• Alice Robson

Libya: the West is Refusing to Listen

Martyr's Square, Tripoli, February 2012. The site of many protests and violent altercations throughout the revolution and civil war.

The death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was one of the most significant events of the twenty-first century. It signalled to the West the end of a dictatorship, to his supporters the fall of a great leader, and to revolutionaries; the possibility of freedom. These hopes were dashed with the beginning of the Second Libyan Civil war as hostilities amongst factions rose, most prominently between military and political groups in Tripoli, the capital of Libya located in the northwest. Now four years on, there is increasing concern about the nation’s ability to survive and rebuild after the bloody and tumultuous revolution.

Elections are fast approaching in Libya. The only internationally-acknowledged government - the Government of National Accord – is facing steep opposition that has resulted in such instability, Prime Minister Fayez Seraj claims, that elections will not be able to take place. The Council of Deputies, or HoR, is responsible for most of this instability. In 2014 the HoR rejected the election results, and instead established a parliament in Tobruk, a city east of Tripoli.

The prevalent problem of constitutional agreements highlight the agendas of each party. The danger with the delay in elections, of course, is the ever-present threat of dictatorship, which hangs over Libya with a sense of great foreboding. All too often nations after civil war turn to military dictatorship as a means by which to stabilise the economy and maintain political certainty. Currently, Libya is considered by many as a dictatorship due to the fraught relations between rivals that remain unresolved, with no end in sight.

The UN has failed in Libya. The multitude of failed attempts at brokering peace-treaties reflects the Westernised approach to Libya, and the lack of comprehension that outsiders truly have of the interior workings of the fragile nation. The early negotiation tracks in 2015 saw the potential of reconciliation as by October the names of possible members of a unified government were released. However, this intervention backfired as by December both majority rival factions rejected international intrusion attempting to broker peace, with the aim of coming to terms without interference from those who were not Libyan. A peace agreement was later signed in December which resulted in the establishment of the Government of National Accord, which was supported by the UN. However, by 2017 the current leader of HoR, Khalifa Haftar, declared the agreement void.

Federal Minister Sebastian Kurz meets Libyan Prime Minister Al-Sarraj on 11 May 2017

This somewhat brief history of recent turmoil in Libya reveals one key element of the civil war that has been overlooked, or deliberately ignored, by the international community. The desire, by all parties involved, to keep the civil war civil. Nations that have contributed to making the war anything but include Algeria, Egypt, Malta, Tunisia, France, India, Italy, Russia, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Not to mention the most significant party, the UN.

Libya’s aim is to maintain independence throughout all matters, whether violent attacks or deliberations over peace treaties. There is little more that other nations can do but to sit and watch, as it is clear Libya will reject all outer help, it will be perceived as interferers who believe they can sit the children down and force them to kiss and make up.

Compromise is, nonetheless, on the horizon. In May the UN and Libyan rival factions agreed to hold an election by the tenth of December this year. Whilst this may appear to be a step in the right direction it did not come without loopholes. Threats from armed groups to resume hostilities permeated the talks, and Haftar has stated that the constitution must be agreed on before any vote can take place. A seemingly impossible goal to be achieved in less than four months.

In the past few days Libya has become increasingly violent. Tripoli airport, the sole airport in the region which reopened on the 7th of September, has been shut after rockets were fired by the Tripoli Youth Movement. Now only Libya Airlines remains to operate. The 10th of September, this past Monday, saw a shocking armed attack on the National Oil Corporation, which resulted in fifteen dead and ten wounded employees. This attack was particularly surprising as NOC has continued to operate virtually unscathed during the revolution and civil war. The Islamic State’s increasingly strong presence in Libya as a result of the division and strife is an increasing threat to the possibility of any reconciliation between Seraj and Haftar.

These political and military scandals are all too easy to skim over in the news.

To acclimatise to the idea of strife and turmoil in a far off nation, too far away to really care or form an emotional or political response to.

That is, until you hear of dead refugees.

It is difficult to comprehend the humanity involved in civil war, and the true consequences of governments being overhauled until the realisation hits of individuals, friends, and entire families fleeing their homes, so desperate that they will board inflatable dinghies in an attempt to reach Europe. Libya has been described as a transit point (The Independent) for African refugees as well as Middle Eastern, as they struggle to find somewhere to live without the constant fear of death. One hundred refugees dead and no global outcry of support for the refugees who have fled. Instead, the international community has turned a blind eye. Their silence allows us to reflect on their previous strategies of intervention, which have yet to be successful.

Abdullah Elgamoudi / AFP | Migrants wait to be rescued from a sinking dinghy off the Libyan coast on March 20, 2017. The crisis continues into 2018.

It appears that one step forward for political stability results in two steps backwards for the lives of Libyan civilians.

At the time of writing, Alice Robson is a second year History and Social Anthropology student at the University of St Andrews. She is particularly interested in international human rights and global intersectional feminism.