Guest Analysis by Dr. Abdolkabir Alfakhry
The modern Libya is rooted in very rich history. Tracking back the history of Libya, and over centuries, the Libyan people were brutally suffering from the ruthless of foreign settlers and colonial injustice, oppression and aggression.
To understand the subject better, we have to go back to thousand years or more. Before the Christian era, the Libyan people were organized around tribal leaderships, farming, herding and trade. Furthermore, the power distribution was various among the Libyan tribes, and there were constant territorial and power struggles among them. However, most of the times, these tribes were able to find ways to resolve their differences peacefully and live with each other according to their customary laws.
The tribal political dynamics has changed, and especially during the early years of colonization. As a matter of fact, wars between the Libyan tribes and foreign colonists lasted for centuries. From early on, the Libyan tribes understood the motives of colonial economics and commercial exploitation. As a result, since the beginning of the colonial period, the Libyan tribes were separately and sometime allied with each other organized themselves against foreign invaders. As an example, the Libyan struggle against colonization started in the successive periods of the Phoenicians, followed by the Greeks, Pomegranates, Byzantines and Roman Empire. Since the ninth century BC, the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Roman Empire and others after them were able to control the commercial trades with their military might. Yet, despite the colonial military superiorities, they were only able to control over Libya’s coastal strip, where they built the important cities of Cyrene, Josberides (Benghazi), LepticMagna, Oyo and Sabratha.
Libya passed through excessive periods of occupations, with the occupation of Norman to Tripoli, the Spaniards, the Knights of St. John, and the era of Turkish domination in the form of the Ottoman Empire (the year 1551 AD). Despite all the oppression, no one single colonial invader was able to control all the Libyan soil. Even the Turks who were trying to dominate the Libyan tribes by different strategies and tactics failed terribly. For example, the Turk governors tried control the tribes via high taxes, bribes, imprisonments, tortures and humiliations. Also they tried to use some of the opportunistic Libyans (individuals and groups) to help them to dominate the country. Yet, most of the tribes were heavily resistant to Turks colonial policies. Even there were some individuals or groups who focused narrowly on their personal interests and cooperated with the colonizers, their tribes and social surroundings were very dismissive to them and their unpatriotic acts. So, the Turks were only able to control the areas where the local individuals were cooperating with them in order to keep their personal interests. As a result, all the invaders including the Turks were only able to hold their powers in the fortresses coast.
Tribes in Libya are very important component of social, cultural and political structure. They control all the country’s trajectory and even before the colonial areas. No successive regimes or colonizers were able to change this fact of tribal compositions. Therefore, we cannot deny or marginalize the extreme importance of the tribal formation of Libyan state, society and politics. Consequently, the current political formation which is the result of the change of February 17th 2011, will complicate the problem instead of solving it. For example, some of the armed militias are creating instability in many areas in Libya. In particular, some armed militias affiliated to specific areas in the country contributed to the conflicts between some Libyan tribes. Such irresponsible acts will widen the already broken social, tribal and political fabrics in Libya.
Overall, there is still hope for united and peaceful Libya. This leads us to talk about the positive role that should be played by all Libyans and especially the tribal elders. Experience shows that tribal elders are able to play an important role in solving inter-tribal conflicts that occur from time to time. Moreover, for decades, the tribal elders have been the key players and substitutes for political parties and institutions in the Libyan political system. So, the tribal elders can positively contribute and support the national reconciliation. Through their knowledge of tribal structures, long experiences and reach history of conflict resolutions, they can create a healthy national dialogue that will reach into an acceptable peace settlement among the Libyan people. Without doubt, the majority of Libyans, including most of the tribes, regional leaders will stand strongly against any attempts to divide Libya, whether from internal or external individuals or groups with hidden opportunistic agendas.
Indeed, Libyans are moderate centrist Muslims. The country is dominated by moderate Maliki doctrine. The majority of Libyans believe in peaceful conservative Islamic nature of Libyan society. The Maliki doctrine is one of the most peaceful Islamic sects in the country. It is based on tolerance and renounces all kinds of extremism wherever it comes from. This moderate religious value had important effects on the paths of cultural and social interactions as well as trends of various political forces. Unfortunately, there are some new violent religious doctrines entered into Libya with those who returned recently from abroad. After the February 17th 2011, some of previous political oppositions returned to Libya to participate in the formation of political life and the establishment of new political system. These political oppositions began regrouping and organizing their ranks in order to find positions in the political process. Despite the current multiplicity of the Libyan oppositions, they can be classified into two streams: (1) Islamic trend with all its variable branches; and (2) the secular trend with all its variants of liberal and leftist sectors. Among all groups, the Islamic movements have the advantage due to their previous participation in the secret activities of Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic extremist groups in different countries.
