Clouds over Tripoli


Holding elections for the Constitutional Commission will be a step in the right direction but to stop this process being hijacked or derailed the state has to show some strength and follow through on their actions.

Rhiannon Smith
2 June 2013

Over the past few weeks even the weather in Libya seems confused about whether it is coming or going, let alone those in charge of running the country. While the climate has been unseasonably cold and overcast, Libya's politicians appear to have been caught in a storm of their own making as they are buffeted along from one faltering predicament to the next, with little in the way of tangible progress being made along the way.

On May 5, the General National Congress (GNC) was coerced into passing the controversial Political Isolation Law by 'revolutionary' militias who besieged key ministries and refused to leave until the law was passed.  Since then the Libyan state has been trying to reassert its authority and convince the Libyan people that it is doing the best it can for the country under the current circumstances. The message which has been stressed time and again by Prime Minister Ali Zeidan is that the state is still weak, therefore the public must be patient and not expect too much too soon.

While this sentiment is undoubtedly sincere, it is not what Libyans want to hear. More than 18 months after Libya was officially declared liberated, the formation of the Commission of 60 charged with drafting Libya's constitution is still yet to take place, and the vote on the draft law for the election of this committee looks likely to be postponed over concerns about the lack of seats guaranteed for women and other minority groups.

In terms of security, the latest attempt by the government to stamp their authority on Libya's capital city backfired in spectacular fashion when state security forces attempted to raid alleged drug and alcohol dens in Tripoli's Al-Hendi district. The alleged dealers resisted and after a heavy gunfight the security forces were forced to withdraw. This led to days of blockades and sporadic gunfire by affected residents, leaving one of Tripoli's main shopping thoroughfares in disarray and the alleged criminals still at large.

To add to this, the current political hiatus following the passing of the Political Isolation Law (PIL) has  compounded the sense of bewilderment which many Libyans are feeling regarding the state of their country's transition. The law will come into effect on June 5 and is likely to exclude many of Libya's top politicians under sweeping rules which will ban anyone who held a key official post between 1969 and 2011 from holding political office for 10 years.

Indeed, the law has already claimed the first of its high profile victims. Mohamed Magarief resigned as President of the GNC on May 28 in anticipation of his removal by the soon to be constituted PIL Commission. A number of ministers have also submitted their resignations.

 Magarief served as an ambassador during the early years of Gaddafi's reign although he split from the regime in 1980 and has been in opposition to Gaddafi ever since. In his resignation speech, Magarief stated that he would be one of the first to accept the legitimacy of the GNC's decision as it is in the national interest. However his departure has left many to question the legitimacy of a law which tars a man who spent 30 years opposing Gaddafi with the same brush as those who supported Muammar to the bitter end.

This is not to say that everything in Libya is currently doom and gloom. A case in point are the two highly successful events which took place over the past two weeks and attracted foreign exhibitors and investors from all over the world. The annual Libya Build exhibition took place 19  - 23 May and attracted 715 companies interested in rebuilding Libya, while an exhibition on studying English in the UK drew over 20 schools from across the UK as well as a crowd of Libyan students eager to discover more about opportunities to study abroad.

The challenges facing Libya are only likely to grow in the coming months as more politicians and civil servants are removed from their positions and various forces jostle to have their interests represented within the state.  Holding elections for the Constitutional Commission will be a step in the right direction but to stop this process being hijacked or derailed the state has to show some strength and follow through on their actions. I believe Libya has the will and potential to move forwards towards a more stable, coherent future, but there is no doubt there is a storm brewing;  the question is whether the state can respond fast enough to Libya's growing disillusionment to ensure that the country stays its course.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData