Security Challenges in Post-Gaddafi Libya

Upon receiving this request from Sharnoff’s Global Views to provide an update on Libya, I thought I was going to write the usual, routine answers that things are coming together and that with time we will see a progressive country take shape.  Today, however, I find myself wanting to break away from that narrative in light of sobering conditions which over the past several months, have finally begun to sink in.

When I think of issues facing Libya, only one word comes to mind. A word that has the most significant widespread consequences on the daily lives of Libyans: security. I feel like Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, at a software developers conference in 2006 where his passion and energy truly shine as he delivers a motivational – albeit slightly eccentric – speech to employees by repeatedly chanting the word “Developers!”

I feel like Ballmer in the sense that if I could chant the word “security” over and over to emphasize its importance in Libya, I’d probably be chanting for a very long time. However, apart from not being Microsoft’s CEO, there are some fundamental differences between the two of us. His chant is inspired by enthusiasm for what he does. My chant is inspired by the complete lack of development in Libya in terms of ensuring the safety and security of its people. In fact, the contrary has happened: the people of Libya encounter danger on a daily basis.

In the past two weeks alone, ten year-old Abdulmalik Bel-eid was kidnapped from his own neighborhood in Tripoli and held for ransom before being safely returned home to his family. Last week Dr. Hamid Al-Tubuly, a well-known Twitter user, activist, and university professor, was abducted from his home in Tripoli by unknown militias and interrogated before being released under the direct order of the speaker of the General National Congress, Mohamed al-Magariaf.

Al-Tubuly’s release was secured only because Libyan Twitter users including Magariaf’s daughter were able to directly draw attention to his case. As I am writing this, the news of a bomb blast that has injured four people in Benghazi has just reached me. This is but a brief glimpse of the current issues of security facing Libyans today. Yet uncomfortable silence seems to be the only response and life in Libya seems to carry on with occurrences like this growing more frequently. The government has yet to unite or absorb the militias; has yet to establish an army or police force; has yet to address the issue of border security, weapon smuggling, and petty crime – let alone begin to introduce the rule of law. “Security, security, security, security.”

If we take a step back we can see that the overall measurement of success of the Libyan Revolution including the removal of dictator Muammar Gaddafi is complete (although residual effects I like to call “little dictators,” which manifest in the form of power grabs across all sectors, have currently replaced him).

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Hope in Libya that had previously dwindled to near extinction has been restored. Under the tight fist of a tyrant and the years of terror, oppression, and abuse, the people of Libya grew almost apathetic to their circumstance. It is with this new-found hope that free Libyans can begin to think of themselves as citizens in their own country where they can work to fulfill their aspirations. That much is clear. Beyond that, grey areas exist and persist.

Is the country moving forward in a positive, progressive manner? Are the correct foundations being established so that we can build a nation that will withstand any obstacles? Are we being critical and open-minded with one another about how to take Libya forward? Right now, the answers to most of these questions are less than promising and lead us to challenge the government’s role in post-Gaddafi’s Libya and how well they are handling the reconciliation process.

While we have democratically elected a government that we hope will represent us, we have yet to secure a constitution that guarantees and protects all our universal freedoms and rights. This goes hand in hand with the development of a viable civil society where NGOs like the Libyan Youth Movement can perform effectively. International support from nations and NGOs can prove to be beneficial here in terms of providing expertise on how to build the foundations and framework of civil society, how NGOs can realize and deliver their goals in Libya.

The positive side of having both a government and civil society that are so underdeveloped is that it gives us the opportunity to truly reform and appropriately address the issues and mistakes made by the former regime. It’s a clean slate.

However, I cannot truly elaborate on the plethora of prospects that Libya has before it without remembering that Libyans – whether they realize it or not – are currently in perpetual survival mode. Anything is possible from kidnappings and abductions to drunk driving and smuggling of drugs… “security, security, security, security.

The government announces vague developments sporadically demonstrating yet another area that needs improvement and transparency. Without a doubt, Libya is full of educated, passionate people who want to bring their country forward and I am confident that given time, they will succeed. But this is the first major test of the country’s progress that it must pass; sooner than later.

Ayat Mneina is one of the founding members of the Libyan Youth Movement and the Libyan Youth Forum, both established to help support Libya during and after the revolution. She has traveled internationally to speak about the role of social media in the Arab Spring and to discuss the current issues facing Libya with respect to youth.