The biggest crisis in the current political reality in Libya is the lack of bureaucratic experiences and administrative competencies. This catastrophe occurred specifically when the new February administration introduced and passed the laws that dismissed all previous September administrative and professional leaders. Further, the lack of experience of the current administration is in rapid increase throughout all the political and administrative practices after February 17th 2011. The political leaders failed to address the state’s transitional process and especially the problems that faced the country after 2011. For example, the new leaders failed to build strong security force to protect their own headquarters and impose security in the streets. Also, they failed to build the nucleus of unified army to protect the country ports, airports, and borders if necessary. They were unable to control public money exchange according to the foundations of accurate financial controls. They failed to regulate and control the media work, and most importantly, they failed the launch of reconciliation in the early times.
There is deep problem of national loyalty. In fact, the majority of previous opponents who have returned to Libya from abroad are having other nationalities from the countries where they lived for extended period of time. Basically, these opponents are unaware of the reality of Libyans society. They left their families and children in their adopted countries which are away from Libya where the ordinary Libyans are suffering for survivals on a daily basis.
Even the majority of people who participated in 2012 elections accepted the new elected leaders and gave them a chance to make positive contributions in peace and state building. Most of the people hoped that these new leaders will harness their foreign expertise and accumulated experiences to unify all Libyans and build stable country with strong institutions. But what was achieved during the last five years was far less than expected. In fact, what happened was the opposite. Instead of political and economic reforms, there are power struggles, corruptions and theft of public money, collapse of state agencies, lack of security and public services. For these reasons, the majority of Libyans are rejecting the new leaders and refusing the entire Skhirat agreement. Because, most of the Libyan people believe that the majority of the interlocutors on both sides are not part of them.
The Skhirat political agreement and the government of reconciliation and their outputs, will not last for long. The reason is that the agreement was mainly between the February parties and totally excluded the other Libyan parties. In other words, the Skhirat agreement excluded all the supporters of September who represent the largest proportion of Libyan society. In addition, the majority of those present in Skhirat are former opponents who do not have popular supports. Even the Libyan peoples with non-political orientations or affiliations have substantial doubt in their national loyalty to Libya. The saddest part is that the presidential council who composed from different ideological trends are not even able to agree on unified program. I think that the agreement was badly completed by a UN team. There were no direct negotiations among the Libyan parties. So, there are common feelings shared by the majority of Libyans that the agreement imposed on the participants, as well as it serves the interests of some foreign countries.
Libyan people deserve just and comprehensive peace agreement. So, if the international community wants stability to return to Libya, they should help the Libyans to start dialogue within Libya. The dialogue should include delegates from all cities, towns, tribes and various social components. The agenda of the dialogue should be based on the trends of Libyan society and well organized and prioritized, and this can be summarized in the following:
- Security issues. Impose security in the entire country as soon as possible and work to build the army and the security forces to enforce the law in the shortest time possible.
- Prisoners’ issues. The release of all detainees and to stop proceedings of any further prosecutions until the finalization of peace settlement and formation of national statehood.
- Refugees and internal displaced issues. The return of all the refuges and internally displaced people to their country, regions, cities and homes.
- Moral and material reparations. Consider everyone from all Libyan parties who killed since February 17th 2011, are martyrs; address and evaluate all the damages and compensate their families.
- Hatreds and violent agitation. Prevent Media from all incitement to sedition, and provide equal opportunity for all Libyans to express their opinions and views.
- Justice issues. Postpone all the legal claims until reach a peace agreement and establishment of unified stable state with strong security institutions and an impartial judicial system.
- General societal reconciliations. Launch an initiative for all Libyans to find the truth in the previous stages down to community reconciliation based on truth, confession, forgiveness and fairness without bullying, exclusion and impunity.
- Sovereignty issue. The right of Libyans to choose and decide for their own nation and state destiny, include political, economic, and social system that is absolutely free and under the supervision of the United Nations, regional and international organizations.
In conclusion, history provides helpful insight toward furthering our understanding of the current situation in Libya. The current complex situation in Libya should be taken as part of an organic context. Thus, if we are genuine about stability in Libya, we should recognize its historical, political, geographical and socio-cultural components. There is no doubt, the present political situation in Libya is very different from what we have seen addressed at the United Nations negotiation tables. If the international community is sincere to reach into political settlement in Libya, they should focus on the root cause of the problem. Finally, and for my follow Libyans, we should avoid the temptations of cheap personal gains, and look into the bigger picture of our country by coming together for united peaceful Libya. Our political and geographical differences should be the guidance of our strength and not as an element of our divisions. If we are able to build trust among us, perhaps, best of all, we can reach into peaceful resolution and move our country and nation into better future.