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Riddle me this, who am I?  My name means “Sword of Islam”, I earned my now disputed PhD in the UK and am the son of a former-dictator.  The answer is of course Seif al-Islam, the son of murdered former dictator of Libya Muammar Gaddafi.  Seif is currently residing in jail in the town of Zintan, located approximately 85 miles southwest of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.  In some ways Seif was lucky to avoid the horrific fate that befall his father at the end of the conflict between the Gaddafi regime and rebel/NATO forces.  Perhaps his ability to evade capture for as long as he did enabled the revolutions leaders to gain some control and cool heads of the rebel fighters, or perhaps not.

There has been a significant deterioration in the security situation in Libya this year.  There have been car bombs and assassination attempts.  It has come to something when armed gunmen surround the foreign ministry to demand that they are employed to improve the security situation.   It is not only foreign or government targets that have found themselves at risk in this unstable climate, journalists have also been targeted by those unhappy with what they saw as pro-Gaddafi coverage from Alassema TV as well as accusations of murder of individuals captured by the array of militias operating in the country following the removal of the Gaddafi regime. Some have linked this upsurge in violence with the French intervention in Mali and the inability of the Libyan government to reign in the rebels with whom they fought with and to convince them to disarm and allow the government to fill the security vacuum.

Al Jazeera hosted an interesting and informative programme on the security situation in Libya recently.

Despite this lack of complete civil security Libya is not Syria and it is not Egypt, it has to some extent been able to emerge from it’s Arab Spring with some cohesion in direction. There are numerous NGO’s on the ground in Libya, attempting to help the Libyan authorities and people through their transition from dictatorship to democracy. These include international and local organisations. Libyan women have seen their position in Libya shift in both positive and negative aspects. Murdering or assaulting a female relative is punished less severely if motivated by her alleged sexual indiscretions which is clearly an extremely regressive step in terms of defending women within the family and in codifying a woman’s sexuality. However, democracy has opened up channels for women to have their voices heard in the new Libyan parliament, with over 600 women (32 elected) standing as candidates in July 2012 for the General National Congress (GNC), an interim parliament which is to draft the new constitution.  Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Libyan authorities to ensure that women have an equal say in the drafting of the constitution, a constitution that will decide the path of Libya for the foreseeable future.  Libyan women have been able to set up their own civil rights groups and are building their status in the country as equal citizens. 

 

A Libyan woman shows her ink-stained finger after casting her vote to elect the General National Congress at a polling station in the eastern city of Benghazi on Saturday.  July 7th 2012.  Photo: AFP

A Libyan woman shows her ink-stained finger after casting her vote to elect the General National Congress at a polling station in the eastern city of Benghazi on Saturday. July 7th 2012. Photo: AFP

 

Other civil and political rights groups have also emerged. Rejection Movement in Libya (Rafd) has, in the words of it’s director Nasser Al-Hawari, been formed to place pressure on the GNC to stick to their timetable on the writing of the constitution, the dismantling or all military forces except the army and police, and the end to hegemony of any single political force. Libya does not exist in a vacuum to the other events unfolding in the other on-going revolutions and counter-revolutions taking place in the Middle East.  The overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt through a military coup will surely have an affect on Libya’s own version of the Brotherhood.  Will it lead to a rejection of the political process or a shift toward a liberalisation of their conservative social and religious policies?  They are a force in Libyan politics (through the political arm of the Brotherhood, the Justice and Construction Party) but by no means the over-riding power, they will have to negotiate their position with over political groups and the population at large to avoid being sidelined.

The constitution will be key, as it has been in Egypt in deciding the short and long-term political and civil course of the country.  If one can be forged that truly represents all the people in the country and guarantees minority and oppressed groups equal rights and protection by the law Libya may yet emerge as the key success story of the Arab Spring and a model for nations in the region.  With it’s economic future secure, at least in the medium-term, due to the oil and gas reserves sitting underneath the desert, the Libyan authorities and people have a chance to ensure this wealth is spread evenly.  I get the feeling that the Libyan people, through the myriad of civil rights groups and their passion for their newly-found freedom will not allow special interests both at home and from abroad to derail what could be a very bright future.

Jonathan Woodrow Martin

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One thought on “Libya at a crossroads

  1. Very interesting! With Libya aiming to make rape in armed conflict a war crime, in a conservative society it is encouraging and exciting to see that women may have an influence on the drafting of the constitution, which agreed, will be key in shaping the future path of Libya.

    Let’s hope.

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