Is there a reason for Libyans to be optimistic about the Bashagha government?

Mohammed El Huni

February 15, 2011, will remain engraved in the minds of Libyans, especially the inhabitants of Benghazi. On that day, Fathi Terbil, the lawyer for the victims of Abu Salim prison, was arrested. The families of the victims and their supporters came out calling for his release.

Had officials known then what the consequences of the incident were going to be, they would have probably acted otherwise.

Demands for Terbil’s release quickly turned into a popular demonstration calling for the overthrow of the regime and the toppling of Muammar Gadhafi. The first error of the authorities was compounded by a second, as the police intervened using excessive force against the demonstrators.

Libya was sitting on a tinder box, not only because of the deteriorating domestic situation at all levels, but also because of the ripple effects that unfolding developments in neighbouring countries, to the west and east, were having on Libya itself. The upheaval in Tunisia which led to the overthrow of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali spread to Egypt causing the overthrow of Egypt’s long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Libya was ready for the next chapter of what later came to be called the “Arab Spring.” In the following day, Raqdaleen, Al-Jamil and Al-Ajailat rose up, in the west of the country.

The first martyr of the revolution fell in Bayda on February 16. The event sparked street demonstrations in the city of Bayda as people called for the fall of the regime while troops fired at the protesters using live ammunition.

On the same day, the populations of Jebel Nafusa, Zintan, Yafran, Nalut and Al-Rajaban took to the streets. Demonstrators in Al-Ajeilat burned down the headquarters of the Revolutionary Committees, the local police station and the building of the real estate bank in the city.

The protests intensified the next day with more innocent civilians being martyred. Thursday, February 17, witnessed a popular uprising that swept several Libyan cities in the eastern region.

The ranks of protesters swelled after more than 400 people were killed or wounded by security forces backed by mercenaries, reportedly brought from outside Libya.

The uprising was led by young Libyans who demanded political, economic and social reforms. Initially, the protests were peaceful. But as security troops used firearms and Gadhafi’s brigades bombed demonstrators from the air, the uprising turned into an armed revolution set on overthrowing Gadhafi, who decided to fight until the finish.

Regime opponents completed their control of eastern Libya and announced the establishment of the Libyan Republic under the leadership of the National Transitional Council. On August 20, the capital, Tripoli, rose up.  

Young rebels eventually succeeded in overthrowing Gadhafi and taking control of the capital city in just nine hours, after the military battalion around Tripoli refused to fight so as to avoid further bloodshed.

Three months later, on October 20, Gadhafi was brutally murdered in Sirte. The perpetrators were for some reason keen on keeping pictures of the killing, as if they wanted to document the abhorrent event.

Many thought the country would enjoy calm and peace, after the fall of Gadhafi.

The general expectation was that the young people’s demands for social justice would be fulfilled, freedoms would blossom and the media would flourish. Compared to its neighbours, Libya had the advantage of great natural resources, a vast geographical area and a small population.

There was indeed enough to achieve prosperity for all.

But there was not enough for the greedy and marauding gangs that wanted to keep everything for themselves. The youth revolution quickly turned into a civil war.

The dictator was removed from power and so were members of his entourage and close loyalists. But ten years and six governments later, we have a legacy of unmitigated failure in Libya. The new political class has only succeeded in disseminating a culture of corruption and terror.

The National Army, motivated by a military doctrine and professional security imperatives, was replaced by armed militias composed of Libyan and foreign mercenaries whose first loyalty was to money to foreign powers. These continue to bankroll them and supply them with weapons.

Deepening Libya’s predicament, ​​a State Council was subsequently created as a cover for the recycling of a faction that had lost the June 2014 legislative election and was unwilling to accept its defeat.

Twenty-two parliamentarians signed on to this hybrid entity in the city of Skhirat in Morocco on December 17, 2015, under the supervision of the UN envoy Martin Kobler.

Last March, a transitional government was formed after a dialogue between the Libyan protagonists sponsored by the United Nations.

The government’s task was to lead a transitional phase to presidential and legislative elections that were supposed to be held on December 24. But the ballot could not take place due to security, legal and political impediments. Lack of domestic and international vision allowed for continued electoral preparations under the watch of armed gangs and warlords.

The Libyan House of Representatives in Tobruk has since succeeded in agreeing on former Minister of the Interior Fathi Bashagha to serve as the new head of government in the place of interim Premier Abdulhamid Dbeibah.

As the latter has refused to hand over power except to an elected government, there are fears, however, that Libya could return to square one with division and strife ruling the day.

While Dbeibah says that he will not accept a parallel authority, the House of Representatives considers his mandate to have expired.

Two weeks after his designation, Bashagha has announced his readiness to submit his cabinet line-up to the House of Representatives.

Do Libyans have reason to be optimistic about the forthcoming government? Or is it going to be a repeat of previous scenarios of past governments?

The task will not be easy and the issues at hand are many and complex, starting with disarming militias, fighting corruption and improving the living conditions of Libyans.

There is a need, first, is to put the Libyan house in order from within, by setting a clear and transparent programme under civil society’s oversight. This is all especially true with regard to the Libyan National Oil Corporation, which is now operating outside the realm of transparency and beyond any oversight from the Central Bank.

It is necessary to provide support to the Office of the Public Prosecutor, which is desperately striving to fight corruption, but to no avail.

Only then can the country’s riches, including oil, gas and precious metals of various sorts return to the people. For now, they are smuggled for the benefit of a handful of corrupt politicians, outlaw entities and unscrupulous countries conspiring against the legitimate interests of the Libyan people.

Secondly, there is a need to improve relations with Libya’s neighbours.

The Libyans should never forget the help extended to them by Tunisia and Egypt during their revolution and afterwards. The two countries should be included in development and reconstruction programmes, so the lion’s share does not somehow go to Turkey.

Thirdly, attention should be given to improving Libya’s diplomatic relations with the rest of the world, because these relations have suffered a great deal of deterioration during the past decade.

Only if such conditions can be fulfilled will the Libyans have reason to be optimistic about the Fathi Bashagha government.


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