and politicized differences in society. Democracy is therefore, the very process within which this corrective and balancing effort unfolds. No other process has the same level of legitimacy and acceptance among Libyan people.
No one can deny the situation in Libya is critical, more critical than it has ever been since the declaration of liberation a year ago. We must keep sight of the risks and dangers. The political leadership must stay on top of developments working through the messy and complicated difficult situations as opposed to busying itself with the trappings of state functions.
A cloud of pessimism is slowly casting its shadow over the country at a time when we have so many things working to our advantage. With political leadership appearing hesitant and inconsistent on many issues, it has exacerbated the situation. The confusion created by lack of trustworthy and credible sources of information gives rise to new narratives.
Widespread distrust of government erodes its resolve to be an active force. These things happen precisely because the political leadership has not mustered the will to tap into moral and political resources capable of mobilization and corrective action.
The task of the leadership, assuming it has sincere and patriotic intentions, is to draw on our strengths and spread the culture of hope and optimism through actions; otherwise it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy that we unknowingly end up paving the ground for.
Osama Matri is a Libyan development practitioner concerned with analyzing governance challenges facing Libya in its transition period. [/restrict]